House Training a Puppy
By Dr. Jessica Kleiner, DVM
One of the most frustrating parts of training a new puppy is potty training. Consistency and patience is the key to success.
First, pick a treat as a reward; very small pieces work well because you will be giving several a day. Then pick either a place for the pee pad to stay or a small area of the yard that you will always return to during potty breaks (not an area that they will play in at other times). Returning to the same area that has minimal distractions helps puppies focus on the task at hand. During training, puppies need to either be directly observed or kenneled to avoid having them wander the house and soil flooring, which can lead to more trouble with house training later. Natural instinct will encourage them not to potty in their kennels if the kennel is appropriately sized (not too big). Dogs that have been left in kennels for too long repeatedly may develop a tolerance for sitting in their own messes and be much harder to train as well.
Next, determine how often to take your puppy outside. Younger pups and smaller breeds tend to need to go much more frequently than older, more experienced, larger breed pups. For the first several days, potty breaks are usually given as often as possible, then can be reduced as your pup learns your routine and you begin to notice the typical behaviors that occur when they need to use the bathroom. As a general rule of thumb, a puppy that is doing well with potty training should be able to hold it for the same number of hours as the puppy is old in months (e.g. a 3 month old pup should be able to hold it for 3 hours); this generally maxes out at 6-8 hours for all dogs.
Puppies can start potty training as young as 6 weeks old. (Consult your vet about using pee pads v. going outside before all vaccines are completed.) The earlier that potty training is started, generally the easier the training will be; pets that are started later in life will have habits of going inside the house that will need to be broken. Consistency is key to training. A starting routine for training should include potty breaks at regular time intervals throughout the day plus times at which urination/defecation is most likely. These times should include the following: as soon as they wake up, the last thing before bed, after meals, after drinking water, after being crated, after naps, and after playtime.
During potty breaks, take your pup as quickly as possible to the designated area. Avoid play and make yourself as boring as possible to encourage them to sniff and explore the area to encourage the bathroom break. Once they have finished, praise them and give a treat immediately afterwards, being careful not to interrupt them. Once you return inside, be sure to continue to actively monitor them as it is very common for puppies to continue to potty once inside if they wander off even if they have had a normal urination or bowel movement outside.
It is normal for puppies to have some backsliding in training at times so don’t be discouraged if things are going well and then you have a few bad days. If you are struggling to make any progress after 2 or 3 weeks, the most common pitfall is allowing them to be loose in the home without being actively observed. Some people will find it useful to attach a leash so that the puppy pulls to get attention when trying to wander away. If you see any blood or the puppy is having trouble holding it for more than 1 hour, you may want to consult with your vet to look for underlying issues such as urinary tract infection or intestinal parasites.