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Essential Puppy Housebreaking Tips for New Dog Owners

Happy puppy

So you wanted a puppy. It was a great idea at the time, but now you're wondering what you got yourself into. From efficiently exercising your puppy to The Witching Hour your puppy seems to get every evening, there's a lot to cover when training your puppy, especially if it's you're first puppy. Let's break down some of the more essential tips to help take the frustration out one of the biggest concerns my clients have training their puppy: housebreaking their new puppy.

Housebreaking Puppy Outside

Housebreaking Your Puppy Quickly and Easily

By far, the biggest issues everyone has with puppy training is the housebreaking. It seems as if you are either running outside every 20 minutes with your puppy, or cleaning up messes all day long. Let's figure this out, and why housebreaking is going so wrong.

1. Your Puppy Has Constant Access to Water and Food

We always need to bear in mind when puppy training that a dog that young has no impulse control. That goes for their bladder as well. Meaning if they take in a little bit of water all day long, a little bit of water will come out All. Day. Long.

By monitoring your puppy's access to water, you are causing them to take in as much as they need at set intervals, which they will then eliminate all at once, at set intervals, rather than dripping like a broken hose. And let's remember the mantra of training a puppy or dog:

In order to recreate a behavior, you have to catch that behavior.

That behavior you're looking for (peeing outside) is slipping through your fingers like, well..

Pick up the food and water, and be diligent about serving actual meals and drinks, instead of a 24 hour puppy buffet. A good plan is to offer water every 2-2.5 hours (with vet approval), as well as after any activity (see if you can plan activity for right before a watering time).

Set a reminder on your phone or set a timer. Let's not forget a scheduled watering time.

Your puppy will drink more at once because they are actually thirsty, instead of tiny puppy sips out of boredom; all that water will come out at once, rather than a sip, sip here and a drip, drip there.

2. You're Trying to Housebreak Your Puppy Without Knowing How Often to Let Them Out

I always feel so badly for my clients who are hyper-diligent about taking their puppy out. Some of my clients are trying to housebreak their puppies using what I call the "buckshot approach". If they take them outside every 20 minutes, they're bound to eventually have their puppy potty outside eventually, but that's different than actually housebreaking your puppy. You've just removed opportunity, but at the cost of your sanity.

To housebreak my new puppy Hazel, I use what I call the Solo Cup System. I have 5 Solo Cups on laid out on my kitchen counter. About 5 times a day, I will empty the entire Solo Cup into a water bowl for her. She has 10 minutes or so to drink all she wants, and then I remove the water bowl. I then use a sharpie on that Solo Cup to mark what time I gave her water. I then turn the Solo Cup upside down on the counter, indicating that she has had her first offering of water. That way I can tell at a glance how much water she's had (upside down cup) vs how much water she still needs today (cups that are not upside down)

If she somehow manages to drink the entire contents of the water bowl, I will refill the water bowl, making sure she's had her fill of water for that watering period.

After she has had her fill of water, I will begin to let my puppy outside for a chance to potty roughly every 15 minutes. If she doesn't potty outside, I will put her in her crate, or bring her to a location in the house where she can't wander off, typically I'll have my puppy leashed with me. Usually my puppy will go potty outside after about 1/2 hour or so.

As soon as my puppy starts to squat outside, I give her calm gentle praise, and then a reward. Now she can be free (ish) for a while. She will get water again in 2.5-3 hours, utilizing the second solo cup for the day. I will again mark the time she drank and the time she peed outside (or had an accident). That way I can start to estimate how soon she needs

to go out after she's had water.

If we decide to have some activity, I will give her water afterwards, but I try to schedule my puppy's exercise around watering times for easier housebreaking.

We do the same with food: my puppy is fed 2x per day, and roughly 1/2 hour after she's finished eating, I know she'll need to start going outside to ensure she poops outside. By restricting her access to food and water, I've now set her on a schedule, which is easier for both of us to follow.

3. You're Allowing Your Puppy Free Range of the House

Puppies (typically) prefer to relieve themselves slightly out of the way of where the commotion is. That's why merely "keeping an eye" on your puppy will never be the quick and efficient way to housebreak your puppy. The moment you take your eyes off of them, they sneak into a corner leaving you a present.

If your puppy has not gone potty outside yet, you must keep them either in their crate or attached to you with a leash (extended 6 foot leash is sufficient). And be diligent; the moment your Spidey-sense starts tingling, take your puppy out! The more often your puppy has accidents in the house, the more you are normalizing it for her. Normalize going potty outside.

4. You're Taking it Personally

Accidents happen. It's okay, just clean it up and be done with it. If you catch your puppy mid-squat, interrupt their behavior (I clap loudly), scoop them up and bring them outside. Give them a gentle positive outside, even if most of the action happened inside.

If you find a puddle on the ground, don't being your puppy over to it and try to berate them or let them know what they did was wrong. What they did was pee, which is natural puppy behavior. Furthermore, appropriate dog behavior dictates that they do it away from the pack, which they did.

Your puppy is actually a model canine citizen; they just suck at being human.

If you start by allowing both you and your puppy to make mistakes, those mistakes become diminished, as they should be. Don't let your puppy housebreaking victories be overshadowed by such trifling things as failures. Learn and grow from those failures, but don't dwell on them.

5. Not Giving Your Puppy Proper Positive Reinforcement

Part of recreating a behavior (your puppy peeing outside) is being able to catch that behavior (with positive methods). Silently standing at the doorway of your house while your puppy is in the far back of your yard peeing, and then calling them as soon as their done to give them a treat isn't going to cut it. You need to be more actively involved in the whole business.

Stay closer to your puppy (but allow them a bit of space). The moment they start the show, calm, gentle positives, followed by a treat when they return to you. But by starting the praise while they are going, you are marking that moment. Find out more about giving your puppy effective positive reinforcement in this article.

6. You're Not Piloting Your Puppy's Training

What on earth is Piloting your puppy, and what does it have to do with housebreaking a puppy? Piloting isn't too different from parenting a child. It's giving them safe boundaries in which to grow and learn. Being given the freedom to grow, but not the chaos that comes with anarchy.

Piloting is the basis of honing a puppy's naturally occurring behaviors. It's helping your puppy learn to navigate this crazy human world safely, which creates a less anxious dog who is calm and happy.

Your puppy is an intelligent (if impulsive) creature who is capable of learning and growing from their experiences. If you are simply managing your puppy, you're in for a long, difficult road ahead, full of behavioral issues such as anxiety, boundary frustration, and even aggression.

A dog or puppy who has been Piloted is confident and able to face obstacles, whether they be leashed walking past a reactive dog, or simply peeing outside during a rainstorm. By building a powerful bond based on trust, your puppy has the ability to grow into a balanced, well-adjusted adult dog.

Learn more about Piloting in this Ultimate Guide to Dog Training.

Have a Housebreaking Plan for Your Puppy

By having the information you need available (when did your puppy last potty outside? When did they get water last?) the job of housebreaking your puppy suddenly goes from chaos to simplified. Download our free housebreaking checklist to simplify training your puppy.

Learn more about Darwin Dog's Piloting method of dog training and puppy training, and find out if your pup is a good candidate for our private, in-home dog training.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training? Find out answers here.

border collie dog

Kerry Stack Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Dog Behavior

Greater Cleveland area; Northeast Ohio


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