In order to accomplish this goal, don’t consider housebreaking as “training.” Instead, consider it as proper “management”. With training, we do something to the dog to teach it a new behavior, such as making it lie down when we say “down.” With management, we manage the puppy’s environment or the method in which we handle the dog to achieve the desired response, such as confining a puppy to a crate or removing dangerous objects from his reach. Housebreaking falls into the management category.
Just like infant children, little puppies (8-12 weeks old) truly do not have a conscious sense of when they are about to eliminate. For that reason, you cannot tell them that they were “wrong” when they have a potty accident in the house, they just won’t understand it. Anything you say or do to the puppy will not be associated with the elimination mistake, since they do not know what they just did. Any sort of “housebreaking” punishment is interpreted by the puppy as nonsensical anger from their human. In their mind, you will become an unpredictable and angry person and someone to avoid or fear.
In order to start housetraining, right off the bat, we want to create a habit for the puppy where they learn, through experience, where they are to eliminate. Once the puppy has developed the habit of eliminating specifically outdoors (and indoor elimination is prevented through proper management), as they begin to actually recognize the signs of when they are about to eliminate, they will choose to go to the space where you have chosen based on highly consistent management.
Housebreaking A Puppy
Here’s how to best housebreak a puppy. Always manage the puppy in a crate that is small enough that they cannot eliminate it at one end and sleep comfortably at the other end.
When the puppy wakes, open the crate door let them walk out, then take them in your arms and carry them outside. Do not let them walk to the door or they will probably have an accident before they get there. Put them down in the spot where you hope they will choose to eliminate. Wait patiently with them, either standing still or walking about. Do not speak to them or engage with them in any play, or they will get distracted from the task at hand. When they eliminate, provide plenty of praise. Then, wait for them to do “number two” (by walking about or standing still quietly). When they finish their business, provide positive reinforcement, again.
Now, you can play with them outdoors for a while or take them indoors. Once inside, you must supervise them 100%. Confine them to a room by using baby gates or by closing doors. Allow them access to water. Interact with them or give them the opportunity to relax and chew on a toy. Then, after 20-50 minutes, put them back in their crate to nap.
If it is time for a meal, give them their meal in their crate. After 20-40 minutes, remove the meal and take them to the potty spot again. Most very young puppies need a bathroom break from 20-40 minutes after they eat. Repeat the steps for outdoors supervision and praising. Do not bring them indoors until they have done their duty. Once inside, you can put them directly in their crate for 2-4 hours, depending on their age.
A 12-week-old puppy should be able to remain crated for 4-5 hours.
A six-month-old puppy should be able to remain crated for 6-7 hours.
A ten-month-old puppy should be able to remain crated for 8 hours.
Typical Daily Schedule For An 8 Week Old Puppy
A typical day for an 8-week-old puppy would go something like this
(in a perfect world).
6 AM puppy wakes. Take him outdoors immediately. Wait for him to eliminate and praise.
6:15 AM indoors, 100% supervised playtime, and access to water.
6:45 AM put the puppy back in the crate with his breakfast meal.
7 AM Take the puppy outdoors (remove food) Wait for them to eliminate and praise.
7:20 AM Put the puppy back in the crate, and leave for work.
12 PM take the puppy outdoors. Wait for him to eliminate and praise.
12:15 PM indoor, 100% supervised playtime and access to water.
12:30 PM Put the puppy in the crate with lunch meal.
12:45 PM Take the puppy outdoors (remove food) Wait for them to eliminate and praise.
1 PM Put the puppy back in the crate, and back to work.
5:30 PM Take the puppy outdoors for a bathroom break. Wait for them to eliminate and praise.
5:45 PM Play with puppy outdoors.
6 PM Play with puppy indoors. 100% supervised playtime and access to water.
6:30 PM Put the puppy in the crate and tend to your required evening tasks.
7:30 PM Take puppy outdoors. Wait for him to eliminate and praise.
7:45 PM Indoor 100% supervised playtime and access to water.
8:30 PM Put in a crate with the evening meal.
9 PM Take the puppy outdoors (remove food). Wait for him to eliminate and praise.
9:15 PM Indoor 100% supervised playtime.
10 PM Last potty time
10:15 PM Put the puppy in the crate for bedtime.
This describes the requirements for an 8 to 10-week-old puppy. With each passing week, they should be able to handle longer periods of time before going outdoors. However, if you do not make the commitment to housebreak them in the first four weeks, bad habits can develop which could be very difficult to resolve. So, I strongly recommend creating a method of managing the puppy for the first month that allows regular times for potty breaks.
At least for the first several months of crate training, I recommend putting the puppy’s crate in your bedroom at bedtime. That way, if they wake up in the middle of the night, you can say to them, “It’s okay, we are right here, go back to sleep”. If that works, they will go back to sleep within a few minutes. If they continue to fuss, you should take them outside right away, and then put them directly back in their crate when you get back indoors. A puppy just wants to sleep within “snoring range” of his human pack-mates. If left alone in the garage, kitchen, or basement, they will not feel secure and you will not hear them wake. Often when the puppy wakes they just want to be reassured that you are there. But, if they have to go outside, they should be allowed to relieve themselves rather than feel compelled to soil themselves and their bed. Most 10-week-old puppies sleep through the night.
