In order to best accomplish the goal, do not consider house
breaking as “training”. Instead consider it as proper
“management”. With training, we do something to the dog to
teach it a new behavior, such as making it lie down when we say
“down”. With management, we manage the puppy’s environment or
the method in which we handle the dog to achieve the desired
response, such as confining a puppy to a crate or removing
dangerous objects from his reach. Housebreaking falls into the
Just like infant children, little puppies (8-12 weeks old) truly
do not have a conscious sense of when they are about to
eliminate. For that reason, you cannot tell them that they were
“wrong” when they make a mistake in the house, they just won’t
understand it. Any thing you say or do to the puppy will not be
associated with the elimination mistake, since they do not know
what they just did. So, any sort of “house breaking” punishment
is interpreted by the puppy as nonsensical anger from their
human. In his mind, you will become an unpredictable and angry
person and someone to avoid or fear.
In order to start housebreaking, right off the bat, we want to
create a habit for the puppy where he learns, though experience,
where he is to eliminate. Once the puppy has developed the
habit of eliminating specifically outdoors (and indoor
elimination is prevented through proper management), as he
begins to actually recognize when he is about to eliminate, he
will choose to go to the place where you have chosen based on
highly consistent management.
Here’s how to best house break a puppy:
manage the puppy in a crate that is small enough that he
cannot eliminate in one end and sleep comfortably in the
Refrain from putting absorbent
materials (like towels or beds) in the crate. Puppies
will pee or poop on the towel and push it aside, leaving a
dry place for them to sleep. We want the puppy to feel
a need to "hold it" until we return to take him outside.
This means that we MUST return in time for the puppy's
puppy wakes, open the crate door, let him walk out, then
take him in your arms and carry him outside. Do not let him
walk to the door or he will probably wee before he gets
down in the spot where you hope he will choose to eliminate.
patiently with him, either standing still or walking about.
Do not speak to him or engage him in any play, or he will be
distracted from the task at hand.
eliminates, praise him profusely. Then, wait for him to do
“number two” (by walking about or standing still quietly).
When he does his business, praise him profusely, again.
can play with him outdoors for a while or take him indoors.
inside, you must supervise him 100%. Confine him to the
room in which you are by using baby gates or by closing
doors. Allow him access to water. Interact with him or let
him relax and chew on a toy. Then, after 20-50 minutes, put
him back in his crate to nap.
If it is
time for a meal, give him his meal in his crate.
20-40 minutes, remove the meal and take him outdoors again.
Most very young puppies need to eliminate from 20-40 minutes
after they eat. Repeat the steps for outdoor supervision
and praising. Do not bring him indoors until he has done
If he does not eliminate in a reasonable amount of time,
carry him inside. He should be
put back in his crate,
immediately when you get inside or
you must 100% supervise him
and watch for the signs that he is about to eliminate and
take him outdoors, again, immediately. My preference
is to crate him, since some people report that the puppy
does not give any warning before eliminating. If the
puppy did not eliminate outdoors and has been put back in
its crate, you will need to take it back outside in a
reasonable amount of time to teach him to "hold it" but not
feel overwhelmed. You never want the puppy to feel
that he must eliminate in his crate. That might be 1 -
3 hours depending upon the puppy's age.
If you see a puppy begin to
sniff the ground or walk in a little circle as if he is
going to do his business indoors, you may
interrupt him by clapping your
hands or making a startling noise. This is not to
frighten or to "correct"/ "punish" the puppy but to simply
interrupt him. Pick him up, take him outside to his
spot, and wait for him to eliminate. Just like humans,
dogs need some time to get the urge to potty again if they
have been interrupted. Be patient.
inside, you can put him directly in his crate for 2-4 hours,
depending on his age.
A 12 week
old puppy should be able to remain crated for 4-5 hours.
month old puppy should be able to remain crated for 6-7
month old puppy should be able to remain crated for 8 hours.
It is not uncommon that a puppy
can "hold it" much longer during nighttime sleep, than
during the day. This is because the house is usually
more active and because he is receiving his meals during the
A typical day for an 8 week old puppy would go something
6:00 AM puppy wakes. Take him outdoors immediately. Wait
for him to eliminate and praise.
6:15 AM indoor, 100% supervised play time and access to
6:45 AM put puppy back in crate with his breakfast meal.
7:00 AM take puppy outdoors (remove food). Wait for him to
eliminate and praise.
7:20 AM put puppy back in crate, leave for work.
12:00 PM take puppy outdoors. Wait for him to eliminate and
12:15 indoor, 100% supervised play time and access to
12:30 PM pup puppy in crate with lunch meal.
