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The highest priority when your puppy firsts enters your home is to see that it acquires appropriate elimination habits.  More puppies are abandoned every year because of house-training problems than for any other reason.  Starting off housebreaking correctly will provide the foundation for a healthy relationship with your puppy.  It is your responsibility to follow sensible guidelines to establish good habits.  There are natural instincts in dogs, that when combined with your understanding and consistency will make housebreaking a straightforward process.

Properly raised puppies will have an innate tendency to keep their living and sleeping quarters clean.  Successful housebreaking requires faithful attention by you.  The following guidelines will help you to housebreak an eight to ten week old puppy and help prepare for the time when your dog will be able to be trusted alone in your house.

Using a Crate

I strongly urge crate training for housebreaking puppies. By using a crate, you provide your puppy with its own den and capitalize on its innate tendency to keep this area clean.  A puppy kept in its crate for a reasonable period of time no more than three to four hours at a time during the day will refrain from soiling and will learn to hold itself until you let it out.   Consistently doing this will help your puppy establish a regular schedule for elimination.  Crates also prevent young puppies from getting into mischief when you cannot watch them and confines their chewing to objects you have provided.  Like human infants, puppies need lots of rest but they also require pleasant physical contact and socialization.  Use common sense about how much time your puppy should spend in its crate.

Introducing the Crate

It is important to introduce your puppy to the crate gradually.  It may be helpful to use treats to provide a positive association with entering the crate.  As your puppy becomes comfortable with the crate, you can increase the time that it spends there, realizing that it is important not to overuse it.  Your puppy should not live in its crate — he or she should live with you.  However, use the crate for the periods of time when it cannot be watched, when it is resting or eating and while it is being housebroken.   This time staying in the crate will teach it to hold itself.  Used this way, a crate is an important aid in your puppy’s adjustment to its new life.

The Housebreaking Schedule

Dogs are creatures of habit – consistency in your schedule will speed your success.   Start off with set times for feeding, watering and elimination – this will help you to anticipate when your puppy will have to eliminate, and thus reducing accidents.

First thing in the morning, take your puppy immediately to a consistent place that you have selected as its elimination area.  Do not let the puppy out by itself, even if your yard is fenced.  Taking your puppy out ensures that it will always use the same spot and that your reinforcement can be provided.  Always use the same door and route, and for the first several months leave one or two stools in the elimination area each day for it to smell.  Watch your puppy carefully as you let it sniff and circle around.  As soon as it appears ready to eliminate, softly repeat a simple word or phrase such as “go potty”, "make" or "hurry up" to coincide with the act.   Repeat it softly several times; once you begin the command do not stop until it actually begins to eliminate.  When he does, quietly add soft praise to the command (i.e. — “good potty”, "good make" or "good hurry up") until it finishes.

Puppies often have to go several times when they first wake up, so make sure your puppy is completely finished before you take it back into the house.  Conclude with praise and walk back into the house.  Follow this same procedure every time you take your puppy out to eliminate.  After several weeks, your puppy will start to associate your trigger phrase with its elimination. Plan to take your puppy to its elimination area at least once every hour or so during the housebreaking period.  Keeping to this schedule, you will discover that your puppy will gradually be able to hold itself for longer periods of time, establishing a sense of confidence.


Inevitably, some puppy "accidents" are bound to occur.   No matter how watchful you are, how careful about looking for warning signals, your puppy will probably have several episodes of housesoiling during its first months with you.  When these happen, it is of the utmost importance to deal with them correctly, in a manner appropriate to your puppy’s age.

One of the most frequent mistakes that new owners make with their puppies is the tendency to overcorrect for housesoiling errors that have already occurred.  Puppies live entirely in the present.  They to not remember acts of housesoiling, and punishments given after the fact only confuse the puppy and harm your relationship.   For the correction to be meaningful, you must catch your puppy in the act.  If you see your puppy starting to eliminate in the house, quickly raise your voice enough to startle it; shake it gently but firmly by the scruff of the neck and sweep him/her up in your arms, taking it immediately outside to the elimination area.  Wait for it to eliminate, following the method already described.

Young puppies have to be watched constantly when they are not confined. Learn to look for telltale signs that your puppy needs to go out.  These include restless pacing, circling, and/or intense sniffing of the floor, whining or scratching at the door that leads to the elimination area.  If you should come upon an accident that has already occurred, count it as your mistake!

To prevent your puppy from making scent posts of locations in your house, neutralize urine and feces odors with a chemical deodorizer/cleanser that breaks them down chemically.  Whether on carpet, vinyl tile, linoleum or wood, after you thoroughly clean up the mess, spray the spot with a neutralizer.



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Jody Springer ●  Roanoke Texas

©1998-2008 Cygnet Labradors, All Rights Reserved.
Originally created: 1998;
Last modified: October 20, 2015