Proven Tips for Successful Puppy House-Training

What are the most effective methods? Here’s a hint: Prevent and reward.

Your pup may need to go potty 8 to 10 times a day.

I am getting a new puppy this week! It is an exciting time — but to be honest, I dread the house-training routine.

The first key to effective training is to observe your puppy’s behavior. Your pup may need to go potty 8 to 10 times a day. Puppies usually need to eliminate soon after waking, eating, drinking or playing.

You will begin to understand your dog’s body language when she has to go. When you notice your puppy whimpering, whining circling and sniffing — it is time! (What are you waiting for, a handwritten note?) Take your pup to the potty area immediately.

If the potty area is outside, your puppy will eventually go to the door as an indication. If you are using papers or Wee-Wee Pads, place them in the same designated area and train to that spot. Use a keyword — as your dog is peeing or pooping say, “Go pee pee,” or “Go potty.” She will begin to understand the correlation of the word. Above all, be consistent with your program.

Crates Are Great

A young puppy should never be allowed the run of the house. House-training requires confinement of some sort, for his protection and yours.

The natural instinct of a puppy to seek safety and comfort from the den-like enclosure of a crate makes for a perfect house-training tool. Dogs typically will not soil their sleep area. Crates also protect your belongings from sharp puppy teeth and protect your pup from electric cords, plants, stairs and areas that require supervision.

But… if you want this to work, you’ve got to know how to properly crate train.

Follow these guidelines:

  • Never use the crate as a punishment! Your dog will come to fear it and refuse to enter it.
  • Puppies younger than 6 months shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than 3 or 4 hours at a clip. They can’t control their bladders and bowels for that long. The same goes for adult dogs who are being house-trained. Physically they can hold it, but they don’t know they’re supposed to. Don’t be cruel.
  • Crate your dog only until you can trust her not to destroy the house. After that, it should be a place she goes voluntarily.
  • If your puppy continually soils the crate, discontinue using it for house-training.

Always take your puppy to the “potty area” as soon as you take her from the crate or area of confinement. Reward her as soon as she relieves herself.

In the video below, Dr. Bernadine Cruz, DVM, gives an overview of some methods:

Crime and Punishment

Animal experts agree: Rewards are the most successful training reinforcement.

Never punish your puppy for accidents.

As soon as your dog successfully eliminates — in the designated training spot — praise her and/or offer a treat. She will learn very quickly the way to get the reward. If she makes a mistake, do not scold or reprimand. Just clean up and start back with the training. Punishments, either by scolding or physical corrections, compromise the trust factor with your puppy. You will end up with a dog who is fearful and anxious.

If your dog soils in the wrong place, she does not understand the mistake. Correcting her after the 1-second rule will not work. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s when people rub their dog’s nose in urine. Do not rub your puppy’s nose in urine! It doesn’t work. Don’t be cruel.

Clean the floor thoroughly with an enzymatic solution. Do not use ammonia; dogs instinctively return to areas marked with the scent of their waste, and the aroma of ammonia may be confused with urine. If your dog continues to return to the same spot, you may move potty papers in that area. Help him understand the right place to potty and want to go there.

Saved by the Bell

Puppies are babies, and they will forget training if they are involved in a more interesting activity. Sometimes the urgency hits and they will just start to pee before they give a signal.

When you see your puppy begin to urinate or defecate in the wrong place, distract her. A loud clap, whistle or bell will break her attention just long enough to scoop her up and get her to the right potty place. Encourage her to continue elimination with your special command and then reward the success.

Practice — And Patience — Make Perfect

House-training a puppy takes compassion, consistency and patience. It is your responsibility to help your puppy understand where and when to potty. Let me try to simplify this. Regardless of the method, house-training employs 2 general guidelines:

  1. Prevent indoor accidents by confinement, observation and close supervision.
  2. Take your puppy outside on a regular schedule and reward her for eliminating in the designated area.

Remember, a puppy less than 12 weeks old will not have developed bladder or bowel control. A dog may not be fully house-trained until 8 to 12 months old.

Magic Formula? Not So Much

Sorry, there are no magic formulas for house-training a puppy successfully. It requires the pet parent’s investment of time and effort. The payoff is a happy, trusting relationship with your new fur-child.

If you find you need additional help, professional guidance is available. Contact a certified professional dog trainer (CPDT), a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB), or a board-certified veterinarian behaviorist (Dip ACVB).

C.D. Watson

View posts by C.D. Watson
C.D. Watson has been researching and writing about pets for many years. She is a freelance writer and a corporate refugee. C.D. lives on a farm in the beautiful Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee with her husband, 3 dogs and a variety of other pets.

