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House-Training a Puppy: Our Best Advice (Plus, How to Crate Train)

What are the most effective methods of house-training a puppy? Read this article for our top tips. (Here’s one hint: Prevent and reward.)

House-training a puppy
House-training a puppy will take patience and understanding on your part.

If you have a new puppy, it’s surely an exciting time. But you may be dreading house-training the puppy.

Don’t lose heart — although properly potty training a puppy takes time, it may not drag on as long as as you’d think.

Read on to learn how to train your puppy the right way in a short amount of time.

Part 1: House-Training a Puppy

The first key to effectively house-training a puppy is to observe your pet’s behavior.

Your pup may need to go potty 8–10 times a day. Puppies usually need to eliminate soon after waking, eating, drinking or playing.

Learn to understand your dog’s body language when they have to go:

  • When you notice the puppy whimpering, whining circling and sniffing, it’s time.
  • Take them 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 pee 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.” They will begin to understand the correlation of the word.

Above all, be consistent with your house-training regimen.

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If your new puppy is peeing on the floor while you’re away from home, try using a crate. Photo: clownfish

Should You Crate Train Your Puppy?

As long as it’s the right size — and you keep it clean and comfortable — a crate is an excellent way to help your puppy understand what you need of them in a short period of time.

Certified master dog trainer Lori Verni explains:1

“Most dogs will instinctively keep their confinement area clean…. Let’s say you’re going out for 2 hours. If your dog is in an area where he doesn’t want to eliminate, he will ‘hold it in’ until you get home.”

The 3 benefits of consistent crate training, according to Verni:

  1. “There are no ‘gifts’ on your rug when you return.”
  2. “As soon as you return home, you will walk your dog and have the opportunity to praise him for going in the right place (outside).”
  3. “Your dog is building up muscle control so he can eventually last for the needed periods of time (e.g., a reasonable work day or overnight).”

A young puppy should never be allowed the run of the house. House-training requires confinement of some sort, for your puppy’s 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 dog teeth and protect your pet 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 your puppy.

Follow these guidelines for crate training:

  • Never use the crate as a punishment. Your pet will come to fear it and refuse to enter it.
  • Puppies younger than 6 months shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than 3–4 hours at a time. They can’t hold it 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 do this.
  • Crate your dog only until you can trust them not to destroy the house. After that, the crate should be a place they go to voluntarily.
  • If your puppy continually soils the crate, discontinue using it for house-training.

Always take your puppy to the designated potty area as soon as you take them out of the crate or area of confinement. Reward them as soon as they relieve themselves.

Check out these useful tips for early crate training for your new puppy:

Use a Designated Bathroom Area

Using a designated spot outdoors is another way of consistently house-training a puppy:

  • Choose a spot that is easy to access all year long. “Remember, if you don’t want to wade through waist-high snow (or leaves, sticks or whatever), neither will your dog,” says Verni.
  • Then, start bringing your puppy to that same spot frequently.
  • When your puppy eliminates there, praise them effusively and reward them.
  • They will quickly learn that when they eliminate in this one special area, they will get rewarded handsomely.

“The area will quickly become a ‘trigger,’” says Verni. “Every time you bring your dog to that spot, he will go if he has to.”

“In fact, most dogs will at least squeeze out a few drops simply because of the subconscious need associated with that area, combined with the desire to receive your praise.”

Reward, Don’t Punish

Animal experts agree: Rewards are the most successful training reinforcement. Never punish your puppy for accidents.

Let’s recap what to do:

  • As soon as your dog successfully eliminates in the designated training spot, praise them and offer a treat.
  • And if your dog does make a mistake, don’t scold or reprimand. Just clean up and start back with the training.

Punishments, either by scolding or physical corrections, create distrust from your dog. You may end up with a dog who is fearful and anxious. Puppies who are scared may even submissively urinate or urinate out of fear, which results in exactly what you are trying to avoid: urine on your floors.

Just keep in mind that if your dog soils in the wrong place, they don’t understand the mistake. Correcting them after the fact, even seconds later, won’t work.

Do the following if your dog makes a mistake in the house:

  • 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 they may confuse the smell of ammonia with that of urine.

If Your Puppy Starts to Go in the House

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.

As soon as you see your puppy begin to urinate or defecate in the wrong place:

  • Scoop them up and get them to the right potty place.
  • Then, once at this correct spot, encourage them to continue elimination with your special command and then praise the puppy.
Avoid indoor accidents by being aware of your puppy’s water-drinking habits. By: philhearing
Puppies who have been house-trained by using the crate training method are less likely to have accidents in the house, unless they have underlying health problems. Photo: philhearing

Rubbing a Dog’s Nose in Pee Does Not Work

The thought of someone rubbing a dog’s nose in pee makes the hair on the back of our neck stand up. We can’t understand why someone would think this is an acceptable way to house-train a puppy.

