I think you’ll agree with me when I say:
One of the first and most important things you have to learn as a new owner is how to house train a puppy…and fast!
Well, it turns out you can dramatically decrease the time it takes to house train your puppy, getting to the days of cleaner floors and carpets much sooner, by arming yourself with just a little knowledge and following a well laid out plan.
And in this article, I give you a detailed step-by-step method to follow that will have your puppy house trained in the fastest time possible, with the least ‘accidents’, mess and cleaning along the way.
I don’t promise any ‘magic pill‘ or ‘house training secret‘ that will have your puppy house trained in a week. No such secret exists and the time it takes will differ from puppy to puppy and owner to owner.
But what I do offer is a comprehensive guide, written from countless hours of research and my own house training experience that’s taught me what does and doesn’t work.
If you follow this guide with patience, consistency and dedication, I can guarantee you’ll take both your puppy and yourself from complete beginners to house training aces as quickly and stress free as possible.
Contents & Quick Navigation
- 1 How To Use This guide
- 2 The 2 Essential Keys To Successful House Training
- 3 How To House Train A Puppy: FAQ
- 4 How You Should Approach The Process
- 5 Why You Shouldn’t Allow Your Puppy Full Run Of The House
- 6 Equipment Check-list
- 7 Food & Water Play An Incredibly Important Role!
- 7.1 High Quality Food Results In Fewer Bowel Movements Each Day
- 7.2 High Quality Food Helps Your Puppy Learn Bowel Control
- 7.3 What Goes In On A Schedule, Comes Out On A Schedule
- 7.4 Do Not Free Feed Your Puppy, Stick To The Schedule
- 7.5 Stick To One Brand Of Dog Food
- 7.6 Availability Of Water
How To Use This guide
‘How To House Train A Puppy‘ is the 11th article in my ‘Ultimate Guide To House Training‘ series.
The previous 10 articles contain a wealth of supporting information that answer many of the most common house training questions and provide the knowledge for you to make informed decisions on the method and style of potty training you will follow.
However, I’ve purposely made this ‘how-to‘ guide as complete and standalone as possible, so reading the previous articles isn’t essential.
I repeat the most important information here in less detail, then link out to those articles if you’d like a more detailed read and deeper understanding.
To use this guide, I recommend reading it once fully from start to finish, then you will have covered everything you need to know to successfully house-train a puppy.
I warn you, this article is long. Very long. It will likely take you 15 minutes to read. But what you’ll learn, the best way to house train a puppy as fast as possible, will pay you back the time invested hundreds of times over in the first few weeks and months with your puppy.
And if you bookmark this guide you can use it as a reference by clicking in the table of contents above to take you directly to any section if you need to refresh your memory on a particular topic.
So let’s begin…
The 2 Essential Keys To Successful House Training
At 8 weeks old, a puppy knows no better than to wee or poop absolutely anywhere they happen to be standing when the urge strikes. They’ve no idea this isn’t how it’s supposed to be done or that you don’t find pottying on your carpets acceptable.
It’s up to you to choose an appropriate bathroom spot, train your puppy to use it and at the same time teach them it isn’t acceptable to potty anywhere else inside your home.
To achieve this there are 2 essential keys to success. 2 keys that are the ultimate aim of any method or technique you’ll ever come across:
- You need to prevent mistakes inside your home.
- You need to praise your puppy for pottying in the right place as many times and as often as possible.
A big part of achieving this is simply to take your puppy to their designated toilet spot often. This way you get the greatest number of opportunities to praise them for doing the right thing. And because they’re empty you also lessen their need to potty when in the wrong places.
But it’s not as simple as just this. You must also prevent mistakes in your home through a mixture of confinement and concentrated supervision. And fit this 24/7 task in to your current lifestyle and routines.
To do this is both an art and a science, needing a well thought out and highly planned approach to give your puppy the greatest chance possible of doing the right thing, while limiting opportunities to do the wrong thing.
And this guide will show you exactly how.
How To House Train A Puppy: FAQ
How long can a puppy hold their bladder? How many times does a puppy need to potty each day? How long will it take before your puppy’s completely house trained?
There are many questions an owner will have when starting out with house training and there’s a lot of misinformation written out there.
So to answer the most frequently asked questions I wrote the following article: Basic need to know facts before you start.
I recommend you read that article so you have realistic expectations of your puppy and yourself, to know what you can both achieve in what time frame.
How You Should Approach The Process
Because your puppy has no idea what you’re asking them to do or why, you are the most important part in the house training process.
It’s up to you to teach them acceptable toilet habits and you must do so in a way that’s as easy for them to understand and as stress free as possible.
