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Tips and Tricks for Housetraining a Puppy or Dog

These housetraining tips and tricks can help ensure that your new family member relieves himself in the appropriate / preferred place—not behind your new sofa. When housetraining a puppy, or a newly adopted dog, you have two options: Train him to relieve himself outdoors or train him to relieve himself inside your home on a pee pad, eventually transitioning him to relieving himself outdoors. We’ll take you through both options:

Straight to the Great Outdoors:

Want your pup to “go” outside from the get-go? Follow these handy tips:

  • Create “Potty Cues.” Your puppy can’t tell you he has to relieve himself, or can he? Actually he can, if you teach him a “potty cue.” Here’s how to get started:
    • Have your pup sit by the back door and work with him. When he barks, open the back door and let him out. Rather not teach him to bark? Try a bell. If it rings (by him targeting it), open the door and take him outside.
    • Put your puppy on a leash and walk him out to the most boring part of the yard. Don’t move around. Wait for him to relieve himself. When he does, reward him with treats and a lot of verbal praise. He didn’t “go”? Let your puppy back in the house and repeat. He will catch on fast.
    • When you can’t watch him, confine him to an area, such as a crate, with a wonderful, food-stuffed toy. (You don’t want your puppy to give you “the cue” and you aren’t there to hear it/see it.)
  • What to do if you need to change the “cue”:
    • So you taught your puppy to bark when he needs to go to the bathroom, but now he barks all the time—not just to go potty. Here’s what to do:
      • Try teaching him a new “cue,” such as a “sit” at the door. You could even place a rug by the door, and when your puppy sits on the rug, that means the door opens.
      • To retrain, again, when your puppy “sits,” take him out on leash to the most boring part of the yard. Don’t move around. Wait for him to go. When he does, reward him and take him back in the house.

The Indoors to Outdoors method:

If you don’t have a yard or have limited training time, you may prefer to choose the Indoors to Outdoors housetraining method. Here’s how it works:

  • The potty pad/papers housetraining method:
    • Choose a confined area for your housetraining. This could be a bathroom, laundry room or utility room.
    • Cover the floor with papers or puppy pads. Place your puppy’s bed in one corner of the room.
    • Once your puppy is eliminating consistently in the same general area, slowly begin removing the papers or pads closest to the bed. Change the papers/pads often, but always place a small piece of the soiled paper on top of the clean paper in the area where you want him to “go.” The scent will remind your puppy that this area is the bathroom. Continue removing the paper/pads until you have removed all but one or two sheets.
    • Once you are having consistent success with your puppy using one or two papers, you can slowly widen the area the puppy is confined in. If accidents occur, reduce the area.
    • If you will be transitioning your puppy to an indoor or patio grass “potty” plan on migrating the papers near this destination.
  • The crate training method:
    • Your puppy’s crate should be large enough for your puppy to stand up, turn around and lie down, and that’s about it. For puppies, the crate should not be big enough to allow the puppy to eliminate in one corner and sleep in another. If you decide to buy a crate that will fit your puppy when he is full grown, block off the back of it with a large box or with a crate divider.
    • Routine is key. Whether you choose pads or the “cue” method, within 15 minutes of eating, drinking or play sessions, your puppy should have the opportunity to go to the bathroom.
    • To get your puppy used to his crate, toss a treat into the crate and allow him to go in, eat and come back out. Praise your puppy each time he enters.
  • What if your puppy doesn’t like crates?
    • First, limit the space that your puppy has access to until he is housetrained.
    • Work with him to create a “potty cue,” like a bark or a bell that he rings.
    • When you let him out, put him on leash and take him to the most boring area of the yard. Wait for him to “go” and then reward him.
  • What to do if you have a stubborn puppy:
    • So your new puppy is refusing to use the yard. With a little determination, you can turn that behavior around. Here’s how:
      • Put your puppy on a leash and take him out to the most boring part of the yard. Stay quiet. Don’t let him get distracted with play time. Your pup will eventually look at you like “what is going on?” Wait. After about 10 minutes, bring your pup back in and place him in his crate for approximately 20 minutes with a fabulous food-stuffed toy.
      • Now, try the yard again. (This works best over a weekend when you are home). If he doesn’t “go” after about 10 minutes, bring him back in the house and place him back in the crate with his toy. Repeat. By the end of the first day, he will catch on.
  • There is no defined timeframe to housetraining a puppy.
    • While it would be nice to have a set time it should take on how to housetrain a puppy, there isn’t, as there are many factors that come into play. One of the most important ones is consistency. Be sure to reinforce when your puppy is good and ignore the accidents. Praising your puppy when he gets it right will reinforce the good behavior.
  • Accidents can and do happen
    • Accidents will happen. It’s a matter of determining the cause and reinforcing positive behavior.
    • First, determine the cause: Is your puppy stressed? Is he giving you the “cue” but you are not hearing it or reacting to it? Does it only happen when he hears the doorbell or another noise? Helping to determine if it’s a pattern can help you find a solution. And, be sure to thoroughly clean wherever he goes with both a pet-safe stain remover as well as an odor remover.
    • Reward good behavior. Housetraining takes time and commitment. Start back to the basics, whether it’s pads or the potty cue. Reward your pup each time he “goes,” but don’t reprimand mistakes.
  • Out and about
    • Keep in mind that your perfectly housetrained puppy may have accidents when you are out and about. To help prevent this from happening:
      • Try to keep your puppy’s schedule as normal to his usual schedule as possible.
      • Give him something to do when you visit friends, like bringing a food-stuffed toy.
      • Help prevent potential accidents by making sure he has a long walk with lots of opportunities to empty his bladder before going inside for a visit.