House training a Puppy
This is a subject that I have been asked to help with so very often. Many dog owners get frustrated with house training a puppy, especially first time dog owners. Many years ago I owned a dog that seemingly could not grasp the concepts of NOT peeing or pooping in the house. The last 4 dogs of my own, that I successfully house trained, were either older pups or already adult dogs. The methods that I use for both young puppies or adult dogs are basically the same. The main difference is that younger puppies have much less control over their bodily functions than adults do.
Lets begin with some Basic elements….
Feeding your puppy
In order for a puppy to learn to control his peeing and pooping (yes, I am going to use plain ordinary terms), you will have to control his water intake and his meals. Very young puppies do well with 3 meals a day (2 to 4 months), and then after that for the rest of his life, 2 meals per day (Breakfast and Supper). Feed the puppy only what he will eat within aprox. 5 minutes of eating time. Adjust his meals accordingly. If your puppy walks away from the unfinished meal, pick it up and save it for the next meal session.
How much should you feed your puppy?
It depends on the size of dog, the condition of the dog (skinny or fat?), the energy level of the dog etc. It’s not an exact science but if your puppy is a large breed like a Retriever, Collie, Shepherd etc., I would start with 1 cup of a good or top quality food, 3 times per day. If that appears to be too much, then go with 3/4 cup 3 times per day and so on.
By the time your large breed puppy is 4 months of age, he will be eating 2 cups 2x per day for sure. Between the age of 6 and 9 months, your large breed puppy will be eating between 4-6 cups of food total per day.
Female puppies growth spurt comes to a screeching halt between 6-8 months while male puppies fast growth usually end in the 9-12 month range. This has been my experience with the larger breeds. Between 1-2 years, the large breed male puppy will continue to grow a bit more and will fill out in body.
Small breeds like Shih Tzus, Min Poodles etc. will obviously be eating much less. My suggestion is to start with 1/4 cup 3 times per day, lowering the amount of course if puppy finds that too much. As an adult small breed, most will peak at 1 cup total for the day. As I mentioned, it’s not an exact science. If your puppy is showing too much rib and bone and
always seems hungry, increase the amounts or change the brand of food. If your puppy is getting too fat, decrease the food. Your next question right now is probably, why change brand or type of food?
If your puppy is continually walking away from his meals even though the amounts are reasonable, maybe your puppy just does not like the food. Sometimes dog foods are stale, old and tastes bad to your puppy. Maybe the food is giving your puppy a tummy ache?
Puppies often don’t like to crunch on hard nuggets when they are very young and will eat better if you put a little warm water into their kibble to soften it. Please read the pages on picking the right dog foods before you buy food for your puppy.
I am often asked too whether a puppy should be on puppy food or adult food. If the puppy is very young, 8-12 weeks, I personally will feed a puppy food but after that, I switch the puppy to an adult formula already. I have always had healthy and well grown dogs by raising them on adult food from 3 months onward.
I always pick the best foods based on certain guidelines (check out the Healthy Dog page) and my dogs turn out well in size and conformation.
Okay, now that I ‘ve covered the frequency of meals and how to adjust the amounts, I will explain why all of this is important with house training. A top quality dog food will produce smaller poops, less frequent poops, therefore making it much easier to house train. A poor quality dog food that has a lot of fibre from corn, wheat, soy or cellulose, will give your puppy the urge to poop a LOT!
Feeding your puppy 2-3 meals per day, always at set and consistent times of the day, will result in a consistent pattern of pooping and peeing times. If your puppy is allowed to free choice feed himself, he is going to free choice poop too! Make sense?
Also, by allowing your puppy or dog to eat whenever he or she wants to, you have just lost a valuable training tool. Why? When a dog see that you control what, how much and when he eats his meals, your puppy will begin to see you as the Leader of his pack.
Water….you may have to control water intake too if you have a puppy that seems to drink for recreation sake. Water breeds like Labs and Golden Retrievers will often play in their water dish, drinking and making a mess for the fun of it! After gulping down a full dish of water, half an hour later you may have a giant puddle on the floor… just saying..
Some young dogs may need their water dish taken away after they have eaten supper or they will fail at having any kind of peeing control during the night.
Now the training part
House training methods
I have attempted to house train puppies by using newspapers, pee pads, taking them out every hour but otherwise having them run free in the house… what a lot of frustrating work!
Once your puppy has gotten the idea of going on newspaper or the pee pad, most people will take the next step (for them) of teaching the puppy to use a spot outside as their ‘bathroom’.
