Housetraining a new Puppy

Many of my customers call to ask for tips on how to train their new puppy to use the Pooch Potty box. Although I am not a professional dog trainer and it is always recommended that you hire a professional animal behaviorist to come in and meet with you and your dog personally - I am happy to pass on any tips I have picked up along the way.

Housetraining success relies on your commitment to the process
Please keep in mind that ultimately, the success or failure of housetraining relies on the commitment of you, the dog owner. No matter how many tips I give you or how many dog trainers you consult with, if you cannot give the housetraining process one hundred percent of your participation, consistency and commitment – you are only setting your puppy up to fail.

Housetraining is the preferred term rather than housebreaking. "Breaking" can have a negative connotation of breaking the dog's spirit. "Training" reflects the positive intention of teaching them something new.

Housetraining comes down to one simple thing
Giving your dog only one option for where to go Potty!

That means no paws on any surface that is not an appropriate potty place, unless you are sure your puppy's bladder is empty. 
That means no free roaming of your residence, not under any circumstance!
That means the only surface for playtime is on a surface without carpeting (such as a kitchen floor or hardwood floors with no rugs)

The first day home with your new puppy
You bring your new loved one home with you and open your door and let him bound through your residence to show him he is welcome, right? Of course you do! You want him to know that this is his home now. Wrong! You have just made your first mistake. Giving your new puppy free reign indoors opens up the opportunity for potty accidents and “marking”. Marking is something usually associated with male dogs. It is their way of leaving messages to other animals to say “yippee! I’ve been here!” - kind of like an answering machine for dogs.

I know what you are going to say next: "But to crate my puppy is so cruel! He will cry and bark and my heart can't take it. I just love him so much and I don't want him to be sad or unhappy, not even for a minute".

Being a responsible dog parent is similar to being a responsible child parent - you need to establish limits and boundaries so that your puppy feels safe and grows up well adjusted. 

Have your housetraining plan in place first
For optimum success in introducing a new puppy into your home, you should have this all planned out before he even arrives.

You will first want to determine where you would like to set up his appropriate potty place. A Pooch Potty can go outdoors on a balcony or terrace, or indoors if you can place it by a window for sunlight and fresh air. (be sure to puppy proof your balcony) Once you have selected the appropriate potty area - get the Pooch Potty set up before the puppy's arrival.

The next step will be to decide on a place where you will set up the puppy's crate (much like you would plan for a baby's nursery).

It is very important to immediately start the crate training, from the second you bring your new puppy home.

What size crate?

Buy a crate that is going to be an appropriate size for your puppy. He should have enough room to stand up, turn around and comfortably lay down. He should not have enough room to go potty on one side and then lay down on the other side. If your puppy is going to grow fast, you can buy a much larger crate and then block off a portion of it with a cardboard box or something that will prevent him from having access to the entire length of the crate.

Make the crate a comfortable and snuggly place for your puppy that he will begin to associate with being his little bedroom. A soft towel or blanket, some toys to chew on. Puppies need to teeth on something, look for puppy safe chew toys rather than bones or rawhides that can get stuck in their throats.

You can buy adjustable crates that expand as your puppy grows at Stacks and Stacks Homewares . For those on a budget, there are some functional inexpensive crates at .

The first three to five days
You should plan to be home with your puppy 24/7, or arrange to have someone there with them, for at least the first three days. (if you work, take a vacation day so you can have a three day weekend and then pick up your puppy at that time)

If you follow the crate training exactly, at the end of the three days, you will have a great foundation for the beginnings of successful housetraining.

How crate training works
The puppy spends forty-five minutes to an hour in the crate.

You take the puppy out of the crate - PICK UP THE PUPPY - don't let his paws hit the floor anywhere outside of the crate.

