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House Training Schedules for Puppies

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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Almost the first thing a new puppy owner needs to know is "how do I house train"? How do I do it, what can I expect, what should be my goals?

Without the right advice, owners can flounder around trying to house train their pup for months and, in some cases, years.

Opinions and expectations vary greatly on this matter, though there are some common truths. Some maintain that pups can be adopted already house trained at the age of 9 weeks but you have to understand the certain physiological limitations if you are to achieve and maintain this utopian state. At the other end of the spectrum are certain terrier breeders who maintain that their pups cannot be fully housetrained until they are 1 year of age, but I suspect these folk are doing something wrong.

It is probably par for the course to bring home a 2 or 3 month old pup that when unsupervised, has occasional accidents on the floor, and it is probably reasonable to expect to have the pup fully trained by 4 months of age. In order to achieve this goal one has to know what one is doing, to invest some time and attention, and to be very patient.

Physiological Limitations

Young puppies of 2, 3, and even 4-months of age have limitations when it comes to the time for which they can contain their urine. The younger they are the less control they have over the muscles that start and stop the flow of urine and the more frequent "bathroom breaks" need to be. The usual formula for estimating the number of hours for which a puppy can hold its urine is N+1, where N is the puppy's age in months. So, for example, a 3-month old puppy should be able to hold its urine for approximately 4 hours in a pinch. This means that if you have a properly toilet trained 4-month-old puppy that, theoretically, can hold its urine for 5 hours, and you shut that pup in a crate for 6 or 7 hours, you are courting disaster. Puppies that are crated for longer than they can contain themselves will be forced to soil where they stand. This creates problems down the line as soiling within the crate destroys a valuable reflex to keep the nest clean.

Sample Schedule for a 3-month Old Puppy

  • Working on the basis that a 3-month old puppy can hold its urine for up to 4 hours any house training schedule for a pup of this age must be designed with this fact in mind.

  • Starting at the beginning of the day, it is important to take the puppy outside first thing to a carefully selected area and to encourage it to void urine and feces. It is best to have the pup on lead so it doesn't wander off and become engaged in some other absorbing activity. It is also important to use some word cue that the pup will associate with elimination. The late, great Barbara Woodhouse popularized the expression, "Hurry up," as the verbal cue but others have used words like, "Make," or even "Poopies." Note: The significance of the chosen area can be imparted to the young pup via its sense of smell by depositing a small piece of urine-soaked newspaper in the vicinity.

  • Assuming a successful mission at, say, 7:00 a.m., the latest time that the pup can be taken out for its next "bathroom run" would be 11:00 a.m. The same ritual as before is engaged.

  • The next times for the pup to be taken out are 3:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., and then 11:00 p.m. The ritual is always the same.

  • A pup of 3-months of age will probably not be able to make it through the night without a trip outside. Setting the alarm for 3:00 a.m. may be the only way to stop the pup from soiling at night, but don't worry, this stage of puppy hood doesn't last long.

  • In addition to the aforementioned times for taking the puppy outside, the youngster should be taken out 10 or 15 minutes after each meal, as eating stimulates the gastrocolic reflex. Note that different pups will have slightly different times after a meal at which they need to go to the bathroom. Learn how long it takes in your pup to "feel the urge" and be cognizant of this fact.

  • Another key time to take puppies outside is when they transition from one activity into another. For example, when they wake up after a nap, when they have finished a period of vigorous play, and when they have just completed a bout of chewing.

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