Feeling overwhelmed trying to potty train your new puppy? The most effective way to start potty training is to start even before you bring your puppy home and have management strategies prepared and in place. If you already have your puppy and don’t know where to start, don’t worry! To begin the housebreaking process, you will need a couple of things:
- A crate
- Collar and leash
- High-value treats
A crate will be used to comfortably house your puppy whenever you cannot watch them for a period of time or need to leave. You should also fit your puppy with a secure collar and a leash so that you can keep an eye on them at all times or be able to manage where they are allowed in your home. Lastly, you will need high-value treats – something we jokingly say should be so good it makes their eyes bug out of their head! – that they love so you can positively reinforce going outside to potty. And that’s it! The 4 easy steps we recommend when potty training your puppy are watch and confine, positive reinforcement, catching accidents, and a food and water schedule. Implementing these management strategies as early as possible will set your puppy up for the most success!
Watch and Confine
It will be very important that you watch your puppy at all times when they are out. If you need a break or need to leave the house, you should put them in their kennel during that time. While they are still being potty trained, do not use any blankets, potty pads, or absorbent materials in the kennel. Your puppy should have enough space to lay down and no more than that. While your puppy is out and allowed to roam, they should wear a secure collar that they cannot slip out of a drag a short, 4-6 foot leash at all times. This way you know where they are at all times or can tether them to a sturdy piece of furniture to help you keep an eye on them. This will be helpful to quickly get the puppy outside if they start to go potty.
As previously stated, we will want to use high-value treats to reward the puppy every time they eliminate outside. This will make the housebreaking process very reinforcing to your puppy so that when they go outside appropriately it will encourage them to continue to do so. When you go outside, walk your puppy to your designated potty area (if you have one). There is no need to use a “go potty” or “get busy” command. Just watch your puppy out of the corner of your eye and stay outside for 10 minutes. As soon as your puppy goes potty, wait until they are completely finished and take one step away before you start praising them. This is important as we do not want to get the puppy so excited that they cut themselves off and do not completely empty their bladder. Once the puppy is finished going potty and takes one step away, start praising them and offer them the high-value treats you have chosen. Small pieces of hot dog, boiled chicken, cheese, or even leftover fatty pieces of meat from dinner are all valid options. We recommend offering your puppy three small pieces, one at a time. We refer to this as a “jackpot” and it is more reinforcing for the puppy than receiving one medium or large-sized treat. Once you have delivered the three treats, allow the puppy another opportunity to go potty. Stay outside for the remainder of the 10 minutes. If your puppy goes potty again, give them the same three treats, one at a time, again. Once the 10 minutes have passed, walk your puppy back inside. You should not offer your puppy treats once you are inside. It is important that the treats are directly associated with going potty outside and are not delayed in case the puppy mistakes the treats to reward coming back inside.
Catch Every Accident
It is extremely important that you are consistent and catch every accident the puppy has inside for housebreaking to be the most successful. When a puppy has an accident, we would call that an automatically-maintained behavior. This means that when a puppy feels the need to go potty because of pressure on their bladder and they sneak away and have an accident, the behavior is automatically reinforced because they instantly feel the relief as soon as they eliminate. If they also do not get caught or interrupted, the behavior is reinforced even more. This is why it is critical that the puppy is constantly supervised if they are outside the kennel. As soon as the puppy squats or starts to have an accident, is in the middle of an accident, or has just finished but not taken more than one step away, use a loud, firm “NO!” to startle the puppy and interrupt the accident. Then, grab the puppy’s leash and run outside to the designated potty area so that ideally the puppy will finish going potty outside. If they do, give them three small treats, one at a time, as described above. Go back inside and clean up if needed. If you go outside and the puppy does not need to finish, return inside and clean up if needed and just try to catch the puppy earlier next time. It is very important when you do the verbal reprimand that it is not so loud that the puppy runs and attempts to hide, but it should be loud enough that the puppy immediately stops eliminating and does not continue to go or ignores you. The more accidents you catch the puppy having or prevent altogether, the less time housebreaking will take. Consistency is key!
Food and Water Schedule
A food and water schedule will help you predict when your puppy has to go potty and set both of you up for success. As recommended by your Veterinarian, feed your puppy 2-3 meals a day. Biologically, eating a meal will stimulate the puppy’s bladder to eliminate their previous meal to make room for the current one. It takes about 6-12 hours for food to pass through a puppy’s digestive system. This means they will most likely need to go potty immediately after finishing a meal or shortly after. On average, a puppy might have a bowel movement as soon as they wake up and maybe again after breakfast, after lunch if that meal is offered, after dinner, and possibly one more time before bed. Water, on the other hand, takes only 1-2 hours to pass through the body, so drinking water constantly will cause your puppy to need to go often. We recommend giving your puppy access to water every two hours. This will help restrict the amount of times your puppy is drinking water throughout the day and constantly stimulating their bladder and therefore reducing the number of accidents they may have. To help with this, we recommend putting the water bowl outside the primary door you use to take the puppy outside. They can have as much water as they would like on the way out, but no water on the way back in. We love this adjustment because oftentimes it also encourages the puppy to learn a way to ask to go outside, whether that be sitting patiently by the door, pawing, scratching, or offering a small bark. They may do this to tell you they are thirsty, and over time you can turn it into a reliable way for them to let you know they need to go potty. In addition to these adjustments, we recommend cutting off water at least 2 hours prior to leaving for a short period of time or before bedtime. Continue to take your puppy out an additional time before you leave or before bed, without allowing them water, so that you can be confident their bladder is completely empty. This will allow them to comfortably hold it until you return home after an hour or two or through the night. Believe it or not, even a 8-12 week old puppy can sleep through the night with consistent practice!
With these 4 easy steps, you will be set up for the most success when potty training your new puppy. You can consider your puppy housebroken if they do not have an accident inside the home for 30 consecutive days. Please note that when visiting a friend or family member, this will not apply to their house. While your puppy may be reliable in your own home, you may want to keep a close eye on them for the first few visits just in case! Happy potty training!