CARRY THE PUPPY to his appropriate potty place (if that is the Pooch Potty)

SET DOWN THE PUPPY on the Pooch Potty (tip: put a little doggie fence or gate surrounding the Pooch Potty to prevent him from going potty anywhere else)

If he goes potty, praise him like he is the most amazing dog in the entire land! "Yayyy! Good Potty! Good Potty!" Clap your hands, promise you'll tell all his friends how amazing and brilliant a puppy dog he is. He will soon begin to associate going potty in the appropriate place with getting lots of praise. Your approval will make his heart sing with happiness.

If he hasn't emptied his bladder within five minutes, give him a bunch of water, carry him back inside & put him in his crate for fifteen to twenty minutes, then try it again.

After you are sure he has emptied his bladder - then take him to the appropriate playtime place. If indoors, it should be an area where there are no rugs or carpeting (such as a kitchen floor). If outdoors, it should be an area that is well protected and where he won't be exposed to other dogs (until he has had all of his puppy vaccines).

If bringing him indoors, never let him walk in with you, always pick him up and carry him.

If he has an accident in your kitchen, you will be able to clean it up without a lingering odor (he may have accidents, especially if you have not stayed outside on the Pooch Potty box with him to make sure his bladder was empty)

If you allow him access to a carpeted area and he has an accident, you will have just taught him that this is an appropriate place to go potty (and the odor will be lingering to attract him again later)

DON'T LET HIS PAWS HIT THE FLOORanywhere indoors other than a restricted appropriate playtime place that has no carpeting. (hence why you need to pick him up and carry him inside)

Playtime every hour
Stay with him the entire playtime and keep a close eye on him. If he even looks like he is about to crouch or go potty, very quickly scoop him up and carry him back out to the Pooch Potty.

Playtime is for you to sit on the floor with him and play for five to tenminutes. Puppies have a lot of energy and need to run around and play. Don't leave the puppy alone during playtime, he needs you there to interact with. If he is teething or is play-biting you, instead of yelling at him, distract him by putting a tug toy or rope toy in his mouth. He will love the interaction with you and want you to play tug with him.

Playtime is an opportunity for him to release his crazy puppy energy. Please give him your full attention, turn your cell phone off, he deserves it and so do you. The puppy days go by so fast and these formative months are when you are creating the adult dog he will become one day.

When playtime is up

CARRY HIM TO THE POOCH POTTY - for one last chance at emptying his bladder

CARRY HIM BACK TO THE CRATE (make sure he has fresh water in there)

If he cries or barks or whines, ignore him until he falls asleep. You don't want to continue interacting with him by responding to his behavior or yelling at him, this will reinforce that when he barks you pay attention to him. If you have to, leave the room. If you are consistent with taking him out every hour, he will quickly learn that crate time is not forever, it is only a temporary period set aside for quiet time and napping.

An hour later, start all over
Forty-five minutes to an hour later, start the process all over again.

You are trying to teach him that when he goes potty in the appropriate place, he gets much praise and attention.

You are also teaching him about boundaries and limits. He is learning that the crate is a safe place for relaxing and sleeping and that you won't forget about him or leave him there for too long. If you stick to the routine, he is learning that fun playtime is going to be on a regular basis.

Follow this process for the first three to five days.

Praise, praise, praise!
The idea is that you want to catch him going potty in the right place, so that you can praise him. And you also want to remove the option for him to make a potty indoors. This is a very important time, these first few hours and days. If you allow even one accident indoors, then your dog has learned that going potty indoors is acceptable. If your dog has an indoor accident, do not yell or discipline him. This will only cause further problems and you don’t want to create a nervous dog that thinks he is not allowed to relieve himself. He can’t distinguish that you are mad because it is indoors. If he went potty indoors, it is because you were not paying attention and didn’t avert it in time.

Why every hour on the hour?
Keep in mind that the smaller the puppy, the smaller their bladder. Look how big you are and how big your bladder must be. Now look at your new puppy and ask yourself how tiny their organs must be right now, how tiny is their bladder? This is why it is important that you don’t blame your puppy if they can’t hold their bladder for as long as you would like. It is not their fault. They are doing the best that they can. They are only just learning how their new bodies work and with your patience and consistency, they are learning how to control their bladder, one hour at a time.

