by Rosemary Babb

Most puppies have not yet developed complete control of their bladder and bowels. Your job is to help them learn where and when to relieve themselves, and to reinforce this training as they grow old enough to have control.

Older dogs who have not been housetrained do have bowel and bladder control (unless there is a medical problem). But they don’t automatically understand the “when and where” part because no one has ever shown them. Your job in this case to make that part clear, gently and firmly. They may not understand immediately, but they can usually be trained reasonably quickly. Most instructions for housetraining puppies apply to older dogs, too.

Help Your Puppy Succeed

All puppies will go to the bathroom where and when you want sometimes. When that happens, consider yourself lucky and be sure to reward the puppy with a treat and/or praise. You create your own luck by creating opportunities for your puppy to be successful and to relieve himself in the right place, at the right time.

Dogs naturally keep their den clean. As your puppy gets older, he will generalize his understanding of your den to include your entire house. Until then, never, under any circumstances, leave your puppy unsupervised. You are responsible for watching him and making sure he can get outside when he needs to.

If you leave him for 2 minutes and he has an accident during that time, realize it is your fault, not his. There is an old joke that says if your dog has an accident during housetraining, you should roll up a newspaper and hit YOURSELF over the head while yelling, “No, no, bad owner!”

You cannot leave a puppy alone and expect him to stay out of trouble, any more than you can leave a small child unsupervised. At night, and when you can’t watch your puppy, crate him to keep him safe and out of trouble.

Bathroom Breaks

Always take your puppy out:

• The very first thing in the morning, before you do anything else.

• Immediately after meals.

• After playing. If you know you are going to be playing with the puppy (as opposed to being charmed into playing with the puppy without much warning), it’s smart to take him out first.

• Before bedtime.

• When he wakes up from a nap.

• During car rides, stop to give him a chance to relieve himself.

• If he starts whining, circling or sniffing around, pick him up and take him outside immediately.

• If you are having problems reading his behavior, take him outside every 30 minutes during the day for awhile. You can increase the time as he gets older.

Taking Your Puppy Outside

Always take the puppy outside instead of just opening the door and letting him out. There are 2 very important benefits to doing this.

First, you can decide where you want him to go (such as a dog run, an area screened by shrubs, etc.) and train him to use that spot instead of having your entire yard used as a potty area.

Second, you will be right there to reward him when he relieves himself in the right place.

Carry him to his spot each time and put him down. If necessary, use a light leash to keep him in the area, or used a fenced area. He may not be comfortable with you watching him directly, so give him some space and watch him out of the corner of your eye.

Keep the area clean. The odors that remain, even after you clean up, will tell your puppy that this is a good place to use. Remember you are teaching him to keep himself clean. It’s hard to teach that if his potty area is dirty. He may even step in something and track it back inside.

If he doesn’t relieve himself, just praise him for going outside. Stay outside for a few minutes. Play with him a little (keeping to the same area in case he decides to go the bathroom after all) and take him back inside.

If he does relieve himself, reward him with praise and maybe a small treat. Then play with him in the larger yard and let him explore a little (while still keeping an eye on him). The message is that relieving himself in the right place earns him all sorts of goodies, including more freedom and play time.


If your puppy does make a mistake, don’t punish him or yell at him. He won’t learn anything from that except to be afraid to relieve himself, or afraid to relieve himself around you. That’s not what you want to teach him. It can create all sorts of unusual housetraining problems.

Calmly put the puppy where he can’t see you clean up the mess. (His mother cleaned up after him. That was part of her job. You are not his mother – at least not in this sense. You don’t want him to get the idea that cleaning up after him is part of your job.)

After you clean up, be sure to use a product such as Nature’s Miracle to remove all traces of odor from the area. If your puppy can smell any odor, he will think it’s okay to use that spot again. Keep in mind that dogs have much more sensitive noses than we do. Your puppy can smell odors you don’t know are there. If your puppy keeps using the same spot, you haven’t gotten the odor out and he thinks that spot is okay to use. Don’t yell, clean!

Making Progress

Once your puppy seems to be getting the idea, you can very gradually start giving him more freedom in the house. Continue to keep an eye on him. Remember puppies also need supervision to prevent problems such as digging and chewing. If you can’t watch him or have him with you, put him in his crate. “Better safe than sorry.”

If he starts to relieve himself in the house and you are present, make a loud noise such as clapping your hands or yelling, “NO!” Often the noise will startle the puppy and he will automatically stop. Sweep him up and take him outside to his potty area. If he finishes there, praise him in the usual way and then play with him. Even if he has already finished, take him outside anyway and praise him when he is in the right place. It will help him make the connection.

If he has an accident and you don’t find it until afterwards, it’s too late to make a correction. Just put him in another room, clean it up, and resolve to watch him better in the future.


Don’t hold your puppy responsible for being housetrained until you are positive:

• He is really old enough to have complete control of his bladder and bowels. This can vary by breed and by individual. If you’re not sure, check with your breeder or veterinarian.

• He really understands what you want (remember, he needs to generalize his understanding of your den to include your entire house.)

If your puppy is having accidents, take him to the veterinarian for a complete checkup. He may have a bladder infection or other problem. If your puppy has a clean bill of health and simply isn’t very reliable, you may be expecting too much too soon. Back up a step or two.

Multi-dog Households 

If you already have a housetrained dog or dogs, that can actually make housetraining a new addition much easier. The trained dogs will help show the new dog what to do.

The Long Term

If you get frustrated housetraining your puppy, remember, this a long term relationship. The years of joy and friendship the two of you will share will more than compensate for a few extra clean-ups now.

Enjoy your puppy!

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