12:45 PM take puppy outdoors (remove food). Wait for him to
eliminate and praise.
1:00 PM put puppy back in crate, back to work.
5:30 PM take puppy outdoors. Wait for him to eliminate and
5:45 PM play with puppy outdoors.
6:00 PM indoor, 100% supervised play time and access to
6:30 PM, put puppy in crate and tend to your required
7:30 PM, take puppy outdoors. Wait for him to eliminate and
7:45 PM, indoor 100% supervised play time. Access to water.
8:30 PM, in crate with evening meal.
9:00 PM, take puppy outdoors (remove food). Wait for him to
eliminate and praise.
9:15 PM, indoor 100% supervised play time.
10:00 PM, last trip outdoors.
10:15 PM put puppy in crate for the evening.
This describes the requirements for an eight to ten week old
puppy. With each passing week, he should be able to handle
longer periods of time before going outdoors. However, if you
do not make the commitment to house break him in the first four
weeks, bad habits can develop which could be very difficult to
resolve. So, I strongly recommend creating a method of managing
the puppy for the first month that allows for mid-day outings
for potty breaks.
Offering the last meal of the day earlier in the
evening and removing water several hours prior to bedtime, can
help with housebreaking. Puppies do not have to have
access to water 100% of the day. Their access to water can
be correlated to their access to food.
Puppies that are 8 - 16 weeks old should
typically receive 3 meals per day. When teething begins,
around 4 months, expect your puppy to go "off" his food.
This may be due to the pain of chewing. Offering moist
food at this time can be helpful. At 4 months, puppies can
begin to eat just two meals per day. At around 12 months,
you may switch the puppy to one meal per day or remain on two
meals per day.
Following this process puts you in the driver's
seat. You control the puppy. You permit it out of
the crate when you are able to supervise it. You put it in
the location where you want it to eliminate when it needs to
eliminate. There is no reason to get frustrated, upset or
disappointed with the puppy. You
should remain calm and relaxed and in control if you use
this process. There's no reason to get angry with the
puppy, since housebreaking is all about the human managing the
puppy appropriately. This process puts the responsibility
of accomplishing the task in your hands. If you follow the
process, if you 100% supervise the puppy or crate the puppy when
you cannot do that, success will be yours.
I saw a newspaper article about the increase of
child drownings that has been correlated with the increased use
of large, inflatable swimming pools. It claimed, "43%
of children were supervised when they drowned, 39% were
not supervised and 18% of children died during a lapse in
supervision". Just FYI - my definition of
"supervision" for puppy housebreaking is inconsistent with the
definition of "supervision" used by the parents of the drowned
children. That is why I claim you need to
100% supervise a puppy that is not
crated. Since parents cannot seem to 100% supervise their
young children even around swimming pools, I strongly suggest
crating a puppy when you cannot 100% supervise it. Wolves
tell their puppies, "Go in the den, we are going to hunt
buffalo". The wolf pups comply. Those that don't get
eaten by a cougar. Crating your puppy if you cannot
supervise it is the best way to not only housebreak it, but to
keep it safe.
For crate training issues
with an older puppy or adult Dog, click here.
At least for the first several months, I recommend putting the
puppy crate in your bedroom. That way, if he wakes in the
middle of the night, you can say to him, “It’s OK, we are right
here, go back to sleep”. If that works, he will go back to
sleep within a few minutes. If he continues to fuss, you should
take him outside right away, and then put him directly back in
his crate when you get back indoors. A puppy just wants to
sleep within “snoring range” of his human pack-mates. If left
alone in the garage, kitchen or basement, he will not feel
secure and you will not hear him wake. Often when the puppy
wakes he just wants to be reassured that you are there. But, if
he has to go outside, he should be allowed to relieve himself
rather than feel compelled to soil himself and his bed. Most 10
week old puppies sleep through the night. If the puppy is
still waking you at 16 weeks for a trip outside in the middle of
the night, consider ignoring his cries in the night. If he
truly must go outside, he will continue to fuss and perhaps even
escalate his demands. If he has become habituated to
waking at that time but doesn't truly need to go outside, he
will settle back down again when you don't acknowledge his
Although I have put a time table above for illustrative
purposes, I do not recommend adhering to a highly rigid
schedule. You do not want the puppy to become so attached to
your arrival home from work at exactly 5:32 PM that he will not
be able to cope with anything different. When you are late, one
day, it will be difficult for him to handle. So, waking and
arrival from home or school times can vary. But, try to not let
them shift so much that the puppy looses faith in your return or
he may not hold his desire to eliminate for your next scheduled
arrival time and you will come home to a soiled puppy in a dirty
If the puppy eliminates in his crate, take him outside and clean
the puppy and the crate thoroughly before putting him back in
his crate. Do not think that you are teaching him a lesson by
making him stay in his filth. Instead, apologize to him for
your inability to get to him when he needed you and try to
reduce or eliminate situations where he cannot wait and must
soil his crate.
