House training, for most, is probably the most difficult aspect of raising a puppy. Few 8-12 week old puppies sleep through the night. Many puppies raised in kennel settings have lost their natural instincts for keeping their living quarters or “den” clean. House training can be extremely challenging. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
It is difficult for a sleep-deprived exhausted family to focus on all the other needs of a young developing puppy. Therefore, we’ve developed a program a very successful house training method. Our method takes much of the load off of families with regard to house training. This program will also give families the necessary tools to finish up the early house training that we start.
Our Three Phase Early House Training Program
There are two very important skills that puppies must learn for house-training to be successful. The first skill involves having a desire for peeing and pooping outside along with a disdain for doing it inside. We teach this skill in the first three phases of our program. All of these initial phases are usually complete by 7 1/2 weeks of age. The second skill involves puppies holding their pee and poop until they can get outside. This second skill cannot be taught until Phases-1, 2, and 3 are thoroughly mastered. Teaching these three skills in different phases prepares puppies amazingly well for continuing house training in new homes.
Phase 1 – Ensuring that the Momma Dog Keeps Puppies and Their Area Clean
Initially the mama dog keeps her puppies clean. A good mother will keep her puppies almost perfectly clean. In fact, based on the looks of the puppies, you’d wonder if they ever poop. You don’t see it.
Newborn puppies are unable to pee or poop without outside stimulation. As gross as it sounds, a mother dog licks her puppies to stimulate them to “go”. Then as they do their business, she eats it before it ever hits the whelping pad. Most of our mothers do their jobs very well. It is evidenced by the clean box and the mom’s stinky breath!
However, we’ve had a couple of mother dogs in the past who would stimulate their puppies to pee and poop. Then, they would leave it in the whelping box. For these mothers, it is imperative that a breeder steps in. The breeder needs to keep the puppy area very clean if future potty training is to go smoothly.
It would be nice if our mommas would clean up after the puppies until they go home. However, right around the time you introduce solid food, the mamas stop cleaning the puppies. Fortunately, at about this same time, puppies are sufficiently moving around enough to learn to pee and poop in one area and to live, eat, sleep, and play in another. This is where a pan filled with pine pellets comes in play.
Phase 2 – Teaching Puppies to Potty in One Place and Keep Their Living Area Clean
Phase 2 of house training is where we take over where our canine mothers have left off. We place what we call a potty pan in the puppy area about a week before many of the puppies are using it. We add the pan at about 2 1/2 weeks of age. It is important that the pine pellets are put in the box before puppies start solid foods. Otherwise, they will tend to eat the pellets. This extra week gives the puppies an opportunity to get used to the pine pellet box before they actually need to use it.
As the mom quits cleaning up after the puppies at around 3 1/2 weeks, we take up the job of keeping their area clean ourselves. Many, many times a day, we clean the area. At some point shortly after puppies are 3 weeks of age, one of the puppies will “happen” to pee in the box. We leave it. The pellets absorb much of the smell so that our family doesn’t smell it. However, the puppies sensitive noses can smell it. Our leaving the pee there encourages other puppies to use the same area. If they happen to poop, we scoop it out and flush it. Gradually more and more puppies begin using the box as we clean the rest of the area multiple times a day.
A Full Day Devoted to Potty Pan Training
Then on the day puppies are 3 weeks 5 days, we spend the entire day on potty pan training. We make sure that the entire litter is doing all their business in the pine pellets. We clean any accidents as they happen. By the end of the day, the litter is for the most part trained to go in the pellets. We are also meticulous to clean the poop out of the pans. Otherwise, the puppies will track it from the pine pellet pan to the rest of their living area.
Our intensive potty pan training day is always at exactly 3 weeks 5 days. We have determined that by this day it is almost always close to 100% successful. We’ve tried doing it at 3 weeks 4 days and there are usually several puppies that just aren’t quite mature enough to be successful. Very young puppies mature very fast and it is important that breeders understand the various ages and stages of puppy development. Intensive potty pan training too early can be an exercise in frustration. However, if a breeder waits too long (even to 4 weeks), puppies can develop bad habits which are harder to break than to prevent to begin with. Three weeks five days is the perfect day!
Phase 3 – Teaching Puppies to Potty Outside
Phase 3 consists of shifting our puppies from peeing and pooping in potty pans to doing their business outside. We start this process shortly before or after puppies turn 4 weeks. Prior to 3 weeks 6 days, puppies are too small to be outside (in our opinion). Our first introduction to the outside world is the first day after puppies are 3 weeks 6 days that the weather is conducive for puppies being comfortable outside.
We acclimate puppies to outside by carrying them in and out multiple times a day.
