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dog parent basics

A guide to housetraining your puppy

Learn the 3 most effective puppy training methods

Updated April 22, 2020

Created By

Kristen Bobst,

the essentials

  • All dogs are different. What works for one puppy might not work for another. Getting to know your new dog is part of the bonding process.
  • Patience and positive reinforcement are key. Training puppies takes about six months. Reward your dog when they pick up on something. Be patient when they don’t.
  • Accidents will happen. A dog naturally ‘goes’ when and where they want, so it’s up to you to teach them differently.

The 3 most effective methods of house training a puppy

What works best for you and your doggo depends on a lot of things. How much time are you home? How much free time do you have when you’re home? Do you have a yard? Things like that. Here’s a cheat sheet to help you decide which method to start with:

At a glance

3 effective ways to potty train your puppy

Crate/kennel training Universally recommended by vets and dog trainers. They require a super consistent schedule. Quality crates can be expensive.
Puppy pad training Super convenient for the owner, but can be confusing for some dogs. Pee pads (called training pads) are cheap. There’s the risk your pup will shred the pad or eat their own poop.
Umbilical cord training Very effective, but is extremely hands on and requires a ton of effort.

Don’t stop at just one method

Some people might start with one type of potty training and switch to another. That’s OK — finding what works best for your dog is more important than the method itself. Once you land on something that starts working, have patience. Learning where to do one’s business is a new concept. Some dogs get the memo a tad quicker than others. You and your dog will get there as long as you stick with it.

Crate training

Many experts agree that crate training is the most effective way to house train your dog. It requires — you guessed it — a dog crate.

The doggie psychology at work with crate training is based on instinct. Dogs do not want to potty and poop where they sleep. The crate is for sleeping. It is not for relieving one’s self. It’s a tried and true method for reasons that go way back to your tiny puppy’s big wolf ancestry. It’s science! ⚗️ In fact, ScienceDirect explains just how effective this method can be, showing that puppies who used crates had fewer instances of accidents.

The 5 steps of crate training

Step 1: Choosing the right crate

There are many varieties of crates. Some are metal. Others are plastic or fabric. Some collapse. Some do not. Some are ideal for airplane trips. Some do not qualify. Take time to pick the right crate for both of you.  Keep in mind to get a crate that is the ideal size for your dog when they are an adult.

To find the best crate, you’ll want a size where they can stand up and turn around easily and comfortably.  However, you don’t want a crate that is too roomy. You want your dog to feel secure but not cramped. If the crate is too large, your dog might think it’s big enough to pee and poop in. That throws the tenets of crate training right out the window.

Step 2: Make the crate cozy

Once you’ve chosen a crate, you’ll want to put some cozy blankets in it for your dog to snuggle up to when they snooze. The idea is to make the crate as inviting and safe for your pup. It’s meant to be a  place they want to be. Of course, as we’ve said before, all pups are individuals. Your dog might prefer to sleep on the hard surface without blankets. Observe your new doggo. Soon you’ll figure out what they like the best and how to make their crate the coziest that it can be.

Step 3: Use as much positive reinforcement as possible — food and treats included

When you’re first introducing your dog to their crate, be sure to use positive reinforcement. Treats are perfect. The idea is to teach your dog to associate their crate with good and happy things. Treats are very good and happy things to a pupper! Be sure to add verbal positive reinforcement, too.

You can incorporate what the AKC calls “crate games” into the training process. Dogs love to fetch and find hidden toys and treats. Use your imagination to incorporate the crate into your dog’s daily positive experiences.  Try hiding treats or favorite toys in the crate bedding to start.

Remember not never punish your dog with unwanted crate time. You want your dog to love their crate, not fear it. Everything associated with their crate should be positive.

The Human Society suggests feeding your dog meals near their crate at first and then inside it. This will help your dog associate the crate with food. It’s all part of the positive association game!

The Humane Society also explains that once your dog starts eating their meal, you can try closing the crate door to see how they react. Patience is key, so never force your dog into a situation that scares them. You’ll only undo all the progress you’ve made. When your dog goes in and out of their crate at their will, then you’re ready to move on with the crate training process.

