Your first job when housebreaking your new dog is to establish a consistent schedule. Dogs are creatures of routine and habit. A consistent schedule will help your dog become housebroken by providing a predictable routine.
Housebreaking the Puppy
For the very young (under 3 months) puppy, the schedule is all about observation. Your puppy doesn’t have the physical ability to “hold it” at this age. When he’s gotta go, he’s gotta go right now, so no, you don’t have time to put real shoes or a coat on. Don’t give your young puppy even a moment to make a mistake — he has to be supervised every waking moment.
You are safe to assume that any time your puppy stops doing anything — eating, sleeping, playing, chewing — he will have to pee within minutes, if not sooner. Whatever he’s doing, if he stops, he has to go. Eating and chewing set off a bit of a chain reaction in young puppies, so you can figure that he’ll probably need to poop within a few minutes of stopping either of these activities.
Pay attention and take notes if necessary so you’ll learn to recognize his signs that tell you he’s getting ready to go. His signs might include sniffing the floor, circling, pacing, whining, staring at you, or sneezing. As soon as you see him starting to give you a sign, ask him, “Do you want to go out?” Carry or escort him to the door, repeating your “Go out” phrase a few times.
Accompany him to his potty area every time, both to praise and reward him for going in the right place, and so you can make sure he actually goes. This is a novel environment for him, so he may temporarily forget why he’s there. Keep him on leash, but don’t take him for a walk. Just take him to where you want him to eliminate and wait. Be as boring as you can possibly be. Ignore his attempts to play and explore; just wait and watch for up to 10 minutes.
If and when he goes, have a party, with lots of smiles, praise, and even a few treats. Allow him a few minutes of play or exploration as a reward for going quickly. If he doesn’t go, bring him back inside, but keep him under very close supervision, either tethered to you or in his crate, for twenty minutes or so, then try again.
Sample Schedule for Puppies Under Six Months
- 6 A.M — Potty time (Some puppies will just need to pee; others will have to do everything). Supervised play until breakfast.
- 6:30 — Breakfast (in crate if you need to shower or accomplish anything).
- 6:45 — Potty. After potty, supervised play until crating.
- 7:45 — Crate (one last pee before crating is a good idea, especially for young puppies).
- 11 — Potty, play.
- 11:30 — Lunch.
- 11:45 — Potty, supervised play until crating.
- 12:30 — Crate.
- 3 — Potty, then supervised play or back in crate until dinner.
- 5:15 — Potty.
- 5:30 — Dinner.
- 5:50 — Potty, play, potty, crate, potty, play, etc. until bedtime.
- 7 — Take away water (give ice chips or water a sip at a time if necessary).
- 10:45 — Potty.
- 11 — Bedtime.
Most 8–12 week old puppies won’t make it through the night without at least one potty trip. This should be as uneventful as possible. Just let your puppy potty and then put her right back in the crate, with no treats or playtime.
- Toy breeds can take longer to get physical control, and therefore to housebreak. It takes patience and careful supervision to prevent accidents (which with toy dogs are easy to miss until the evidence is found), but it can be done. You may have to use some creativity, including the possibility of some indoor alternatives.
During the day, most puppies can be crated for about an hour for every month they are old. You may need to enlist the help of a friend, neighbor, or dog walker to make sure your puppy gets out often enough if you work outside of the home. Physical control comes in leaps, not steps. You’ll just notice one day that your puppy can wait until after breakfast to go out that first time, or suddenly can wake up from a nap and not have to pee immediately. Adjust the schedule as your puppy physically matures.
Adolescent/Adult Dog Schedule
By the time they’re seven or eight months old, most dogs can be pretty much housebroken, which means that except in the case of illness or extreme disruption of their normal schedules, they don’t have accidents. None. Nada. Zip. The lack of accidents isn’t because the dogs are perfect. It’s perfect prevention building a habit of perfect housebreaking. Healthy adolescent and adult dogs usually have the physical ability to hold it for six to eight hours, although some of them may not know they can or understand why they should. They learn those skills from their owners, who, through excellent management, set their dogs up for success.
Weaning Off the Extra Trips
After seven months, most dogs will be eating twice a day, and will need to eliminate three to five times a day. If you’ve been using your “Go out” phrase for a while, you should notice some response from your dog — getting excited, running to the door, etc. — when you ask. Experiment with your schedule as your dog gets the idea of holding it and asking to go out. If someone is around to supervise, skip the midmorning and midafternoon potty breaks, and see if your dog can get by on three or four potty trips per day.
You can prevent your puppy from learning to “hold it” by taking him out too frequently. After he’s 12 weeks old, try to stick to scheduled potty times, and crate him or tether him to you in between scheduled trips to prevent mistakes.