How you approach things will have a dramatic effect on how smoothly things will go, so much so that I dedicated an entire article to the matter: The Mindset And Approach You Must Take to House Training.
In the article I discuss traditional methods that should never be used, why they shouldn’t and what you should do instead.
I cover how you must take on the role of guide and trainer, must be patient and understanding, yet firm and consistent.
I cover how to work with your puppy’s natural instincts, the best way to deal with accidents in the home and how toilet training lays the foundation of your future relationship together.
It’s important reading for anyone about to embark on a house training program so I recommend you pop off to read it before continuing on with this guide.
Why You Shouldn’t Allow Your Puppy Full Run Of The House
Restricting your puppy’s access to your home until they can be trusted is one of the best things you can do for a faster and cleaner road to success.
Dogs have an instinct not to eliminate inside their den, the place where they eat and sleep. Your task is to convince your puppy your entire home is their den and they shouldn’t soil anywhere inside it.
This is so much easier to do if you initially restrict your puppy to just a single room of your home, convince them to keep that clean first and then slowly expand the areas they’re allowed into.
Dogs do not generalize well so even if they know they aren’t supposed to potty in your kitchen, they will not take this idea and apply it to your bedroom. You have to teach them not to potty in your bedroom almost as a separate idea.
If you allow access to your entire home right away, your puppy won’t see it as one big place, but lots of separate and entirely different places.
But if you start small, restrict them to and potty train them in one area, then expand bit by bit, it’s easier for your puppy to associate the new area with their living space that they’re supposed to keep clean.
This will speed up the house breaking process while at the same time lowering the number of accidents your puppy will have and the number of deep cleans you’ll have to do. A winning situation in anybody’s book!
The following is a list of items and products you’re going to need to help you toilet train your puppy.
Some are essential, others are optional and what you need will depend upon the method you choose.
You’ll be able to determine what you need once you finish the guide and know your plan of action.
- A suitable crate
- A puppy play pen, or baby gates, or pet barriers
- Plastic or tarpaulin sheet
- Puppy pads and holder – Or a stack of old newspapers
- Dog poop bags and a pooper scooper
- Small food treats for rewards
- Cleaning products
- A black or UV torch-light
If you’d like a detailed description of how and why these items are so useful, how each should be used and how they help during house training, please see my article: Products, Supplies And Equipment You Need For House Training
Food & Water Play An Incredibly Important Role!
What you feed and how you feed your puppy has an incredible impact on the process.
I’ve written a detailed article on how feeding choices make a massive difference during house training which you can read by clicking here.
In it is a detailed discussion of the influence your choices around food will make to your success and lots of advice around how to feed your puppy.
Of course I highly recommend you read it, then you can come back informed and skip this section for the next. But for those short on time, the main points of the article are as follows:
High Quality Food Results In Fewer Bowel Movements Each Day
Low quality food is full of cheap fillers, has low nutritional value and is hard to digest resulting in more passing right through. Whereas high quality food is high in nutrition, easily digested and more gets absorbed meaning less passes through.
Therefore, high quality food results in your dog producing fewer stools each day which is obviously ideal when house training.
High Quality Food Helps Your Puppy Learn Bowel Control
Because a puppy extracts more nutrients from high quality food and less cheap fillers flow straight through, their stools are firmer and this helps them in learning bowel control.
What Goes In On A Schedule, Comes Out On A Schedule
Because food travels through your puppy’s system at a reasonably consistent pace, if you feed them at the same times every day, they will settle into a pattern of eliminating at the same times every day.
You can then base a schedule around these times, your puppy will learn to expect a toilet break at these times and house training becomes easier for both of you.
Do Not Free Feed Your Puppy, Stick To The Schedule
If instead of sticking to strict feeding times you leave food down for your puppy all day, they may pick at and eat their food at random times.
This is known as ‘free-feeding’ and is the worst thing you can do until your puppy knows appropriate toilet habits.
By eating at random times, they will need to poop at random times too.
With no regular, predictable pattern to when your puppy needs to poop, house training will be more difficult.
Therefore, make your puppy eat on a schedule and pick up their food bowl between meals, whether emptied or not.
Stick To One Brand Of Dog Food
Dramatic changes in diet very often lead to loose stools or diarrhea, your puppy becomes physically incapable of holding it in and this is the worst thing that can happen during house training (not to mention all the cleaning you’ll have to do!)
Choose a single, high quality and nutritionally balanced brand of puppy food and stick to it. The one your puppy’s breeder used is usually the best choice so your puppy doesn’t have to go through a change.
