How to potty train a puppy – dog housetraining

Housetraining a puppy is one of the main concerns of new dog owners and one of the very first things we teach our dogs.

A pup will have very few accidents and can be fully housetrained within a few weeks if trained correctly. If trained incorrectly, we make the housetraining process last months or years. In the worst cases, we unintentionally train our dogs to pee in the house, in their kennels or even on themselves.

Potty training a puppy can be overwhelming for someone who wants to do it right but does not have experience with a dog. Everyone has their own method of potty training, and unfortunately people still use old school techniques such as hitting the pup with a newspaper or rubbing her nose in her own poop. Lovely.

Tips for puppy housetraining:

1. Adopt a puppy or adult dog when you have time to train it.

When I adopted my mutt Ace, I knew I did not have time to properly housetrain a puppy. That’s why I adopted an adult, housebroken dog. This might be a good idea for you too if you work long hours or can’t take some time off when you first adopt your puppy. It will take a few weeks to fully housetrain a puppy, and that’s being optimistic.

A dog left unsupervised in a new area will pick up bad habits. If no one is there to show the dog how to act, she will do whatever makes sense for her at the time. At the very least, you should be able to run home during your lunch break and also hire someone to let the dog out twice a day while you are gone during those first few weeks.

Sophie the English springer spaniel puppy sleeping in kennel2. Use a dog kennel for puppy potty training.

A kennel works extremely well for housebreaking. A puppy will not want to go to the bathroom where she sleeps. It’s possible to have a puppy that never has an accident in the house if you use the kennel method and supervise the pup at all times when she’s out of the kennel. I believe in kennel training a dog 100 percent and will never housetrain a puppy any other way. The only exception would be an adult dog that has some kind of irrational fear of being crated.

It works this way: Crate the dog whenever you can’t supervise her such as at night or when you are not home. Take the pup outside right after she gets out of her kennel and she is almost guaranteed to go.

Most pups learn to love their kennels if they are fed in their kennels or offered treats and goodies to chew.

Unfortunately, I have seen a case where puppies were left in their crates for up to 14 hours at a time. This owner unintentionally trained her puppies not to care if they went to the bathroom in their kennels, on their own beds or on themselves.

I expect this owner to eventually give up on her dogs, and if the dogs are lucky enough to get new owners, that person is going to have a terrible time re-training them. No dog naturally wants to pee where she sleeps, so this is a very sad situation.

3. Use a phrase like “Let’s go outside.”

That way the pup has a word associated with the action and knows what to do. With Ace, I use the phrase “Hurry up.” He pees on command. 🙂

4. Ignore the mistakes and reward what she does right.

Positive reinforcement training is used by dog trainer Paul Owens and many others. It works wonders during housebreaking. If you catch the puppy squatting inside, pick her up and plop her down outside. If she goes to the bathroom outside, give her lots of praise.

5. Reward with treats!

If your dog pees outside, give her something she loves like a jerky treat. Be very generous with the praise and rewards when she goes where you want her to go.

6. Keep your dog leashed or near you at all times.

When you are in the house and your pup is not in her kennel, keep her on the leash. That way if she goes to the bathroom in the house, at least you can catch her in the act. She’ll be near you at all times and it will be more obvious to you when she shows signs that she needs to go.

7. Watch for circling, nose to the ground and squatting!

Once you see this behavior a few times, you’ll know when it’s time to hurry outside. Learn to predict these behaviors so you can bring your pup into the yard before she has a chance to go inside.

8. Keep your dog on a routine.

Let the pup out a few minutes after she eats. Let her out after she wakes up. Let her out when she comes out of the crate. Let her out every time you come home, etc. Don’t give her a chance to screw up! Basically, take your puppy outside every hour at first.

9. Take your pup to the same area every time.

I recommend using an area right by your door where it’s most convenient to bring your dog. Keep her on the leash so she can’t run off and play. Bring her to the same spot every time and she will realize what she is supposed to do.

