Puppy Potty Training, Part Three: How long does it take to housebreak a puppy?

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How long does it take to housebreak a puppy. Being patient when housebreaking a puppy.

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Welcome to our third and final blog on how to house train a puppy!   A few weeks ago, we got a letter from the family of Polly The Puppy asking me for house training advice.  As a former puppy, I know what worked for me, but every puppy is different, so I also did lots of research, talking to my breeder, asking experienced dog owners for advice, and reading articles and books on the best practices for housebreaking a dog.

In Part One, I talked about how to get your puppy to pee outside, and in Part Two I discussed how to get your puppy to stop peeing inside. Here in Part Three, I’ll talk about the the third element of potty training a pup, discuss some common pitfalls, and then offer you some tips for success!

Dear Mopping Up Polly’s Puddles in Portsmouth:

By now, you and your family must have (1) established a consistent phrase, (2) used consistent praise, (3) designated a consistent Potty Place, and (4) set consistent times to encourage Polly The Puppy to pee and poop outside.

I hope you’ve also had time to incorporate my suggestions on how to maintain constant vigilance to stop Polly from peeing inside.  Are you scheduling full-focused playtimes with her so you can interrupt her pre-pee cues?  Have you been tethering your puppy on a Lifeline to keep her close by when you can’t give her your full attention?  And is Polly able to rest and relax in a cozy Doggie Den where she will not want to pee?  Yes?  Good job, you!  What a good little human you are! Oh, yes you are!!!

Now that you are using consistency and constant vigilance to house train your puppy, we’re going to talk about the third thing you must do to help Polly be a reliably house trained, trustworthy puppy.

Are you ready?  Here it is:  Be Patient.

Now, it may sound deceptively simple, but really it is, I think, the hardest of the three.

We’ve all heard that patience is a virtue, but did you know it is a valuable dog-training tool, too?  And remember, us dogs can read minds, so you can’t just act patient — you have to train yourself to actually be patient.  (We totally know when you are faking it.)

I won’t lie to you:  Successful house training takes a chunk of time to plan and implement, and it’s a long process.

I asked my breeder, Marg Pough, how long does it take to housebreak a puppy?  “Generally,” she says, “by 10 to 12 weeks, a pup should be clean through the night and clean in a crate for 4 hours at a time.  But it’s highly variable because every owner and pup has a different schedule.  For example, it’s harder for people who are at work all day.”  (Are you in that club? Check out some of my helpful house training tips at the end of this blog!)

There are other variables, too, like how and where the puppy spent its earliest weeks and the physical condition of the pup.  For example, I was getting pretty reliable by 3½  months, but then I had a bladder infection, which set us back a bit.  Also, because I had only ever peed on snow, when we traveled to Philadelphia during a February thaw, I didn’t pee at all for the first 2 days there — and then totally lost it in my crate!

Having patience means understanding that there will be some messes, so have some grace for yourself and Polly.  That means not feeling bad or worried if Polly is not house trained as quickly as your neighbor’s Newfoundland was.  It also means not getting too discouraged if Polly, having been accident-free for three weeks, then seems to have a few set backs.  And, of course, it means not getting mad at Polly if you let your attention waiver and give her a chance to puddle in the house.  And even though that puppy puddle is, in the end, your fault, I hope you won’t get too mad at yourself, either.

So, when will you know when house training is over? After Polly’s been reliably accident-free for 5 or 6 months, then you can pat yourselves on the back and consider yourselves properly trained!

Good luck to you and your family in your house training — and to Polly, too!