It is definitely not acceptable. According to American Humane, you should “never rub a dog’s nose in urine or feces, or punish a dog for an ‘accident.’ This will teach your dog to fear you, and he may hide when he has to ‘go.’”2

“It’s way too late” when there is already pee on the floor,” agrees professional dog trainer Lisa Patrona.3

She says it “really constitutes abuse, since there is no way for your dog to understand why you’re acting the way you are toward him, much less what on earth you’re so upset about.”

Clean Up Accidents Quickly and Thoroughly

This is a big one that often goes ignored.

Dogs have a super-keen sense of smell. When they smell urine in a particular place — say, on your carpet — they will immediately go to that spot and cover it up with fresh pee. You can avoid this with thorough cleaning.

Urine accidents that happen on hard surfaces, such as ceramic tile, concrete floors or linoleum, are easy to handle:

  • Absorb the urine with plenty of paper towels.
  • Mix up a bucket of bleach and hot water.
  • Scrub the soiled area with the mixture to eliminate any residual odor the puppy may pick up.

The better you are at cleaning these dirtied areas, the less likely your dog is to have additional accidents.

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

How to Get Your Dog to Ask to Go Outside

We all wish our dogs could just talk. It would make life so much easier for us, right?

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to train your dog to communicate what they need. Here are just 3 examples of how to teach your dog to tell you that they need to go out.

1. Follow a Routine

Being on a schedule is key.

If you leash Charlie at 9 o’clock every evening for a loop around the block, he’s going to begin expecting that quick walk.

And because dogs are creatures of habit, when you forget to take them outside, they’re going to remind you.

With that in mind, choose your dog’s bathroom breaks at convenient times. Select a time when you’re usually home and free. As you continue that routine, your dog will grow accustomed to it.

2. Use a Bell

Dogs are clever. They’re eager to learn and can be trained to perform simple tasks, such as ringing a bell.

And as it turns out, a bell-ringing dog can be very useful if you don’t want to clean up accidents every time your pup needs to go outside.

Keep in mind that the bells should be:

  • Loud: You want to hear when your dog rings the bells, even if you’re in another room.
  • Accessible: Your dog should be able to reach the bells easily. Keep the bells low and visible.
  • Durable: If your dog is excited about getting outside, they may paw enthusiastically at the bell, and you don’t want the bell to break. Make sure the bell can withstand a little rough handling.

Having the bells and actually teaching your dog to use them are not the same. Your dog isn’t going to know to paw at the bells every time they go out. You have to show them that a ringing bell means outside time.

Doing that may be as simple as ringing the bell yourself each and every time you take your dog outside. Try not to forget to ring the bell and, eventually, your pup will begin associating the bell ringing with getting a bathroom break.

3. Bring the Leash

If your puppy likes bringing you toys, newspapers and shoes (even when you didn’t actually ask for them), your pet could be the perfect candidate for learning how to fetch their leash every time they need to go outside.

Try the following steps to teach your dog to bring you the leash to go outside:

  • Keep the leash near the door and somewhere accessible for the dog. When you take your dog out, first give them the leash to hold in their mouth.
  • After they get the hang of that, give them the leash and walk away a couple of feet to encourage them to bring it to you.
  • When they let you have the leash, make sure you praise them and take them right out.
  • Work with them until they start collecting the leash alone and, without your guidance, they’ll start bringing it every time they need to go out.

This sort of training takes time and patience. Be consistent in your methods, and eventually you’ll have a dog who’s happy to tell you when it’s time for a walk.

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Reward your puppy when they eliminate in the exact spot you chose for them. They will know to repeat that behavior. Photo: h-productions

Be Consistent When House-Training a Puppy

Consistency is key to house-training a puppy quickly.

Monitor how often your puppy needs to eliminate and try to get them outdoors before any accidents happen. If you do this consistently, your puppy should quickly catch on.

Pet expert Shirley Kalstone confirms the importance of consistency in her book How to Housebreak Your Dog in 7 Days:4

“When a healthy dog cannot be [trained] within a week, give or take a few days, it’s probably due to the owner’s procrastination or inconsistency.”

People who are not consistent will find that their puppy takes longer to train because the dog is not getting the same message every time they eliminate.

Plan to have someone home with your puppy at all times, and be ready to get up in the middle of the night.

Practice, And Patience, Make Perfect When House-Training a Puppy

House-training a puppy takes compassion, consistency and patience.

It is your responsibility to help your puppy understand where and when to potty.

Let’s try to simplify this. Regardless of the method, house-training a puppy 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 them 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 8–12 months old.

Magic Formula for House-Training a Puppy?

Unfortunately, there are no magic formulas for house-training a puppy successfully.

It requires you to invest the time and the effort. The payoff, though? A happy, trusting relationship with your new pet.