Although I have put a timetable above for illustrative purposes, I do not recommend adhering to a highly rigid schedule. You do not want the puppy to become so attached to your arrival home from work at exactly 5:32 PM that they will not be able to cope with anything different. When you are late, one day, it will be too difficult for them to handle. So, waking and arrival from home or school times can vary during crate training. But, try to not let them shift so much from the regular schedule that the puppy loses faith in your return or they may not control their desire to eliminate for your next scheduled arrival time and you will come home to the smell and sight of a soiled puppy in a dirty crate.
If the puppy has a potty accident in his crate, take him outside and clean the puppy and the crate. Do not think that you are teaching them a lesson by making them stay in their filth. Instead, apologize to them for your inability to get them when they needed you and try to reduce the situations where they lose bowel or bladder control and must soil their crate.
You will notice that the schedule I suggest above only provides for a few, twenty to forty-minute out-of-crate times for a very young puppy. This is because 8-10 week old puppies require far more sleeping time than play breaks. Most of the trouble that folks encounter with their puppies is a direct or indirect result of sleep deprivation. Do not rely on your puppy to give you a sign when they need to sleep. By the time your puppy is twelve weeks old, it will begin to have a higher need for play times and should be well on its way to being housebroken. Provide plenty of nap times for the first month so that you can enjoy a well-adjusted puppy from that point onwards. Do not ask puppies (8 weeks to 10 months old) to perform extensive or strenuous exercise. You may have noticed that I speak of 8-10 week old puppies as the youngest age you might have your puppy. I am very opposed to breeders who sell puppies before they are 8 weeks old. To find out why, see my Socializing Your Puppy page. It will be far easier to housebreak a puppy that leaves his breeder’s home at eight weeks of age than at 6 weeks. That is because the older the puppy, the longer it can sleep through the night and hold itself to eliminate during the day.
Remember that any time your puppy is out of their crate and indoors you should 100% supervise them. This does not mean supervising them 85% of the time, but 100%. You do not want your puppy to make a potty mistake behind a chair in the spare bedroom and turn it into a habitual spot for leaving a little poop before you ever find it. Close doors to rooms you do not want them to explore.
Put up baby gates and watch them at all times. You do not want them to chew on an electrical cord or eat something dangerous because you were not paying attention to them. The results can be devastating. Paying absolute attention to a puppy can be very strenuous. When you are too busy to watch them, put the puppy in its crate. You won’t lose your mind and the puppy won’t get into danger or trouble.
Scheduling Feeding Times
Also, note that I recommend that the food is removed after the puppy has had 15-30 minutes to consume whatever they want. This will put their digestive tract on a schedule so that they will eliminate on a schedule. Once you figure out how long after they eat a meal they need to go outdoors, it will become a smooth transition to a completely housebroken puppy. With each passing week, the time between a meal and the pup’s need to go outdoors will increase. I also recommend limiting access to water after the last meal of the day so that the puppy is less likely to wake up in the middle of the night.
I do not recommend allowing the puppy free access to his food for several reasons. Perhaps the most important reason is that, when the food comes directly from you instead of from a food dish on the floor, the puppy will associate you as their leader and the person they rely upon for their meals and other directions. Second, they will learn how to eat their meals all at once which lends itself to several factors. If your puppy ever goes off his feed because they are ill, you will know it sooner and be able to speak with the veterinarian better about changes in the pup’s eating habits. If you travel with your dog, the fact that they are used to eating in their crate will make the travel more comfortable for them and you. It makes staying in a motel, a travel trailer, or a tent easier. Because they are used to eating their whole meal at one time, you will not have to leave food out in the room, tent, or your grandmother’s kitchen floor. The dog will know when and where they will be fed, so they will eat more normally when away from home. Finally, if someone ever has to care for your dog in your absence, it will make it easier for your pup and the caregiver to be able to rely on the routine feeding schedule and location.
For the most part, common sense, patience, and dedication to consistent, fair, and loving management will get you through the first year of your puppy’s life. As a breeder, I am contacted most frequently by owners who are troubled with housetraining twelve-week-old puppies and eight-month-old puppies. I believe that the most common reason new puppy owners begin to have trouble with twelve-week-old puppies is that they have not started the puppy in a crate, are going crazy trying to watch the puppy at all times, and are constantly having to clean up messes. The puppy is racing about, chewing everything, and making potty messes in the house. When I tell them to begin using a crate, or if they do use a crate, but only when they leave the house, I give them permission to put the puppy in the crate even when they are home or are too busy to supervise the puppy. New owners and puppies are very happy and things go far more smoothly using a crate.
The most common reason that new owners contact me about their eight-month-old puppies is because the pup has become completely unruly. I believe that it is because they did not provide enough structure, consistency, and boundaries to their puppy from the first day they brought it home. Just like with human children, puppies are constantly seeking information about the rules of the household. A puppy that has learned the rules and boundaries and the ramifications of breaking those limits is a very happy puppy. Start young, providing a balance between confinement and time to explore the world safely through impeccable supervision, and you will be off to the right start for a lifetime of joy and wonderful companionship with your new puppy!
Go Beyond Potty Training
If you are interested in further training your puppy to do basic commands on or off a leash, check out our training pages. Watch the videos of previous customers working with their dogs after they have been trained by us, and check out all of our positive customer reviews on Google, Yelp, and Facebook. I am excited you took the time to read this information and hope it helps you build a great relationship with your new dog.