You’ll need to stay consistent with training for the first few months of your puppy’s time in their new home before they reliably know where to do their business. Using a crate is the easiest method for house-training your puppy.
The crate is not a tool for punishment. Instead, think of it as your dog’s bedroom or private space. It provides them with a place to retreat and relax, and it will also give your dog a place to stay comfortably if you leave home.
A crate will prevent your dog from wandering, finding dangerous situations, and having accidents around the house. If you don’t already have one, you should pick up a spacious crate that gives your dog enough room to easily stand, turn fully around, and lie down. It should not be much bigger than that.
Here are the steps you should take for house-training your puppy once you’ve got a crate:
1. Take Time Off To House-train Your Puppy
House-training will be quicker and easier if you start as soon as your pup comes home, then stick to it 24 hours a day. That’s one reason experts recommend taking off a week or two from work when you first get your pup.
This time will also help you form lasting bonds with your puppy. If you’re working from home or have some time off work, use that time to start training off the right way.
2. Start Using The Crate The Day You Bring Them Home
Crate training helps dogs learn bladder and bowel control because they don’t like soiling their sleeping and eating areas. That’s why your dog’s crate shouldn’t be too big.
If it’s too spacious, your puppy may feel like they can eliminate in one corner and still keep their living space clean.
Put the crate somewhere in your house where there’s a lot of foot traffic to keep your pup from feeling isolated, and get them used to the noise and bustle of your household. Or get a portable crate you can take with you from room to room.
The crate should not be used to keep your pup “out of sight, out of mind.” Give your puppy lots of breaks to stretch their legs and to play and bond with you; one or two hours at a stretch in the crate is all the time they should be spending there during the day.
3. Take Your Puppy Outside Frequently
Never confine your puppy for longer than they can hold it. If they’re ever forced to go inside the crate because you didn’t let them out in time, you’ve made house-training much, much harder.
Puppies younger than six months old need at least one midday bathroom break–probably more. So if you work during the day, you’ll need to hire someone to come to your house and let your puppy out.
Every dog is different, and smaller breeds can’t hold it as long as larger ones. If your pup soils their crate, then that may be a signal that they need more frequent bathroom breaks.
A general rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold it for as many hours as they are months old, plus one. So for a three-month-old pup, that’s four hours.
You should also give them a bathroom run after they eat or drink, wake up from a nap, or finish a play session–all times when they’re likely to go. Also, take them out first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
And always watch for warning signs that they need to go. Clues include whining, pacing, circling, or sniffing the ground. If you see any of these distress signals, take your pup outside right away.
4. Stay Consistent Outside
Use the same “elimination station” each time you take your puppy out for potty breaks. Dogs develop a preference for pooping and peeing in the same spots. Make it easier on yourself by choosing, right from the start, the place close by where you want them to go.
Don’t distract your puppy with games and chit-chat; just stand still and let them circle and sniff.
As soon as your puppy begins to go, give them a command, such as, “Go potty” or “Do your business.” Before long, your puppy will eliminate on cue–a handy skill when you’re traveling or don’t want to spend your walks carrying a bag of poop.
Take your puppy back to the crate if they don’t eliminate within a few minutes. Give them some water, and try again in 15 minutes to a half hour or so.
5. Shower Them With Treats And Praise When They Do A Good Job
Make sure treats and praise come right after your puppy finishes eliminating, and make the praise enthusiastic and the food treat top-notch.
You want to make it crystal clear that eliminating outside is a great thing. Don’t wait to get back to the house to give your puppy their treat; they won’t connect the reward with what prompted it.
Important: Take your puppy for a walk or give them some playtime as a bonus reward. If they always come straight back inside after eliminating, they’ll learn to hold it to prolong their time outdoors.
6. Plan A Middle-Of-The-Night Potty Run
Puppies younger than four months will need a midnight potty break, so set your alarm.
Keep nighttime bathroom runs calm and matter-of-fact, so your pup doesn’t think it’s playtime.
If this isn’t enough to keep your dog from having accidents in the night, consider limiting their water intake during the few hours before bedtime.
7. Clean Up Accidents Right Away
Accidents happen, even if you’re the best dog parent in the world. It’s important that you clean these up quickly and thoroughly so your puppy doesn’t feel drawn back to the same place by the smell of residual poop or urine.
Use a cleaning product that contains live bacteria or enzymes that break down the mess, rather than masking it with another fragrance.
You may want to try leaving some soiled towels in your puppy’s “elimination station.” The scent reinforces for your puppy that this is the potty area.