Housetraining Your Puppy
House training a puppy can be accomplished more easily if you use
proven methods. Before you begin, you must be sure you know your
puppy well. You need to know what body signals your puppy
demonstrates when it needs to eliminate. The main factors
affecting how rapidly you get your puppy trained are its age, its
living quarters, the type of food you feed and most importantly,
how much time you devote to the actual training process.
We will discuss two different situations; one where the owner
is home all day and the other where the owner is gone most of the
day. Each situation requires completely different techniques but
similar training methods.
Owner Is Home All Day
Preventing your puppy from having accidents in the house is the
most important thing you can do to assure rapid success. The first
few days you take your puppy home are very critical. If you allow
your puppy to eliminate on the carpet or an inappropriate area, it
will often want to return to this favorite spot. If your puppy
eliminates in an inappropriate area, it is very important to clean
the area as soon as possible with an odor-eliminating product such
as NATURE’S MIRACLE. This will help reduce the puppy’s desire
to return to the same area because it smells the urine or fecal
The training method that will achieve the most rapid results
utilizes the crate or cage training method. I prefer the plastic
airline type crates because they are lightweight, easy to carry,
easy to clean and very durable. Some people prefer metal crates,
playpens, a small bathroom or even a cardboard box for very small
or toy breeds. We will use the term crate or cage to refer to any
of these types of enclosures.
It is very important to remember when training puppies, crates
should be used for “short-term” confinement. This means you
should not leave your puppy in the cage for longer than four hours
at a time, especially during the day. Nighttime is a different
matter. Many puppies, especially those over three months of age,
can sleep in a cage all night without having accidents.
You must first get your puppy used to the crate. The first day
you should open the door and place a soft blanket inside. Next,
place the puppy's food dish directly in front of the open door. As
the puppy becomes accustomed to the crate, place the food dish
just inside the open door. After a short time, move the food dish
to the back of the cage. Once inside and eating, close the door
and talk to the puppy saying, “good puppy,” as it eats. When
it is finished eating, if your puppy is quiet and not crying to be
let out, open the cage door and praise it. It gets praised for
being in the cage and not fussing or crying. Never praise or let
the puppy out of the cage if it is crying because that will
reinforce its crying behavior and you will be rewarding it for
crying. Always wait until it has stopped crying and then let it
The frequency of feeding and the type of food you feed will
influence when the puppy has to eliminate. Feeding a high quality
puppy food will make the training easier. Higher quality foods,
which are more digestible, will produce less stool volume and less
frequent bowel movements. I suggest feeding puppies three times a
day if possible. The first time should be early in the morning
after going outside to eliminate for the first time. The second
feeding should be mid-afternoon and the last feeding at eight or
nine PM. I suggest keeping a journal and mark down every time your
puppy eliminates. If you don’t vary the feeding schedule, you
should eventually be able to predict when your puppy will have to
When your puppy eats, there is a “gastro-colic reflex” that
occurs. When food enters the stomach a signal is sent to the
brain, which in turn sends a signal to the large intestine saying,
“get ready to empty out, there is more food on the way down”.
This means your puppy will usually have a bowel movement
approximately thirty to sixty minutes after eating. This time will
vary with each animal.
Mornings are usually a very busy time with most families. The
adults are trying to get ready to leave for work, they are often
feeding children and getting them ready for school and the puppy
is often unsupervised. This leads to accidents because nobody is
paying any attention to the puppy’s signals that it wants to be
taken outside to eliminate. It will then wander off into another
room to eliminate, even though it has been attempting to get
somebody’s attention. Because mornings are so hectic, I
recommend feeding the puppy in its cage and keep the cage near the
kitchen area so you can hear it cry when it wants out to
eliminate. If you cannot watch your puppy every minute, it’s
better to keep it confined than have it sneak off to find a spot
somewhere in the house to eliminate. If confined in a crate, most
puppies will cry to alert you that they have to eliminate within
thirty minutes after eating. Puppies do not like to soil their
When your puppy is crated and you hear it cry, wait until it
stops crying, open the door and say “outside” and take the
puppy to the area of the yard you want to designate as the “official
toilet area”. Place the puppy on the ground and say “Go potty”.
Most puppies will urinate first and then have a bowel movement.
While your puppy is in the act of eliminating you should say in a
quiet voice, "Good puppy". As soon as it is finished,
lavish praise on your puppy. Don’t hold back. Pretend your puppy
just presented you with the greatest gift in the world. You can
also offer your puppy a tasty food treat immediately after going.
If you give the treat after you come back inside, your puppy will
think it is being rewarded for coming in and not for eliminating.
It may come in to get the food treat before it has finished
eliminating completely outside. Keep the tasty treats in a
container close to the door you use to take the puppy outside.
Another trick is to allow your puppy to play outside after
eliminating, even if it is just for a few minutes. Puppies love to
go outdoors just like children love recess at school. They soon
learn that if they eliminate, they will immediately be taken
indoors and not allowed to play. They will purposely not eliminate
so they can stay outdoors. I am a firm believer that one of the
best ways to reward your puppy for eliminating outside is to take
it for a walk or spend some time outdoors playing with it in a
fenced area or on a leash. If you can teach your puppy to
eliminate in your own yard before you go for a walk, it will
decrease the need to pick up its feces every time you go for a
walk. You should always clean up after your puppy or dog every
time you take them for a walk, no matter where they eliminate.