Step 4: Choose a designated spot + create a unique verbal cue

We will discuss this step more in our description of the other potty training methods. For crate training, it’s also helpful to show your dog where you want them to pee and poo. If this is outside, choose a specific part of the lawn or the sidewalk. Then use a verbal cue. When your dog successfully pees or poops, praise them to the high heavens. Positive reinforcement is positively important!

One more thing, and we cannot stress this enough. You must praise your dog as soon as they do their business. If you wait longer than seconds, you’ll miss your window for your dog to associate their peeing or pooping in the right place with your positive reinforcement.

Step 5: Leave your dog crated for short periods of time, then work up to longer timeframes

When you’re ready to leave your dog alone in their crate, start with very small portions of time. Think five or so minutes, and don’t go too far away. If your puppy whines or cries, this means they’re unhappy and/or might need to take a bathroom break. Stay nearby (but out of sight) so you can listen to how your dog handles being crated. Slowly increase the time to work up to thirty minutes.

Remember that very young puppies will need to relieve themselves very often. They don’t say that puppies are hard work for nothin’! The AKC gives a general rule for how often your puppy will need to go out for potty breaks. They endorse the “month plus one-hour” rule. This means that a four-month-old puppy can go a maximum of five hours before needing to go out. However, some pups might not be able to hold it that long.

Getting to know your puppy’s needs is part of the process. If you have an older dog who you’re potty training, they will likely be able to go longer. If you have any questions about how often a puppy should pee and poop, feel free to ask your vet. Older dogs will be able to be crated overnight. No puppy or adult dog should ever spend the entire day in a crate. It is not an option. If you are not able to let your dog out during the day, find a dog sitter or dog walker who can. If this is not possible, you’ll need to look for other methods of potty training.

Step 6: Be patient

It can take up to six months to fully house train a dog. An older puppy might take longer or shorter depending on their history. A non-housebroken adult dog could also take shorter or longer. The keys are consistency, patience, and as much positive reinforcement as possible. If you run into issues with housebreaking your new pup with the crate training method, let your vet know. There could be underlying health issues  — such as a urinary tract infection  —  causing problems in your pup’s learning process.

The why of the crate

Animal care experts are often big fans of crate training because it’s a safe way to contain your dog. Just think… what if, down the line, your dog is injured and needs to be kept calm while they recover. If your dog isn’t already crate trained, you’ll have even more of an uphill battle keeping your doggo calm and happy.

At betterpet, we believe crate training is one of the fundamentals of responsible pet ownership and general pet safety. Keep that in mind as you embark on a new life with your new puppy.

Times to always let you puppy out to relieve themself

You’ll want to take your dog to their designated spot first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Also, talk your dog to their pee/poop spot before you crate them for any length of time. You’ll also want to take your puppy out after their mealtimes. Most experts do not believe in “free-feeding” puppies. Free-feeding means you leave their food out for them so they can eat it whenever. You’ll want to find the right feeding schedule that works for you and your dog.

After mealtimes are over — even if your dog has not cleared their bowl entirely — you’ll want to take your dog to their pee/poo spot. Your dog might not need to go out the second they put the metaphorical fork down. Somewhere between five and thirty minutes will be your sweet spot. Just observe your puppy and even keep a puppy diary to figure out what works best for both of you.

Collars off for safety

There’s one safety precaution we have to mention right off the bat: Keep collars off your dog when they have access to their crate. Collars and tags can get caught on any mesh or wiring, and your dog could get strangled. Safety is always the number one priority when it comes to our pets, so we cannot stress this point enough.

Crate training is not cruel

A lot of dog owners get hung up on the idea that putting your dog in a crate is like putting them in a cage. This is perfectly normal thought to have, but it’s one that is actually unfounded in reality. Dogs actually enjoy —  and benefit from — having a small, safe space to curl up in. The AKC notes that dogs are den animals by nature. This means that they feel secure in their own space, even though it might seem cramped to a human.

Not only will introducing your dog to their crate benefit the potty training process, but it might also help calm their anxiety.

A doggie disclaimer

Now, it’s important to discuss that all dogs are different, and no two dogs share the same life experience. There are possible situations where a dog might not be a good fit for a crate. For example, if a rescue dog has been abused in the past and associates crates with the abuse, forcing crate training on them could be very bad for their mental well being. If your dog shows any signs of extreme fear and anxiety when you introduce them to their new crate, speak to your veterinarian about how to work with your pup.

