The ultimate guide to house training your dog or puppy

House training is probably the number one question we get asked in puppy classes. Getting your dog house trained is a simple, but fairly demanding process.
Whether your dog is an adult, a puppy, you’re trying to get them clean on pee-pads, or outside, you’ll find everything you need to get it done here.

House training explained in two simple rules:

We’ll go over specifics and advice on how to apply those below, but for those who want the short version. You need to maintain these two things to achieve proper potty training.

  1. The dog is unable to relieve itself in inappropriate places through rigorous supervision and management but is never punished for mistakes.
  2. The dog is heavily rewarded and praised every time it does its business somewhere appropriate.

That’s it. If you can maintain these two rules, your dog will get there. The fewer accidents happen, the quicker house training does.

Let’s go over the details of how to apply these rules properly and safely.

Health issues will prevent this guide from working

If your dog used to be clean and all of a sudden started having accidents, see your veterinarian immediately.

A sudden, unexplained change in behavioral habits is often a sign of a health problem, and some of them can be quite serious.

If your dog is getting older and has started having accidents here and there, they likely are starting to have trouble holding themselves and should be taken out more often, this guide won’t help.

Training pads or no training pads?

Training pads, or pee pads, can be useful when potty training your dog or if you plan on having your dog pee indoors. There are a few mistakes you’ll want to avoid, though, depending on your specific goal.

If you’re planning on using training pads, we encourage buying reusable ones rather than disposable ones. They’re far more eco-friendly and you can often resell them once your puppy is potty trained.

If your end goal is for your dog to only go outside

It’s okay and encouraged to have pads to collect accidents in your puppy-proofed room or pen while you train your dog, but you should never reward your dog for using them. We’re trying to have a very clear separation between doing their business inside versus outside, part of that is the immense joy and the rewards your dog gets when it goes outside. If it can get that indoors as well, house training will likely take much, much longer.

If you want your dog to go outside and on the pad long term

Pads feel extremely similar to carpet, you’ll want to take extra caution in how you teach your dog to use pads if you’re going to be rewarding this behavior. Otherwise, you’re likely going to have accidents on other soft surfaces in your home and on your friend’s carpets when you go visit with your dog!

We recommend the pads be in a specific location, but more important inside a recognizable area that has ridges. Many grass-type pads come with such a contraption, but you can easily use a shoe tray to get the same effect. You want your dog to “pass a threshold” when it gets on the pad, one that it won’t have when it steps on a carpet.

Crate-training your dog first will save you a lot of headaches

When a dog is in a space just big enough to move around, stretch and lie down, they won’t pee or poop unless they really, really can’t help it or they’ve learned that waiting is pointless. We recommend crate-training all dogs just for the sake of having them be prepared should they ever get hospitalized, but a crate will also come in very handy for house training.

Let us be very clear: You should never leave your puppy in a crate for longer than it can physically hold itself or emotionally handle. Your dog should be perfectly accustomed to staying in the crate for however long you intend to leave them there before you actually leave.

How long can my dog stay in a crate?

Assuming your dog has been taught to be in a crate, you can leave it in there for as long as its body can hold it.

On average, a puppy can hold itself for about an hour per month of age. That means, for a 3-month-old puppy, 3 hours in a crate without a pee break is the absolute max.
Keep in mind that this is an average, and you should reduce that number if your dog has accidents.

If you leave your dog in a crate too long and they soil themselves because they just couldn’t hold it anymore, they might just stop waiting and just relieve themselves as soon as they feel the need, even in their crate. Don’t push your luck!

1. The dog is unable to do its business indoors

  • What this does not mean is that you should punish them when they have accidents (we’ll talk about why that’s a terrible idea later)
  • What it does mean is that your puppy gets the opportunity to relieve itself outside so often that it just never even thinks of doing it indoors.

Figure out the minimum amount of time your dog usually holds it before having to pee, and set a timer for 10 minutes less than that. Take your dog out after the timer goes off.
Did it happen? If yes, set the timer for the same amount of time.

If not, do not let the dog roam free. The biggest mistake people do is to assume that because the dog didn’t go outside it doesn’t need to, and then they find a surprise in the hallway five minutes later. When your dog doesn’t do its business and you know it likely needs to, you keep an eye on them when they come back inside:

  • Have them on a leash, tied to you
  • Put them in their crate for 5-15 minutes
  • Close all doors so they’re stuck in the same room as you

As soon as you see signs of needing to pee (sniffing on the ground, for instance), take your dog out again. If they do nothing, try again after 15 minutes.

What to do when you’re busy or gone at work

In an ideal world, your dog is crate trained and someone else can take over the taking out of the puppy at regular intervals. Neighbors or family members can come in quite handy for this, as puppies usually need 2-3 outings during a normal work day (and they need to be socialized, which doesn’t happen stuck in a crate for 10 hours a day)

If you don’t have anyone that can help with this, you have to accept that there will be accidents during the day for a while and that your potty training will take longer. Leave training pads in your dog’s pen (or a closed, puppy-proof room), with water, toys, chews, and their open crate.

Never restrict access to water.

Dehydration is extremely dangerous for all animals, much more so for puppies. You should never remove access to water as a method or tool in the house training process.

Puppies pee, a lot.

When you’re just starting this process, expect your puppy to need a pee break every 15-30 minutes, 60 if you’re lucky. We’ll talk about nights further below.