If your puppy doesn’t want to eliminate when you take it
outdoors, bring it back in and put it in the cage for a short
time. Then take your puppy outdoors and repeat the same process.
Once it eliminates, praise it and allow it to play outdoors for
awhile. If it still doesn’t go, bring it back in and place it
back in the cage. Once it goes outdoors, praise it, give the food
reward and allow it to play outside. After eliminating outdoors,
your puppy has just earned some bonus points and the freedom to be
turned loose indoors with supervision. After playing for awhile,
if you can no longer supervise your puppy, you should put it back
in the cage for some naptime or puppy time-out.
You will achieve the most rapid results if you have the time to
take your puppy outdoors every hour. One little trick I like to
use if you have children is to get a timer, give it to the
children and show them how to set it for one hour. Then let them
take turns taking the puppy out every time the timer goes off.
If you need to leave the house for a short time, no more than
three or four hours, you can usually leave your puppy confined in
the cage while you are gone. When you leave, provide your puppy
with some chew toys and remove any food and water from the cage.
It is imperative to recognize the signals your puppy
demonstrates to tell you it has to eliminate. The signals may be
sniffing the floor or circling rather frantically looking for a
place to go. All puppies will give some type of signal. Your job
is learning these signals and taking your puppy outside as soon as
it alerts you. If you have trouble picking up your puppy’s
signals, try hanging a small bell from the doorknob where you take
your puppy outside and every time you take it out ring the bell.
Many puppies will learn to ring the bell to alert you when they
have to go out. Each time they ring the bell, give them verbal
praise and take them outside to eliminate.
As I mentioned earlier, feed your puppy rather late and then
allow at least one hour after eating before taking it outdoors to
eliminate. The later you make the last feeding, the less chance
your puppy will have a bowel movement during the night. If you
feed your puppy its last meal in the late afternoon, it will
probably have a bowel movement in the early morning hours. You
should give your puppy a chance to eliminate just before you go to
bed. When you go to bed, put your puppy in its cage with a soft
blanket to sleep on and maybe a stuffed animal or a chew toy but
no food or water. Very young puppies, usually less than twelve
weeks of age, will often have to be taken out to eliminate at
least one time during the night. If your puppy cries, take it
outside and praise it for going but bring it back indoors and
place it back in the cage. Do not play with your puppy or it will
want to wake you up just to play. It may whimper for a short time
but will eventually go to sleep. Once your puppy gets older and
has better bladder control, it will be able to go all night
If your puppy doesn’t wake you up and it eliminates in its
cage at night, you can place the cage in a bathroom or utility
room, leave the cage door open and place newspapers on the floor
to go on. You can also use this method if you don’t want to be
wakened up to take the puppy outdoors at night or if you are
physically unable to do so.
The first night home it may be best to place the puppy’s cage
in your bedroom next to your bed so you can place your hand where
the puppy can smell it. Once your puppy becomes comfortable with
the cage you should try to move it out of the bedroom. You can
move the cage five feet from the bed for a few nights and if the
puppy is doing well, move the cage near the door and eventually
move it out of the bedroom. If your puppy can sleep by itself away
from humans it may be less likely to develop separation anxiety
when it is older. Another reason to move the cage out of the
bedroom is if you have children. If your puppy sleeps in your room
and your children don’t, you are telling the puppy that it’s
more important than the kids because it’s allowed to sleep with
the “alpha adults” and your children are not. This can lead to
problems when your puppy goes through “social maturity” when
some behavioral issues may occur.
Long-term confinement is utilized when you must leave your
puppy unattended for periods of four to five hours or longer. Very
young puppies, much like newborn infants, have to urinate
frequently and will have six to eight bowel movements a day. If
you must leave the house or be away from your puppy for more than
five hours at a time, and you leave your puppy in a cage or crate,
you should assume they will have accidents. This will make it more
difficult to train your puppy because they will become accustomed
to eliminating in their living space. Puppies do not eliminate
because they are mad you left them. They just cannot hold it for
long periods of time. I feel it is cruel to punish or get mad at
your puppy if they eliminate in their cage. They have no idea why
you are punishing them. DELAYED PUNISHMENT DOES NOT WORK!
For long-term confinement you should select a relatively small
room such as a bathroom or utility room, preferably with a
non-porous floor such as vinyl, tile or concrete. Remove anything
your puppy might chew on or damage. Cover the entire floor with a
double layer of newspapers. Place the puppy’s cage at one end of
the room with its food and water bowl. If your puppy has to
eliminate it will usually try to get as far away as possible from
its cage and food bowl.
Once your puppy has located its favorite spot to eliminate, you
can remove some of the papers. Eventually you will have just one
small area of newspapers to clean up. Don’t forget to leave some
of your puppy’s favorite chew toys to occupy its time while you
When you arrive home, open the door and call or carry your
puppy outside as quickly as you can so it doesn’t have the
opportunity to go in the house. Once outside, follow your regular
routine for training. If you have children in school who arrives
home before you do, it is imperative that the first thing they do
when they arrive home is to take the puppy outside to eliminate.