10. Don’t play outside until the dog has relieved herself.

Play in different areas than where the pup goes to the bathroom so she can associate going to the bathroom in one spot and playing in another. She’ll probably want to play as soon as she gets outside, but make sure she “does her business” first. That’s why you took a trip outside.

Things not to do when potty training a puppy:

Dog housetraining Sophie the liver and white English springer spaniel puppy1. Lose your temper.

Your pup will have accidents. Multiple accidents. But an adult dog might have accidents too, especially if the dog was never properly housetrained in her previous home. Yelling will just scare the dog or make her more nervous. A nervous dog will have more accidents.

One of my adult foster dogs had an accident in the house. Instead of yelling at her, I realized I should have taken her out more often because she was confused about where to go in a new environment.

2. Rub your dog’s face in her poop.

Come on! This is abusive, and the dog will have no idea why you’re doing it.

3. Punish your dog.

The only time to tell the dog no is when you catch her in the act. Even then, I wouldn’t make a big deal out of her mistake. Just quickly hurry her outside and make sure to watch her better from then on.

If you yell at your dog even seconds after she relieves herself indoors, she will have no idea why you’re yelling at her. She might appear to “feel guilty,” but that’s because she knows you’re upset.

4. Believe your dog is trying to get back at you.

That is giving your dog way too much credit. Don’t humanize your dog. She is not peeing on your rug or in your bed or on your shoes to get back at you for anything. She’s doing it because she’s a puppy and either could not hold it or is still learning.

5. Use puppy pads, indoor grass for dogs or any other indoor bathroom.

Puppy pads and other products create an unnecessary step in house training. They create more confusion for the dog, and many dogs will think it’s OK to pee on pillows, rugs or blankets because they are similar to puppy pads. Don’t even use newspapers for an indoor dog bathroom.

The only exception might be if you are trying to housetrain a puppy while living in certain apartments. If it’s not possible to be running outside often and quickly from your 12th floor apartment, puppy pads might be your only option. This would be reason enough for me to adopt an adult, housetrained dog.

How to potty train a springer spaniel puppy

6. Expect the dog to be perfect.

There is no perfect dog, and most dogs will have accidents.

7. Assume an older dog is potty trained.

Even a potty trained adult dog might have an accident in the house just because she is in a new area and confused about where to go. But some adult dogs were never housebroken and you will be the one to train them. It will be harder to train an adult dog than a puppy, but you can use the same steps.

8. Hit your dog.

A rolled up newspaper? Really? Hitting your dog cause her to be scared of you, to run from you or to feel confused.

9. Expect your dog to hold it longer than physically possible.

If I were locked in a small area and had to go to the bathroom, eventually I would go. Don’t have unfair expectations for your dog. Puppies can’t hold it for more than a few hours. There is also a small percentage of dogs that have medical issues causing them to urinate more often than the average dog.

10. Feel guilty about kennel training.

I hardly ever put Ace in his kennel. He is fully housebroken and doesn’t get into trouble when left alone. He has free range of the house when I’m gone, even if it’s all day.

Would we have gotten to this point without a kennel? Probably. But I like to look at a kennel as a tool for future freedom. Because Ace stayed in his kennel whenever I left for the first few months, he did not pick up any bad habits and today he has freedom and trust.

Ace did not learn to chew my things or to get away with peeing in the house. Instead he learned to appreciate some down time while feeling secure and knowing I would return.

It’s been a very long time since I potty trained a puppy. Do you have any other suggestions?

Pictured is my parents’ springer spaniel named Sophie. For more information on puppy training, so my post on how to train a puppy as well as my post on how to potty train an adult dog.

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39 thoughts on “How to potty train a puppy – dog housetraining”

  1. Fantastic!! As always, great advice. It’s just so, so important that folks know what the heck to do about this. It just takes time and patience. I think the most important tip is #1!! Thanks Lindsay, Bonnie

  2. Great tips! Losing one’s temper, hitting, and rubbing the nose in poop are definitely bad ways to train!

    Patience is probably the MOST important thing to remember. I’m always one to run the dog outside if I catch them in the act. I didn’t have to train Gus since he was an adult but I just had to get him over his “new house” issues.

