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Adapted from Ian Dunbar’s Before You Get Your Puppy


Ideally, a house training program should be implemented as soon as you bring your puppy home.  Preventing “accidents” from happening in the first place will speed up the housetraining process dramatically, as once the puppy relieves himself in one spot, that spot will forever smell like a puppy bathroom to him. 

It is important to keep in mind young puppies not only are ignorant of toilet manners, they simply do not have developed enough muscles to “hold it” for long periods of time.  It is not abnormal or unusual for some puppies to not become fully housetrained until well after their first year.  Housetraining, overwhelming as it may seem, is a relatively simple process.  Timing and consistency are everything, so stick to this program to the letter and you will eventually have a reliably potty-trained dog.


1.  A crate:  it should be big enough for your puppy to stand up; turn around and stretch out comfortably in, but no bigger than that.  Puppies have a natural dislike for soiled living quarters, so it’s important that there is just enough space in the crate to comfortably fit the puppy.  If the crate is so big that the puppy can poop in one corner and sleep in the other, this is exactly what the puppy will do.  The proper size crate will inhibit the puppy from soiling it.

We recommend buying a good quality crate that will fit your full-grown dog.  Many crates come with divider panels, so you can increase the usable area as your puppy grows.  It should be portable enough for you to move from room to room.  It should also fit in your car: it is the safest way for your dog to travel

2.  Yummy treats:  freeze-dried liver, boiled chicken, low-fat string cheese, etc.  You get the idea: this should be special food the puppy loves, not the same old kibble.

3.  A leash:  you will use it to walk the puppy to his outdoor toilet area.

4.  A long-term confinement area:  unless you are able to never leave your puppy alone for more than 1 or 2 hours at a time, you will need a comfy, puppy-proof area, where your puppy can hang out safely and error-free.  This area can be created using an X-pen, or a baby gate.  Kitchen and bathrooms are popular choices.  This area should contain:

  Appropriate chew toys stuffed with puppy food; such as those made by the Kong™ company;

  A bowl of clean, fresh water;

  A puppy bed (optional) and the puppy’s crate;

  An indoor toilet- a litter-box filled with paper or other absorbent, disposable material

  A watch with timer feature


1.  When you are home

After making sure the puppy is empty, place him in his crate if you can’t directly supervise him or tie his leash to your belt and pay close attention to him.  Set your watch to beep every hour, and once it beeps, run your puppy on leash to his designated outdoor toilet.

When the puppy eliminates say YES! and immediately offer several little yummy treats, while enthusiastically praising the puppy for doing such a wonderful thing.  This is an excellent time to further reward the puppy with a walk or a play session.  Your dog has just done a marvelous feat, be sure to convey to him just how ecstatic you are.

If the puppy does not eliminate within 3-5 minutes do NOT take him for a walk or play with him.  Do not reward him in any way.  Simply and very matter-of-factly, put him back in his crate for another 20 minutes, and then try again.

Three hours before bedtime offer the puppy his last drink of water for the day.  This will help keep him dry through the night.

During the night place the puppy in his crate and set your alarm to go off in the middle of the night.  When you hear the alarm, walk the puppy on leash to his toilet.  If the puppy goes say YES! And give him a yummy treat, while praising him quietly.  Gradually set the alarm time closer and closer to wake-up time, until your puppy can make it through the night.

Your puppy will tend to eliminate: 10-20 minutes after eating, a few minutes after drinking, right after waking up from a nap and following a play or exercise session.

 After 3 accident-free days, start setting your timer for longer periods of time- 1:15, then after another 3 accident-free days, 1:30, and so forth.  Should the number of accidents increase at any point, simply   return to the previous time interval, where he was successful.

1.  When you are away

If you work and need to be away for longer than your puppy can hold his urine and feces, you will want to confine him to his long-term den, where he can access his puppy toilet should nature call.  Collect a few dabs of his urine and place it on the newspaper in his puppy toilet, to encourage him to use it.  Hopefully he will choose to sleep in the bed and eliminate in the toilet (If he already has a history of soiling his bed, you may want to skip the bed until he learns to use the paper).  Food stuffed chew toys will help your puppy entertain himself, while developing a taste for appropriate chew items.

3.  When you have an emergency

Before going to the bathroom puppies may: sniff around for an appropriate spot, pace around or circle the same spot, walk with a funny, slouchy posture.  If you notice any of these, quickly pick up the leash and run him to the doggie toilet, while chanting happily “Outside.”  If you can get to the outdoor toilet quickly, that’s what you will use.  If it will take you a while to be able to get the puppy outside, you will have to run to the indoor toilet.  Indoors or out, it’s best to allow the puppy to walk there on his own four legs.

When your puppy uses the paper, praise him quietly and maybe offer him a piece of kibble.  You want to convey to him this is an o.k. place to eliminate (way better than the living room rug), but save the best treats for pees and poops in his designated outdoor toilet, as ultimately we want he to learn to eliminate only here

If you catch the puppy in the act, it’s too late.  Don’t pick up the puppy in mid-stream; you will only have a bigger mess to clean up.  Re-evaluate your schedule and modify it if necessary.

5.  What NOT to do:

   Never punish your puppy after the fact; he will not be able to associate the punishment with his toilet behavior and will only learn to fear you;

   Never punish your puppy in the act; he will only learn to fear eliminating in your presence and you may find yourself with an owner-absent house-soiling problem.

   Never allow an untrained puppy unsupervised freedom.  You must be present to prevent mistakes and reward elimination in the correct spot.

      •   Never relegate an untrained puppy or dog to the back yard or kennel run: your pooch will NOT housetrain himself.

Free download of "Before You Get Your Puppy" by Ian Dunbar and answers to common questions about problem dog and cat behaviors available at






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