The Scoop on Housebreaking | Potty Training a Puppy or Young Dog

The mantra of “it’s never the dog’s fault” certainly applies to issues related to house training. Let’s think about this for a moment… In a natural environment the mother dog would seek out a clean and warm den where she could safely deliver her puppies. During the early weeks she is a meticulous nursemaid keeping her litter in a cozy pile as she nurses them and cleans their little backsides twenty-four hours a day. She is instinctively clean and ingests every particle of “output” produced by her offspring to keep them healthy and odor free so as not to attract predators.


As the pups grow they would begin eating solids which their dutiful mom would hunt, eat, and then regurgitate in pureed form. Then she would teach them to follow her out of the den to do their business.


However, as we humans have been orchestrating the breeding business for centuries, dogs don’t typically roam free but are confined to small areas in our homes and kennels and are so generously provided with strange things such as newspaper, wood shavings, and pee pads which we silly people think pups should automatically identify as their bathroom. And their mom, the teacher of life’s lessons, has been swept away in order to get the pups weaned and on the market.


Soon the little ones are placed in homes where their new families begin what they believe is the huge project of training their pups not to soil their living area. Talk about reinventing the wheel! Our dogs, with all of their canine instincts, are expected to live in a human world with all of our specifications such as:


  • I want my dog to only go in a designated part of our yard.
  • I want my dog to bark at the door to go out.
  • I want my dog to ring a bell to indicate it needs to “use the bathroom”.
  • I want my dog to never have an accident in my house.
  • I want my dog to have free access to the inside of my house when I’m gone and use a dog door.


Certainly this wish list can be fulfilled with lots of hard work and consistent training, but these behaviors have to be learned! Even with our human babies we tolerate changing diapers until the child is often 3 years old! Why should we expect that our puppies understand that it’s acceptable to relieve themselves on a newspaper but not the carpet!


Essential Elements For Housebreaking

Crate of appropriate size (not too large)

Drop cord to wear when free in house

Tether to keep dog close by you in house when you are busy



Adorable puppy

Patient owner



Make it your goal to teach your new family member that you want him or her to go outside to do their business.

We are not fans of piddle pads unless you are an elderly or handicapped person living on the 7th floor. Many folks think that starting out with pads might be a great idea, but it does teach the pup to potty in the house. And even if you own a small dog, they will inevitably end up approaching the scented pad and peeing while missing the mark. In addition, if you allow your dog to temporarily use the indoors he may never get used to relieving himself in cold, rainy, windy, or snowy weather.


Crate train your puppy from the start.

Dogs learn to love their crates and will keep them clean as a rule. If they whine at first, do not abandon the effort. Have them sleep in crate, but make it comfortable and plan on getting up a time or two during the night until the pup is around three months of age. Crating your pup or dog will come in very handy for many other instances as well such as safe car travel and having a familiar, secure, and quiet place to be at times. Your #1 priority is to prevent your puppy from soiling it’s crate. If you allow him to pee and poop in his abode you are going to be facing an uphill battle. If you put bedding in the crate, check it a few times a day to assure that the pup has not wet it. If there is an accident, clean it up immediately and move on.


Put your little one on a feeding and elimination schedule.

potty train housebreak puppiesIt is helpful to feed the dog in the crate as it reinforces the idea that it is a great place. Also, a pup will usually get down to business and finish his meal, not being as distracted by household commotion. And, he does not have the opportunity to run off and go before you can get him outside. Scheduled meals are much better than free feeding to facilitate house training since pups typically need to do their big business anywhere from 5-30 minutes after eating. It you allow free access to kibble, you never really know when nature may call. Young puppies usually need a meal three times a day. After the four month mark you can reduce it to two, offering the second feeding early evening. Water consumption also needs to be monitored and curtailed a few hours before bed. We prefer to put warm water on the food and then offer little drinks throughout the day. Like human babies, puppies eat and potty more frequently so you need to get your pup when you have time to dedicate to this project.


Put your puppy on a rotation.