  3. Sweta Parthasarathy

    Great post! I have been meaning to adopt a puppy for a long time now but always been hesitant as I work full time and do not think it is fair on the new pup to be alone at home – many of my friends think I am overanalyzing the problem but thanks, you have re-enforced my beliefs!

  4. Lindsay Stordahl

    Thank you Bonnie and Apryl! I went with an adult dog because I knew I did not have time for training a puppy at the time. Training an adult dog with other issues is hard enough!

    Hey Sweta! Perhaps you could adopt an older dog that would fit in well with your lifestyle. There are plenty of older, calm dogs out there. You just have to be patient and wait for the right dog.

  5. Puppy training can be fun.

    What a rewarding feeling you get from accomplishing something with your beloved mutt.

  6. You’re right. Done wrong it can take super long to get a dog house trained.

    I recently worked with a client whose dog was 5 years old and still having accidents daily. Best to put in the effort at first and avoid years of problems.

  7. Great advise! What happens when you dog goes backwards (meaning she has been potty trained) and every time you leave she messes on the floor? When I get home she looks at me with the cutest eyes I can’t possible get mad. I want to avoid crating her. I just don’t know what to do!

  8. Lindsay Stordahl

    Crate her, unless it is a matter of her not being able to hold it. If that’s the case, then don’t leave her as long or come home during your lunch breaks to let her out. Or, hire a dog walker.

    If you crate her just for a few months while you are gone, you can probably break this habit so it won’t be an issue for life. The longer you tolerate it, the more likely you are going to have this problem for a long time and the harder it will be to break.

  9. The biggest mistake, without any doubt, is people give their dogs way too much freedom (ability to roam without being watched 100%) way before they are ready for that freedom.

    That freedom may be while they are home and they allow the dog to sneak off or it may be while they are gone and they allow the dog to roam before the dog has earned that right.

    There are several issues with any house training problem but this is the exact same issue that I have seen in 100% of the cases with my clients.

  10. Lindsay Stordahl

    Yep, that is what I figured. People need to understand that confining a dog for the first few months or years will allow more freedom for the dog later on.

  11. I hear stories about people getting frustrated with leaving the house with a puppy alone, and coming home to a mess. The biggest mistake is, they’ll then use the crate as punishment which doesn’t help correct the behavior. Instead, everything just repeats.

    This is a great list of Do’s and Dont’s. 🙂

  12. Lindsay Stordahl

    Yeah a kennel should not be a punishment. Instead the dog should be conditioned to view the kennel as a good, relaxing place full of treats.

  13. Few weeks ago i bought a mini schnauzer puppy. She is only 2.5 months old. I tried to train her to potty in the toilet. Sometimes she does her business there & i praise/reward her. However sometimes she doesn’t want to do it in the toilet & potty in the living room or kitchen just few seconds after i let her out of the toilet. It has been 2 weeks now but she still doesn’t understand her potty place is in the toilet.
    Every night i put her in the kennel to sleep but she did her business inside the kennel & makes a mess. Every morning when i wake up to let her go potty but she already did it inside her kennel. The kennel is very smelly & the puppy smell bad also.
    Did i do something wrong?How do i correct this behaviour? Please help me 🙁

  14. Lindsay Stordahl

    I’m guessing she came from a pet shop? Dogs that are kept in their kennels 24/7 have no choice but to eliminate in their kennels. Then it becomes a hard habit to break once they go to their new homes.

    I would never recommend you teach a dog to go to the bathroom in your house as you are doing. However, if you must, you should train the pup the same way you would outside. Take her on a leash to the same spot every time, wait there with her for her to go and then give her a reward. If she doesn’t go where you want her to go, then you put her in the kennel for a few minutes and then back to the toilet area again until she goes. Don’t allow her much freedom except for right after she goes to the bathroom. Keep her in the same room as you so you can supervise or keep her on a leash near you.

    Since she has no problem eliminating in the kennel, I recommend letting her out for more bathroom breaks than you currently are. Take her out every two hours for a few weeks. If she goes without accidents in her kennel, then you can go a bit longer, like three hours. Get up in the middle of the night to let her out, too.

