Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Housetrain Your Puppy

Adopting a new puppy is uber exciting!  Whether you get your pup from an animal shelter or pet rescue, or maybe your own dog has just had puppies…. these little critters bring life and fun into any home.


Until you remember that puppies pee – a lot – and erratically, and on whatever (or whoever) they are standing on at the time.  Woohoo!


No worries, this is something that can be resolved with proper house training.  However, do resign yourself to some random puddles all over your house for the first few months at least.  Owning a puppy is not any different than allowing a baby to crawl around without a diaper.  If you’re not willing to deal with this, don’t get a puppy!


Types of House Training


1. Crate training.

2. Newspaper training

3. Potty pad training.


Yup, the options are few.  House training is pretty much the same drill, no matter what technique you’re using.  Consistency, absolute patience, and positive reinforcement are your tools.  However, crate training is the most effective way as it utilizes natural instinct, and keeps puppy secure when you can’t follow her around.

Which Technique is Best?


While some dogs make the transition from potty pads to outside quite fine, many don’t.  Either way, allowing them to pee or poop in the house, whether on paper or a potty pad, IS still teaching them it’s okay to make potty in the house.  It kind of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?  The whole process can be confusing, especially to a developing puppy, and can potentially cause a great deal of long term accident and behavioral issues.


House Training with a Crate


Crate training is exactly what it sounds like.  Hit your nearby pet store and buy a dog crate (a wire cage with a plastic tray on the bottom).  Put an old folded towel or old blanket inside, and put your puppy in it when you are not home, during the night, and during practice sessions; a dog that loves his crate is a wonderful thing and a useful behavior. 


The idea is most animals will instinctively avoid making waste where they sleep.  And since you should NOT be getting a puppy any younger than eight or nine weeks, then this instinct will have begun to instill in her.  The point of the crate is to reinforce this.

How to Crate Train Your Puppy


Get a crate large enough for them to stand up straight and turn around, nothing smaller.  If you have a large breed, you will of course need to up-size as your puppy grows through house training.  You want to get her gradually used to holding her bladder and sphincter longer.  This is about training and strengthening the muscles controlling the function, as well as her behavior.


Here’s how to begin the training.  When your dog is in the crate – whether during the day or at night – you’ll need to take him outside to relieve himself every few hours, just like a baby.  Start with 30 minutes between ‘pee sessions,’ then move up to an hour, then two hours.  Play it by ear and work with your new pup over a period of weeks to learn to ‘hold it.’ 


If you leave him in for too long too soon, he’ll let you know by pooping in his crate (remember we told you to use an OLD towel in there..?).  So learn to pay attention to the signals that he’s ready to go.  He’ll whine when he needs to go, and it’s always prudent to assume they need to go when they whine, at least for the first few weeks or so.  

A Word on Water


It may sound counter-intuitive, but always put a bowl of water in the crate with them (not food).  Never leave a puppy or dog in a crate for longer than an hour without access to water, especially if it is a hot day, they have just been running around, or they have just eaten a big bowl of dry food.  If they constantly knock the water bowl over, you can get a hamster-style ‘drip bottle’ from most good pet supply stores that will keep them hydrated in the crate.


Newspaper/ Potty Pad Training


All the above applies, except you are taking puppy to a pad placed somewhere in the house (See? Seems suspect doesn’t it?).  That pee pad should be by the door that they would eventually use to access the back yard.


What if I Live in an Apartment?


Everything still applies, but there are some stairs, or an elevator, involved.  Look at it as extra exercise!


Toilet Training Tips:


Tip 1: Rule of thumb – take them to the appropriate place to go potty right after a drink or food, or sleeping. 


Top 2: To help train puppy behaviorally, always use the same word or phrase (and tone) as you are taking them to the bathroom, as well as while they are going.  For example, ‘pee time’ or ‘time to go potty’.  Always praise in a high happy voice as they are doing the deed in the correct place.  If you do this consistently, and never give it up, you will have a dog that knows what ‘pee time’ means, and will go out and pee on command.


Tip 3: Some breeds are harder to house train than others.  Do your research online before buying the pup.


A Word on the Role of Punishment in Potty Training


Put simply – don’t do it.  It’s not effective, it upsets your dog and may make their behavior worse, and in time, they may come to fear you.  The reason it is not effective is that when your puppy isn’t able to ‘hold it,’ it’s because he or she IS NOT CAPABLE of doing so.


Don’t get angry, and don’t blame the puppy or think he’s doing it deliberately because he’s wilful or lazy.  The idea that peeing in the house is ‘bad’ is a human cultural practice – dogs do not understand culture, or the human concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad.’  They understand only their instincts (“I gotta pee right NOW!”) verses learned habits (“I need to pee but my owner praises me if I pee outside.  I like praise so I’ll try to hold it.”) 


Never lose your temper or you’re asking your dog to develop a fear/ aggression issue.  Say a gentle firm ‘no’, preferably catching them in the act, and take them immediately to the appropriate place to go.  If he finishes going where he should, praise the heck out of him and give him a treat.  If he doesn’t, just put him where he (or another pet) has gone before on the lawn, wait for him to sniff (or just wait a few seconds), and then praise the heck out of him. 


The point is to make the proper potty place a positive experience, and a positive place.  A dog that feels afraid when he needs to go to the bathroom is a dog that will grow up with Issues.


In the End


You would do well to be honest with yourself about whether you have the TIME (it is time consuming to start) and patience, to house train a puppy.  It requires diligence and the tolerance to follow through.  Puppies are no different from new born babies, and you wouldn’t blame a baby for pooping or peeing in its diaper would you?


And no, sorry to burst your bubble, diapers don’t work with a puppy.


Good luck!



Mandarin MacLeod

Cat & Dog Behaviorist

Pet Consultant

Rescue Volunteer



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