10 Housetraining Tips for First-Time Puppy Owners


Few things are cuter than a puppy. Waddling around, chasing anything that moves, and giving lots of kisses. And that puppy smell! But then there are the accidents. First-time puppy owners, especially, aren’t accustomed to seeing their house being used as one big bathroom. Fortunately, even novice pet parents can housetrain a puppy; all you need is a little know-how and patience. If you’re tired of stepping over puddles, try these ideas:

1. Pick the right time to start

Pet experts suggest starting house training when a puppy is twelve to sixteen weeks old. Before that, a puppy may not be physiologically ready to “hold it.” Any later, and he’s started to form some bad habits. If you adopt an older dog who isn’t housetrained, your job will be a little harder, but you can do it.

2. Have realistic expectations

Housetraining doesn’t happen overnight. After all, human babies don’t learn until around age 3! Although some puppies learn quickly, others take a few months to catch on. Keep in mind that your puppy has no need to change; you’re asking him to fix something that he doesn’t know is broken. That’s going to take a while.

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3. Don’t take shortcuts

A lot of training guides recommend things like newspaper or puppy pads. That’s just creating double work for yourself. First, you have to train the puppy to go on the pad or paper, then you have to start all over and train him to go outside. Don’t do that to yourself or your puppy. This is a job you want to do right the first time.

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4. Stop accidents before they happen

It’s a lot harder to break a bad habit than it is to keep one from starting in the first place. The more accidents your dog has, the more that behavior is reinforced in his little puppy brain. The best way to prevent accidents is to confine your puppy when you’re not actively playing with him. Don’t use a baby gate; if your puppy has a whole room to himself, he’s going to find a corner to use as a bathroom. It’s better to use a crate, because puppies usually won’t go where they sleep. If you have a large-breed dog and don’t want to buy two crates, go ahead and get a larger one, but partition it off so that the puppy has just enough room to stand up and turn around. The one exception is if you have a puppy who’s going to the bathroom in the crate; you don’t want to reinforce that habit. In that case, consider attaching the puppy to you with a leash. The important thing is, an untrained puppy should never have unsupervised freedom to roam.

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5. Stick to a routine

Puppies learn best when they can anticipate what’s coming next. A good schedule looks something like this: food/water, outside to potty, indoor or outdoor play, potty again, back in the crate. Puppies can hold it for only a few minutes after they eat or drink. They also need to go again after playing. A good rule of thumb is that any change in activity needs to be followed by a potty session.

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6. Be consistent

The more you do things the same way every time, the more quickly your puppy will learn. Always take him to the same place (a leash helps with this). Also, pick a command word or phrase, and use it frequently. Timing is important – start repeating the command the instant your puppy starts going. While you may eventually send him out on his own, there will be times when you need him to hurry up, and a command comes in handy.

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7. Use rewards

A puppy doesn’t understand why you would care whether he goes to the bathroom inside or outside. You have to give him a reason to care. The three main types of rewards are praise, treats, and play/freedom; use all three every time. Again, timing is everything. Start the praise and give the treat as your puppy is finishing his business. Then have your play session; this is the only time your puppy should run around loose in the house until he’s completely trained.

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8. Handle accidents the right way

There will be accidents. How you handle those accidents will have a huge impact on how easy or difficult the training process will be.

First, only correct your puppy if you catch him in the act. Fussing at him after you’ve found a mess does no good. Even if you bring him over and show it to him, he’ll have no idea what you’re mad about. If your puppy has an accident, accept that you weren’t watching closely enough, clean it up, and take the puppy outside.

Dogs are very sensitive to the tone of their owner’s voice. If you do catch your puppy in the act, a stern tone is enough to let him know you’re unhappy. Don’t ever physically punish your puppy.

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9. Make sure nighttime trips outside are all business

Young puppies can’t hold it all night, so you’re going to lose some sleep for a while. Whether you set an alarm or let the puppy wake you up, remember to stick to business. No cuddles, kisses, or playing – just take the puppy outside, calmly praise him when he goes, and put him right back in his crate. You don’t want to teach him that waking you up is a good way to get extra attention.

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10. Don’t quit too soon

The most common reason for setbacks is letting your guard down too soon. Your puppy has been pretty good at going outside, so you give him some unsupervised freedom when you come in. Oops.

How do you know when you’re finished? There are three criteria:

  • Your puppy consistently goes on command.
  • You’ve gone a few weeks with out accidents.
  • Your puppy lets you know when he needs to go out.

Bringing home a new puppy is thrilling, fun, and rewarding. It’s also exhausting and demanding. How well you housetrain your dog will affect the rest of your lives together. Do you want to still be finding accidents five years from now? Or would you rather have a dog who’s a welcomed, trusted member of the family? If it’s the latter, help him out by teaching him how to be a good citizen.