If you do need to choose a new brand of food, or are thinking of changing to something better, we’ve listed some of the best foods for Labrador puppies and large dogs here (opens in new window).
Availability Of Water
You should make water freely available to your puppy throughout the day, monitor their intake so you can judge if they’re taking in too much or too little, but don’t restrict access as their needs may vary.
The important thing to do is remove their access to water for the last 2 hours before bed, otherwise they will need to go many times through the night which of course you do not want.
You Must Clean Deep And Thoroughly To Prevent Repeat ‘Mistakes’
Dogs are attracted back to places by the smell of their own urine to use the same spot as a toilet again and again.
And their sense of smell is so keen that even the tiniest little trace of urine is enough to encourage a repeat performance.
Therefore after every accident, it’s essential for you to meticulously clean the area, removing every last trace of urine and it’s smell. If you don’t, there is a very high chance your puppy will make another little puddle.
This can ruin your efforts because encouraging them to potty inside your home is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.
Ordinary household cleaners just don’t do a good enough job of eliminating odors so you really do need to use a stain and odor remover specially designed for the purpose. And you need a step by step method to follow that guarantees results.
Using a crate is the most effective and simplest way to speed up the house training process.
Description: The method takes advantage of the fact dogs have a natural instinct not to soil the area where they eat and sleep.
Key to this is making the crate just large enough to stand in, turn around easily and lay down stretched out but no bigger. A puppy or dog will then ‘hold it’ as long as they possibly can to avoid relieving themselves and then have to lay in it.
A huge benefit to this is a puppy learns while very young that just because they have an urge to wee or poop, they don’t have to and can actually hold it. With other methods a puppy doesn’t learn this fact while so young.
You don’t crate your puppy all the time though, this would be cruel. You crate them only when you can’t watch them, are busy in the home or maybe away from the home a short while. The rest of the time you watch them and regularly take them outside to potty to teach them good habits.
Effectiveness: On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 5
I say it’s the most effective method I know or have ever read about. Puppy’s learn the correct behavior quicker than with any other technique and there’s fewer mistakes (and less cleaning!) along the way.
Best suited to: Everybody! I highly recommend using a crate during the house training process because it’s so effective.
Ease of use: On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d say a 3.
It’s easier than constant supervision, harder than paper training. This is because you will have to crate train your puppy before you can use a crate for house training which does take time and effort.
Click here for my free and detailed guide to crate training your puppy.
Equipment needed: A suitable crate. I have a guide to help you select the right size and type that you can read by clicking here.
Further Info: To read a detailed discussion on the use of a crate for house training, please read: How To Use A Crate To House Train A Puppy
This article covers why the method is so effective, how it takes advantage of 3 of your puppy’s natural instincts, weighs up a few pros and cons and much more besides.
Description: It is as it sounds: You spend all your time with your puppy, supervising them constantly.
Every time you spot the signs they’re about to potty you scoop them up and take them to their bathroom spot.
Effectiveness: On a scale of 1 to 5, I tentatively give it a 3.
It could actually score higher or lower depending on how committed you are and how successful at supervising your puppy you are.
But I’ve given it a 3 because no matter how good your intentions are, no matter how mindful you are of the task of supervision, you will let your guard down and your puppy will be able to sneak off to make mistakes.
Umbilical Cord Training
This is a little used technique, and at first may sound a little silly. But it is highly effective.
Description: This technique calls for you to tether your puppy to you by leash and have them follow you wherever you go when inside your home.
This way they’re never more than a few feet away and have no chance to sneak off unnoticed to potty where they shouldn’t.
You will notice and be able to intervene and correct every possible mistake, taking them outside every time they need to relieve themselves.
Effectiveness: On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d say it’s a 5.
Used correctly, the opportunity for your puppy to make mistakes is completely removed so every single time they need to visit their bathroom spot is a training opportunity you will take advantage of and no mistake goes uncorrected.
Best suited to: People who spend all their time at home with their puppy and would also enjoy literally being tied to their pup all day.
It’s also a good method to throw into the mix for people who’ve found difficulty with ‘constant supervision’ and allow their puppy to sneak off and have accidents in the home, helping them to get better results.
Ease of use: On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d say a 4.
It’s easier than constant supervision as your puppy is attached so you can relax a little in comparison. It’s easier than using a crate because you don’t have to crate train your puppy. But it’s not as easy as paper training which is very hands off for an owner.
Video: How To House Train Your Dog - How To House Train Your Puppy
Equipment needed: A quick release collar and a house line / leash.