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  1. Dorothy UK
    March 28, 2010

    Please do not be tempted to train your puppy to eliminate in the house. It must be taken into your garden/yard every hour, after it eats or drinks and when it wakes up after a nap. You should also take it out just before you go to bed, every time you see it eliminate you must praise your puppy. I use a catch phrase when my puppy has a pee, I say “get one” while it is urinating and “big job” when it passes faeces. If you do this your dog will pee on command when it is older. (Unless it’s bladder is empty)

    You should set your alarm and try to take your puppy out about twice during the night. If like me you are a heavy sleeper and you don’t trust yourself to wake up, take the lazy way out. My puppy’s sleep in the laundry room until they are toilet trained, during the day I dip newspapers into the urine which it has passed in the garden and put these on top of a thick pad of newspaper at night, they are drawn to this because of the smell and they will pee on this during the night. Nevertheless I go to bed very late and get up very early when I have a puppy.

  2. Gio
    October 8, 2010

    Good article, though @ Dorothy, there are easier ways to train ones puppy and I would adopt the method of using training bells from the first few months as these are recommended by trainers also.

  3. Jonathan
    October 15, 2010

    This is always a tricky area when it comes to training your puppy and I agree that in my experience dogs normally respond better to positive reward that to negativity. They tend to get that hang dog expression when you tell them off, which makes you feel bad and the dog feel worse!

  4. Natalie
    October 15, 2010

    I have an old dog now, but he has been with me since I was 7. What I found, is that my my dog tend to be more obedient if you reward it when it listens to you, but keep it at moderation. You also have to punish it if it does something stupid. Like once before my dog peed on the duvet during a cold winter day. I hardy was able to wash it, because it was weekend and the laundry service nearby all closed down. So I got really frustrated and decided not too feed my dog for a day for the bad behavior. I know I might be harsh, but since then, he never peed on any of our furniture!

    November 1, 2010

    @Natalie, not feeding your dog for a day is cruel. We certainly don’t recommend punishing your pet this way.

  6. Beth
    December 15, 2010

    We have a 16 week old pug. We have had him for a month. My dad and my husband seem to think that rubbing his nose in his feces will teach him not to poo in the house. They are both around the same age, 55 and 60. would it be wrong to rub their face in their feces when they become in continent?

  7. Pets Adviser
    December 15, 2010

    @Beth: No, please do not let them rub the puppy’s face in the feces! Simply clean it up without making a big deal. It’s a minor setback, and with focused training the puppy will learn eventually. Reward good behavior.

  8. Matt
    February 19, 2011

    Good old-fashioned hard work is the answer. Keep an eye on your dog, take him out when necessary, praise for doing the right thing, calmly correct mistakes, and you will get the results you want. Many people seem to think puppies can be trusted unsupervised for a few minutes, but that’s all it takes for them to go in the house and then start to wonder what is and isn’t allowed.

  9. Cam
    April 12, 2011

    This really solved my problem, thank you!

  10. Suzanne
    July 16, 2012

    I love this advice. My husband and I got two puppies just a year ago. I tend to be the one with more patience and consistency. If you follow these simple rules, you will train the pup. Take him out all the time. Tell him to “go potty” or “do your business” or “get busy.” Trust me, treats go a long way in reinforcing the good behavior. Think about potty before your pup does. Always, as soon as they wake up, after they eat, after they play. Using a crate is the best way for your pup to learn what is and isn’t his. Basically, he should learn that everything is yours and you share when he is good. My girls now go voluntarily into their crates when they get tired. It is their safe place. And never, ever, ever leave them unsupervised. Even if you have to take them into the bathroom with you when you have to go! It might seem that it takes forever, but it doesn’t. Just think of the years of companionship and love you will get from your dog. What a deal!

  11. Phil
    March 16, 2013

    Hmmm. My puppy would not potty outside after 2 months of constant training. After 1 time rubbing his nose close to it, and then putting him in submissive and vulnerable position, and scolding him, He has never done it in the house again!

  12. kaitlyn
    September 9, 2015

    My puppy goes to the bathroom everywhere, except for outside. I take him out about every hour and we stay outside for 10-15 minutes, and he doesn’t ever go to the bathroom but minutes after returning inside he goes, and without any warning! I don’t know how to make him realize that that behavior belongs outside.

    1. Melissa Smith
      September 10, 2015

      Hi kaitlyn! Boy that is definitely frustrating, and I know there are a lot of puppy owners who can relate. Here is what I suggest: if you can, try bringing him outside for a longer period of time. Really try to wait him out if you can — then when he does go, reward him with lots of gushy praise and a treat or two. It sounds like he might be a little bit scared of being outside because it is such a big place, and he might also have associated going to the bathroom with indoors.