Training leashes are a tried and true method in this situation. Veterinarian Ellen Lindell told CliniciansBrief.com that for some dogs with issues, “…using a leash may be the best way for clients to supervise them until anxiety is successfully treated.”

dog pee pad

📷 by reader of the pack

Paper & pee pad training

If you prefer not to use crate training by itself, you might consider paper or potty pad training. It’s a very common method that requires few tools. Before the invention of the “fake grass” pee pads or absorbent pee pads, people used paper simply because it was cheap and available. You can pick whichever material works for you.

We’re not done talking about crates yet

A popular paper training method involves using a crate. Some puppy owners will opt to take their puppy out of the crate at night for pee breaks on paper. This is as opposed to taking a longer trip outside. Sometimes this comes down to the distance from the crate to the great outdoors. People who live in apartments or high rise condos might find letting a new puppy do their business on a pee pad is a more realistic option.  If you’re going crateless, remember that you’ll need to keep your puppy in your sight until they are housebroken. Alternatively, you’ll need to fence them off in their own space. You can use a playpen or use a baby gate in a bathroom or some area where your puppy is safe — but where they cannot wander. If your dog has free reign, they will have accidents all over your home.

The 5 steps of paper and pee pad training

Step 1: Pick a type of pee pad, fake grass patch, or paper solution

You have many options for what kind of material you want to teach your new puppy to use to do their business. Some experts caution against using fake grass because it can be confused with the texture of the carpet. So, a dog will do their business on the carpet thinking they’ve gone in the right spot. Not all dogs will have this issue, it’s just something to be aware of when considering which material to go with.

Step 2: Show your dog their pee pad

Find one specific location to keep your dog’s pee pad or paper. Show it to your dog so they know where it is. Then watch for indicators when they have to pee. Set your dog on it first thing in the morning — when you know they have to go.  You’ll get to know your puppy’s body language when they have to relieve themself. Dogs will sniff around, circle, and otherwise show that they have to do their business. You might not get too much of a warning with a younger puppy, of course, so accidents will happen. It’s just how it goes.

Step 3: Reward, reward, reward

When your puppy uses their pee pad, immediately reward them with verbal praise and a treat. The quicker your dog associates doing their business in the proper location with rewards, the faster they will learn.

Step 4: Slowly move the pee pad outside

Again, patience will come in handy here. Your instinct might be that once your dog has mastered using their pee pad inside, they will follow it outside. This is not the case. You’ll need to slowly move the pee pad from its original location towards the exit to your home.

Step 5: Slowly reduce the size of the potty pad

The idea here is that you’re switching out the pee pad for grass. You don’t want to confuse your dog by removing it completely at first. You can use scissors to simply cut the pad down. Eventually, you will get to very little, and your dog will be peeing and pooping on the grass instead of the pee pad. We’d say it’s like magic, but very little about the potty training process is magic — unless you count patience as magical!

Umbilical cord training

This approach to house training involves constant supervision. You (or a family member) are actually attached to your new puppy at all times by a leash. If you have a schedule that allows for this, then it can be very effective. The idea behind umbilical cord training is that it simply won’t be possible for your dog to have accidents.

If you’re no farther than a six-foot leash away from your dog, you will be able to take them outside or to their pee pad before they can have an accident. Once your dog catches on to where to properly do their business, you can allow for more freedom. However, the umbilical cord method requires constant supervision.

This is all or nothing. You can’t choose to use constant supervision “some of the time” because it will fail both you and your puppy. So, before you commit to this method, make sure it is possible for you and your household.

Again with the crates!

Obviously, it’s not realistic that any one person could be leashed to their dog 100% of the time. So, when you can’t be connected via leash to your pup, you’ll need to find a safe spot for them. This can be a crate or a closed-off space like a playpen or baby-gated area for your pooch. Note that if you are using a crate with any kind of training method, you must follow the crate training steps first. Otherwise, you risk traumatizing your dog by forcing them into space where they do not feel safe.

