House training, or potty training, is one of the first things to address with our puppies. It can sometimes seem like a daunting task, especially with all of the accidents in your home. However, with a little patience and a plan, you can greatly reduce the stress on both you and your pup while working through it.
First, you need to outline your specific goals with house training. You also need to determine your needs based on your living situation. Will your pup always have access to a fenced yard? Even if they will, a dog who can potty on leash is always a good thing. If you ever have to travel with your pup you may end up without access to securely fenced areas. There’s also always the risk of them needing surgery and having to be leash walked only for a few weeks. Having the confidence and skill to potty on leash will be a lifesaver in those situations. If you do have access to a fenced yard most of the time, make sure your puppy gets to practice pottying both on leash and off.
Once you have determined how you want your dog to potty, and where, it’s time to set them on a schedule. At the very least, your pup should be eating meals at scheduled times. It doesn’t have to be the exact same time every day, but feeding meals is much more productive than leaving a bowl full out at all times. Our pups tend to potty about 10-20 minutes after they eat, and if we aren’t aware of when they eat because they are grazing it makes accidents all the more likely. Typically when feeding meals I recommend giving your pup around 20 minutes to eat. When the 20 minutes is up, pick up the bowl and any food left in it. Your pup will learn pretty quickly to eat within the allotted time. Something to note here is that you should NEVER take a bowl away from a puppy or dog who is actively eating. I encourage all new dog owners to offer a trade for the food bowl if your pup is still by the bowl. The trade is usually a higher value treat than what they were eating. Most dogs tend to move on from their bowl when they are done eating. If your puppy hovers over their bowl or growls when you go to pick it up, seek professional training help immediately. This could turn into a serious guarding issue if not addressed.
If, however, you are feeding your meals out of a food dispensing toy such as a KONG, I recommend allowing your pup to keep this toy as long as they are actively engaging with it. Once the toy is empty and they are no longer engaging with it, it should be picked up. Puppies should be eating at least twice a day, possibly even three times a day. This is based on your pups age, and of course your veterinarian's recommendation. Once your pup gets on a regular feeding schedule, their elimination schedule should follow. Keep in mind how often your pup is drinking water throughout the day as well.
Crate or confinement training can also be very helpful during potty training. It is also a great way to keep all of your stuff safe from puppy teeth! Confinement training is a similar concept to crate training, just an alternative for those who may not want to use a crate. Typically it is done with a small room with an easy to clean floor, such as a kitchen or bathroom. These smaller areas are gated off using baby gates or exercise pens so that you can still see your puppy. Typically I prefer crate training, but I have worked with dogs that panicked in a crate and the confinement training was safe and better option in those cases. In addition to crate training, making sure your puppy doesn’t have access to other rooms where you cannot supervise them is crucial.
Now that we have a schedule and a confinement strategy, let's break down the main points of house training.
Frequent potty breaks. A general rule when it comes to young puppies is to add 1 to the number of months they are old and that is how many hours they should be able to go between potty breaks. Meaning, if your puppy is 8 weeks old they should be pottied at least every 3 hours. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. Your puppy may need to go out more frequently than that. What it means for you is that if your puppy has not pottied within the last couple of hours there is a good chance that they will need to go soon, whether they are inside or outside. And yes, this does also mean you may need to get up a couple of times during the night to potty them.
Monitor your new puppy at ALL times when they are inside if they are not in their crate/confinement area. I know you cannot watch their every move, but if you can’t have your eyes on your pup, they should be in their crate/confinement area. You can make the space your puppy has access to limited to where you can keep an eye on them, by simply shutting doors and using baby gates. Our puppies can get really good about sneaking out of the room we are in to go potty as they quickly learn that pottying where we can see them may lead to an upset human.
Remember these crucial times to take your pup out to potty:
Immediately after coming out of their crate/confinement area
After a play session
10-20 minutes after eating or drinking an excessive amount of water
Hold off on training or playing with your pup outside until after they have gone potty. When they do go make sure to praise your pup, and start a game! Many times our puppies learn that once they go potty their outside time ends, so instead make going potty mean playtime begins, even if it is only for a few minutes.
Don’t spend too much time waiting for them to go potty. I typically give around 10 minutes. If they don’t go potty in that time we go back inside and they go back in their crate. Then we try again in another 20 minutes.
These rules may seem a little daunting at first, but I have found adding structure to their daily routine helps us set them up for success, making everyone happier in the long run.
So, how do you know when your puppy is house trained? I like for adult dogs to go at least a month with no accidents, and then start giving them a little more freedom one bit at a time. With puppies, I recommend using crate/confinement areas until they are at least one year old. I also continue to use the crate throughout adolescence (about 3 years old). As with all forms of management, you don’t want to remove everything all at once. When you are feeling confident in your pup’s house training, start by removing one baby gate and see how it goes. Continue removing them one at a time until they are all gone.