Considering Puppy Adoption? Read This First!

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In our Adopter’s Guide series, we’re helping you tackle every challenge puppy owners face so you can spend more time loving your pup and less time training her.


In this post, we’re covering the biggie: housebreaking.

Potty time is stressful for every new pet parent. For those who do it incorrectly, it continues to be stressful long after the puppy reaches adulthood.

So, how do we housebreak correctly the first time? While it's not easy, it isn’t complicated either.

Below, we’ve narrowed it down to 5 key steps. But first, you have to get prepared.

What You’ll Need

You don’t need to spend tons of money to successfully housetrain your pup, but there are a few things you’ll need:

  • Stain and odor removal products. Dogs like to go where they’ve gone before, so it’s crucial to remove all traces whenever accidents happen.
  • A crate large enough to accommodate your full-grown puppy.
  • “Pee pads” or newspapers to protect your home when your pup is inside.
  • Special treats to be used only for housetraining rewards.

Okay, now let’s get to it.

Step 1: Create a Routine

It's very important to put your puppy on a regular potty schedule. Knowing when potty time is coming will benefit to both of you.

Every pup is different, but a good rule of thumb is that most puppies eliminate every 30 to 45 minutes (except, of course, when they’re sleeping). That means you’ll want to take her out immediately upon waking, just before bedtime, after eating or drinking, after a play session, and once every 30 to 45 minutes in the meantime.

Speaking of eating and drinking, it’s also important to feed your pup at the same time and in the same location each day. Unless advised by your vet, do not free-feed. If it goes in on schedule, it comes out on schedule!

Step 2: Pick the Right Spot

Outdoors

Whether you live in a high-rise apartment or a home with a big backyard, you’ll want your pup to have a reliable, consistent outdoor potty area. So, how to choose? The number one criteria is that it is very quickly accessible, regardless of weather conditions. Size isn’t a huge factor. Just make sure it’s big enough for her to comfortably squat, etc. (Ahem.)

When it’s time to go, bring her outside on leash and stand next to her quietly. Wait about three minutes, and if she eliminates, praise her warmly. Give her a treat and take her for a walk as a reward. This will encourage her to eliminate as soon as she reaches the potty spot.

If after three minutes she doesn’t eliminate, take her back inside but keep her close. You can leave her leash on, or place her in a crate or other small, confined area. After 15 to 30 minutes, take her outside again. Repeat this process until she eliminates outside, and then praise and reward her.

Indoors

While training your pup to relieve herself outside is your primary goal, you’ll still need to teach her how to behave when she’s indoors.

Housetraining is all about developing your pup’s natural “den instinct” — her desire to avoid soiling her living space. Confinement to a small area such as a bathroom or enclosed pen is the best way to do this.

After choosing your ideal “potty spot,” line the entire floor with pee pads or newspaper. Put her bed, toys and food/water bowls in there, too.

At first there will be no rhyme or reason to where she eliminates, but don’t get discouraged! Right now you’re getting her used to eliminating on paper. As time goes on, she will start to demonstrate a preferred area. When this place is well established and the rest of the pee pads remain clean all day, you can gradually reduce the covered area.

Eventually you’ll only need to leave one pad on her “potty spot,” and once she’s created a reliable routine, you can slowly move it to a location of your choice. But don’t move too fast! If puppy misses the pad, simply start again in her confined area.
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Step 3: Reward Enthusiastically

When your pup does eliminate on her “potty spot,” praise and reward her enthusiastically. Keep a stash of special housetraining treats that she’ll learn to look forward to. (These mini treats are the perfect size — big enough to get her excited but small enough not to fill her up.)

Whatever you do, don't punish her for mistakes or accidents. Positive reinforcement works much better than negative! Your puppy is too young to understand, and feelings of shame or fear will do nothing but set her back in the learning process.

Step 4: Supervise Constantly

Supervise your puppy carefully at all times. That’s right. Even if she’s just eliminated, it’s important to keep on eye on her to monitor where she’s going, whether she’s eating or drinking, and how active she is.

If for some reason you need to step away, put her in her crate until you can give her your undivided attention.

Step 5: Handle Accidents Properly

Accidents will happen. They’re just part of the learning process. But how you handle them can make or break your housetraining success.

As we said above, it’s crucial that you remove all traces of an accident after it happens. Scent is a strong reminder for dogs, so make sure you have a good quality stain and odor remover on hand.

If you catch puppy in the act, quickly pick her up, take her to the potty area and patiently wait. Every elimination is a chance for you to strengthen her connection to the potty spot, so don’t waste them! Most pups will finish on the spot once you’ve brought them there. When she does, reward her with exuberance!


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G. H. was raised in Minnesota, but currently calls Seattle her home. She's a blogger, editor, and journalist, and she's written everything from news reports to restaurant reviews. If she's not putting pen to paper, G. H. is probably experimenting in the kitchen, chilling out on her yoga mat, or running through a city park.