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How Do You House Train a Puppy? A Detailed Guide

House training a puppy is typically one of the most overwhelming parts of getting a new dog. We get lots of questions from our puppy parents about where to start, how long it will take, etc. We have referenced potty training tips in a number of different articles, but here we aim to provide a more detailed guide and ways to troubleshoot common potty issues.



When does house training for a puppy begin?


House training your puppy begins even before you bring him home. First, you want to make sure you have the appropriate size crate. Ask your breeder if you aren’t sure which size will be the best fit.


Dogs come hardwired with a natural tendency to avoid soiling their sleeping area. A correctly sized crate means your pup can comfortably stretch out to lay down, but there should not be extra space for him to walk around and find a corner that feels separate from his sleeping area.


In addition to having an appropriately sized crate, you will also want to limit the area your pup has access to inside of your home. You will want to prepare your house in a way that sets him up for success. This often means keeping his play area small. The smaller the area, the easier it will be to keep an eye on your pup and catch him in the moment if he does have an accident.


We strongly recommend setting up your puppy’s designated area within sight of the backdoor (or whichever door you intend to take him out of to do his business). Having an area that is within direct eyeline to the outside door will really help your pup connect the dots when it comes to actually alerting you that he needs to go.


If your pup has free run of the whole house, there is a high likelihood that he will pee somewhere in a faraway corner and you may not find it until hours (or days!) later which is much too late to scold your pup. If you do not catch your pup in the moment of an accident, you are missing out on a golden training opportunity!


Furthermore, having a large amount of space to roam is a bit overwhelming for a pup. Even if he is beginning to understand the concept of potty training, if he is upstairs and realizes his bladder is full, you can almost guarantee an accident before he makes it to the door.


Another factor to consider in your pup’s play area is any rug or contrast in flooring. A puppy with a full bladder will pee anywhere. However, they do more often gravitate toward rugs/carpeted areas as opposed to hardwood or tile floors, particularly if they have been exposed to puppy pads or something similar.


If you have a favorite rug in a common area of the house, it may be best to roll it up and store it away for the time being. Having all one type of flooring in your pup’s designated area will make him less likely to think that one particular part of it (like a rug!) is okay for going potty.


Now that your space is ready it is time to understand the basic nuts and bolts behind potty training.


1. Frequent Potty Breaks


First, puppies at 8 weeks of age have to go potty often and have limited bladder and bowel control. They give very little warning between realizing they have to go and having an accident. You can set them up for success by taking them outside as often as every 30 minutes when they are awake and playing around.


Puppies often have to go potty very soon after eating a meal and when they wake up from a nap. So make sure to take your pup out immediately after each of these times as well.


2. Be consistent and patient


Puppies thrive on routine. They will catch on to the potty training concept sooner if you follow the same basic steps each time. First, make sure you go out of the same door each time. This will keep your pup from getting confused on which door to go to when he does want to alert you. Choose a phrase such as “go potty!” and say it each time you take your pup outside. When your pup goes potty, reward him with a treat each time.


Eventually you won’t need treats each time, but for now building a positive association with going potty in the grass necessitates consistent use of a treat or similar reward such as play time with a special toy.


Keeping your pup on a basic daily schedule helps, too. If you feed your pup at the same time each day this will also develop predictable potty habits. Also, keep in mind that puppies are really just learning bladder control at 8 weeks of age. Even if you do everything right, your puppy is not likely to be fully potty trained until at least 12-16 weeks of age.


3. Watch your pup like a hawk during this house training period


Even if you are doing everything right and taking your puppy out on schedule, your puppy will still have at least a few accidents before their bladder is fully mature. But don’t fret: every accident is an important training opportunity for your pup to connect the dots when it comes to house training.


The key is all in the timing. If you find an accident after the fact, it is too late to scold your dog. Dogs live in the moment and react to stimuli in the present time. They do not have the ability to remember and learn from the past in the same way that we as humans can.