Murrie of Mutt Maps

Common House Training Pitfalls

  • Thinking house training is easy.  If you underestimate the time and effort needed for your puppy to be reliably housebroken, you will fail to adequately prepare.  And the more “failures” puppy has, the more likely he will get confused about what is expected of him.  You don’t want your pup to ever think it’s okay to go potty in the house, and the best way to do that is to prevent indoor accidents in the first place. How? CONSTANT VIGILANCE!
  • Punishing puppy for indoor puddles and piles.   Harsh punishment for any reason can damage your relationship with your puppy, and that might come back to bite you in the tushie as your dog gets older.  But even an exasperated “Oh, no!” or a dirty look is enough for a sensitive puppy to engage in some submissive peeing.  Dogs sense your stress and it makes them anxious, but they don’t really understand why you are upset.  Guess what some puppies do when stressed?  That’s right: they pee.  Our friends at the DailyPuppy.com tell us that “dogs who are overly stressed out and frustrated often engage in marking” as a means of coping.  So not only does punishment not help, but it could make matters worse!
  • Going Back Inside Right After Puppy Pees.  If you do this, your clever puppy will learn that if he wants to stay outside longer, he should hold off peeing until he’s ready to go back in.  You, however, might mistaken his delay as an indication that he doesn’t have to pee, so you take him back inside and…oh, boy.  So take him to The Potty Place and wait; after he’s taken care of business, praise your puppy lavishly and reward him by letting him have his fun exploring the great outdoors for a bit — he’s earned it!
  • Leaving a Trail for Repeat Peeing.  Clean any puddle or pile thoroughly with an enzyme cleaner!  One reason I suggest consistently using one spot as The Potty Place is that us dogs are naturally inclined to eliminate in the same place.  Moreover, we like to pee on or near places where other dogs have peed or pooped.  So if puppy can smell the faintest trace of her past puddles, she’s likely to pee there again — as will any canine friends who come to visit!  And just because you can’t smell it anymore doesn’t mean your puppy can’t, so clean the mess and the surrounding area carefully:
  • Pick up any solids and thoroughly blot the area — but do NOT rub!
  • For carpets and fabric, flush with pure water (or steam) and blot again.
  • Spray with an enzyme-based cleaner designed to “digest” organic matter.  Let it sit a while, and then blot. (No rubbing!)
  • Repeat at least once —  if it’s on carpet or fabric, repeat at least twice.
  • My mum recommends using a black light to see if any ick remains.
  • If you want to be super cautious, spray with white vinegar to mask any remaining odor.
  • Never use an ammonia-based cleaner — it’s scent may entice your dog to pee on it.
  • Crating for too long.   Your puppy’s instinct to keep her den clean is one of your strongest assets in potty training — you want to preserve that instinct!  But even though a healthy pup wants to keep her crate clean, if she really has to go, she has to go.  Each time she soils her crate, her instinct to keep it clean will erode.  Worse, since puppy doesn’t want to mess up her crate, she’ll get stressed if she has to go and feels trapped, and she might develop a negative association with her crate, a place where she should feel safe and relaxed.  So err on the side of taking her out too often and gradually increase the duration as she gets older.
  • Giving free roam of the house to a not-quite-reliably trained dog.  Some people are uncomfortable with tether and/or crate training — but then are frustrated that puppy keeps pooping and peeing in the house!  If you really can’t or won’t use a Lifeline and a Doggie Den to supervise your puppy, think about limiting puppy’s indoor territorial range.  “Part of successful house training,” says Marg, “is to keep the pup confined to 1 or 2 rooms and not give it the run of the whole house.  Otherwise, it will just trot around the corner and pee or poo when you’re not watching.”
  • Carrying your little dog outside.  Why should you not carry Mack the Maltese to The Potty Place?  Because now when Mack has to go, Mack thinks the next step is for you to pick him up, and he doesn’t know how to initiate that.  He’ll just stand in front of the TV whining, and you’ll think he’s whining to watch Keeping Up WIth The Kardashians.  But if you always have Mack walk to the door, he’ll know to go to The Door to whine — and you’ll know what he is really asking for.
  • Food Issues.  I’m not gonna go into the science of it all, but the food department is directly and proportionally related to the poop department, so the decisions you make about your puppy’s food are going to affect your ability to potty train him.
  • Leaving food out all the time. It’s a pretty big dog debate: free feeding versus scheduled feeding.  But whatever you decide will be best for you and your family when your dog is mature, you should start potty-training puppies on scheduled feeding.  Why?  So it is easier for you to determine when puppy will need to go outside.  (Don’t you remember reading about this in Part One?)
  • Too much food.  You know those amounts listed on the dog food bag?  Those are just guidelines — and are too often on the generous side.  Puppies who overeat are not only going to poop and pee more often, but they’re at risk for developmental growth problems.  Next time you go to the vet, bring the bags, with all nutritional information on them, of all the food and treats you give your pup and then ask your vet how much of each you should be feeding.  Your vet can also show you how to use visual and tactile cues to evaluate your pup’s weight status so you can adjust food amounts to your puppy’s individual needs.
  • Too many treats.  Keep the amount of treats at a reasonable level — about 5% of her daily nutrient intake, according to the ASPCA.  When I was a pup, my mom trained me using a mix of small treats (cut in halves or quarters) and puppy kibble of a flavor different from the one I ate for meals.
  • High-fiber diets.  Our nutritional needs may be different from a human, but high-fiber plays the same tricks on us.  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go eat a box of high-fiber breakfast cereal and…well, you’ll see…)
  • Letting a puppy sleep on the bed.  That bed is plenty big enough for puppy to find a place well away from her sleeping spot to be a peeing spot — and it just might be in your sleeping spot!  And if he pees there once, he’s likely to go there again.  So keep puppy off the bed and sleeping in his den.  Besides, little puppies shouldn’t be on the bed anyway — if they should jump off or fall, they could damage their little bones, risking permanent injury!
  • Not asking for professional help.  If your potty training challenges are overwhelming you, don’t be shy: call a professional.  A dog trainer has more experience not only in house training, but in assessing dog personalities and figuring out what methods will work best for each dog.  Their personalized advice, encouragement, and moral support could prove priceless!
  • Looking away, just for a second.  Seriously, folks: CONSTANT VIGILANCE!

