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Housebreaking Your Puppy

You can't expect too much in the way of housebreaking before your puppy is 12-14 weeks old because he does not have full sphincter muscle control. Very young puppies simply cannot hold bladder and bowel movements for long periods at this age. The interval between the urge and the act of urination or defecation is very short. Unless you immediately notice the distinctive movements you puppy makes when he's looking to relieve himself, like sniffing the floor to search for a toilet spot or going around in circles, he will soil your floor. Your principal duty when you bring your beautiful bundle of fluff home is to PREVENT accidents, but keep in your mind that even at this tender early age, virtually every action is a learning experience. The number one reason so many puppies end up at the animal shelters is twofold: the puppy is not taught "NO BITE!!" and/or the puppy is not properly housebroken.

It will be impossible to watch him all of the time, so the solution is to confine the youngster to a "nursery area" completely covered with newspapers in a room such as the kitchen, with a washable floor, or confine him to a crate. The confining area shouldn't be much larger than 3 x 5 feet or so. I don't recommend that you give him the entire kitchen area unless you are willing to clean up a lot of puddles until he is a little older. Make him a comfortable bed in one corner where he can sit or lie and watch everything that's going on. Just make sure his area is covered with paper so he can't eliminate anywhere else.

Start immediately to let him know what is expected. If you want him to potty outdoors, then don't deliberately praise him when he uses the paper, but don't scold him either. Don't acknowledge that he has gone at all. You don't want to confuse him about where to relieve himself because he's going to go outdoors in a reliable way within a short time. As soon as he is immunized, start taking him outside on an informal basis around the clock and every hour or so until he gains more muscle control, and remember to ask the question, "Do you want to go OUT?" Whenever he potties outside, praise lavishly. That will be your ultimate key to success. Puppies live to please you.

Keep your puppy clean and change the papers frequently. Don't be too strict with him, because puppies go through a fear-imprint period stage between 8 and 12 weeks of age. Harsh punishment should be avoided; any discipline should be mild. Do not let anyone deliberately scare or hurt the puppy. Even a seemingly insignificant episode can destroy the bond you want to establish and frighten the puppy for months. An experience that produces trembling at this stage might effect your pup for life.

Some people postpone gentle early training because they think that very young puppies can't learn much. That is the farthest from the truth. A very young puppy is a highly responsible creature with an incredible capacity to explore its environment and learn new things each day. This critical period from 8 to 12 weeks of age when a puppy's inclination is to explore is when the puppy acquires the most knowledge. If enrichment experiences and simple training (i.e., socialization, potty training and "NO BITE!"), are denied or limited, the puppy could have a lower emotional IQ as an adult dog. Also, if it is a medical fact that puppies can't be housebroken until they are 14 weeks old, I use that information as my goal period to have the puppy totally reliable by 14 weeks of age.

We will be keeping a few things in mind that work towards your goal of housebreaking your puppy. A secret of successful and rapid housebreaking is to understand that dogs are den dwellers in their natural state. In the wild, dogs hunt for food, mate, socialize with fellow pack members, and relieve themselves OUTSIDE their dens. But they always return to their dens, snug and sheltered nests where they feel comfortable and secure, to sleep. Use this knowledge to house train your puppy.

Below is a simple formula that works. It is based on several things:

  1. Establish regular eating habits.
  2. Confine the pup at night and at specific times of the day to his "den" or Crate or Puppy Area where he won't want to relieve himself.
  3. Follow a strict outdoor walking schedule.
  4. Give plenty of praise!!
  5. Use the right kind of corrective training.
  6. Get rid of odors promptly (Nature's Miracle works great!).


The very last thing you must do before you go to bed is to take your puppy out to relieve himself. Praise lavishly. The very first thing you must do when you get up in the morning is to take out your puppy. (Don't take a shower or make the coffee...puppy comes first!) I have a pair of slippers or shoes next to my bed and in the winter, a coat, ready to throw on. When your alarm goes off, (or his alarm goes off), get out of bed and CARRY your puppy out to the preferred potty spot. Let him sniff around and don't rush him. Sniffing is important for some puppies to stimulate elimination. Notice how he finds a previous potty spot and immediately squats to eliminate. The odor encourages him to go in that area. Stay close by and the moment your puppy relieves himself, praise lavishly and let him think he has accomplished the best ever and tell him how clever he is. Bring him back inside. This is the time he may have a little play period in the kitchen while you prepare breakfast but NEVER let him run loose in the house without supervision at this time.

Give him his breakfast. Pick up his dish after 15 to 20 minutes and give him plenty of fresh water. During the more formal training period, remember, water should be restricted by time, not by quantity, so give him all he wants to drink. Fifteen to 20 minutes later, ask him if he "Wants to Go OUT?" and take him immediately to the same spot. Always return to the same toilet area, because like I stated before, the odors that linger from previous visits will remind your puppy why he is there. Praise him enthusiastically when he does his duty and give him enough time to both urinate and defecate. If nothing happens, however, bring him back inside, confine him for another 15 to 20 minutes and try again. You may have to do this three or four times on the first morning, but once you learn how his own "internal clock" functions, you'll get your timing straight.