Further Info: for a detailed discussion of this technique, the benefits, downside, and many more tips, please see my article: Umbilical Cord House Training: What is It? How Does It Work?
What Do I Use And Recommend? A Mix Of 3 Methods
I use and recommend a mixture of crate training, constant supervision and paper training.
I primarily use crate training as I firmly believe it’s the most effective method and I’m also a strong believer in the idea that every dog deserves to be crate trained to enjoy the continuous benefits it offers throughout their life.
I use constant supervision extensively because when a puppy is outside of the crate you have to watch them diligently to avoid puppy mistakes.
I use paper training while my puppies have almost zero bladder control until the age of 10 or 11 weeks, and later in life when I can’t avoid leaving them home alone for longer than they can be expected to hold their bladder.
Admittedly this is somewhat going against my advice because I always recommend to avoid paper training if possible. It encourages or allows your puppy to toilet inside the home, before then training them not to do so. It’s saying it’s OK, before turning full circle and saying that it’s not.
This is confusing to your puppy and harmful to our house training efforts. (Unless you’re going to have a permanent indoor bathroom spot of course, then this method is perfect.)
But even though I recommend against it, using paper training ever so occasionally as a fall back plan works well for me.
I explain more fully why and when I use paper training in later sections of this article on ‘House Training For Full Time Workers‘, and ‘A Note On Puppies Between 8 And 12 Weeks‘
Eliminating On Command
Though not essential, it’s extremely useful to train your dog to eliminate on command.
When you’re in a hurry and need to leave in the morning, or it’s right before bed time, these are times you will wish your dog would eliminate on command rather than you having to patiently wait for them to do their job.
Most dogs love being outside and will use any excuse to get out there and stay there.
So it’s of benefit if you can clearly tell them you’re going outside to toilet only and for nothing else, that there’s no chance of exercise or play. If they don’t potty, they’re coming straight back in.
You do this by using a cue word and walking them on leash to their potty spot, not allowing them to do anything else and if they do not potty, taking them back inside and trying again in a few minutes.
Because a full bladder or bowel is uncomfortable, dogs are happy to relieve themselves, but some may try to hold it if they think they can get to stay outside and sniff around a while.
By not allowing this and associating it with a consistent command, it will only take a few short weeks for them to learn your chosen command means a bathroom break only and that if they don’t go, they’re coming straight back inside uncomfortably full.
Choose Commands That Everybody Must Use Consistently
If this is something you’d like to train, it’s important that you choose the words to use before you start the training and make sure everybody uses the same words consistently. If people use different words, your dog will get confused.
So pick a command like ‘toilet time‘ that you will only use when you’re taking them to the bathroom and you will not allow them to do anything else.
You’ll have a different word like ‘walkies‘ for other more fun times outside and your dog will eventually learn the difference and set their expectations of their time outside accordingly.
Video: How To Potty Train My Rottweiler Puppy - Best Way To Fully (Housebreak) Your Rottweiler
Once outside you can use another command like ‘potty’ or ‘do your job’ to ask them to do their business.
Start this process at 10 weeks, and always lead them on leash from the 11th or 12th week. You may regret it with lots of time waiting outside if you don’t!
Have You Got Everything Prepared? A Check-list Before You Start
Like everything in life, house training runs smoother if you have everything ready before you start, hopefully before you even bring your puppy home. Although it’s never too late of course!
To help make sure you’re ready, here’s a check-list to cross off and make sure you have everything prepared. Have you:
- Decided on and marked out a suitable bathroom spot?
- Chosen and purchased a suitable high quality nutritious food?
- Figured out the times of day you will feed your puppy?
- Got a collar and leash? Put in place a leash training plan?
- Bought a suitable crate and set it up in a suitable place?
- Bought bedding for the crate?
- Bought chew toys to occupy your puppy in the crate?
- Decided on the commands you will use if any?
- Purchased either baby gates, a pet barrier or an exercise pen for longer term confinement?
- Sourced stacks of newspapers or puppy pads to use in the long-term confinement area?
- Bought a tarpaulin sheet to protect the floor under the crate or exercise pen if it isn’t tiled or linoleum?
- Bought some small but highly tasty training treats to use as a reward?
- Bought specialized pet stain removing and odor neutralizing cleaning products?
- Bought a UV light to find hidden spots of urine that must be removed to prevent repeat accidents?
- Sat and discussed with every member of your household your finalized plans so everybody has the same info?
With all this ready and in place, you’re now ready to begin house training your puppy.
Successful House Training Is All About Schedules And Routine
Dogs thrive when living to schedules and routine, doing best when they have set times for eating, going to toilet, exercise, training and play.