Many owners have heard the outdated advice about rubbing a puppy’s nose in their accident or otherwise harshly scolding them at the scene of the accident. But this is completely ineffective when it comes to potty training and can be a negative when it comes to getting your new puppy to bond with and trust you.



When you scold a puppy for an accident that happened hours previously, your puppy is more than likely not going to make the connection with his behavior- he will recognize that you are angry, but he will not be able to connect the dots to him releasing his bladder previously.


Catching your puppy as he is having an accident and giving him a quick verbal correction followed by taking him outside and rewarding a potty in the right area is far more effective! A well-timed correction the very moment that you start to see your puppy squat is a huge moment in helping him know exactly what it is you do not approve of!


In theory, following these basic techniques and tips will lead to a fully potty-trained pup! However, real life often presents unexpected challenges so we are here to navigate some common house training difficulties, as well.


When house training a puppy, be aware of these challenges


  1. My pup keeps having accidents in his crate and/or frequent accidents in the house!

There are a few possibilities for this one. First, your crate may be too big — make sure that your pup can lay down, but not walk from side to side of the crate. He should be able to stretch out, but when stretched out his body should be taking up most of the crate.


If your crate is the appropriate size, it’s possible your puppy truly can’t hold it anymore. Keep in mind that your young puppy will most likely not be able to make it through the night yet (most need a potty break after 4-6 hours for at least the first few weeks) and nap times should not exceed two hours without a potty break during the first few weeks as well.


It is also common for young pups to have accidents on the way to the door, particularly after a long nap or overnight in the crate. In this case, you will want to get in the habit of simply carrying your pup from his crate to the door until his bladder becomes a bit more developed.


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If you are following all these tips and still dealing with crate accidents or very frequent house accidents, you may consider whether or not your puppy has a UTI or is “overhydration.”


UTIs are fairly common for puppies, especially doodles. The curly doodle hair can trap bacteria around your puppy’s urethra causing an infection. Symptoms of a UTI are frequent urination of small amounts. If your pup is squatting more often than every 30 minutes and/or only releasing a tablespoon of urine or so at a time, you may need to go to the vet for a UTI check. To prevent UTI’s, keep your pup’s private areas wiped clean after he/she goes potty and keep the hair in these areas trimmed.


Another potential cause of frequent accidents can simply be a case of puppy enthusiasm. If you have watched a puppy play around for any length of time you will note the zest they have for life. They love everything! For some puppies this zeal extends to their water bowl. Some puppies will practically swim in their bowl and drink excessively.


If your puppy is having accidents in his crate and/or frequent house accidents, you may consider that he is drinking more than he really needs to. Signs would be large accidents that are mostly clear, diluted urine. The urine would seem almost more like water with only a faint odor. If this is the case, it is okay to supervise your puppy’s visits to the water bowl.


Always make sure to check with your vet first as excessive thirst can sometimes be more than a case of puppy goofiness and actually be a symptom of a potentially dangerous health condition such as diabetes. If your pup has been given the all clear by your vet and you know that you are going to have to leave your pup in his crate for a couple of hours, you can limit his water for an hour prior so that he is less likely to over hydrate and have an accident while you are gone.



2. I take my pup out to the potty, but he pees again as soon as we come inside!

If you find your puppy goes potty inside right after he should have gone potty outside, you are actually closer to being on the right track than you might think. You have the appropriate timing down as far as taking your puppy outside when he needs to go, but he is likely simply too enthralled with the outdoor environment to focus on the task at hand.


Young puppies are in full exploration mode almost all the time. Outside in particular is full of new sights, sounds, and smells. Your puppy may react with excitement and/or anxiety—both of which will distract him from relaxing enough to go potty. Once inside, he feels safe and relaxed indoors, which triggers him to release his bladder. The key is to make sure his outdoor time is safe, structured, and a little bit boring. When it is time to take your puppy potty, always go to the same spot.


