Puppy House Training: Best Practices & Tips
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
I am not afraid to admit that back in 2011 as Jackson’s Gotcha Date was looming, the thing that terrified me the most about starting off life with a new puppy was house training. Since Babe was a two-year old rescue dog when I adopted her, the last puppy I had helped house train was Dutch, and that had been thirteen years prior and only for a week. Dutch had started off as my parents’ dog and only became mine after Mom passed away, so my only time house training him was when I watched their dogs for a week when Dutch was 9 weeks old.
Fortunately our breeder gave us extensive information to prepare us for all aspects of puppyhood, and I studied the PDFs that she sent like I was studying for a state board exam. I was determined to house train him quickly with as few accidents as possible. When it was all said and done, Jackson peed in the house fewer than five times and pooped only once. Tink also had very few accidents and never pooped in the house during her puppyhood; she only has pooped once inside in the last three and a half years and that was when experiencing extreme intestinal distress in the middle of the night and she was unable to wake me to go outside.
A good rule of thumb when considering how long your puppy can be left home alone is that puppies can hold their bladders for the same number of hours as they are months old. For example, an 8 week old puppy is approximately 2 months old, which equals two hours during calm waking hours or light sleep. When extremely tired puppies are sleeping, this time can be longer. When puppies are playing or rough-housing, this timeframe is substantially shorter, with puppies sometimes feeling the urge to urinate as often as every fifteen minutes when extremely active.
Crates can be the subject of heated debate, but when used correctly, crates become a haven for a dog. Our dogs seek out their crates even when we are home and they have the full run of the entire house. Not only do crates keep inquisitive puppies from accidentally harming themselves by chewing on unsafe items or exploring things that they should not when humans are not home, but puppies do not want to eliminate their waste where they sleep.
A wire dog kennel is extremely helpful when house training. Make sure you purchase one that is sized for your grown dog but has a wire divider that you can use to reduce the area that they can access. If you give a puppy full access to their adult size crate they can easily urinate or defecate at one end and sleep comfortably on the other, and you do not want that to happen. Once they are fully house trained and have not had any accidents in the house for several months you can give them the full kennel room; just be sure to keep making their area larger as they grow.
Do not provide bedding in their crate until they are consistently going to the bathroom outside. Bedding and blankets will soak up urine, and you want to create an environment that is unpleasant if they go to the bathroom in the kennel. Please note that this is not out of cruelty; teaching your dog the rules and expectations of living in a human house is loving and will make their lives better. A few weeks without bedding in their kennel is a small investment to make in their future as a happy, healthy confident dog.
How to House train
The keys to any type of dog training are patience, consistency, repetition, clearly communicating the command, and celebrating their success. Here are the guidelines that I used to quickly house train both Jackson and Tinkerbell in a very short amount of time with very few “accidents” in the house and never in their crates.
- Take your puppy outside immediately after they wake up from a nap or in the morning. As soon as they pee or poop praise them happily with a pleasant and exited tone of voice “Yes, good dog! good dog!”
- When your puppy is active and exploring the house, you should always be watching them and be near them. If they start to squat or sniff for a spot to go to the bathroom, pick them up and take them outside or call them outside. As soon as they go, once again use your happy excited tone of voice, “Yes, good dog! Good dog! Yes!” Give them a small training treat at the same time that you are praising them verbally.
- If your puppy is engaging in very active playtime, running around or rough-housing with other dogs in the house, take them outside every fifteen minutes and praise them heartily as described above anytime they go to the bathroom outdoors.
- Take your puppy outside and allow them to relieve themselves before placing them in their crate at bedtime, before you leave the house, or if you are about to do something like taking a shower that leaves you unable to watch them.
- Understand that your puppy will likely need to go outside once, twice or even three times when they are first with you if they come home at eight weeks old.
- Try to take time off the first week that your puppy is home, like a puppy maternity or paternity leave, or have a friend or a dog walker come in a few times during the work day to let your puppy outside. If your puppy is eight weeks old and you are gone from the house from 7 am until 6 pm, you should ideally have someone at 10 am, 1 pm, and 4 pm if not more often.
- If you catch your puppy in the act of peeing or pooping inside, give a calm, firm, “NO!” and immediately take them outside even if they are finished with the actual act of peeing or pooping. If they do additional bodily functions outside, reward them with the praise as described above, “Yes! Good dog, good dog!”
- Clean up after accidents with a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water. First soak the urine up with an old towel or stack of paper towels. Make sure you soak up as much as possible; many puppy owners use the technique of standing on the paper towels or fabric towel if the accident was on carpet. You may need to do this a few times with a fresh towel or paper towel. Spray liberally with the vinegar/water mixture after you have soaked up as much of the urine as possible. White vinegar helps neutralize the smell of the urine in a way that many other cleaners do not and make it less likely that the puppy or dog will return to that spot to urinate again.
- The fewer accidents, the faster your puppy will become house trained! The more times your puppy goes potty outside and receives that happy, positive reinforcement of your loving, joyful praise along with food treats, the sooner they will figure out that it is the correct spot to go to the bathroom. Dogs want to please you, they want to receive that happy sound plus food. It is important to reiterate once again that to punish a puppy for going to the bathroom inside by hitting, yelling or rubbing their face in the urine or excrement is never ok. A stern, calm “No” is sufficient for correcting behavior.
Two Appliances Every Puppy Owner Should Purchase
Fortunately small puppies do not put out much volume when they do have an accident inside. However one of the best purchases I have ever made as a dog owner is the Bissell Spot Bot. I ordered it one night at 3 am after Tinkerbell was sick in multiple spots in our bedroom.
It is a small, portable carpet cleaner that has a nozzle and hose or the option of simply putting it down on a spot, pushing a button, and sitting back while it cleans a circular area of carpet. This is great for small accidents as well as when your dog eats a mystery object and vomits it back up in the middle of the night…not that we’ve had that exact scenario happen. Ok, yes, we have.
Also consider a regular carpet steamer for days when you want to do an entire room, maybe not for puppyhood but as your dog grows up. Even fully house trained dogs have moments in their life when they have horrific diarrhea or are vomiting and get sick in multiple spots of a single room. Trust me, as a lifelong dog owner, I have cleaned up pretty much everything a dog can do. You will want a carpet cleaner if you have dogs and a carpet!