  15. I got my puppy about 4 days ago (chiwawa mix shihtzu, 2months old), when she first came i had no problems with her, i would take her outside and she would pee and poo outside. and she slept in her crate just fine (did not eliminate in her crate).

    However, the following day my mother told me that she wanted her to pee on newspapers (which I thought was ridiculous since we have so much space outside), but she refused to pee on the newspapers and has been peeing in her crate!

    I now have resorted to my own methods and have been bringing her out (I had a german shepherd when I was 11 and had no problems housebreaking him).. but the newspaper fiasco lasted about 2.5 days. I’m afraid I might have confused her too much now and I’m worried that she might be okay with eliminating her waste in her crate now! (she does whine after she eliminates in the crate, or sleeps on another end where its clean)

    Would constantly bringing her out and rewarding her reduce the chances of her eliminating in her crate? I’m really worried I’ve made a irreversible mistake.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Yes. Keep doing what you are doing. Take her outside often and reward her when she goes. You should be OK. It sounds like you know what you are doing. If needed, you could temporarily use a smaller crate so there is less available space for her to eliminate. Then go back to the larger crate once she keeps the smaller one clean or once she gets too big for it of course.

  16. help!

    she’s since stopped eliminating in her crate. But since i started going to work (about 3 weeks ago) she’s eliminating everywhere in the house! she has never done this. We take her out every few hours during the day and at night(after naps, food, in between) , so i have no idea why she’s doing this. A friend takes care of her during the day and she takes her out every few hours as well. I dont know where I’m going wrong.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Sounds like your dog has too much freedom. A young dog should not be allowed to roam around the house and pee everywhere. That’s what the crate is for. Keep the dog in the crate when it can’t be supervised. When your friend is watching the dog, the friend should let the dog out at least every two hours, and keep the pup on a leash near her at all times so she can supervise. When she can’t supervise, then the pup should be in the crate.

      The easiest way to housetrain is to do all you can to prevent accidents all together and reward the dog for doing what you want.

  17. Hi there, we got our puppy 2 weeks ago and he’s 9 weeks today. He’s a black lab and is very effectionate already. He’s a little star when in his crate at night and we have got him toileting pretty well already – he has never ‘touch wood’ pooed inside and only does so when outside, he cries when he needs to go which is brilliant. He does still have the odd wee accident indoors but I put that down to us not picking up on it quick enough although when we take him outside he goes on cammand perfectly. We have only been using praise but are going to begin giving him treats when he wees outside so he associates going outside with the reward. Myself and my partner are both teachers and my partner went back to work yesterday. I have taken another week off so that I can spend a little more time gradually getting him use to being left alone. We have got him a play pen for the kitchen with all his toys, kong and bed to go in when on his own. I was wondering if you had any advice about what we should do about a litter tray or not even? He’s so good already with going outside and my partner will be coming home at lunch to feed, let him out and play but what would you advise we did about a litter tray etc? He’s still obviously young but does hold his bladder well. Do you think we should get him a litter tray and train him to use that or just praise him even more for going outside? It’s just that it feels like we’ll be taking a step back and confusing him?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I never suggest training the puppy to pee inside. It is possible to train them to pee on fake grass or a tray or a pad or whatever, but nine times out of 10 the dog ends up confused and thinking he can pee on rugs, blankets and so on. I’ve seen way too many adult dogs with these housetraining problems. Many of them get lazy or don’t fully understand what to do and they just pee right next to the tray. If you can, I suggest continuing with taking him outside as often as you can. That’s great you or your partner are able to come home during lunch to let the dog out.

  18. Great advise! I will try my best to follow it! We have a 9 week chihuahua puppy. She’s only 1.5 lbs. She has to go to the bathroom every 10 seconds. I really like the tip about not playing where they go to the bathroom. Just read the tip out loud to my boyfriend. He is an offender. So glad I found this!

  19. I have heard that putting a few coins in an empty soda can, and shaking it when they begin the go to the bathroom in doors, is suppose to be effective. What would you say for that?