Helpful Tips for House Training Success

If you haven’t gotten your puppy yet…

  • Pre-puppy preparedness.  Ideally, potty training begins before you get your puppy.  How? Why, at the shelter or breeder’s, of course!  When considering which shelter or breeder to get your puppy from, ask them when they start potty training their pups and how.  They should describe something like the Misty Method, where the whelping box is divided into one area for sleeping/playing and another for eliminating once the pups or 3-4 weeks old.  For more information on the Misty Method, check out this article:  http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/breedingdogs/pottytrainingpuppies3weeks.htm .
  • First Time Home.  When you bring your new puppy home, the first place you should introduce her to is The Potty Place.  “The very first place in which your puppy eliminates often creates an association with that location as an elimination ‘spot.’  This association can be surprisingly strong and long lasting.”  So be patient and wait there until she pees or poops before you take her inside
  • Take Time Off.  Before you get your puppy, take time off to devote to your new puppy’s training, especially house training.  Try to arrange puppy’s arrival on a Friday morning.  Take that Friday off as well as the following Monday and Tuesday so you can have 5 days to figure out a consistent schedule, establish communication cues, and learn to read your puppy’s body language.  More time off is better, of course, but I understand someone has to bring home the bacon!  Which leads us to our next set of helpful house-training tips…

If you can’t be at home all day…

If everyone in your family has to be at work or school all day, you and your puppy will face special house-training challenges.  After all, a 3-month old puppy can’t be expected to hold it for more than 4 hours.  And even though I am a crate-lover, I wouldn’t want to be confined to my Doggie Den, door closed, for 8 hours!  But take heart:  Here are some tips to help you out.