A puppy, in my opinion, is not ‘house trained’, if he manages (most of the time) to wander over to the newspaper or pee pad to pee or poop. Most people will use the newspaper or pee pads as a middle step to true house training to the outdoors.
Smaller dogs can be taught to use a litter box or special turf box as their potty. If the dog uses the litter or turf box every single time, he should be considered ‘house trained’ in the way that cats would be. The problem with teaching a dog that it is okay to pee and poop in your home, on your floors, with just a thin layer of paper between him and the floor….well there are several problems with this as I see it.
One– your puppy will be very hard to outdoor train over time. I have seen dogs refuse to pee or poop on grass, gravel or snow because of paper or pee pad training. This can be a serious problem if you and your dog are not at home. The same for those that are trained to use a litter box.
Two-your home will smell like pee and poo, maybe your nose will become immune but others will notice. Poops will often roll off the paper or the dog will miss the paper or pad entirely.
Three– Allowing your puppy or dog to wander over to a piece of paper on the floor to relieve himself has changed his mind set, similar to allowing him to eat whenever he wants to. Your dog does not ‘need’ you take him outside, he does not even have to try to ‘hold’ it. To my way of thinking, relying on paper on the floor is similar to keeping your child in diapers his or her entire life!
In my opinion, the best way to house train a puppy is using a crate AND when your puppy is NOT in the crate, he will be in a smaller controllable area of your living space (preferably with easy to clean flooring!) . An exercise pen is a great tool when house training a puppy if you don’t have an area of your home to confine your puppy in.
An exercise pen should be used with crate training but not on it’s own. The pen is movable, easy to store and clean and gives your puppy more space for playing so you can keep a close eye on him or her.
In our home, we have two carpeted hallways, with our open kitchen/dining area and living room in between (laminate flooring). We would use baby gates or a padded board to block off access to our hallways. The hallways lead to our bedrooms and to the basement stairs, areas we did not want our dogs in until they were completely trustworthy.
I prefer the crate to be a wire one so puppy can see his environment. You can throw a blanket over it to quiet him down when he’s being too noisy or for bedtime.
The crate should have some washable bedding or thick towels in case of bed wetting. Always clean up wet or soiled bedding immediately so your puppy doesn’t get used to sleeping in his own mess.
You want to develop a sense of cleanliness in your puppy. Later on, you can put a nicer dog bed or cushion into the crate, when your puppy is house trained and less liable to chew it up. The crate should be large enough that your puppy can stretch out to sleep but no larger. Why no larger?
It is easier to teach your puppy to keep his bed clean. If the crate is big enough for your puppy to move around in there a lot, puppy will decide that there is enough room in there for a bathroom as well as a bedroom.
Some wire crates have a divider that can be put in to make the space smaller and taken out as the puppy grows larger. You can’t do that with the plastic crates. If you have a large breed puppy, invest in a wire crate that has the divider or if you’re handy, you could wire in a divider.
Many people prefer the plastic crates, especially if they have small breed dogs because they are more portable. However, having used both, and my dogs did not travel anywhere, I preferred the wire crates. They are easy to fold up and store too.
My last two house trained dogs had wire crates that were part of our furniture setup. I parked their crates in a corner of our living room, and made some fabric coverings for them to match the room.
Our 2 dogs used those kennels as their bedrooms, the crate doors were open during the day and they were closed in there for nights. They enjoyed their crates from puppyhood until they passed away at age 17 last summer.
Speaking of crates and having them part of your furniture, the company, Radio Fence, has some beautiful crates! Some are wood and look like end tables and my favorites are the steel crates with a garage door style opening.
Your puppy should be in the crate when you cannot watch his every move. The crate, at first, should be in an area of the house where you spend most of your time as well. Decide beforehand, where in the outdoors, you want your puppy to pee and poop.
After a meal, within 20 minutes at least, take your puppy to this area and wait patiently and quietly until your puppy has done one or both of his duties.
Within the first week, you will be seeing a pattern to the frequency and times that your puppy has his urges to pee or poop, provided you are consistent with feeding.
That first week, puppy will have P & P accidents until the two of you sort out his bathroom habits.
The first week, if you catch your puppy in the act of peeing or pooping, say ‘NO!’, or ‘HEY!’ and take him outside immediately. Do NOT punish your puppy for this! He is learning what you expect from him and you are learning to watch his body language as well. The second and third weeks are a lot easier, if you have been consistent in the first week.