notice that the schedule I suggest above only provides for a
few, twenty to forty minute out of crate times for a very
young puppy. That is because 8-10 week old puppies require
far more sleeping time than play breaks. Most of the trouble
that folks encounter with their puppies is a direct or indirect
result of sleep deprivation. Do not rely on your puppy to tell
you when he needs to sleep. By the time your puppy is twelve
weeks old, he will begin to have a higher need for play times
and should be well on his way to being house broken. Provide
plenty of nap times for the first month so that you can enjoy a
well adjusted puppy from that point onwards. Do not ask puppies
(8 weeks to 10 months old) to perform extensive or strenuous
exercise. You may have noticed that I speak of 8-10 week old
puppies as the youngest age you might have your puppy. I am
very strongly opposed to breeders who sell puppies before they
are 8 weeks old. To find out why, see my page on "Puppy
It will be far easier to housebreak a puppy that leaves his
breeder's home at eight weeks than at six weeks. That is
because the older the puppy the longer he can sleep through the
night and hold his need to eliminate during the day.
Remember that any time your puppy is out of his crate you should 100% supervise him. This does not mean
supervise him 85% of the time, but 100%. You do not want your
puppy to make a potty mistake behind a chair in the spare
bedroom and turn it into a habitual place for leaving a little
poop before you ever find it. Close doors to rooms you do not
want him to explore. Put up baby gates and watch him at all
times. You do not want him to chew on an electrical cord or eat
something dangerous because you were not paying attention to
him. The results can be devastating. Paying absolute attention
to a puppy can be very strenuous. When you are too busy to
watch him, put the pup in his crate and close the door. You won't loose your mind
and the puppy won't get into danger or trouble.
Also, note that I recommend that the food is removed after the
puppy has had 15-30 minutes to consume what ever he wants. This
will put his digestive tract on a schedule so that he will
eliminate on a schedule. Once you figure out how long after he
eats a meal he needs to go outdoors, it will become a smooth
transition to a completely housebroken puppy. With each passing
week, the time between a meal and the pup's need to go outdoors
will increase. I also recommend limiting access to water after
the last meal of the day so that the puppy is less likely to
wake in the middle of the night.
I do not recommend allowing the puppy free access to his food
for several reason. Perhaps the most important reason is that,
when the food comes directly from you instead of from a food
dish on the floor, the puppy will associate you as his leader
and the person he must rely upon for his meals and other
directions. Second, he will learn how to eat his meals all at
once which lends itself to several factors. If your puppy ever
goes off his feed because he is ill, you will know it sooner and
be able to speak with the veterinarian better about changes in
the pup’s eating habits. If you travel with your dog, the fact
that he is used to eating in his crate will make the travel more
comfortable for him and you. It makes staying in a motel, a
travel trailer or a tent easier. Because he is used to eating
his whole meal at one time, you will not have to leave food out
in the room or tent or your grandmother's kitchen floor. The
dog will know when and where he will be fed, so he will eat more
normally when away from home. Finally, if someone ever has to
care for your dog in your absence it will make it easier on your
pup and the care giver to be able to rely on the routine feeding
schedule and location.
For the most part, common sense, patience and dedication to
consistent, fair and loving management will get you through the
first year of your puppy’s life. As a dog trainer, I am
contacted most frequently by folks who are troubled with twelve
week old puppies and eight month old puppies. I believe that
the most common reason folks begin to have trouble with twelve
week old puppies is that they have not started the puppy in a
crate and they are going crazy trying to watch the puppy at all
times and they are having to clean up messes. The puppy is
racing about, chewing everything and making potty messes in the
house. When I tell them to begin using a crate or, if they do
use a crate but only when they leave the house, I give them
permission to put the puppy in the crate even when they are home
but they are busy, they are very happy and things go far more
The most common reason that folks contact me about their eight
month old puppies is because the pup has become completely
unruly. I believe that is because they did not provide enough
structure, consistency and boundaries to their puppy from the
first day they brought it home. Just like with human children,
puppies are constantly seeking information about the rules of
the household. A puppy that has learned the rules and
boundaries and the ramifications of breaking those limits is a
very happy puppy. Start young, providing a balance between
confinement and time to explore the world safely through
impeccable supervision, and you will be off to the right start
for a lifetime of joy and wonderful companionship with your new
© 2005 Tammie Rogers - all
rights reserved. For permission to reprint