Sleepless nights
"What are you Kidding Me? I need my sleep!"
Yes, it’s all true. Puppies don’t cry all night like newborn babies, but they do wake up several times throughout the night and when they wake up, they have to go potty immediately. So you will hear a desperate panicky barking, something along the lines of “seriously folks, I have to go and I have to go right now, I can’t hold it another minute! Get me out of this crate and to my potty place, and quickly!” Expect this to go on for four to six weeks, until their bladder gets larger and they learn to hold it longer.

Expect to have some nights where he has already urinated in his crate (it shouldn’t happen in the daytime because you are awake and can move more quickly to get him to his potty place). To prevent middle of the night poops in his crate, make sure you’ve fed him his last meal at least six to seven hours before his last potty visit (and make sure you’ve seen his last doody come out). To prevent middle of the night pee pee accidents in the crate, try pulling his water four hours before bedtime and before his last potty visit. This isn’t always possible, especially in summer when it’s hot or if your puppy has just come in from playtime and needs to drink. Never yell at him for making an accident in his crate, he is doing the best he can. Just simply clean it up, put a fresh towel or blanket in there and move on.

Never leave your puppy unsupervised on the Pooch Potty
Puppies like to dig and chew and if left unsupervised on his Pooch Potty, you will return to a big mess of torn up sod. Instead of teaching him that this is his potty place, you will have taught him it is a toy.

If he starts to dig or chew while in your presence, then use a verbal correction and gently make a physical correction so he will stop. Just moving his little face away from the sod can be sufficient. If he is persistent, you can squirt a little bitter apple spray at his tongue (never in his eyes). For puppies, I always dilute the bitter apple spray with water so it won't be as strong.

Keep a consistent feeding schedule
Figure out when you are going to feed him and then stick to that same schedule every day. You will better be able to learn when he has to make a Doody (yes, I said doody, and you soon will be talking this way as well!)

When you think it is about time for him to make a number two, let him walk around on the Pooch Potty. Hopefully you have enough room on your balcony that you were able to get at least a Medium sized box, so your puppy can have the room to walk in a circle before he does a poop. Again, when you catch him making a poop on the designated potty spot, praise him. (and pick up the feces immediately!)

What happens after three to five days?
If you follow these steps exactly, you should have successfully layed a foundation for success - however the housetraining routine is not done.  Your puppy is beginning to bond with you and is also learning that there is order and routine to their lives.

If you have to go back to work and you don't have anyone else at your residence to take over and follow the routine - you will need to make arrangements to either hire a dog sitter or have a dog walker stop by multiple times a day. Instruct them to follow the exact routine, so nothing changes.

If you can't afford to do this and have no other options (a family member or a roommate who can help) - it is highly recommended that you reconsider if you can bring a puppy into your lifestyle. You may not be ready for a puppy and to be fair, they deserve to join a home that is able to offer them proper care, especially in the first six months.

There are many fabulous and very deserving adult dogs who are just waiting for a great home. It is far easier to successfully bring an adult dog into your lifestyle if you don't have the time for a young puppy. If you have a specific breed in mind, there are many purebred dogs at local shelters (and also many rescue groups who are breed specific). Check out to find available dogs in your neighborhood.

Don't leave a crated puppy for too long!
Do not leave a crated puppy alone for hours on end. Depending on where you work, ask if you can bring your crated puppy with you for the first few months. With the no paws on the floor while indoors rule, you can assure your boss that there will be no accidents.

Once your puppy has had all of his vaccines, he can join a local doggie daycare while you are at work.

