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House Training Schedules for Puppies

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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Common Situations...What TO DO if...

What To Do if a "Bathroom Run" is Successful

Your puppy must know, in no uncertain terms, that it has done something that meets with your vigorous approval when it urinates or defecates outside. Sing its praises, clap your hands, jump up and down, and make such a fuss that if the neighbors saw you they might think that you've finally "lost it." In addition, pet the pup like you mean it and give it a morsel of delicious food. This is all-powerful positive reinforcement for a job well done.

What To Do if the "Bathroom Run" is Unsuccessful

Confinement is the name of the game if a trip outside proves to be a dry run, especially when you know it's been a couple or three hours since the last trip outside. There are four ways in which a puppy's freedom can be limited under these circumstances while you watch it with an eagle eye.

1) One is in a crate, unless the pup has had previous adverse crate experiences causing phobic of them.

2) Another means of confinement is behind a "kiddy gate", for example, placed across a recess in the kitchen.

3) Then there is tethering the pup on a reasonably short lead to a fixture in a room, but you should remain nearby.

4) Finally, there is so-called "umbilical cord training" in which you attach the pup, by means of a lead, to a belt you're wearing so that it is forced to stay within a certain radius of you.

The duration of the confinement should be approximately 15-minutes and then you should take the pup outside, again, and give it another opportunity for outdoor elimination. A second unproductive trip will necessitate a further 15-minute period of confinement, and so on, until your endeavors meet with success.

What To Do if Your Puppy has an Accident Inside

First and foremost, do not punish your puppy for having an accident inside the house. The blame rests squarely on your shoulders for not providing an appropriate, timely opportunity for outdoor elimination. Rather, learn to appreciate the subtle signs the puppy exhibits before eliminating indoors (circling, sniffing, etc.) and apprehend it before it gets into the squatting position so that you can escort it outside. If you are a few moments too late and the puppy is caught midstream, it is reasonable to make a loud noise as a distraction to arrest the flow of urine by causing the pup's sphincters to contract. Then, with a smile on your face, escort or carry the pup outside to the proper location to finish its business. Later, return to clean the area thoroughly with odor neutralizer. If you find accidents after the fact, you're a day late and a dollar short. Just clean up the mess, as described, and put it down to experience. Learn from your mistakes. Perhaps you waited too long; perhaps the pup was in an area where you could not see it. Take appropriate actions to avoid future problems.

What If You Have to Leave Your Puppy for Longer Than it Can Hold Its Urine?

The bottom line is you can't. If you leave a pup for longer than it can hold its urine, it will have an accident and this will set you back on the housebreaking schedule. Instead, you should bring the pup with you, where possible, and bear in mind its needs. Or, you can leave your pup with an informed neighbor who will take over the training where you left off. If you have to go out of the house for 2 or 3 hours, it is reasonable to confine the pup in a small area where it is less likely to soil (e.g. in a crate or gated off area with a supply of food and water). Anything over 2 to 3 hours is tempting fate and, anyway, is not good for the pup. If the pup is used to being confined at night and does not experience grief, this is the best option. If it whimpers or whines a bit, tend to it at reasonable intervals, including taking it to its outdoor bathroom at appropriate intervals.

Housebreaking Older Puppies

For pups in the 4-7 month age group, a similar schedule can be adopted though the time interval between trips outside can be lengthened, making the schedule a little easier on the owner. Fixed-point excursions might be, for example, first thing in the morning, at lunchtime, in the late afternoon, early evening, and before bedtime. Extra trips outside should be made following mealtimes and after the pup transitions from one activity to another, as before. At this stage, older pups should be able to hold their urine through the night, though it may be necessary to rise a little earlier than usual to prevent early morning accidents. It's not a good idea to allow an untrained older pup to have free access to all areas of the house, rather it should be confined to areas where it can be observed and apprehended, if necessary i.e. actively trained.


House training a puppy is like potty-training an infant. The more time and attention you invest up front, the more rapidly the end result will be achieved. Think about it this way, your investment of time early in the pup's life will save you much time, energy, and aggravation in the long run. With an intense effort, a puppy can be house broken within 7 days, that is, if you have the patience. Even with a less than optimal effort, house breaking can be achieved within 2 to 4 weeks, so that by the time a pup is 4 months old, it should be properly house trained or you are doing something wrong. Incidentally, these same principles of training also apply to older puppies, who learn equally rapidly and have an even greater capacity to "hold it in." There is simply no excuse for having older puppies that are not house trained. If house soiling persists, it is as a result of owners not providing the appropriate opportunities for their pups to learn.

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