Choose a corner of your yard and either take your puppy out on a leash, or set up a small exercise pen/puppy play yard to keep the area smaller. He can certainly have more freedom when it is play time, but for potty breaks, try to keep him going in the same area. Be careful not to overcorrect though and make the area too small. You will want to make sure your puppy has room to walk around in a circle to “find the right spot” and avoid feeling like he is soiling his den.


Another helpful tip to solve this common potty problem is to make sure you give your puppy

plenty of time during potty breaks. While a trained adult dog understands the concept and

knows how to fully release his bladder and bowels on cue, a puppy is really still learning the

very basics of bladder control. (Learn how to properly punish your doodle.)


As a result, many puppies will actually pee and/or poop multiple times in the same outing. So even after your puppy goes potty, give him a few extra minutes to sniff around just in case he’s not quite done.


Finally, sometimes the offering of praise and treats can actually be a distraction for your pup. An easy mistake to make is offering praise and treats too soon! While we recommend establishing a command/reward system, the timing of your reward is important.


Sometimes owners get so excited that their puppy is actually peeing outside, that they immediately praise him, which can actually excite your pup and cause him to stop peeing before he is actually finished! This of course can result in him having a potty accident as soon as you get back inside, resulting in the same vicious cycle all over again! Stay calm while your pup is actually relieving himself, and the second he appears to be done you can offer the treat!


3. My pup seems mostly potty trained, but he still has the occasional accident! What gives?


This can be a particularly frustrating one for owners. They have put in the hard work and dedication for weeks on end. Their pup is able to go for days, maybe even weeks without any accidents, but then suddenly he has one for no apparent reason.


This is more common than you might think. Remember puppies’ bladders are not fully developed until they are around a year old. Your pup is developmentally very similar to a toddler. He may understand the concept of potty training but will still be prone to getting excited or distracted and occasionally simply have a true accident.


Other common reasons for a backtrack in potty training can be weather related. Rain can be a big one for most dogs. Many puppies are quite hesitant to step in wet grass or be outside in the rain so they may shift their potty accidents accordingly. This can also be the case for some dogs with snow or other unusual weather events.


In this case it can be helpful to take your pup on a walk- he will likely forget about how much he hates the weather if he is distracted by more novel sights and smells. Once a bit more comfortable in spite of the elements, he will likely relieve himself outdoors. Just be a bit more diligent during inclement weather and escort you pup outdoors even if he seems to “not have to go.”


Finally, puppies often understand the concept of potty training before they understand how to alert their owners that they need to go. A puppy who does not yet know how to alert will be prone to more accidents. They may realize they need to go potty, but if their owner does not take them out in time, then they will have an accident. A dog who can ring a bell or bark at the door is much more likely to get their owner’s attention in time to make it outside.


If your dog is struggling to make the connection to going to the door when he needs to go, you can help encourage him. When you go to the door to let him out, pause for a while just in front of the door and see what your dog does. Your dog will likely wonder why the door is not opening as it usually does and may get creative to try to problem-solve the situation himself.


If your dog paws at the door, barks, or even looks at the door and back at you again, praise him and open the door immediately. If your pup doesn’t seem to get the memo after a few trials of this, you can teach him something specific to do. Many owners hang a string of bells from the door knob and encourage their pup to nose at them. Adding a dab of peanut butter or spreadable cheese can do the trick to get your pup interested in nosing the bells, at which point you can praise and reward with a larger treat.



After a while, you can stop rewarding your pup for nosing the bell, but instead open the door immediately when he does it. He will learn that the sound of the bells equates to the door opening. The process can be tedious as it must be taught gradually, but eventually your pup will learn to alert you when they need to go out which should greatly reduce accidents!


How training your puppy is tough the first few weeks, but stick with it!


We know the first few weeks can be full of ups and downs and feeling overwhelmed with all the training that must be done. Keeping an eye on your puppy at all times is exhausting. But keep in mind it is a relatively short time and the more consistent you are, the sooner your hard work will pay off. Eventually your pup will be reliable in the house for many years to come!



Jenna and the JLDD Team

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