    Also, my puppy was put into his crate today, and well…made a pretty nasty mess on himself. He always does this after I leave him–even with my mother there. It’s almost like he scares himself so badly that he forces himself to go to the bathroom. 🙁

    1. The best method is to prevent them from going to the bathroom indoors at all. If they do start to go indoors, just say “no” and quickly get them outside. You don’t want to scare the puppy with the can. It might teach him to never eliminate in front of you, and instead he’ll try to sneak off into corners of the house to do it. He may also learn not to pee in front of you, even outside.

      Sounds like your dog is eliminating due to his anxiety. I think you just need to completely ignore him when he’s in his crate. Just don’t react to the crying and he’ll learn it doesn’t get him any attention. Take him outside as often as you can for bathroom breaks and reward him when he goes outside.

  20. LibraryDragonfly

    Hello,

    I am getting a Maltese/Yorkie mix in the next month and I have been trying to get an idea of the best training methods. I have always had larger dogs (30+lbs) and from what I have read online the smaller dogs have a harder time with potty training.

    My husband and I plan to train our pup to go outside the majority of the time. And eventually use a bell on the door to let us know when she needs to go out. I’ve read that smaller dogs can be injured if they hold “it” for too long. Is this true?

    I recently read about a new concept the “Puppy Apartment” – A crate designed with two areas; a potty area and a sleeping/hanging out area separated by a mesh wall with a small door. The potty area has a pee pad.

    My question is this, Would this be a good idea to use only for overnight and when we are out of the house? I hate to withhold water and food from a pup that can easily suffer from hypoglycemia and dehydration. When we are in the house we will take the pup out. It’s the times when we aren’t home that concern me.

    Do you think this is a viable option?

    PS. We both leave 8am and then home from 11-2 and back out till 5. This means daytime sessions in the crate would be about 3 hrs long.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I would never use a puppy pad for house training a puppy. The reason for this is it’s too easy for them to get confused and start peeing next to the pad or on rugs of similar size. However, you can check out my post on not to use fake grass or potty pads for dogs, and you will see dozens of people trying to prove me wrong. These products do seem to work for some people. If you have your heart set on the pads, you may get some ideas from the comments in that post.

      Personally, I would train a small breed the same way I would train any breed. I would not use any puppy pads or newspapers for an indoor bathroom, not even the kennel setup you suggested. I would start taking the puppy outside often and rewarding her.

      Depending on how young the pup is, you will need to get up at least once at night to let her out. When you are at work, she will probably be able to hold it three hours. The breeder or rescue you are getting the pup from should be able to let you know how often the pup needs to go. If it is more than every three hours, maybe you could get home a bit earlier just that first week or so until the pup gets a little bigger.

      Best of luck, and congrats on the new addition!

      http://www.thatmutt.com/2008/12/03/10-reasons-not-to-buy-fake-indoor-grass-for-dogs/

  21. When I got my now 13.5 year old doxie, I read that you should take them out right after they ate, and right after they woke up, and not allow them back in until after they “produced”. And, after they “produced”, praise, praise, praise! Kind of what you said! So, this is what I did, and I have to say, Elmeaux has not had an accident since I can remember. He now has free range in the house, and even if we are gone for hours, will “hold it” until we get home. We did not use a kennel when he was a pup, but did have a confined space for him that my husband and son made (playpen sized).

  22. Hi Lindsay,

    While housebreaking my poodle puppy, Rosie, I quickly figured out that most of her accidents were a result of my losing track of the time.

    I ended up writing an iPhone App to track her pit stops and to remind me when it was time to take her out again. I had been wanting to learn how to write an app and this seemed as good a reason as any.

    The reminders keep me on track and I love seeing on the app’s statistics page how long it has been since Rosie’s last accident.

    The app is called HouseBreaker and it is available in the App Store. I would love it if you would review it on your blog. I can send you a promo code if you are interested.

    Thanks!

