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Posted on Mon, Apr 23, 2012 : 5:46 a.m.

Housebreaking a puppy is a cinch if you stick to a few simple rules

By Lorrie Shaw


Even a puppy of this age needs consideration when it comes to housebreaking

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Bringing home a new puppy is a life-changing experience.

The new-puppy smell, their curiosity and playfulness, seeing them get to "know the ropes," so to speak — it's awesome.

In the midst of all of the obscene amounts of cuteness and fun times lies tremendous responsibility. One aspect that isn't so fun but simple to get through is housebreaking.

I've been there.

Did I say simple? Yes, And most aspects of training are simple — it's just a matter of mindfulness, diligence and consistency on the human's part. The canine is usually a very willing and cooperative learner.

From past experience, when you set a dog up for success during training and employ the three aforementioned virtues, you'll get where you need to be. (Well, in the majority of cases.)

Housebreaking isn't rocket science.

Having realistic expectations and understanding that there are physical limitations (like what goes in, must come out) a young dog has throughout those first few months, as well as the lack of psychological sophistication at different stages, is really all that you need to guide you and your sweet pooch through what can be a somewhat trying time.

Here are my tips to help your pup to become reliable in eliminating outdoors:

Aside from remembering that everything that is consumed by a pet will result in their needing to eliminate, timing is everything. For that reason, I tell clients to abide the Reveille and Taps Rule: Always take puppy out immediately upon waking and make it the last thought of the evening.

Going first thing in the morning makes sense, right? So, even if it takes a while for him to eliminate on the last trip out, try to wait until he does so that he goes to bed with an empty bladder.

You'll both sleep better. (But be prepared to get up in the middle of the night to do a potty break!)

When Gretchen was a weeks-old pup, I stuck to this schedule. It was the Year of the Poop:

  • 6 a.m. (or earlier) - immediately out to potty, then back in for breakfast.
  • Immediately take pup back outside for run around/playtime. A bowel movement/pee would typically happen within a few minutes, then back inside.
  • Drink a cup of coffee while playing with Gretchen for 20 minutes or so
  • Outside to potty again (she may or not have had to go)
  • Back inside, put Gretchen in crate with a toy while I had breakfast, showered, etc.
  • Immediately back outside to potty (she would usually have to go again) and to play
  • Let her run around house with me for a little while before departing for work
  • Back outside to potty
  • 7:45 a.m. - Back indoors, put Gretchen in crate with a stuffed Kong
  • Potty breaks/playtime every 1-2 hours during the workday
  • By 3 p.m. - Home; Gretchen immediately outside
  • 4-5 p.m. - Dinner, then immediately outside
  • Back indoors

You get the idea. Basically, getting your puppy outdoors often — immediately after eating and at least once every one to two hours at all other times of the day and for a long enough period to let them do their business — is the key, as is keeping them focused on going potty and not playing (pups have short attention spans). Sure, it can seem like a lot, but in doing so, you reinforce the habits that you want for a lifetime and keep messy accidents to a minimum.

By about 6 months, the process had geared down greatly and Gretchen had the hang of things reliably.

It's all about location

Dogs generally do their business in the same general area, so do try to take your pup to the same place outside when trying to housebreak. He might not eliminate in the exact spot each time, but being able to sniff around in that same area will help trigger the urge to get the job done.

Clean it up quickly

When your pooch has an accident, clean it well and as quickly as you can, and never, ever rub their nose in it or punish them. (If you catch them in the act, a quick "outside!" will suffice and get them outdoors quickly.) After all, it's your lapse, not theirs.

Allowing urine or fecal matter to stay on a carpet will make it more difficult to completely eliminate. Blot urine with clean, dry paper toweling or white cotton towels and pick up poop before cleaning so that you don't just rub it further into the carpet.

Puppies will be drawn back to that spot again if they can smell it, so make sure to use a good quality cleaner appropriate for the surface you're cleaning. I recommend an enzymatic product called Push from the Betco Company.

Crate train them

I strongly support crate training, for a few reasons: it gives pets a "safe" place to call their own, it keeps them from getting into things when you can't be there with them, and it's a great way to keep them from eliminating when you can't keep a watchful eye on them, which brings me to my next point.

Keep a lookout

Puppies need a lot of supervision, there is no getting around it.

If you can't keep an eagle eye on your puppy, then they need to be in their crate. When Gretchen was a puppy, her crate came in really handy when taking a shower or doing other things that prevented me from having my full attention on her.

Patience is a virtue

The most important part of housebreaking is having patience. Some breeds are easier to train, and so are all puppies. You'll be less likely to get discouraged if you expect roadbumps along the way.

Praise, praise, praise

Just as with children, your puppy will learn by positive reinforcement. When he does eliminate outside, praise him in a pleasant, happy voice. Your tone is everything! (I usually do the 'Happy Puppy Potty Dance' and clap my hands in celebration; it's fun, trust me.)

Don't skimp on petting and praising, and do it immediately or he won't make the connection!

Skip the puppy training pads

Such nonsense — they don't work. You want your puppy to go potty outside, right? That's where they need to be when they go. Not on a training pad.

For more on the topic, click here.

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for Catch her daily dog walking and pet sitting adventures or email her directly and subscribe to's email newsletters.


Woman in Ypsilanti

Tue, Apr 24, 2012 : 4:43 p.m.

I disagree about the puppy training pads a little bit. I had a dog who was trained as a puppy with training pads. She didn't need them but would use one in a pinch. When she got old and sick, those puppy training pads were a lifesaver because the dog was very sick and couldn't hold her bladder for more than a couple of hours. I didn't have the funds to hire a dog walker more than once per day so the only other choice would have been to put her down. But she was so good about using those puppy pads that I was able to have an entire extra year with her and was so grateful that she had been trained to use them.


Mon, Apr 23, 2012 : 2:27 p.m.

good article! the only thing i'd add, is to use a phrase while waiting for them to go. Such as "Do your business", etc., then praise for it "Good business, good puppy" etc. Puppy dance is awesome!! Our new puppy had the wonderful talent of giving a whimper when he has to go potty. Since day one at 2 months old! Only 1 poop in the house (first night) and about 6 or 7 pees. Amazing!! Just watch your puppy, some give clues!!

Lorrie Shaw

Mon, Apr 23, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

LA: So true - I use either "get busy!", or "go potty!" when waiting for them to go. When they do it I say "good potty!" or "yay, potty!". It's fun to see them connect the dots. I remember that Gretchen would be on the floor playing with something and all of a sudden look up and start to pant and get "the look" in her eyes. It was time to go, and in a hurry! I should also add that keeping your coat and shoes/boots that you can slip on easily, ready and waiting by the door, especially in the morning. No time to fuss with "where are my shoes???", right? I'm so glad that your experience has been good. Thanks for commenting!