By the time your puppy is a month into his house training routine, if you are always consistent, he will no longer be having accidents on the floor. Most of the time when puppies pee or poop on the floor, it is the fault of the human in charge. Maybe you were not paying attention (hey life gets busy!), maybe you dropped the routine by 30 minutes or more, or maybe your puppy was allowed too much water to drink or had too many treats?
When you KNOW that your pup needs to pee and poop before or after a meal and your pup chooses only to pee…. place your pup back into his crate for 20 minutes and then try again until he relieves himself where you put him outside. Tell him quietly ‘Good puppy or good dog’, after he’s done his bathroom do dos and take him back inside to play with him a bit and give him some free time in his allotted area.
Your puppy has to earn the right to have free time on your floors. Never allow your puppy to play un supervised when he has not done his usual pee or poo. The first week is the hardest for the both of you.I highly recommend that you take your puppy outside at regular intervals whether he shows signs of wanting to pee/poop or not.
Develop a routine that your puppy will follow even as an adult. Your puppy should be taken outside first thing in the morning, chances are it will be about 6 am and then again within 15-20 minutes after his breakfast meal- Noon or lunch time take him out again.
If you feed your puppy 3x per day, noon would most likely be his 2nd meal, so take him outside before and after his noon meal as usual. Next routine outing would be just before the supper meal and again 15-20 minutes after the supper meal. The routine bathroom outing would be at bedtime 9-10 pm or so.
How to crate train a puppy at night? Well, if you have been following a strict routine during the day, night times will soon be a breeze. Most puppies will put up a fuss, screeching and crying when you cover their crate with a blanket and walk away.
It’s extremely important not to comfort your puppy while he or she is protesting.It might take a week or so, before your puppy settles down easily at night. I suggest you place your puppy’s crate in a room away from your bedrooms during the noisy stage.
Some puppies may need to be taken out once the middle of the night when they are young but they outgrow that need by the time they are about 4 months or so. Depending on the bladder control of your puppy, you may need to take your puppy out more often than the described routine times. Rest assured, his control will get better and better if you are patient and consistent.
After 2 months worth of no floor messes, you can try cutting back on the outdoor bathroom breaks, take him outside only after a meal not both before and after and see how that goes. If your puppy is mature enough to only need 4 bathroom breaks per day, he is house trained.
However, I never trust a young dog unsupervised in the house until they are 2 years old. I would still place my dog in his crate for a few hours if I had to go out. House training can go wrong and can be undone, if you trust your puppy or young dog too soon. With time, you will be able to allow your older house trained puppy into the rest of the house, depending on his trustworthiness.
The first week for a very young puppy would go like this….
- 5-6 am- Potty break and then back to his crate and you to your bed
- 8 am- Potty break followed by breakfast
- 8:20-8:30 am-Potty break
- 11:30 am-Potty break followed by noon meal
- 11:50 or 12 noon Potty break
- 3 pm Potty break followed by supper
- 3:20-3:30 pm Potty break
- 6:30 pm Potty break and a snack ( healthy dog bisquit?)
- 9:30-10 pm Last Potty Break and bedtime.
The second week, if puppy is keeping his bed dry and clean, and is not demanding to go outside at 5 am, you could try and drop the 5-6 am Potty break and try to stretch it to 8 am or so.
By the 3rd week, if your puppy is doing well to keep your floors clean, you could try dropping the pre meal Potty break and take him outside right after he finishes eating.
CLEANING UP WHEN P & P HAPPENS
Speaking of pee and poop on the floor, clean it up quickly and thoroughly with a product that has enzymes in it. The enzymes in the cleaning product clean up the scent better than a normal cleaner so your puppy cannot smell what was there before. Puppies and adults will instinctively pee or poop where they have gone before. This works well for when they are in their outdoor bathroom spot but will work against your house training if the smell is on your floor or furniture.
What to do when puppy leaves a ‘present’ on the floor?
If your puppy has deposited pee or poop on the floor when no one saw him do it, it is not puppy’s fault! It was Yours for either trusting him too soon or for not following a strict routine. Put your puppy in his crate without punishment, and clean up the mess. Once the floor is clean and dry, take puppy outside again to make sure his digestion system is cleaned out and then give him some free time in your blocked off areas.
Never take your puppy to the puddle or lump of poop and either shove his nose into it or spank him there. IT DOES NOT WORK! How do I know this? I have tried to punish my dogs after the fact…it did not speed up the training. It served to frustrate me further and incurred fear in my dog! Don’t do it! Your dog is a dog is a dog. Your dog is not a human and does not think like a human.
