Whether you’re house training a puppy or adult dog you need a few things: patience, consistency and commitment. With these things house training can go quickly and easily, but you must always remember to stay calm and stick to it!
You may find yourself using some house training skills for any new dog you bring home, whether they are a puppy with zero house manners or a dog that is house trained already. Even if a dog is already house trained, sometimes the new environment and lack of schedule will result in accidents. Don’t get frustrated! Your new dog just needs time to adjust.
The first thing you want to do is ESTABLISH A ROUTINE. Creating a schedule for your new dog is very important. All the dogs we have ever had, fosters or our own, like routine. They learn down to the minute when it’s breakfast or dinner time, or when it’s time to go outside.
Young puppies pee and poop A LOT! In the beginning you will need to take them outside at least every hour or two, and sometimes that’s not frequent enough. As time progresses, you can extend the length of waiting time. Going outside first thing in the morning, always after eating, playing and sleeping, and before bed are good starting points. House training a dog, especially a puppy, is time-consuming at first. Do not expect house training to happen if you leave your puppy alone all day while you’re at work. It takes time and commitment, and should be considered before bringing home a puppy.
When establishing a routine, you also want to PICK A POTTY SPOT AND COMMAND. This is a spot out in your yard, or wherever you choose, that you will take your dog every time they need to relieve themselves. Every time your dog uses this spot give them lots of praise and some treats. They need to associate this spot with good things. Whenever you bring your dog to this spot, only focus on getting them to use the bathroom. While in the Potty Spot, you may also want to establish a Potty Command. Saying something like “Go Potty” in a happy voice when your dog is in the Potty Spot AND while they are actually in the act of relieving themselves will help them associate those words with doing their business. Some dogs and puppies may get distracted when you start talking to them though. If that’s the case, try it without the Command and see if that helps them stay focused on doing their business.
Whenever your puppy or dog is in training: ALWAYS SUPERVISE THEM. You may want to close doors to certain rooms or use baby gates to keep them out of certain areas. You can even leash them and keep them with you at all times that way. If given the chance to wander off and pee on the floor, they’ll do it. At times when you’re unable to watch them full-time you’ll want to confine them somewhere. We recommend crate training. Crates, when used humanely, serve many purposes other than helping with house training and many dogs see their crate as their own special space and will frequently hang out or sleep in it voluntarily. See our separate article: “Tips for Crate Training.” If you do use a crate, be sure to take your dog straight outside when you let them out. If you don’t, they may have an accident in the floor instead.
When you do use a crate for house training, be sure to use a crate that is the appropriate size for your dog. We prefer the metal folding crates. They are easier to clean, your dog gets more air flow than an enclosed crate and they fold down nicely when we need to travel with them. Many of these metal folding crates come with dividers, so you can buy a larger crate that will suit your dog when they are full-grown, but use the divider as your puppy grows. Dogs don’t like to relieve themselves in the same area that they sleep, so only giving them as much space as necessary is best. If you give them more space than they need they will relieve themselves on one side of the crate and sleep in the other. Your dog should be able to completely stand up, turn around and lay down, but not much more than that (at least when house training, after they are trained to hold it they can have more space).
When house training, always remember: POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT, NOT PUNISHMENT. Accidents are bound to happen when house training, but you must not get frustrated or angry at your dog. Yelling, rubbing their nose in it and punishing them will not help your dog understand that what they did was bad. Punishment is a sure way to make your dog terrified of you and unwilling to use the bathroom around you. Punishment will only hinder your housetraining progress. Instead, stay calm, even if you catch your dog in the act. Firmly say “NO” and take them outside to the Potty Spot. Once there, let them finish if they need to and praise them. If you find pee or poop on the floor after it has happened, just clean it up. The moment of correction has passed and there’s nothing you can do. Positive reinforcement is key. Each time they relieve themselves outside, praise them, give them treats, play with them. Do whatever they enjoy. Continue positive reinforcement even after your dog has become housetrained; a little praise can go a long way!
MORE HOUSE TRAINING TIPS:
1. Don’t let your dog drink a lot of water an hour or two before bed. If they do they may not be able to hold it all night.
2. Do not clean up accidents with an ammonia-based cleaner. Because urine has ammonia in it, the cleaner could make your dog think it’s ok to pee or poop there. Instead, use an enzymatic cleaner.
3. Learn your dog’s signals for when they need to relieve themselves. Some dogs wander around sniffing the floor, some sit by the door, some may even bark or whine at you. Learning your dog’s unique behavior will benefit you not only in house training, but throughout their life.
4. Training Pads can be helpful when you have to leave your puppy for an extended period of time and can’t get home to take them outside. They can be a good temporary solution when house training, but be careful not to overdo it; your puppy might start thinking those Pads are the only place they’re supposed to go and not outside. Some people use them throughout their dog’s life, but this is typically done with little dogs when living in an apartment or similar place.