If the puppy doesn’t eliminate, have them put the puppy back
into the confined area and take it outside a short time later.
Once the puppy has gone, it can be loose indoors with supervision.
If the children cannot watch the puppy, they should place it back
in the confined area or put it on a leash and keep it with them.
When it eventually has to go, they will notice and take it
outdoors to eliminate.
If your puppy soils its cage at nighttime, you should use the
long-term confinement technique. Put the cage in a small room,
place newspapers on the floor and leave the cage door open so the
puppy can go on the papers and not soil its cage. When your puppy
gets a little older it should be able to go all night without
eliminating in its cage. Be sure not to leave food and water with
your puppy at night.
If you are gone all day you should use the long-term
confinement because you cannot expect your puppy to hold it all
day. I also think it borders on animal cruelty to leave a puppy in
a cage all day. When you arrive home, take your puppy outside and
follow the same routine. Once you are home, take your puppy out
every hour or so.
The #1 thing that determines how rapidly
you will get your puppy trained is how often you take it outdoors
or to its paper or litter box. If you are home most of the time on
weekends you can make more progress with the training because you
will have more opportunity to take your puppy outdoors.
Paper or Litter Box Training
Some people are unable to take their puppy outdoors to
eliminate because they are disabled, senior citizens, live in a
high-rise or would just prefer to train them to go indoors. Paper
or litter box training methods are ideal, especially for small or
toy breeds. Instead of taking your puppy outdoors, place them on
the newspapers or in the litter box and say “Go potty”. If
your puppy goes, praise it and immediately give it a food reward.
If it doesn’t go, place it back in the cage or keep it on a
leash and a short time later try again. Eventually it will go.
Keeping your puppy on a leash so it has to follow you around the
house is a great way to prevent accidents and it will teach your
puppy to walk on a leash.
If you remember only one thing from this handout, please
remember this. DELAYED PUNISHMENT DOES NOT WORK! If you are not
paying attention to your puppy and it eliminates in another room
and you don’t find it until some time later, it does no good to
scold it. If you say in a stern voice, “What did you do?”, your
puppy will probably cower and act like it did something wrong
because of the tone of your voice, not because it thinks it did
anything wrong. I personally feel rubbing your puppy’s nose in
its own feces or spanking it is counter-productive and somewhat
If your puppy eliminates in the house when you are not watching
it and you then scold it after the fact, you will create an “owner-
absent elimination problem”. What the puppy will learn is that
every time there is a bowel movement or urine on the floor, its
owner gets extremely mad. It does not realize that the act of
eliminating on the floor is wrong. The puppy knows by the tone of
your voice and your body language that it is going to get punished
and will immediately start shaking. The puppy learns that when mom
or dad says in a stern voice “What did you do?”, it better tuck
its tail between its legs and run behind the couch or under the
bed. After having its face shoved in a pile of feces enough times
and being hit and yelled at, the pup thinks it’s the feces or
urine that is making everyone so mad. It does not realize that
going on the floor is wrong because when it does go on the floor
and nobody is around, it doesn’t get yelled at.
Clients will often say their puppy knows when it does something
wrong because when they find the feces or urine the puppy starts
shaking and tries to hide. Nothing could be further from the
truth. It tries to hide because it knows feces or urine on the
floor and mom or dad in the same room means its nose is going to
get rubbed into the feces again. This will create another problem.
Your puppy knows it will get in trouble if there is feces or urine
on the floor when mom or dad are home, so it waits until you leave
and then goes on the floor. You come home six hours later and your
happy puppy greets you, completely forgetting it went on the
floor. You find the feces and punish the puppy that has no clue
why. If you find urine or feces and you did not see your puppy do
it, clean it up and don’t say a thing to your puppy.
Punish whoever was supposed to be watching it,
the puppy. If you do catch your puppy in the act of eliminating,
say your puppy’s name loudly and the word “outside” or
whatever command you say when you take your puppy outdoors.
Hopefully this will make your puppy stop in mid-stream and you can
take it outdoors. If it doesn’t stop, don’t say, “No, bad dog!”
because it’s not wrong to eliminate, it’s just the wrong to go
on the floor.
House Training Older Dogs
Using these same techniques will work for older dogs. Not
allowing them the opportunity to eliminate in the house is the
real key to all house training.
House training will progress more rapidly if you devote enough
time and effort to utilize the methods I have described. You will
have to choose the method that works best for your particular
puppy. Teach your puppy what you want it to do, where you want it
to go and then reward it for going. Some puppies train very
quickly and others take much longer.
There will be times when you
think your puppy is finally trained and then it will have
occasional accidents. If this occurs, do not become discouraged.
Repeat the steps you have been doing so far-praise, rewards and
taking your puppy outdoors frequently. Be patient and do not lose
your temper or you will delay any forward progress. Love, patience
and kind treatment will go a long way. Now get started and good