Puppies also need to go outside after playing, eating, drinking, running, waking up, or training. It’ll be up to you to learn your puppy’s habits and know what can and can’t wait.

2. Doing their business where we want pays immensely

On top of making them forget that peeing indoors is even an option, we want the dog to feel like doing so outside (or on the pad) is a great idea. That means you have to go outside with your dog when they have to relieve themselves during the training process, you can’t just send them out to the yard and keep reading your paper.

As soon as they squat, you get excited

Imagine you’ve just won the lottery. Think of how excited that would make you. Vocalize that, and send that energy to your puppy every time it pees or poops somewhere appropriate.

Pay the dog as soon as it’s done. Every. Single. Time.

Rewarding two minutes later won’t do anything. Rewarding one out of three times won’t work as well. You want to bring food out with you and pay the dog immediately after they’ve finished. That way, there can be no mistaking for the puppy: pooping outside is why it got paid.

You can use kibble to reward for house training, but we recommend a medium-value treat such as beef liver to add incentive.

House training for nights

Some puppies and dogs will sleep through the night from day 1 and never need to go out. Buy a lottery ticket if you got one of those.

Puppies don’t produce as much urine nor do they realize they need to pee when they’re sound asleep, which is why your dog can hold it much longer at night than during the day.

For the rest of us, here’s how to get your puppy to go through the night without waking up to pee. It’s not a fun process but it’s the most effective one.

First, figure out the earliest your puppy wakes up

You’ll need to know when the need to pee strikes to set yourself up for success. Some puppies only wake up once, some multiple times. You want to note down how long after bedtime that happens, and then the delay between each waking.

Next, set alarms and take the dog out before it asks for it

You read me right. You’re going to intentionally wake up in the middle of the night. You want to set your alarms about 15 minutes before your dog would naturally wake up. You’ll go and take them out before they even wake up by themselves.

Go outside, pee, reward for peeing, maybe give them a few treats for going back in the crate, set the alarm for the next time your puppy should wake up, repeat. Your goal here is to set the expectation that your puppy doesn’t need to worry about getting an opportunity to pee, the human will let them know when it’s time.

Finally, start pushing back the clock

After 3-4 days of waking your puppy up early to go pee, you’re going to set your alarm 15 minutes later. Your dog shouldn’t wake up because you created this habit of not needing to.
Do that for a few days, push further, and repeat until your dog can go the entire night without waking up.

If your dog has an accident, adjust your clock!

Here’s an example:

Let’s say my puppy wakes up at 3, 3:30 am every night to pee.
I’ll start by setting my alarm at 2:45 am and take the dog out to pee at that time every day for 4 days.
Then, I’ll set my alarm to 3 am. After a few more days, I might try and push my luck by setting my alarm to 4 am.
If my dog has an accident between 3 am and 4 am, that was too big a leap. I’ll go back to 3am to rebuild the “No need to worry” habit, then increase to 3:30 am.
That worked, so I’ll do that for a few days, then jump back to 4am.
Continue this process until my dog sleeps through the night.

What to do when accidents happen

Do. Not. Punish. The. Dog.

Don’t shove its nose in it. Don’t scream at it. Nothing.

I cannot stress this enough. Not only are you getting angry at an animal for relieving itself, but you’re also going to severely hinder your potty training.

Your goal with potty training is for your dog to do its business outside, which will undoubtedly happen near you. Guess what will happen if you get angry at your dog when they have accidents? They’ll be afraid to relieve themselves near you.

So not only is your dog going to start going behind the couch to hide and pee, it definitely won’t do anything outside when you’re watching them.

Take notes

I hate to break it to you, but if your dog had an accident, it’s not the puppy’s fault.

Take notes to be better prepared next time!

  • What time was it?
  • How long had it been since the dog went outside?
  • What was the dog doing just before the accident?
  • Where was the dog when it happened?

Remember, it’s your job to make sure your dog doesn’t get the chance to have accidents!

Clean up with proper products

Many regular household cleaners fail to eliminate the smell left behind by your dog’s accidents. That smell entices them to relieve themselves in the same location again.

Use products made for pets, sold in pet shops or a half-half vinegar/water mix.

Cleaning up in front of your puppy is fine and doesn’t cause any issues unless they’re being obnoxious about the washcloth. In that case, giving them something to do while you clean might be best.

How to tell if my puppy is fully house trained?

There are two signs you can look for to know your dog is starting to get the idea.

  1. Your dog doesn’t have accidents anymore even though you aren’t supervising nearly as much
  2. Your dog has started showing you when it needs to go out, by sitting or scratching at the door

Remember that, even though your puppy might be fully house trained, they likely aren’t physically ready to hold themselves for very long periods. House training or not, when they have to go and they don’t have a choice, they eventually will.

The gist of potty training

  • Housetraining is a work of consistency: the more your dog has accidents, the longer it will take to get there
  • This means you need a very tight schedule and to notice the early signs that your dog needs to go, before it’s too late
  • Rewarding your dog as soon as it relieves itself where you want greatly speeds up the process
  • Punishing accidents doesn’t help potty-training, and it can lead to some other problems

Still having issues?

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us if you’re still having trouble after applying all the advice found in this article. We’re here to help!

written by Stephen Fiset, dog trainer

Mis à jour le January 1, 2024