The 3 steps of umbilical cord training

Step 1: Introduce the leash to your puppy

You’ve likely already bought a collar and leash for your new puppy. They will still have to get used to being attached to you.

Step 2: Introduce potty breaks

Since you’re attached to your dog, you’re entirely in control of where they can go at all times. You’ll need to figure out what their pee and poop schedule is and be sure to plan for that. You’ll be close enough to your dog to watch for signs that they need to relieve themself. You two will get to know each other quite fast with this method. Once you have chosen your dogs designated “do your business” spot, show it to them, and use verbal commands to reinforce the proper potty spot’s location.

Step 3: Reward with off-leash time

In addition to using treats, you can also reward your doggo by letting then off-leash. Just a few minutes will do the trick. Of course, an older puppy can go longer, but you want to avoid giving your puppy too much off-leash time. Otherwise, they might have to go to the bathroom again, and you don’t want that to happen when they’re not attached to you. Stay close so you can observe your puppy and intervene if needed.  Never let your dog wander around with their leash hanging. It can be very dangerous. They could catch it on something and strangle themself.

The universal principles of house training

There are a few universal factors when it comes to housebreaking a puppy. We will go over some of the basics that overlap between potty training methods.

Pros and cons of the different types of training

This comes down to your schedule, household situation, home type, your physical abilities, and your dog’s particular temperament. People who live in apartments or people who are not able to go on long walks might opt for pee pad training. People who spend most of their time at home might prefer the umbilical cord approach. As long as you are patient and only use positive reinforcement, you’re on the right track. You and your pup will get to where you need to be — together.

The importance of a pee break schedule

Puppies pee and poop a lot. It’s a fact of their young lives. Your new dog will need to “go” first thing in the morning, between five and thirty minutes after mealtimes, and before bed. However, that’s not the only time they will need to relieve themself.  Like we mentioned before, puppies need to do their business often based on the “month plus one hour rule.” Take your puppy’s age in months then add one hour, and that is the max number of hours they can go without a pee break. This includes nighttime hours. Six-month-old puppy? Seven hours is the max.

Choosing the right spot

A designated pee/poop spot will help in any type of training. This simplifies the great outdoors (or a pee pad) for your dog. They will learn quicker this way. If your dog has access to the entire yard for their breaks, they won’t equate one spot with peeing and pooping. This can slow down the process. So, choose a single potty area and stick with it.

Pick a unique keyphrase

You can choose whatever potty break phrase you like. Be aware that it’s smart to pick a phrase that you do not use in your regular speech patterns. If you tell your dog to “Go,” for example, they will be confused when they hear you say, “Go” in another situation. For this reason, some people invent their own quirky phrases such as, “Let’s whizzipoos.”  Remember to keep it consistent and unique, so that you both know what you mean. Who cares if people laugh at your weird pee break terminology!? Everyone whizzipoos, after all.

Always reward, never punish

Keep treats on you at all times. As soon as your dog does their business in the right spot, give them a treat and praise, praise, praise. If your dog has an accident, never ever yell at them. Never. And don’t even think of rubbing their nose in their mess. It’s wrong, will do no good in teaching your dog anything other than to fear you. If you do this, you’re a “bad human, bad bad.”

Why feeding schedules are important for house training

A puppy’s tummy and digestive tract is much more sensitive than an adult dog’s. You’ll want to feed your dog on a vet-approved schedule for their health. In addition, because they will have to do their business soon after eating, you’ll want to know when their meals are. This way, you can plan ahead to take your dog out shortly after they’re done eating.

FAQs

How long will it take to potty train a puppy?

Most experts quote six months as the general time frame for housebreaking a new puppy. However, this will depend on what methods you choose along with how your specific dog reacts to the process.

Are certain breeds easier or harder to house train?

There is no universal agreement among pet professionals about this. Each dog is different, no matter how big or small. Remember that just because a dog is a certain breed doesn’t mean that they have the same psychological history as every other dog in that breed. All dogs are individuals with custom canine needs.

My puppy and I are not making any progress. What’s going on?

If you’ve given house training a fair shake and are still having difficulties, consult your dog’s vet. Dogs get urinary tract infections and digestive issues just like people do. These medical problems must be treated quickly. In addition to making your dog feel sick, they can cause problems with house training.