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Potty training tips for housebreaking puppies

Congratulations! You have just acquired a new puppy, and in between having fun and enjoying them, you will have to teach your pet certain rules of behavior. Let’s start with some important facts. During the third week of life, puppies start moving away from the nest to eliminate, and by 5 weeks old, they begin urinating and defecating in a regular place.  From this point, up until 8 1/2 weeks old, they will start developing surface preferences for elimination. During this period, puppies develop neuromuscular control of their bladders and bowels. So, from 7 weeks on, your efforts to potty-train will be most rewarding! Here are some housebreaking steps for you to follow:

1. Take the puppy outdoors to eliminate 6-8 times a day.

The most important times are upon awakening, 15 minutes after meals, and after play sessions. It is best to have your puppy on a leash and take them to the same location so they can sniff previous odors. It may take 15-20 minutes of sniffing; avoid playing so the puppy stays focused on the task at hand. 

2. Choose a simple phrase

Use a phrase such as go potty, or potty time, and repeat it continually, before and especially during defecation/urination. 

3. Reward your puppy

Immediately after getting the job done—within seconds— offer praise, food, treats, or playtime. Stay with your puppy while they eliminate so you can reward before they engage in another activity.

4. Supervise your puppy indoors

Watch your puppy like a hawk, or use a leash or bells on the collar. Whenever you can’t watch the puppy, they should be placed in a puppy-proof area, like a crate, a large box, or a small bathroom (without rugs).

5. Provide indoor elimination areas if needed

An 8–12 week old puppy usually can go 2–4 hours without needing to eliminate. For longer periods, use paper or housebreaking pads placed inside a crate or a confined area. Upon getting home, immediately take the puppy outdoors. You can take a sheet of soiled paper to the outdoor bathroom to reinforce the message. By 7–9 months old, puppies can usually go 8–10 hours without soiling. 

6. Teach your puppy to signal when they have to go.

You can hang a bell onto the doorknob and teach the puppy to nudge it, then you open the door. You can also cue the dog with a key phrase, like “need to go out?” The puppy’s reaction will indicate whether they need to eliminate. Many will learn to bark as a signal. 

7. Properly feed and water your puppy.

A full stomach stimulates the colon to contract within 10–30 minutes—a good time to take your puppy out! But pets need access to water at all times. Talk to your veterinarian if you’re concerned that thirst and/or urination is excessive. 

8. Don’t punish mistakes.

Mistakes are best prevented by constant vigilance. The only time that reprimanding works is when the puppy is sniffing and assuming position; try stomping your feet or saying NO loudly, grab the puppy and run outside! If you find a puddle or a pile in the house, clean it up well with a product specifically for that use, which will degrade the odor. (Don’t use bleach.) Scolding your puppy after the fact will only confuse and intimidate them, often making matters worse. 

9. Develop versatility.

Once the puppy reaches 4–6 months of age (most are housebroken by this age), you can introduce them to different surfaces and locations. For example, dogs who usually eliminate in the yard should now learn to do it during a walk, or off-leash, or on soil rather than grass. Use your key phrase and then praise to tell the puppy it’s okay. 

10. Discuss problems with your veterinarian.

If you’re having problems that are not responding to these techniques, there may be physical or emotional causes that together you can identify.