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How to housebreak a puppy

Spring is traditionally when thoughts turn to becoming a pet parent. This is also the time of year when shelters get overrun with unwanted puppies seeking forever homes. Puppies are adorable and snuggly. And don’t get us started on the intoxicating scent of puppy breath! Sigh. They are also full of energy, a lot of work, and prone to going to the bathroom in the house until they are housebroken.

Once you bring your new puppy home you need to teach him or her to not go to the bathroom in the house. With patience and time, it may take up to three months for a puppy to be completely housebroken. A housebreaking rule of thumb is: A puppy can control his or her bladder for one hour for every month of age. This means if you’re bringing home a three-month-old puppy, he will be able to “hold it” for no more than three hours. If you make the puppy wait longer, you are almost guaranteed your puppy will have an accident.

Housebreaking routines matter

Puppies thrive on routine, whether it’s when they eat their meals, have playtime and especially when they go to the bathroom. Here are 6 tips for housebreaking your puppy from the American Kennel Club:

1. Take your puppy outside at least every two hours, immediately after he or she wakes up, during and after play, and especially after eating or drinking.

2. Choose a bathroom spot outside and use the same area each time. It’s best to keep your puppy on a leash and walk him to the designated spot. Choose a word or phrase that you will repeat when you’re getting ready to take him out, and while he’s doing his business. This helps them equate the action with the phrase.

3. When your puppy goes to the bathroom in the designated space outside, reward him with a treat, or praise or a special round of outdoor playtime. Associating going to the bathroom out of doors with positive actions will make housebreaking easier. Reward your puppy immediately after she has gone to the bathroom; if you wait until you get back indoors, she may have forgotten why she’s getting a treat. Also, don’t praise while they’re going; wait until they are finished so they don’t get distracted.

4. Keep your puppy on a regular feeding schedule and don’t let him have constant access to food will help with housebreaking. Ask your veterinarian, but the rule of thumb is to feed your puppy three to four small meals per day.  

5. While you’re housebreaking, pick up your puppy’s water dish a couple of hours before bedtime; this reduces the chance of him waking you up at night to go to the bathroom. Make certain you take your puppy out as soon as you wake up in the morning.

6. Supervision is key. Allowing her to wander unfettered throughout the house will almost assure there will be accidents. Keep them close to you and in the same room you’re in while they are being housebroken. If you can’t supervise your puppy, confine him in a crate or an area of the house that is small enough that he won’t want to soil it. Many new puppy owners sing the praises of crate training to help with housebreaking and to keep the puppy safe.

Poop (and pee) happens!

Your puppy will have accidents in the house—they are a natural part of housebreaking. Just as you wouldn’t expect a toddler to be potty-trained in a week, you shouldn’t expect housebreaking your puppy to be accomplished in a week and without occasional accidents.

What can you do if your puppy goes to the bathroom in the house and won’t go outside? Bill Mayeroff of FetchFind offers a few suggestions:

1. If you catch him in the act, interrupt him then take him immediately outside. If he finishes his business in the outside designated area, praise him.

2. Thoroughly clean the area in which the puppy went to the bathroom. If she continues to smell where she went to the bathroom, she will think it is a spot she is allowed to go.

3. Don’t punish your puppy for having an accident. If you find a place where your puppy went to the bathroom in the house, it’s too late to administer any kind of correction. Scolding him or any other kind of punishment will only serve to make her afraid of you and this might mean she will be afraid to go to the bathroom in your presence.

Housebreaking tips for when you’re not home

When you leave your home, you don’t want the progress you’ve made with housebreaking to be for naught. During those times when you will be gone for extended periods, here are arrangements to consider for your puppy’s comfort:

1. Hire a dog walker or ask a friend or family member to come and take your puppy for bathroom breaks.

2. Crating them while you’re away keeps the puppy safe and helps with housebreaking while you’re away.

3. Understand that if you’re gone longer than your puppy’s bladder can last, you should be prepared for accidents. Remember, the puppy had no option and you don’t want to discipline him for indoor accidents while you’re away.

Puppies (and older dogs) bring so much joy to a household. Provided you are walking into puppy ownership with the knowledge that they are a lot of work, you will have sleepless nights and that housebreaking can take months, you will have a friend for a lifetime!

Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words MatterMy Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.

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