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Puppy Housetraining

Some puppies are incredibly easy to housetrain. Others are more challenging. Follow these general guidelines for housetraining without the headaches!


This is where your puppy will stay when you’re gone or they’re unsupervised. 

A search for “puppy pen setup” will produce lots of examples, but they all have the same items:

  1. Exercise pen. Avoid used pens for young/under-vaccinated puppies.

  2. Crate or comfortable bed.

  3. Potty area. I recommend a turf tray:  kennel tray or litter tray with squares of sod, artificial turf, or pet litter. Puppy pads work well for many puppies, but if your puppy likes to chew or shred them, a turf tray is better and safer.

  4. Water and food bowls.

  5. Toys/chews. 

Set up the puppy pen in a common area of your home. I recommend using it for regular breaks when you're home so it doesn't become associated with you leaving.


A consistent routine speeds house training. Your routine will include these times/events:

  1. Immediately after waking up - including naps*.

  2. Within 15 minutes after eating*

  3. During or after play

  4. Every hour per month of age *Most common times puppies need to poop.


The general rule is one hour (give or take) per month of age. 

  • 8 to 12 weeks: Puppies can usually hold it for 3-4 hours during the day, though they may still require a nighttime outing.

  • 3 to 6 months: Their bladder control improves, necessitating bathroom breaks every 4-6 hours during the day, with fewer accidents at night.

  • 6 months and older: Most puppies can hold it for 6-8 hours at night and require bathroom breaks every 4-6 hours during the day. Consistent training and routines aid in their development.

If your puppy consistently needs to eliminate significantly more/less often, talk to a veterinarian. 



Most accidents happen in less used areas of the house, where your puppy doesn’t eat, sleep, or spend much time with you, including:

  • Hallways

  • Bedrooms

  • Dining/formal living rooms

  • Bathroom mats

Block access to these areas with gates and closed doors to avoid accidents.


Some puppies quickly develop a clear signal that they need to go outside like scratching at the door, but unless or until they do, you'll need to watch for less obvious signs:

  • Sniffing and circling, especially when it's not a new area

  • Sniffing the rug by the back/exit door

  • Sitting by the back/exit door

  • Becoming restless for no clear reason

  • Whining or barking

  • Direct eye contact - especially herding breeds!

  • Suddenly becoming intensely affectionate, especially when they've been relaxing with you for a while - this is Simon's signal and it took me way too long to catch on!

While these behaviors can happen at other times, if your puppy hasn't eliminated after one of their routine breaks, take them out!

Technically speaking, Simon WAS on the puppy pad.


Buy a good enzymatic cleaner and be ready. My favorite is Out! Pet Care Orange Oxy Stain & Odor Remover.

Follow the instructions exactly - these products need to saturate the area as deep as the urine, so don't just spray the surface of the carpet.


Avoid these mistakes that make housetraining harder.

  • Hourly breaks. While this may be necessary in extreme cases, for most puppies it can actually slow housetraining. If they only need to pee/poop 3 out of the 12 times you take them out, they won’t associate outside with potty time.

  • Giving the puppy freedom after not eliminating outside. This one is really common. The puppy is taken outside but doesn't eliminate. The owner brings them inside, where they soon pee or poop. If they don't "go," but you know it's around that time in the routine, put them in their pen as soon as you come inside. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes, then take them out again. Repeat until the puppy eliminates, THEN they can have their freedom.

  • Ending play/interaction immediately after puppy eliminates. This can result in puppies who delay elimination to keep the fun going. Instead, remain neutral until after they go, THEN make it fun!

  • Not effectively cleaning accidents. The odor will draw your puppy back to that area, so clean thoroughly! I recommend a strong blacklight to look for missed areas (easier at night). Don't put off having the carpets professionally cleaned until your puppy is housebroken, it can sometimes speed the housetraining.

  • Punishing accidents. Punishment, including scolding or physical punishment, teaches puppies it’s not safe to go in front of you. That’s a problem for a lot of reasons, but it also won’t be fun when you are traveling and all potty breaks must be on-leash. Puppies also quickly learn "safe" places to go, where you may not see the accident until later.

  • "Interrupting" the puppy when you catch them in the act. This can also backfire. Aside from the risk of accidentally scaring a sensitive puppy (see above), some puppies can't turn it off, so even if they run outside or you pick them up, you can be left with a line of pee, instead of a puddle.


This is a great behavior when it works, but it's not as easy as it may seem. First, the training requires three steps:

  1. The puppy already is consistently only eliminating outside

  2. The puppy learns to ring a bell

  3. The puppy associates ringing the bell with outside access ONLY when they need to eliminate, not just when they're bored or see a squirrel in the yard.

That's not to say that it's a bad idea, but I recommend getting a consistent routine going first, then revisiting this idea when they're housetrained and an adolescent (5+ months).


If you've been following these guidelines and you're still cleaning up regular messes or your puppy was doing great and suddenly regressed, follow these steps:

  1. Keep a journal. For several days, track all of your puppy's accidents. When, where, what they were doing before. You may spot a pattern, but even if you don't, it will be helpful for your veterinarian and, if needed, the behavior consultant.

  2. Schedule an appointment with the veterinarian (Do this at the same time you start the journal, since you may not be able to get an appointment right away). There can be medical reasons for housetraining problems that training won't fix.

  3. Talk to a behavior expert. Virtual consultations are perfect for housetraining and I've helped many puppy parents resolve their housetraining headaches.

Hopefully, these tips will quickly get you on the path to success. If not, I'm here to help!


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