      Hang in there and be patient, and you’ll get him there!

  13. Pauline Love
    September 27, 2016

    We previously had a Jack Russell female, she seemed to teach herself, the first time she was allowed out for a walk she put herself up out of the way of the pavement and went to toilet. Unfortunately after 14 years she is no longer with us and we now have had a puppy for getting on for 2 weeks. She occasionally comes into my bedroom (unseen) and defalcates on my wooden floor, we do just clean it up without reproach as she is off doing something else puppy wise. How on earth can we slow her down to do her business when she is taken out and being told “toilet” she thinks its a game and runs all around the garden, then eventually heads in, what on earth can we do?

    1. Melissa Smith
      September 27, 2016

      Hi Pauline! Wooo…nothing stinkier than puppy poo! I’ll tell you what seems to work best for me as a pet sitter – schedules! It sounds weird but let me explain:
      I have to keep many dogs’ schedules in my head, and that doesn’t just include feeding times. I also make note of when they seem to have to “go”. For example, I can tell you that Boscoe, a Cocker Spaniel that I sit for, will need to go every day between 5a-7am, again between 9a-11a, again between 2p-4p, and likely one more time for the night. I make sure to take him out during these times – works like a charm.

      I’d keep track of when your puppy seems to go, and be on hand to bring her outside for as long as it takes for her to go. Minimize distraction if you can (sometimes it’s impossible, to a puppy the entire world is a distraction). Try to keep a gaggle of people from going out with you, and stay in one area of the yard. When she does go, praise her like she has just saved the entire planet. She’ll catch on!

      1. Pauline Love
        September 28, 2016

        I will start to keep an “eye” on her but initially she sort of whined when she wanted to go, we would take her out in the garden and she would go. However, now she just plops down unexpectedly and wees. If only she would get a routine so that `i can keep up with her!

        1. Melissa Smith
          September 28, 2016

          I know it’s so frustrating. I wish I could come and help, I love puppies!!!

  14. Vovo
    October 10, 2017

    Find justin boldoni on facebook I using her method and it’s work greats.

  15. Rauyak
    October 10, 2017

    Dog training tips from justin boldoni on the facebook work greats.

  16. Brandon
    January 25, 2018

    I have one stubborn puppy….and I’ve had a few.
    We don’t crate but have a little puppy house for her and within that are she is free to “roam”. She goes PERFECTLY in her designated bed area in our laundry room with a pee pad off to the side. Bam. 100%. Never a miss. Hallelujah. Square area approximately 12 sq.ft.
    Bring her out so she can have a different view and play in the family room which I have purposely designed it to be EXACTLY like her “bedroom”. She will go EVERYWHERE but the pee pad. Behind the couch, under the dining table, kitchen. Then we thought aha, we’ll get a big plastic crate play pen area so as to help confine her area a bit so she only has five 16 square feet to play in. That’s not a ton of room but enough with her bed in there and pee pad. Again set up as the laundry room. Where does she go? On the wood floor. Not on the pee pad.
    She’s doing this on purpose.
    For the last two weeks I’ve stood by her and physically placed her on the pee pad(I have a good idea when she had to go) and when she went I praised her. She tried to get off it. I put her back on untill a reasonable time she goes pee. I know she knows what the pee pad is. She refuses to use one in the family room. Back to the laundry room she goes. Perfect. Never a miss. I don’t want to keep her confined there forever. These pee pads are huge. I’ve got two of them on the floor in the family room so it’s not like she can’t miss them. One big one in the red play pen & one CAN’T MISS. But she does. She goes in the two square feet of clean area and does #1&#2. What the?….

    1. Melissa Smith
      January 26, 2018

      Wow that is one stubborn pup! Very frustrating for you, I bet. A couple of thoughts come to mind:

      When she is in the family room, is she excited? Running around, playing, distracted, etc.? It may be a case of she’s playing playing playing and then suddenly just OOPS gotta go. Another possibility is that she may like the floor material in the family room. OR she could have tried to use the pee pad in there one time and had something startle or scare her, causing her to associate the fear response to the pee pad. It could have been something as simple as a loud noise while she was on it, or the pad itself could have slipped while she was using it and now she thinks it always will.

      Patience is the key – for now, keep her in the laundry room until she pees, then bring her into the family room. Keep working on the pee pad in there; but you could try a different brand or even newspaper laid over the top to see if she likes that texture/crinkle.

      Keep us posted!


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