  23. I’m getting a little confused over how to approach the potty training. I raised two labs before my current puppy and used the pads briefly but only for about a week. Everything on here I have read says not to use them at all. When I got my new puppy (8 weeks old, got her a few days ago) her owner said since she wasn’t p on all her shots yet that I shouldn’t take her outside. How am I suppose to potty train if I can’t take her out? Is it just to places that are crowded with other dogs?

  24. I have an 11 week old puppy. She is in the process of getting all her booster vaccines. The vet recommends not to take her outside during this time, how do I housetrain her?

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I recommend you take her outside for potty breaks, regardless of what the vet said. Usually when they say don’t take a puppy outside, they mean don’t walk her in high traffic areas with a lot of other dogs. If you absolutely can’t take her out, you would have to train her to go potty on pee pads in the house. Here is a post I wrote on the issue of not taking dogs outside. You have to make the best choice for your own pup but I always recommend taking them outside right away.

      http://www.thatmutt.com/2014/10/12/should-you-walk-your-puppy-before-hes-had-his-vaccinations/

  25. Hi Lindsay,
    I just wanted to say thanks for this topic. It has been over ten years since I had a puppy and I am picking up a 8 week old shepherd mix tomorrow. I can’t wait!! Maggie has had a hard time getting over our older dog that we lost last summer. I totally needed a refresher on this info. Thanks again!!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh gosh, you and me both! Congrats on your puppy! How exciting! Let me know how it goes as we’re getting ours in April and I could use a refresher. I’m sorry to hear your older dog past away.

  26. Steve in Dallas

    Hi, We have adopted a rescue puppy a couple of weeks ago. He is now about 11 weeks old. We live in a 5th floor apartment with a balcony.
    Harry, the puppy, hasn’t had all his shots yet so we can’t take him outside to pee and poo. He will go onto the balcony on his own but if we try to carry him out there he freaks out.
    Because we can’t take him for walks yet we started using Pee Pads, mostly with good results when peeing but not with poo. He tends to go in the same area as the pad but not on the pad.
    Last week we changed to the fake grass option in the hope he would get use to the feeling of the grass. Our small dog walk/pee area in our building in Dallas has fake grass so I figured that once we are able to take him outside he will be use to using this.
    He mostly pee’s on the grass pad, sometimes next to it, but almost never poo’s on it, this is normally done in the same area as the pad. (thankfully we have hard wood floors so it’s easy to clean)
    I want to get him use to using the grass pad while it’s on the balcony but he just won’t. What can I do?
    I’m counting the days until I can take him outside properly, 10 more to go.
    Please help.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Gosh, that sounds so hard. I’m on the 2nd floor of an apartment and when I got my 8-week old puppy in April I took him outside for potty breaks. There’s no way I was even going to consider training him to go potty/poop indoors or on my balcony. So I would recommend taking your puppy outside. The benefits of socialization, exercise and potty training outweigh the slight risk of disease in my opinion.

      However, I understand sometimes the risks are not worth it, and I don’t know where you live and it’s none of my business why you’re keeping your puppy indoors. If that’s the case, I think your best bet is to just take him right to the pad or grass on a leash every single time and stand there with him for a few minutes, rewarding him when he goes right on the pad/fake grass. If he doesn’t go, put him in his kennel/crate for 20 minutes and then try again. Very frustrating and time consuming, but that’s what I would do every single time until you can take him outside. Here are some posts that might help:

      http://www.thatmutt.com/2016/01/14/how-to-train-your-dog-to-use-pee-pads-or-grass-pads/

      http://www.thatmutt.com/2015/03/12/my-dog-pees-next-to-the-pee-pad-instead-of-on-the-pad/

      http://www.thatmutt.com/2014/10/12/should-you-walk-your-puppy-before-hes-had-his-vaccinations/

  27. Another great article, thank you!

    One thing I disagree with, and that is giving a treat for going pee outside. Praise is fine. Reason being a pup can easily stop peeing with a partially full bladder. They are often excited about getting a treat, stop peeing early, get the treat, then go back inside with a partially full bladder and pee on the floor. Most people don’t know this can happen, so something to watch for. I tether the pup to me when it is not crated inside, so I can immediately notice it starting to go, and get the pup right out .

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