Your puppy will not put two and two together and decide like a human, that peeing or pooping on the floor will result in punishment, therefore he will never do that again.
NO! What is more likely to happen is that puppy will decide you are a big mean scary human and might even refuse to pee or poop in your presence outdoors!
If you catch your older puppy IN THE ACT of peeing or pooping, and I mean he is squatting, yellow liquid or brown lumps are popping out, you can give him a short scolding “BAD!’ or ‘NO!’, maybe a single slap on his butt if he has shown himself to be a very stubborn character… but that is it! Put him into his crate, clean up the mess, and then take him outside.
Later on, much much later, your adult and well trained dog may be smart enough or has picked up enough human characteristics from living with humans, that he or she will realize that his oopsy daisy ‘accident” on the floor is a bad thing to happen. Some dogs will act sad or almost embarrassed when their beloved human discovers the ‘oopsy’ on the floor.
Those are generally dogs with a strong sense of cleanliness and do not like the fact that they have just lost control of themselves in the house they share with others. These dogs have lived with humans long enough to know that P and P belongs outside for them and in the toilet for humans. A puppy is a long long way off from this realization.
I know there are some VERY stubborn characters that are very hard to train, they will challenge you every step of the way! I have owned a couple of those types. I have helped others train their P & P challenged dogs too. If you have not managed to house train your puppy after 3 months of training, you will have to re-evaluate your routine or methods.
Here’s a couple of real life stories
Many years ago I encountered a Shih Tzu that was not house trained consistently until she was 3 years old! I had been caring for her in my home and in my Dog kennel facility whenever her owner went on vacation or business trips. In the very regular routine of my kennels, this little dog was pretty good with her bathroom duties. However, when I brought her into my home, there would be ‘accidents’ on the floor from time to time. Her owner was extremely frustrated with her at home.
He was a restaurant owner and I am sure his routine was not consistent. One particular weekend I decided to go back to crate training with her. If she did not pee 2 or 3 times, but only peed once, when I took her outside, I would put her back into her crate for 20 minutes. I learned when her pooping times were, and if she didn’t go when I gave her the outside break, again I would pop her into a crate for 20 minutes.
You see, I learned by observing her, that she couldn’t empty her bladder completely unless she squatted and peed 2 or three times during her outside bathroom break. During the cold winter, she had trouble relaxing outside to poop, so after a 20 min session in her crate, I would take her outside again. I would do this over and over until she did it.After that weekend breakthrough, I explained this routine to her owner. He followed it and reported back to me that to his relief and joy, his little dog was now ‘house trained’.
Another example I can give you is a certain Pug who had no sense of cleanliness in her crate. She would have accidents all over the house and when put in her crate, would pee in there too! As her owner explained this to me, I remembered an article I had read about another dog with the same problem. This other dog was house trained within a week by a different method.
The method was this… leash your dog to your waist, so that your dog has no choice but to follow where you go all over the house.This way, when your dog starts to squat or lift a leg to relieve himself, you are right there to correct him with a sharp “NO” or “HEY!” right on the spot.
For a week this Pug owner faithfully leashed her dog to her waist.It was tough, at first she was tripping all over her dog and it was annoying to get anything done. However, after a few days, she and her dog were more in sync with their movements. Of course, even with this method, she still had to take her Pug outside following a very consistent routine.
After that week was up, her Pug had the idea! I believe her dog still occasionally wet her bed at night but that was only if the owner failed to manage water intake, failed to make sure her Pug had a late evening bathroom walk or was late in the morning to take her out. Little Miss Pug had a small bladder that needed more relief.
Other Crate training issues….
Initially when crate training a new puppy or dog to accept and hopefully love his crate, he or she may put up quite a fuss to be confined in it. When you have put your puppy or adult dog into his crate to contain his movements for awhile (for house training) and he barks, howls, cries or just goes a little crazy….
DO NOT GIVE HIM ANY ATTENTION AT ALL! Touching, talking to him or even making eye contact will just encourage him to continue his rebellious behavior.
This is another reason to park the kennel in an area where he can see you move around. He will settle faster if he is not left entirely alone. Once he quiets down, wait a few seconds and then immediately tell him he’s a good boy and give him a small treat or a toy in his crate. Reward the quiet times. Use common sense though, if he needs to relieve himself because he hasn’t been out of his crate for 2-3 hours since his last bathroom break, don’t expect him to settle down and keep his bed dry!
If you know for sure that your puppy or adult dog in training, does not need to relieve himself, use the training mentioned above (ignore, and reward when he settles).
