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 have lost their natural instincts for keeping their living quarters or “den” clean. Some have developed bad habits at a breeders home that must be overcome.
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 that will take much of the load off of these families with regard to house training and give them the 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 in Early House Training
Initially the mama dog keeps her puppies clean. A good mother will keep her puppies so clean that you will wonder if they ever poop because you won’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” and 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 (as it evidenced by the clean box and the mom’s stinky breath!).
However, we have had a couple of mother dogs in the past who would stimulate their puppies to pee and poop and then would leave it in the whelping box. For these mothers, it is imperative that a breeder steps in and keeps the puppy area very clean if future potty training is to go smoothly.
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 in Early House Training
Phase 2 of house training is where we take over where our canine mothers have left off. We place the pan in the puppy area about a week before many of the puppies are using it (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 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.
Phase 3 in Early House Training
Phase 3 consists of shifting our puppies from peeing and pooping in what we call “potty pans” to doing their business outside. We start this process shortly after puppies turn 4 weeks. Prior to 4 weeks, puppies are too small to be outside (in our opinion). Our first introduction to the outside world is right at 4 weeks (weather permitting).
We acclimate puppies to the outside world 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 use the doggy door. We also train them to safely go up and down the 2 steps that go from our little side porch to our puppy play yard. 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!
Puppies are Consistently Doing Their Business Outside Far Before They are 8 Weeks Old
By the time puppies are 8 weeks of age, puppies have been consistently doing all of their business outside for over 2 weeks of age. They are consistent at letting themselves out through a doggy door. Puppies freely and independently go in and out our doggy-door prior to 8 weeks of age. In addition, we walk out with the entire litter multiple times per day. This includes just before our crate time routine, just before we bring them out of their pen loose in our home, and just before bringing them into 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.
Phase 4 in House Training
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 10 or 11 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 our Phase-4 of house training by 7 1/2 weeks.
Phase-4 of house training includes several changes. First of all, we gradually reduce the number of times that we go out with puppies to potty starting at about 7 1/2 weeks of age. Secondly, we want puppies to start learning to “hold it”.
In Phase-4 of our house-training program (starting just before or right at 8 weeks), we introduce the skill of “holding it”. We teach this by NOT 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. 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-4 of our house-training program, puppies quickly 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 four-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.