Then at or a day or two before 4 weeks 5 days, we begin teaching them to safely go up and down the 2 steps that go from our little side porch to our puppy play yard. Once all puppies in the litter have mastered this skill, we begin doggy door training. For most, the puppies are fluent with the steps with only two days of training. By 5 weeks 2 days, the vast majority of our puppies are totally trained to the doggy door and the steps. They can successfully get themselves reliably in and out of the house and up and down the steps.
At this point, we begin calling them in and out multiple times a day. It is interesting to watch an entire litter of 9 or 10 puppies squatting at the same time!
Phase 4 – Teaching Puppies to Love Their Crates
Before we use crates for forced confinement, we use classical conditioning to build a love of a crate into our puppies. They eat all their meals in their crates and we gradually build the time that they spend in their crates.
We start this process shortly after puppies are five weeks of age. For the first five days, we put a bowl of food in each crate while puppies are in a different section of our home than their crates. We bring the puppies in the crate area and they run one at a time into their crates and begin eating. After they’ve finished eating, we gradually increase the time before we let them out of their crates.
The first day is simply right after eating. We don’t want them panicking over being trapped in the crate before they’ve been acclimated to the crates. Then gradually we increase the time they are in the crates. To keep them entertained and happy, we drop pieces of food in the crate periodically. They scrounge around in the crate trying to find it.
It is a fun game as the puppies wonder when we will drop the food in. Then when puppies are just over six weeks, we begin teaching puppies to wait on a release command to eat. Each puppy has six to eight turns to eat a portion of their food. As they learn to wait on their food with our fun teaching methods, puppies also learn to love their crate time more and more.
While Building Crate Desire, We’re Also Teaching Puppies to Get Themselves Outside To Potty
During the time that we are building a love of crates, we are also working with puppies on getting outside through a doggy door to relieve themselves.
Between 5 1/2 and 7 1/2 weeks, we walk outside with our litters often to remind them of where to do their business. We walk out with them first thing in the morning, after naps, at bedtime, and most importantly before they have crate time, pen time without doggy door access, time loose in our home, and training time in our training room. This routine ensures that puppies don’t have accidents in our home or in their crates during their initial weeks of house and crate training.
By the time puppies are 7 1/2 weeks of age, puppies have been consistently doing all of their business outside for over two weeks. When we aren’t directly working with them, they are confined to a small area with access to get outside through the doggy door. Our goal is no accidents inside and most puppies don’t pee or poop in our home at all. Consistency is key. Good habits must be build from the start.
Phase 5 – Teaching Puppies to Hold Their Potty
The next phase starts at around 7 1/2 to 8 weeks of age. At this time, we begin making a few changes to our house-training routine that moves them into being more dependable by 11 or 12 weeks of age. This new phase of house-training can’t begin until puppies are thoroughly conditioned to want to potty only outside. It is rare that we have a puppy that is not to this point by 8 weeks. With most litters, all puppies are ready to move into what we call Phase-5 of house training by 7 1/2 weeks.
Phase-5 of house training includes several changes. First of all, we gradually reduce the number of times that we go out with puppies to potty. This starts at about 7 1/2 weeks of age and is done for an important reason. Once puppies have developed a strong desire to pee and poop outside, we begin teaching our puppies to “hold it” for increasingly longer periods of time.
We gradually stop taking our puppies out prior to crate time, house-time, and indoor training time. It is imperative that this phase of training not begin too early. Before entering this phase of house training, puppies must have developed a strong habit of doing all their business outside. They must be highly motivated to “hold it”past that point where they would have previously headed out the door to pee or poop. Therefore, we are very in-tuned to where each and every puppy in the litter is with regard to house-training.
Once we start Phase-5 of our house-training program, puppies learn to hold it as we ask them to stay for longer periods in crates, as they have pen time (without access to the doggy door), as they have training time in our training room, and even as they spend time loose in our home.
The Best Possible House-training Method for Very Young Puppies
We believe that our five-phase program is the key for making house-training easier for families. The doggy door is temporary. However, it has a very valuable purpose. When there is no doggy door during initial training, puppies are forced to hold their potty before they have thoroughly been conditioned to want to potty outside. This sets them up for failure.
Without a sufficient desire to go outside, puppies will make mistakes when not watched perfectly. The more mistakes a puppy makes, the more conditioned he becomes to potty in the house. Potty training can become an endless loop of failures without someone constantly supervising the puppy. This type house training can be exhausting.
Our house training program sets puppies up for success which is what we strive for in training puppies in all aspects of life.
Once puppies are in new homes, the option for puppies to use a doggy door is usually gone. However, the doggy door would have served its purpose and puppies make the transition well as long as families will get puppies outside on a schedule.