House training a new puppy or dog

Klearchos Kapoutsis / Foter / CC BY

House training a new puppy or dog is an owner’s first concern. Error-free training isn’t difficult. With a little time, some dedication and patience, your puppy or dog will soon be eliminating reliably outdoors.

When a puppy needs to go, he really needs to go! Puppies do not develop full control over their bladders until they’re 5-6 months old. Most puppies are able to sleep through the night by the time they’re 16 weeks old. Before then, a puppy usually needs to go outside every 3-4 hours at night.

Basic protocol

You will need some high-value treats, a leash and a dog crate.

  1. For house training to be successful, you must take your puppy (or older dog) outside immediately after every meal, after every play session or training session, and whenever he comes out of his crate.
  2. An 8-16 week old puppy age should go outside on leash every hour when he’s not in his crate. Set a timer to remind you.
  3. Take the puppy to the place you want him to use for eliminating. Stand there for one minute. Let the puppy wander around the area. If the puppy eliminates, make a big fuss—praise him and give treats. Then you can play with the puppy or take him back inside.
  4. If the puppy doesn’t eliminate, calmly take him inside and put him into his crate for 15 minutes, then try again. Repeat until successful.
  5. Keep the puppy or dog with you whenever he isn’t in his crate. Tie a leash around your waist or to your belt if you’re not actively playing with or training the puppy. He won’t eliminate so close to you. Be sure to keep an eye on your timer and take him outside every hour.
  6. When the puppy has been in his crate for an hour or more, carrying him to the door reduces his opportunity to stop on the way outside, especially first thing in the morning or after he’s had a long nap during the day.

At night

Many puppies may not be able to sleep through the night until they’re about 4-5 months old. Plan to take the puppy out after 3-4 hours. Don’t talk to him or make a fuss–you want him to understand that this is a quiet time, not a playtime. If he doesn’t eliminate, put him back in the crate.


Puppies don’t make mistakes! Humans do. As long as your dog is healthy, if he eliminates indoors it’s not his fault. A dog doesn’t soil carpets, floors or furniture to protest against something or to send an unpleasant message to his owners. He does it because he hasn’t been trained to go outside or because his human companion didn’t take him out when he needed to go.

Punishing your puppy by yelling at him, hitting him or rubbing his nose on the soiled carpet, floor or furniture, won’t teach him to go outside. The “guilty look” you may imagine you see on his face is actually fear. If punish him, your dog may learn to find a secret place to go when his bladder or bowels are full. He may also become reluctant to potty outdoors when on leash because he’s afraid you will be angry when he eliminates.

When you make a mistake and the puppy eliminates indoors, use an enzymatic cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle to clean up. Only an enzymatic cleaner gets rid of all of the odour-causing molecules that attract the dog to use the same place again.

Ringing a bell to go outside

It’s easy to teach your puppy or dog to ring a bell to signal that he needs to go outside. Hang a bell or a string of bells on the knob of the door leading outside. The first time or two, when you take your dog out, ring the bell yourself. After that, encourage the dog to ring the bell with his paw or his nose. Then go outside. Most dogs will learn to ring the bell in less than two weeks and some will learn to do it within a few days.

Eliminating on cue

Teaching your dog to eliminate on cue makes the trips outside much more efficient and will be helpful when you want to take your dog somewhere away from home.

While you’re in his potty area with your dog on leash, as soon as he starts to get into position to eliminate, say your cue word a time or two. Use whatever word you like, preferably something the dog isn’t likely to hear in ordinary conversation, such as “be quick” or “get busy.” Keep in mind that something that sounds cute for an 8 week-old puppy may not sound so cute when your dog is full-grown!

While you’re at work

If your dog must be left alone all day while you’re at work, many dog walking companies and some dog trainers offer a mid-day “puppy pee break, coming to your home in the middle of the day to check on your puppy, take him outside and play with him for a few minutes.

Some owners find that using a washable dog grass mat, also called a “potty patch” or “puppy lawn,” available from pet supply stores, is a helpful option until the puppy is old enough to be left alone during the daytime. If you decide to use a grass mat, put the puppy’s crate and the mat in a small, enclosed space such as a bathroom or an exercise pen.

Pads or newspapers

I don’t recommend using pads or newspapers to house train puppies. I know several dogs who required emergency surgery to remove the blockage after they ate pieces of absorbent pee pads. Saturated newspapers are messy and won’t keep your puppy clean. You will need to use lots of enzymatic cleaner to remove all of the odour-causing molecules from the floor where the wet newspaper was.

Health concerns

A healthy dog will not eliminate in his crate if he has an opportunity to go outside. Once a dog is about 6 months old, he will have full control over his bladder and will be able to wait a few hours reliably.

If, after your dog has been fully house trained, he begins to eliminate indoors, see your vet right away. Urinary tract infections are common in dogs. They are easily treated with a course of antibiotics. If your dog has a urinary tract infection, it will not go away without medical intervention. Delaying treatment can result in kidney infection and other serious health problems.

Additional resources

Download a copy of “House training a new puppy or dog.”

before-you-get-your-puppyBefore You Get Your Puppy, by Ian Dunbar. Book-length PDF available for free download.




after-you-get-your-puppy  After You Get Your Puppy, by Ian Dunbar. Book-length PDF available for free download.