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 Housebreaking (Read the crate training page first.)
Table of Contents
Housebreaking concepts are simple. Following them is not always easy.

There are only a few things that young puppies do: Roughhouse, sleep or cuddle and eat. After each of these events you can expect your pup to have to pee (or poop) so be sure to get her to her "spot" at that time. If you are using a litter box you may need to sit right near it to put her back into it a few times until she goes. Be sure to have some baby food (we use chicken) to give her as a treat the second she finishes peeing. At this age the pups are still clumsy and if given a different kind of treat they may drop it in the litter box then go rooting around to find it. We don't want the pup to associate food with litter pellets so a lick from the baby food jar is a much more appropriate treat.

You need to watch the pup (closely) every minute that she is not contained. This is so that you can grab her and get her to her spot at the first sign that she may need to go. This is a lot easier when the pup is going to poop than to pee. These puppies are so small that it can be hard to notice that they are squatting to pee before it is too late. Try hard.

You need to take her out (or to her litter box) often.  Even if the pup shows no sign that she has to go, take her to her spot often. Be sure to give her a treat every time she goes in the right place and to do it as soon as she finishes. You only have a few seconds. After that she will not associate the treat with what she did to get it.

You need to contain her when you are not watching her. When you are at home but can't watch closely the pup should be in a crate where you can hear her the minute she wakes up. As soon as she wakes up get her to her spot. She will have to pee within a short time.

You need to provide a place in the house where she can pee when you will not be able to watch her and not be able to get out of the crate instantly when she wakes up. This is what we use the exercise pen for. The exercise pen can contain her litter box, some food and water and a couple of toys. It is very unusual for a pup to pee in the pen (outside of the litter box) after leaving here. If you leave the puppy confined to her crate (as opposed to the pen) for any length of time when you are not home, she will pee in it. She will have no choice. Any time a pup pees in the crate it will set her training back. If it only happens once or twice it may not hurt tremendously but you do not want her to get the idea that its ok to pee in the crate. If she does, it will set your training back a lot. (It will also make the puppy uncomfortable as she is learning to hold it, and confuse her.)

I do not recommend using newspaper or wee wee pads. My experience with them is that the pups drag them around, shred them and then pee wherever they want to.

Pay attention to when the pup is peeing and pooping. This will help you know when she is likely to have to go. Her schedule will become more regular - and less frequent - as she gets older.

If there is an accident:

Be very clear on this: Puppies don't have accidents. Puppy owners have accidents. If there is an accident you were not following the above rules closely enough. This is not a reason for you to feel guilty or like a bad mom but important for you to realize that it is not the puppy's fault. If the pup has an accident and you did not watch it happen you should completely ignore it. If the pup has an accident and you see it happening, just take her to her spot and tell her gently that this is where we pee. End of story. Many people will tell you that you should keep her in her spot until she does go pee. This may be good information but I don't find it to be practical information. Since she has just peed you are not likely to get her to pee again immediately.

Never yell at a pup for having an accident nor try to discipline her in any way. If you do she may assume that you don't want to see her peeing and it will cause her to do it in a place or time when you are not looking. This can be disastrous to housebreaking. Don't feel like you are letting her "get away with" something. Remember, it was your mistake, not hers.

Don't celebrate too soon. One of the most common errors in housebreaking is thinking that the pup is reliably housebroken before she actually is. People often think the pup is having some relapse and drive themselves nuts trying to figure out why she has regressed. Often people assume all kinds of reasons (Stubbornness, spite, separation anxiety, etc.)  that are alien to the pup and will set you back even further.   When your pup has had no accidents for a week, stick to the plan for another month. If there are still no accidents then she is reliably housebroken.


Revised: 02/20/07.
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