Don’t expect this to work if your puppy or adult dog in training is not used to being confined in a crate and you have him and his crate parked away from everybody.
He is more likely to panic and will not settle and it will set your training back. Eventually, when your puppy or dog has learned to relax in his crate, you can park the crate in a more convenient place.
A bit of personal story line….
As I mentioned further above, for most of our dogs lives, we had their crates tucked in a corner of our living room, however, in the last 4 years, we had their crates parked in our lobby/sun room. They loved lying around in the sunroom anyway and after we did some redecorating in our living room, there was no longer room for their crates. Our dogs loved their crates by this time and it was no hardship for them to be moved.
Bobo…Our last two house trained dogs, were both rescued from less than healthy living arrangements before they came to join our family. One of them (Bobo) was about 6 months old when we found him. Crate training went slowly because he was terrified of sitting in his crate. Bobo didn’t put up a fuss because he was too terrified to move!. It was a wire crate with a metal tray on the bottom.
I soon realized that he was afraid because the metal would make sounds every time Bobo moved (I admit it was a bit funny). I placed a blanket under the tray as well as on top, and that solved the problem. Initially, we placed the kennel in the middle of the living room so Bobo was not alone to panic. Bobo was very easy to house train, he had great control over himself.
Joey…Three years later, we added little Joey, to our family, who had been someone else’s farm dog for all of those years. Joey was more anxious, and put up quite a fuss in his crate but it helped to have Bobo’s crate parked close to him.
Ignoring his fussing didn’t work in the beginning, I had to occasionally bang on the top of his crate and tell him sternly to “quit it!” or cover his crate with a blanket. Joey was not used to any confinement whatsoever.
Joey quickly formed an attachment to me and this also caused some issues with being anxious whenever I would leave the house. It took longer to house train him mainly because Joey was used to lifting his leg and spraying on everything outside so being in the house…well it was fair game.
However, within 6 weeks, Joey had been neutered, crate trained and house trained. Having a calm already house trained dog his own age certainly helped too. Oh how I miss those two still…..
In this article, I only cover house training that involves taking your dog OUTSIDE to your designated potty area, mostly likely on your yard. There are other options which you may want to explore if you live in an apartment or condo and don’t have easy access to an outdoor spot. Litter box training for dogs, teaching your dog to use your toilet or maintaining a pee pad in a corner somewhere (I don’t recommend this method).
None of these is a particularly a good idea for a large dog, large puddles would require the use of a very large litter box or pee pad and well your large dog simply could not use the toilet designed for humans. Many apartment dwellers with small dogs choose to train their dogs to use a litter box like a cat does or train them to hop onto their toilet or even a special turf type of box.
The House training method described here work for both puppies or adult dogs generally. Adult dogs naturally will have a lot more control and may not need to have as many potty breaks.
However, All dogs, no matter their age, should have a minimum of 4 Potty Breaks per day. It is cruel to make your dog wait all day for a bathroom break even if he or she can ‘hold it’. How would you like to be told that you had to hold it all day?
Some dog owners let or take their dog out in the morning and that poor dog has to wait all day with no chance at relief until his owners come home from work around 5-6 pm!!! Some of those dogs are not given another opportunity to relieve themselves until the following morning! So what if your dog is one of those rare dogs that can hold it for 12 hours or more!
Dogs that have been forced to live with a routine like this, often instinctively hold back when drinking water. The result is a dehydrated dog with bladder and kidneys that don’t get flushed clean.It’s unhealthy for your dog and is likely to lead to kidney failure and toxic conditions leading to other illnesses. Enough said!
Note- There are situations like having a dog with an immature bladder, bladder infections, previous physical abuse, severe separation anxiety etc. that will create a situation where it is seemingly impossible to house train your puppy or adult dog. These situations will require more patience, possibly medical intervention or more specialized training. I will not address that here as each case is different.
Outdoor dogs…house training a neutered or spayed dog that has lived outside for about a year or more, is most likely to be super easy to house train. They have already established areas outside for their P and P, and when allowed in the house, they have a tendency to be more respectful to things that have a strong human scent on them. That has been my experience.
If you can, start your puppy off outside in a secure fenced yard, bringing him inside for short periods and back outside again. This way your puppy will associate the outdoors as a bathroom area in an easy natural way. However, I realize not everyone can do this, maybe you live in an apartment, rented home with no fence, weather is too severe etc. Most people with an indoor pet will have to follow a strict routine and training regimen as I have outlined above.
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