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How to House Train a Puppy

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A brown and white puppy lies on a couch

House training a puppy takes time and patience, some a little more than others. Every puppy is unique and will learn at their own pace, but to make the process quicker and easier for you, we’ve broken it down into five simple steps that have proven to be successful.

Step 1: Establish Routines

If you feed your puppy at the same times each day, the chances are good that they’ll have to go potty around the same times each day. This will make it easier for you to predict when they’ll need to go outside.

Take them out as soon as they wake up and after eating, drinking or playing, since these are times they’ll likely feel the urge to go. Routinely going outside will also help your puppy recognize that it’s the place to do their business. If you’d like to try to avoid trips outside in the middle of the night, place their water bowl out of reach about two and a half hours before bedtime. However, keep in mind that they should have access to water if they’ve been running around and playing.

Step 2: Take Them Out Frequently

Because puppies have little bladders, it’s impossible for them to “hold it” for as long as healthy adult dogs. Therefore, two hours is the maximum amount of time you should allow between trips outside. A potty break every half hour to an hour is best, especially when the puppy is active.

Step 3: Pick a Potty Spot

Another trick for teaching your pup where to go is to always take them to the same spot in the yard. Smelling their scent from earlier potty breaks will help them remember what they are supposed to be doing in this spot. You might also want to say a phrase like “go potty” when you arrive at your destination and just before you expect the puppy is about to go. Your dog will learn the meaning of the phrase and hearing it will prompt them to do their business.

Step 4: Reward Them for Going

Rewarding your puppy for going potty will teach them that it’s a good behavior. The timing has to be just right to do this effectively, so be sure to give them praise and a treat immediately after they finish.

If you wait until you get back inside, your puppy may get confused about which behavior you’re rewarding. If you start praising your pup while they’re going, they might get distracted and stop before their bladder is completely empty. This could result in indoor accidents when they have the urge to finish going a bit later.

If you’re looking for an alternative to giving treats as a reward, try rewarding your puppy with a fun game, like tug-of-war, or a walk around the neighborhood.

Step 5: Keep Your Pup Under Supervision

Watch closely for signs that your puppy has to go, like sniffing around the floor, circling or suddenly getting distracted from an activity they’d been enjoying. If you notice one of these behaviors, stop them in their tracks and rush your puppy outside before they have an accident inside.

Also, be sure to watch for signs that your pup isn’t feeling well. Their feces and urine can be good indicators of this. If you notice that they’re having diarrhea frequently, yelp or whine while they’re urinating, have blood in their urine or stool, urinate in dribbles, or are leaving piles of vomit in the yard or house, your puppy may have ingested something harmful or have a urinary tract infection (UTI).

Additional Things To Remember

In addition to the five steps mentioned above, there are a few other important things to consider during the process of house training your puppy.

MAKE ARRANGEMENTS FOR WHEN YOU’LL BE AWAY

Since puppies can’t hold their bladders longer than a few hours at a time, it’s best to make arrangements for someone to let them out if they have to be alone all day. If you have trusted friends, family, co-workers, or neighbors who are good with dogs or who may have already met your puppy, it may be easiest to have them puppy sit for you. If you don’t know many people in your area or no one is available, you can find professional dog sitters and walkers on petsitters.org, the website of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, or other pet sitting or walking services.

If your puppy will be home alone for longer than usual and you’re worried about them having multiple accidents, you can construct a special indoor area for your puppy’s potty needs while you’re out. You can purchase a dog litter box or make your own indoor potty area by following these steps:

  1. Block off a space with baby gates. Make sure the space is big enough to allow your puppy to do their business in one area while having a clean, dry spot to play and sleep.

  2. Place a plastic baby pool or box of some sort, filled with dog litter or sod, inside the gated area. You should be able to find dog litter at your local pet store. Newspaper can also do the trick, though some puppies treat this like a toy and enjoy shredding it.

If you clean up an accident in the house using paper towels or rags, try putting them in the pool or box rather than throwing them away. The scent will help your puppy understand the purpose of the area you constructed.

However, doing this could potentially lengthen the process of house training since they’ll be receiving conflicting cues on where to go. If you have a securely fenced-in yard, you could consider getting a doggy door, which will allow your puppy to go out on their own to do their business. That said, it’s still important that you keep an eye on what your pup is up to and where they are, especially if you live in an area where birds of prey or coyotes may be a threat. And anytime you leave your house or before you go to bed, be sure to lock your doggy door so no unwanted guests, like raccoons or skunks, make themselves at home.

Crate training your puppy can also be of great benefit, especially with house training and when you need to leave them home alone. Just like house training, crate training will also take some time and patience, but it’s well worth the effort. Crates can help provide your puppy with a comfortable space where they can take naps, chew on toys, and feel safe if a storm rolls in. Plus, puppies are naturally motivated to keep a correctly-sized crate free of accidents because they don’t want to make a mess in the same space where they rest. Remember, it’s important to limit crate time so your puppy has no need to have an accident in it. In addition to providing your puppy with their own space, crate training also gives you the peace of mind that your puppy isn’t getting into things they shouldn’t.

DON’T PUNISH INDOOR ACCIDENTS

It’s a common misconception that rubbing a puppy’s nose in an area where they’ve had an accident or scolding them will teach them not to go in the house. Punishing a puppy for having an accident can actually do more harm than good. Your puppy may think that going potty in your presence is unsafe and may sneak off to have accidents out of your sight instead. Rather than correcting your pup after they’ve had an accident, thoroughly clean the soiled area with an enzymatic cleanser so they won’t feel inclined to go in that spot again. Ask your veterinarian or check your local pet store for products designed specifically to clean up pet urine and feces.

It’s important to remember that even the best-behaved puppies will have an occasional accident. However, by following these recommended tips, you can help prevent many accidents as you teach your pup to become an outdoor potty-going pro.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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