What if my puppy continues to cry and bark while he is in his crate?
Ask yourself these questions first: Does he need to go Potty? Has he had enough playtime and exercise in the last few hours? Is something physically wrong (is his paw stuck in the crate door, does he look uncomfortable in any way)? If it is none of these things – then your puppy might simply be testing his boundaries with you. He wants freedom! He wants to be near you, sit on your lap twenty four/seven, he wants to romp through your residence and sniff all the smells and chew on the socks you’ve left on the floor! He is a puppy; this is what puppy dogs do. If he didn’t act this way, you should check him for a fever, to see if he isn’t feeling good, or if he is depressed.

So the good news is, if he is acting this way, he is most likely a healthy happy little puppy! The bad news is, much like getting a child to go to sleep at bedtime, you have to learn not to give in. If you ignore the barking and crying, eventually your pup will learn that this doesn’t work and he’ll give up and go to sleep. If he doesn’t, you can tray squirting a little watered-down bitter apple spray at his tongue (but never at his eyes).

You, as the owner, will need to distinguish between his attention getting barks and his “I have to go potty right now” barks. The only way for you to do that, is to teach him that the attention getting barking does not work on you.

The crate is your puppy's bedroom
For the first three to four months of a puppy’s life – it’s all about sleeping (in his crate), eating, playing (more on that later) and going potty.

Make the crate a comfortable and positive place for him to be, put a blanket or towel in there for softness. If you have to leave, put one of your worn t-shirts in there, so he can be comforted by your smell. Give him a toy and a small bowl of water. When indoors, the puppy lives in his crate.

Playtime, exercise & more playtime
If your vet hasn’t told you yet, you should be aware that until your puppy has all of his vaccines, he must be kept away from other dogs and from the feces of other dogs. This is because he is still vulnerable to illnesses and diseases.

The exception is if you can vouch for the other dog’s health and that they are one hundred percent disease free (and that the other dog hasn’t been exposed to sick dogs, maybe at a dog park or something) Even when you go to visit your vet, you should keep your puppy away from the other dogs in the lobby. That is the most likely place to run in to a sick dog. Hold your crated dog on your lap, or better yet, wait outside until it is your turn. All it takes is for a sick dog to touch noses with your puppy.

What kind of dog is mine going to be when he grows up?
People adopt puppies and often ask, “What kind of dog is this going to be? Good around children? Good around other animals? Will it be a smart dog? A well behaved dog?”

The answer lies in: “What kind of dog owner are you going to be?”

Adopting a dog, especially a young puppy, is a complete lifestyle change.
Something you should thoroughly consider and plan for ahead of time.

Beyond crate training - when does it get easier?
Over time, you can start to experiment with stretching the time your puppy stays in the crate, from an hour, to ninety minutes. From ninety minutes to two hours. If your puppy has a potty accident in his crate, then go back and start over again. Eventually, you will figure out what the longest amount of time is that your puppy can comfortably hold his bladder. (and as he gets older, he will get better)

When your puppy is three to four months old and you are sure he is one hundred percent trained to go only on his Pooch Potty (or other designated potty place) – then you are ready to try adding more freedom to your puppy’s life.

At any point in the housebreaking process, if your puppy has an indoor potty accident, you must start all over again. Even though it is a hassle and requires your time & patience, it is the only way to successfully housebreak him. In the long run, when you finally achieve success, both you and your puppy will have such a great sense of accomplishment!

I've tried all of this and my puppy still isn't getting it!
There are so many other factors that can influence housetraining, such as the environment, the tone you take, your physical demeanor, how you are interacting with your dog, if there are other stressful distractions in the household, is the balcony too scary or noisy for them? All of this can be recognized by a professional dog trainer who can assist you in problem solving.

If you would like some recommendations on local dog trainers in your area, just give us a call and we'll try our best to find someone appropriate for your situation.

GOOD LUCK TO YOU on successful housetraining!

I hope this was helpful and if you'd like a recommendation on a professional dog trainer in your area, just give me a call.
In New York City, check out Julie Sontag at Dog Gone Smart!
In Los Angeles, check out Julie Sterling at Clicker Dog!

Call us Toll Free: 866-265-5826

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