Behavior and Training, Pet Care Basics, Puppy and Kitten Care, What to Expect With a New Puppy
Puppy Potty Training: 3 Steps to Housebreaking a Puppy
May 12, 2021
Housebreaking a puppy is one of the most important skills your puppy can learn. As Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services and as a practicing veterinarian, I’ve helped many new puppy owners succeed at housebreaking their new dogs. Here are my recommendations.
How to Housebreak a Puppy
There are only three steps to learning this skill. We are going to have you teach these in an order that may seem backwards but trust me, it has to work this way. And just a note, in this article I will be referring to the puppy as a female, but these steps work for male dogs, too.
1.First you need to get the puppy outside to your preferred elimination location before she needs to use it. This means you need to get her outside the very first thing in the morning, the last thing before you go to bed at night, and every 15 minutes in between. Set a timer so you don’t lose track of time when you are busy making dinner, in a Zoom meeting, or putting the kids to bed. Puppies have very small bladders and not a lot of control, at least until they are four months old.To make this work, you need to have a leash and collar, a flashlight, your jacket and boots and yummy treats at the door where you want to take her out. Wear something that suits the weather as you may be out there a while, and frequently.
Be consistent – always go to the same door and the same part of the yard. If the breeder used wood shavings or another substrate in their litter box, use some of this in the yard to help her learn what you are out there for and where you want her to go potty.
The very instant she goes from a squatting position to level, get the yummy treat in her mouth. It can’t be a dry piece of kibble – it has to be delicious enough to convince her standing in snow is worth it. Hot dogs cut into tiny bites and microwaved on paper towels till they are the consistency of pepperoni works great – they smell and taste delicious and can be kept in your pocket until needed.
2. Second, teach her a command. You can’t expect her to know a word until she does the behavior and then attach a word to it. Saying a word or phrase over and over, louder and louder, won’t help until she learns what you are asking her to do. This means, you need to wait till she “performs” – either urinates or has a stool, then quietly, say the word you want as you give her the amazing treat. If you say it too loudly, you may interrupt her. When it comes to words, words matter. Be certain everyone in her family uses the same word. Puppies don’t understand synonyms – you have to always use the same word. It can be anything you want it to be as long as you have buy in from the family. It needs to be a word everyone can pronounce and no one is embarrassed to say.
3. The third step is to teach her to ask to go outside for her business. This can’t be the first step as she won’t know how to ask or how to hold it long enough to get to the door, leashed up, and outside. So even though this seems backwards, it makes sense to expect her to learn in this order.If she starts to sniff around, act a little frantic, or slips out of the room where you are, take this as a hint to quickly snatch her up and get her out the preferred door. This is why you need to learn to dress like a fireman and keep treats at the door – there isn’t time if you wait.
During training, you can’t leave her unattended. She needs to either be in a dog crate or tethered to your belt. Even a temporary lapse in supervision can allow a puppy to slip out of view and into the “indoor bathroom”, also known as the extra bedroom or dining room.
If/when your puppy has an accident on the floor, you need to roll up a newspaper and bop yourself on the head and say “bad human” as you are the one who made the mistake, not the puppy.
If you wish, you can put a bell at the door so she can alert you to her need to go outside. Put the bell on the doorframe, next to the door, not on the door itself. Teach her to touch it with her nose or paw so she can alert you to her needs. This will allow you to hear her without teaching her to scratch at the woodwork or bark to get your attention.
There are electronic doorbells meant for dogs available online. Some will dispense a treat and ring a receiver in your pocket across the house from the door. A lot of puppies are very quick studies when given the right tools.
Crates are essential tools in teaching both housebreaking and good manners. You may need more than one crate to allow for growth and to have available in different parts of your home.
While some puppies never have an accident and are housebroken from day one, most take time and patience. Remember to take the puppy out frequently, always with someone with them to supervise and reward them. And be patient as some puppies don’t have the control and communication skills until they are four months old or more.
If you have more puppy housebreaking questions reach out to your veterinarian or call a Revival Pet Care Pro at 800.786.4751.
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Written by: Marty Greer, DVM
Director of Veterinary Services
Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.