Think about your puppy’s “places to be”. You have the crate, the outdoors, and the indoor space. The indoor free area needs to be small. Do not let him roam around the house. Puppies are little and your house might resemble the North American continent! There is no way that he is going to trek back to the door if he is in your upstairs bedroom when nature calls. In the pup’s mind, wandering down the hall would also seem like getting away from the living area. How many people have complained that their dog made a deposit in their closet? It doesn’t get much farther away than that!


From the crate he should be taken right outside, similar to putting a toddler on the toilet directly from a nap. It’s a good idea to have the crate right by the one door that you plan on using. Walk outside with him to keep track of the situation. Usually at a young age the pup will follow you. You can later introduce the leash and/or just put him out if the yard is fenced. In a soft encouraging voice say “get busy” or whatever your cue is going to be. Do not squeal or distract him or keep repeating “go potty”. When he is finished, reward with a treat immediately! Do not ever reward a dog after you come back in the house or he will think the reward was for running back to the door and you don’t want him to later dash outside, make a U-turn and bee-line to the inside to get a treat. Honestly, you will be training him to run this pattern which may not include a pit stop.


It is also a good idea to walk the pup out to the same area. Pick up any waste immediately. That will encourage him to return to that spot and readily recognize it as the place to go. If you leave stool laying around he will not want to revisit the spot.


If he goes he can have some free time with you in the house before you put him back into the crate or outside. If he doesn’t go, put him back in the crate and try again in about ten or fifteen minutes. The length of free house time is fairly short at first as you are going for success. When he has free house time he should be under your feet in the room that has the one door you are going to use. It is helpful to have a little drop cord on him at this time. This is simply a thin nylon leash with the loop cut off. This helps you to get the pup gathered up quickly without lurching for his body in case he shows signs of needing to go. However, try to walk the pup to the designated door. If you airlift him he may be slower at recognizing the exit. The most crucial factor is that you need to be paying attention! When your puppy is under six months he will need to go outside once an hour during the daytime hours, especially if he is awake and active. There will be some accidents which will actually be slip-ups on your part. Never punish the puppy!!! Clean up the mess and proceed onward as these incidents will become fewer and fewer.


If you have to be gone during all or part of the day you may consider setting up an exercise pen/play pen arrangement in a garage or basement which the puppy would not confuse with the inside of the house. You could line it with wood shavings to keep the little one clean and comfortable. When you return home you would then follow the protocol described above. Typically, as dogs mature they will even attempt to keep this area clean as well providing you have been diligent on your end. It would be important to get back home as soon as possible to let the dog out.


When the pup is around the three month age and is used to a little gentle leash walking as well as the feel of the drop cord, you would be wise to teach him how to relieve himself on lead as well as loose. This is such a great skill. It gets the job done quickly when you are in a hurry or the weather is bad. It also makes traveling with your dog much nicer when the dog relieves himself on cue.


As you can see, house training a puppy is a project that should not be taken lightly. Seriously consider getting a new dog when you have the time to dedicate to the effort. We have actually known people who took leave from work to get their new family member off to a good start. Always remember that you have a window of time to form good habits and behavior related to housebreaking. The time you devote will be a valuable investment for a happy future and rich bond between you and your new best friend.

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2 Responses so far.

  1. Hi Cheryl, great article. Sometimes people have difficulty in getting their pups to like the crate. I have found that it is much easier when you set your pup up to WANT to go into the crate. The best way is to get a kong toy and sit in front of the crate and with your pup watching, and right in front of his nose,.. fill the kong with tasty treats like cheese, ham, and peanut butter. Let your pup smell the treats but don’t give him any. Then throw the kong in the crate and close the door and walk away. Watch as your pups tries and tries to get inside the crate to get at the goodies..this is building the desire in your pup to want to go inside the crate,..he wants to get the scooby snacks. Open the crate and let your pup go in and play with the kong, don’t close the crate door,. it’s ok if he brings the kong out. The next time do the same thing but this time tie the kong to the back of the crate that way your pup will have to stay in the crate to enjoy his rewards..but still leave the door open,,and with time you can close the door for longer periods of time. If you take your time and exercise patience, your pup will build a strong desire to go in the crate when you ask. Thanks

    • Yes, we absolutely need to make crate training a positive experience as it is such a valuable tool with the housebreaking and overall management. Great tips, thanks for sharing!

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