And when it comes to house training, you’re going to love schedules and routine too!
Feed On A Schedule, Your Puppy Will Eliminate On A Schedule
If you feed your puppy at random times throughout the day, they’ll need to defecate at random times throughout the day.
They won’t fall into any predictable schedule and your life will be that much harder.
But because the passage of food through their digestive system stays roughly the same, if you feed your puppy at the same times every day they will need to defecate at roughly the same times every day.
Furthermore, because puppy’s learn through repetition, by taking yours out to potty at the same times every day, their body learns to expect and follow this schedule, training your puppy to toilet at the times you’d like them to.
When you know the times your puppy needs to eliminate you can have them at the right spot at the right time with a far greater success rate than if you didn’t follow a routine. This results in fewer mistakes, more opportunities to praise your puppy for going in the right place and so speeds up their learning.
Can You Predict When They Need To Potty?
Depending on their age a puppy will need to poop 3 to 6 times a day, and wee many more times than that. Can these times be predicted? Mostly they can.
When a puppy needs to potty depends on when they last ate, drank and their recent activities. Mostly they need to go:
- First thing in the morning
- The instant they wake up from a nap at any time of the day
- Just before going to bed
- Within a few minutes of eating or drinking
- Immediately after a play session
- Immediately after any excitement
But a puppy also needs to go many times per day regardless of recent activities, so you should also take your puppy to their bathroom spot on a consistent schedule such as the following:
- At 8 weeks old – every 30 mins.
- At 10 weeks old – every 45 mins.
- At 12 weeks old – every 1 to 1. 1/4 hours.
- At 16 weeks old – every 2 hours.
- At 20 weeks old – every 3 hours.
This is only a guideline because all puppy’s are different. And on that note…
Needs Vary – Create A Schedule To Match Your Individual Puppy
Not all puppies are the same. Some will need to wee within 2 minutes of drinking, others after 20 minutes. Some will need a bathroom break within 2 minutes of waking, others 15 minutes later.
This means there isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ schedule I can give that’s suitable for every puppy and owner. You have to determine your puppies own natural tendencies and create a schedule to suit.
To achieve this, you need to follow this 5 step process:
- Feed them to a strict schedule.
- Decide on exercise, play and training times.
- Develop a schedule including feeding, exercise, play, training and all scheduled potty times.
- Alongside your schedule, keep a written diary of your puppy’s daily activities, bladder and bowel movements.
- Use the information gathered in your diary to learn from any mistakes and adjust your schedule for the following week.
This may sound like a lot of work but it really isn’t once you get in to the routine. And besides:
Once you’ve determined your puppy’s natural rhythms, you can be at the bathroom spot at the correct times more accurately which is of huge benefit to both you and your puppy, so it’s highly worth doing!
But if you fear living to strict schedules is too hard to do…don’t fear! You don’t have to stick to them 100% of the time.
The more you can stick to schedules and routines, the smoother and faster the process will be. But you can stray from the path when necessary and still find success, it will just take a little longer. Just don’t be overly strict and hard on yourself because we all have a life to live outside of house training!
So let’s go through the 5 steps of creating your puppy’s schedule.
Creating A House Training Schedule For Your Puppy
Follow this 5-step process to create a schedule that works with your puppy’s natural rhythms and fits with your lifestyle and commitments.
Keeping and following a written schedule may seem odd or a bit excessive, I’m sure you’ve not seen many people bother with it?
But I promise you it’s not much work, after a couple of days practice it becomes a simple routine, the time it takes is negligible and the results are phenomenal.
Step 1: Decide Your Puppy’s Feeding Schedule
Depending on how old they are, your puppy needs feeding between 2 and 4 times a day. Here’s a guide to how often and when you should feed them:
Video: How to toilet train a puppy
You should feed your puppy 4 times a day until 12 weeks old.
To achieve this you need to feed them every 4 hours and you should make it the same time every day, fitting it into a schedule that’s best for you.
A good routine would be to feed ‘breakfast’ when you first get up, at 7:30AM, then at 11:30AM, 3:30PM and 7:30PM.
You should feed your puppy 3 times a day when 12 to 26 weeks old.
The timings for 3 feeds a day would be roughly every 6 hours: 7:30AM, 1:30PM and 7:30PM.
From 26 weeks old and onwards, feed your puppy just two times a day
For many example schedules for puppies of different ages, see: Housetraining (pdf) from ‘The Academy’, Canada.
For a nice, detailed guide with some further tips and advice, see: How To Potty Train A Puppy, from ‘Fido Savvy’