Effective Ways of How to Housebreak a Puppy
Photo: Vicki & Chuck Rogers

Everybody loves a puppy. Watching your clumsy little new furry friend get into all sorts of trouble can be quite entertaining. But then puppy stoops over rug for a potty break, and the fun ends pretty quickly. To fix  that, there are multiple ways of how to housebreak a puppy, so let's break it down into separate parts and find the most effective ones.

Housebreaking, house-training, toilet training (or however else you want to call it) is a normal and important part of raising your dog from a young pup, but it doesn't happen quickly. No matter how you go about it, your puppy may continue to have accidents even after six months of training. Accept this as a fact, and be patient with your pooch. Unless you learn to accept that accidents will happen, housebreaking can become a real nightmare.

Before delving into all sorts of techniques on how to train your dog to pee outside, prospective dog owners should consider the option of adopting, and here's why.

Shelters are always full of pets in need of a good home. Most of these are perfectly good dogs whose owners rushed into buying a new puppy they didn't really have time for. Adopting a dog from a shelter comes with its own set of considerations, but one of the advantages is that you might be able to find a companion that has already been housetrained.

Now, assuming you're set on doing this by yourself, let's delve into how to housebreak a puppy in your own home.

Effective Ways of How to Housebreak a Puppy


Do not go the traditional route

Effective Ways of How to Housebreak a Puppy - Positive
How to housebreak a puppy: Avoid negative reinforcement. / Photo: This Year's Love

Some people will still preach the so-called “traditional” method of housebreaking a puppy, which involves “rubbing your dog's nose in it” and severely reprimanding your puppy for any accidents. This method is basically defunct.

Research shows that puppies under the age of six months don't really understand negative reinforcement.

That is, young puppies learn by being praised or rewarded for doing the right thing. They don't really “get it” when you punish them for doing the wrong thing. What's worse, frequent punishments are confusing and scary, and can lead to anxious behaviours in your puppy.

In their book Decoding Your Dog, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists talk about one study which demonstrated how a lot of people still inaccurately believe for this method to work:

“In one study, owners giving their dogs up at shelters were asked for a response to the statement ‘It is helpful to rub the dog's nose in her mess when she soils in the house.' Alsmost one third (31.8%) said they believed that was true, and another 11.4% said they were ‘not sure.' The authors of the study noted that there was ‘room for improvement' in educating dog owners about appropriate housetraining methods.” [Decoding Your Dog, ACVB; page 65]

More studies also show how and why positive reinforcement works better with canines, and this evidence is difficult to argue with, as it's well documented in blog, and a similar meta-analysis of certain studies on dog behavior was observed with great accuracy by The Dog Science blog. Also, Roseann Lahey of has made a good case of this outdated method explaining why it doesn't and shouldn't work simply from a common sense point of view.

In conclusion, this isn't to say that punishment can't have any role in training your dog. Negative reinforcement, when used correctly, can be a very useful way of communicating that a bad behavior is bad, especially when dog owners learning how to housebreak a puppy can combine it with positive reinforcement, which studies have shown to have great results.

However, cases where negative reinforcement should be used are very rare in dog training, and when applied incorrectly or especially on a young puppy – negative reinforcement can quickly turn into dog abuse and an unhappy Fido.


You can try other traditional methods though

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How to housebreak a puppy: Try the paper method. / Photo: J. Curtis

Another “traditional” technique on how to housebreak a puppy is sometimes called the “paper method.” It involves training your dog to go potty in a certain spot indoors. That spot is usually covered by newspaper or, nowadays, specially designed puppy potty pads that manage odors and are easy to clean.

This way, once your dog has learned to use only the designated area for relief, you start bringing the area outside with you.

Eventually, and hopefully, you have your puppy associate potty time with the outdoors, and the paper or pad is no longer needed.