  • Hire Help.  Ideally, you can have a pet sitter or walker come by while you are at work.  Marg says she doesn’t like to crate young pups for 8 or more hours, even if they do sleep most of the time:  “If someone can come to your home, uncrate your pup, feed a midday meal, and take her outside and wait until the pup defecates as well as pees 2 to 3 times, your puppy can learn to be clean in her crate.”  When puppy is very young, you might need someone to stop by 2 or 3 times while you are out; as puppy gets older, you can reduce this to one visit a day.  Some dog-walking services offer special packages or rates for puppies, so be sure to ask!
  • Consider Daycare.  For some families, doggie daycare might be a better option, but be sure the facility is suitable for very young puppies and has experience in house training them.  You should also ask your vet if her office boards dogs during the day and would be able to look after and help train your puppy.
  • Puppy Pen and Pee Pads.  If you will be out for longer than your puppy can be expected to hold, consider confining puppy to a small area instead of a crate. You can use pet-specific exercise pens or block off a small room with baby gates.  Within that area, you can use pee pads to designate a “legal indoor potty spot.”  Some pee pads are scented with “attractants” that entices dogs to pee on it.  You can also use products with fake turf over a containment system, almost like a litter box for dogs.  For more information on how to potty train your puppy with pee pads, read this article: http://www.animalhumanesociety.org/training/potty-pad-training-your-dog.

Helpful Hints for Everydoggie

  • Midnight potty.  For young puppies, set an alarm for four hours after the puppy has settled down to offer her a chance to go outside.  Each night, increase the amount of time between nighttime potty breaks.  During these breaks, keep it strictly business:  Don’t let your pup get distracted and don’t do anything to stimulate him, like pet and play with him.
  • Doggie Door Bells.  For some dogs, the issue is not that they don’t understand they are supposed to pee outside — it’s that they don’t know how to tell you they have to go. Our Facebook friend Veronica and her dog Thor have a great solution: hang a bell!  Veronica tells us that “from the time Thor was 2½ months, every time we took him out to potty, we touched his paw to the bell and said ‘go potty.’  He learned pretty fast.  When I bring him to my office, he rings the bell to go potty. Our neighbors watched him for a weekend, and he rang the bell at their place, too.”  You can find these bells at most locally owned pet-supply stores, or you can make your own with a Christmas bell and some ribbon.
  • Collar bells.  If you get a little collar bell, like the kind for cats wear, then you can hear when your puppy is stirring after a nap.  As your pup gets older and earns her independence, you can also note if she is sneaking off behind the ficus tree where she peed before.

Remember, every pup is different, and every family is, too, so there is no one solution that will work for everyone.  I’d love to hear about your adventures in house training, so please share your stories and helpful hints of your own!  Because Mutt Maps is more than just a website; it’s a community of dogs helping dogs, and there may be a pup out there that really needs to hear what only you can share!

¹Naomi Millburn, “Dog Marking Vs. Nervous Peeing,” The Daily Puppy,  http://dogcare.dailypuppy.com/dogs-marking-vs-nervous-peeing-4922.html (accessed 20 Mar, 2015)

²Examples include Simple Solution and Nature’s Miracle. These enzyme-based cleaners are also good for cleaning up vomit, blood, and food stains.  Just be sure to use them as the first line of defense — once a differnt kind of cleaner has touched the mess, the enzymes will not be able to do their job so well.

³See, for example, http://www.petmd.com/dog/nutrition/evr_multi_best_feeding_method; http://www.thedogtrainingsecret.com/blog/free-feeding-meal-feeding-age-debate/; http://www.dogfoodking.com/nutrition/freechoicefeedingvsscheduledmeals.php

4ASPCA, ”Feeding Your Puppy,” https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/feeding-your-puppy (accessed 21 Mar. 2015)

5 ibid

6 Paul Owens and Terrance Cranendonk, The Puppy Whisperer: A Compassionate, Nonviolent Guide to Early Training and Care (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2007) 60.

7 And I mean, like, literally, someone should bring me some bacon.  (Center cut is preferred, but really, I’m not picky.)  Just send it to the post office in Jericho, Vermont — they know how to get it to me.

8 Owen, Puppy Whisperer, 75.

9 Addrienne Farricelli, “What Is The Attractant In Puppy Pads?”, The Nest, http://pets.thenest.com/attractant-puppy-pads-9626.html (accessed 21 Mar. 2015)


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