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

By: theilr
Establishing a daily potty break will help your dog get in the habit of asking to go outside. Photo: theilr

Part 2: Litter Box Training a Dog

We hear litter box and instantly think of cats — but what about dogs? Can dogs be trained to use a litter box?

The surprising answer is yes.

It’s not for everyone, but some people have asked us about it. This section of the article will cover litter box training a dog.

Dog Litter Box Training

Unlike cats, dogs normally need to go outside to relieve themselves.

But this may not always be feasible if you live in a tall building, work long hours or can’t make it to the door in time.

Litter boxes provide an additional place for your dog to go when needed. This isn’t considered a replacement for going outside completely, but an inside aid to limit the need to go outside as often.

Litter box training a dog is easier for younger or smaller dogs, but it’s also possible with older and larger dogs.

In the video below, a dog trainer talks about dog litter boxes. Watch this, and then we’ll tell you what you’ll need to get started:

What You’ll Need for Litter Box Training a Dog

First, you will need a litter box, obviously:

  • Depending on the size of your dog, a regular litter box will do as long as it is a few inches deep. There should be enough room for your dog to walk around and choose a spot.
  • For male dogs who lift their leg to pee, some people have used a covered litter box with the top and opening cut out. This way the back and sides will (with any luck) catch any urine that misses the box while still keeping an open feel.
  • There are specifically designed dog litter boxes available to purchase online.
  • Larger dogs will need larger boxes, and some people have used large travel crates and cut out the top and front for this purpose.

If you start with a puppy, expect to replace the box size as the puppy grows.

Filler is important, too:

  • Don’t use regular cat litter in your dog’s litter box. Some cat litter can cause health problems in dogs who eat poop.
  • If your dog is already used to pee pads or newspaper, start moving these into and around the litter box. The scent and material should let your dog know that this is an acceptable place to go.
  • Once your dog gets used to the area, you can switch to dog litter — yes, this is a product — made just for litter boxes for dogs. Most of these are similar to rabbit filler — they look like small pellets that turn to sawdust when wet and are biodegradable.
  • Use the same filler. Don’t change litter types once your dog is used to it. This can cause confusion or accidents.

Fencing-in the area or making a barrier offers some privacy and keeps the contents contained. You can use plastic lattice sheets or gates near openings. This is optional, but it will help keep the area clean.

Everything Is in Place — Now What?

If going indoors or on newspaper is new for your dog, you will need to train the dog to become familiar with the area.

You can also soak some newspaper in their urine or bring some feces from outside and place it in the box to show them that this is acceptable.

If your dog signals for you to let them out, try leading them to the box area to familiarize them with the process. If your dog does use the area, offer lots of praise.

Accidents can happen, so have cleaner on hand and show the dog the litter box area. There can be several reasons for the accident, such as not making it to the box in time or missing the box while going. A firm “No!” and placing the dog in the box will help reinforce the proper area for peeing. If the dog goes after being placed in this area, offer praise.

Once the dog gets used to the newspaper or if using pads, you can slowly start incorporating the dog litter with the existing items:

  • Each week, start using less newspaper and more litter until all that is left is litter.
  • Use reinforcement with words such as “Go potty,” and praise your pet every time they use the litter box.

After Litter Box Training the Dog, Can I Quit Letting the Dog Out?

Don’t have unrealistic expectations.

Litter box training a dog is great as a backup so your pet doesn’t have to hold it forever — but you should still set aside time to go outside for potty and play.

This method can be great for small dogs with small bladders or older dogs who may need to go more frequently.

References

  1. Verni, Lori, certified master dog trainer. Everything You Need to Know About House Training Puppies & Adult Dogs. Best Paw Forward Dog Education Inc., 2005. 6.
  2. “Housetraining Puppies & Dogs.” American Humane. Aug. 25, 2016. http://www.americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/housetraining-puppies-dogs/.
  3. Patrona, Lisa, DipCBST, CPDT-KA, ACDBC. “Common Myths (And Mistakes) Associated With the House Training Process.” https://www.woofology.com/housetraining%20myths.html.
  4. Kalstone, Shirlee. How to Housebreak Your Dog in 7 Days. Random House Publishing Group. 2009.

* * *

This article on house-training a puppy was written by Melissa Smith, a professional pet sitter, and former shelter worker Allison Gray. Petful editor in chief Kristine Lacoste and writers C.D. Watson and Roseann Lahey also contributed. This article was originally published in 2009 and has been regularly reviewed. It was last updated Nov. 15, 2018.

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21 Comments

  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  5. PetsAdviser.com
    November 1, 2010

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

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  9. Cam
    April 12, 2011

    This really solved my problem, thank you!

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
  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?

    Reply
    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!

      Reply
      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!

        Reply
        1. Melissa Smith
          September 28, 2016

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

          Reply
  14. Vovo
    October 10, 2017

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

    Reply
  15. Rauyak
    October 10, 2017

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

    Reply
  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?….

    Reply
    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!

      Reply

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