This method can be convenient for some dog owners, especially if puppy will have to be alone inside for prolonged periods of time. The drawback is that you start by teaching your puppy to go indoors. For some dogs, this habit can be hard to break, even after the paper or pad is removed.


Third method of how to housebreak a puppy is better

This is possibly one of the best housetraining tricks to use: get a decent dog crate to deter accidents. When a dog is crate trained, they think of their crate as their den. Dogs have a strong instinct not to soil their den, so they will normally do their best not to have accidents in their crates.

By crating your puppy before leaving the house, you substantially reduce the chance that your pooch will have an accident while you're gone.

Unfortunately, crate training can sometimes be quite the undertaking on its own right. Some dogs seem to love their crates almost right away, whereas others will despise them. Crate training has benefits beyond the simple use in how to housebreak a puppy though, so it's definitely worth considering anyway.

Effective Ways of How to Housebreak a Puppy - Crate
How to housebreak a puppy: Crate method is the best. / Photo: Christian Collins


The fundamentals of how to housebreak a puppy are all the same

The basic puppy housebreaking routine is basically the same regardless of whether you choose to teach your puppy to go indoors or outdoors, and whether you use a dog crate or not.

Puppies have rather predictable metabolisms. The key to housetraining your puppy is to know when your dog will need to go, and making sure you are there at those times to show your puppy the right way to do it.

Dog experts have calculated that typically puppies will need to go:

  • Very soon after waking up, including first thing in the morning
  • Very often after daytime naps
  • Within half an hour after meals
  • Every hour or so during playtime

What you need to know about how to housebreak a puppy

For the fewest accidents and the fastest method of how to housebreak a puppy, establish a routine. Consistency and patience are the keys to any form of dog training.

1. When it's time, take your puppy to the designated potty area. If you like, issue a command like “go pee” or “hurry up”.

2. Use a calm, neutral tone, and be consistent with your choice of command.

3. Give your puppy time to sniff around and find the right spot, but don't let potty time turn into playtime.

4. When the job is done, reward your puppy with calm, gentle approval and maybe a small treat. You want to communicate that this is a job well done, but you don't want to be distracting.

If you choose to housebreak your puppy outside, don't take puppy back inside immediately after the job is done. Most dogs really enjoy going outside. If your puppy learns that successful potty time means going back inside, puppy might try holding it in to stay outside for longer. If you go back indoors thinking puppy doesn't need to go, you may well end up with an accident on your hands.

Associating a command with potty time can be particularly useful for owners of female dogs. Whereas male dogs may have the urge to mark new territories with their scent, female dogs will often avoid urinating in unfamiliar areas.

The difference between female and male dog command association is actually rooted in a dog's maternal instinct, because predators may associate female urine with the possibility of puppies (easy prey). As such, having a command to encourage your puppy to go in an unfamiliar setting can be useful, and might help prevent particularly annoying accidents from occurring when you are visiting someone else's house.

Regardless of how well your puppy housebreaking routine is working, young dogs can only hold it in for so long.

The rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold it in for one hour per month of age, although there's no particular science to that. So a two month old puppy can be expected to hold it in for at most two hours, and a six month old puppy can be expected to hold it in for at most six hours.

Naturally, this rule doesn't apply forever though: even housetrained adult dogs shouldn't be expected to hold it in for more than 10 hours during the day. Like people, dogs can typically hold it in a little longer when they're sleeping, but will need to go very soon after waking up.

Here's a quick checklist that summarizes your do's and don'ts of how to housebreak a puppy in the most effective way:

  1. Stay consistent and build a routine
  2. Follow indoor/outdoor rules
  3. Schedule breaks for potty time
  4. Prepare and make plans in advance
  5. Try to stay calm at all times
  6. Clean up fast afterwards
  7. Always be on top of your methods

Leaning all the ways of how to housebreak a puppy and going through with it can definitely be a somewhat dirty job, but it doesn't have to be a nightmare. Learn to anticipate your puppy's needs, and plan to meet them. Remember, your dog wants to please you!