Housetraining a puppy requires time, vigilance, patience, and commitment. By following this procedure, you can minimize house soiling incidents. Remember, though, that virtually every puppy will have an accident in the house (more likely several). It is simply part of raising a puppy. The more consistent you are in following the basic housetraining procedures, the faster your puppy will learn acceptable behavior. It may take several weeks to housetrain your puppy, and with some smaller breeds, it might take longer.
Establish a Routine
Like babies, puppies do best on a regular schedule. Take your puppy outside frequently, at least every two hours, immediately after he wakes up from a nap, after playing, and after eating.
Praise your puppy lavishly every time he eliminates outdoors and give him a treat. You must praise him and give him a treat immediately after he’s finished eliminating, not after he comes back inside the house. This step is vital, because rewarding your dog for eliminating outdoors is the only way he’ll know that is what you want him to do.
Choose a location not too far from the door to be the bathroom spot. Always take your puppy directly to the bathroom area. Take him for a walk or play with him only after he has eliminated. If you clean up an accident in the house, take the soiled rags or paper towels and leave them in the bathroom spot. The smell will help your puppy recognize the area as the place he is supposed to eliminate. While your puppy is eliminating, use a word or phrase, like “go potty,” that you can eventually use before he eliminates to remind him of what he’s supposed to be doing.
If possible, put your puppy on a regular feeding schedule. Depending on their age, puppies usually need to be fed three or four times a day. Feeding your puppy at the same time each day will make it more likely that he’ll eliminate at consistent times as well. This makes housetraining easier for both of you.
Supervise, Supervise, Supervise!
Don’t give your puppy an opportunity to soil the house. They should be watched at all times when they are indoors. You can tether them to you with a six-foot leash or use baby gates to keep them in the room where you are. Watch for signs that they need to eliminate, like sniffing around or circling. When you see these signs, immediately take them outside to their bathroom spot. If they eliminate, praise them lavishly and reward them with a treat.
When you’re unable to watch your puppy at all times, they should be confined to an area small enough that they won’t want to eliminate there. It should be just big enough for them to comfortable stand, lie down, and turn around. This area could be a portion of a bathroom or laundry room, blocked off with boxes or baby gates. Or you may want to crate train your puppy and use the crate to confine them. If your puppy has spent several hours in confinement, when you let them out, take them directly to his bathroom spot and praise them when they eliminate.
Expect your puppy to have an accident in the house—it’s a normal part of housetraining a puppy.
- When you catch them in the act of eliminating in the house, do something to interrupt them (make a startling noise, but be careful not to scare them). Immediately take them to their bathroom spot, praise them, and give them a treat if they finish eliminating there.
- Don’t punish your puppy for eliminating in the house. If you find a soiled area, it’s too late to administer a correction. Do nothing but clean it up. Rubbing your puppy’s nose in it, taking them to the spot and scolding them, or any other punishment or discipline will only make them afraid of you and/or afraid to eliminate in your presence. Animals don’t understand punishment after the fact, even if it’s only seconds later. Punishment will do more harm than good.
- Cleaning the soiled area is very important because puppies are highly motivated to continue soiling in areas that smell like urine or feces.
It’s extremely important that you use the supervision and confinement procedures outlined above to minimize the number of accidents. If you allow your puppy to eliminate frequently in the house, they’ll get confused about where they’re supposed to eliminate, which will prolong the housetraining process.
A puppy less than six months of age cannot be expected to control their bladder for more than a few hours at a time. If you have to be away from home for more than four or five hours a day, this may not be the best time for you to get a puppy. If you’re already committed to having a puppy and have to be away from home for long periods of time, you’ll need to train your puppy to eliminate in a specific place indoors. Be aware, however, that doing so can prolong the process or teaching them to eliminate outdoors. Teaching your puppy to eliminate on newspaper may create a life-long surface preference, meaning that he may, even in adulthood, eliminate on any newspaper they find lying around the house.
When your puppy must be left alone for long periods, confine them to an area with enough room for a sleeping space, a playing space, and a separate place for them to eliminate. In the area designated as the elimination place, you can either use newspapers or a sod box. To make a sod box, place sod in a container, like a child’s small plastic swimming pool. You can also find dog litter products at a pet store.
Other Types of House-Soiling Problems
If you’ve consistently followed the housetraining procedures and your puppy continues to eliminate in the house, there may be another reason for his behavior.
- Medical problems: House-soiling can often be caused by physical problems such as a urinary tract infection or a parasite infection. Check with your veterinarian to rule out any possibility of disease or illness.
- Submissive/excitement urination: Some dogs, especially young ones, temporarily lose control of their bladders when they become excited or feel threatened. This usually occurs during greetings, intense play, or when they are about to be punished.
- Territorial urine-marking: Dogs sometimes deposit urine or feces, usually in small amounts, to scent-mark their territory. Both male and female dogs do this, and it most often occurs when they believe their territory has been invaded.
- Fears and phobias: When animals become frightened, they may lose control of their bladder and/or bowels. If your puppy is afraid of loud noises, such as thunderstorms or fireworks, they may house-soil when they’re exposed to these sounds.