When the puppy does relieve himself after breakfast, he can have another supervised free period before being confined until the next meal or outing, when you will repeat the above steps again. The length of supervised free periods depends on the puppy's age. Once your puppy can handle a 30-minute period with no accidents, give him more freedom by increasing his free time to 45 minutes, and so on. Your goal is to increase his free periods gradually until he needs to be confined ONLY while your are away from home and at night. He does not have to spend all his supervised free time in one room because he needs to investigate and to mingle with family members and/or other pets as much as possible. Just don't let him discover your best living room furniture and rugs until he has completely relieved himself. If your puppy regresses, it's back to square 1: start the program from the beginning once more.

A puppy will relieve himself many times during the day, especially if he is very young, and you must be prepared to take him out:

  • Immediately after waking up in the morning
  • After extreme excitement or long play periods
  • The last thing at night before bedtime
  • After every meal and drink of water
  • After he wakes up from a nap

Between these times, stay alert for signs that your puppy is looking to relieve himself, actions such as whining, acting restless, sniffing the floor or going around in circles. When you see him doing these things, try to distract him for a moment, grab him up as you ask "Do you want to go OUT?" and take him out immediately to his potty spot and set him down. You may be going out 8 to 10 times or more the first week or two, but once the puppy settles into his routine, keeping in mind that every week his body is becoming more mature and capable of "holding it", he should not have to go out more than 4 to 6 times a day, depending on his age.

Stick to a strict schedule. The more conscientious YOU ARE YOURSELF, the more successful the training will be. It takes patience to make your young puppy understand what you want him to do, but he will adapt to your time schedule eventually. There will be accidents, of course; that is part of raising a puppy. When your puppy makes a mistake in the house, never abuse him physically and never yell. Correct him humanely. The firm and sharp word "NO-O-O-O" is enough for now. How you say this word can convey your displeasure very effectively.

Always go outside with your new puppy during this training period, even if your yard is fenced in. Your pup wants to be with you, not alone outside at this young age. You want to see when and where he relieves himself, and your enthusiastic praise as he does his duty will encourage him and speed up the process tremendously. Once your pup is completely housebroken, it will not be necessary to accompany him outdoors if your yard is fenced in. If not, always take your dog out on a leash. NEVER LET HIM ROAM FREE!!


If You Work All Day

Your routine will be the same if you work all day, only you will need to adjust your puppy's feeding and walking times, supervised free periods, and confinement periods to conform with your work or school hours. Other members of the household should help. This should definitely be a "family affair". With everyone taking a turn and the older children helping with the potty schedule, you should be able to potty train your puppy to conform to your work hours.

Just before you leave for work, take your puppy out, and then confine him to his "den" or area for the day. If you work long or irregular hours, I recommend that you leave newspapers in the den area if he is less than 10 weeks old. I then leave the area "paperless" to encourage him to "hold it" until I get home. If you have an older responsible child, teach them to take your puppy out as soon as they get home from school. If your child is responsible enough, they could also be taught to feed/water and again take out the puppy to potty.

You can decrease your puppy's confinement and restraint time if you can get home for lunch or arrange with a neighbor to walk him at noon. But, if you must leave your puppy alone all day, come STRAIGHT home after work. You have a new responsibility. Your puppy will grow quickly and this will soon be behind you. No "happy hour" with colleagues during this training period. Greet your pup animatedly and make a big fuss over him no matter what his "den" area looks like. It's normal to find a puddle or mess when you first begin the training or if your puppy is between 7 and 10 weeks old. Just don't acknowledge the messes when you find them. Say "Do you want to go OUT?" and RUSH OUTSIDE. Once you return indoors, pick up any dirty or wet papers or clean the crate if necessary, and resume the feeding, walking, free-period and confinement schedule until bedtime.

Keep you puppy's feeding and walking schedule as consistent as possible to avoid throwing him off schedule. In other words, even keep to the work schedule on weekends. Don't sleep in late on Saturday and Sunday and then take him out more frequently when you are not normally home. Try to confine him during a period of the day on both days so as not to confuse him for the weekdays.

Eventually, you will return home one afternoon to find no mistakes!! (If your child finds no mistakes first, have him or her tell you!!) You can celebrate the beginning of a more normal life. As I mentioned in our discussions, just about the time you a sick and tired of following this routine you will notice that your pup is becoming potty trained. You can pat YOURSELF on the back for your consistent and patient efforts.

Retrievers want to be with their family members or their "pack" members, not isolated from them, so it is important to give your pup plenty of exercise and attention while you are home so he does not become discontented and bored while you are gone. He should be well exercised before and after his confinements. Get up earlier or allot extra time after work or school to cuddle your puppy and give him a little romp. Once he is completely housebroken, take him for long walks or a run in the park. Your puppy will not object to being confined if he's toned up and contented. This time spent playing with and loving your puppy will be repaid by his faithfulness and loving companionship.

A REMINDER: By the time your puppy is around 14 weeks of age (or possibly sooner!), he should be able to go through the night without having to relieve himself. If an older puppy 5-6 months old or older still makes mistakes, either you have not done your job, or, have him examined by a veterinarian.

Acknowledgment: The material in this package has been accumulated from personal experience, other breeder's experiences, and some concepts were taken from the following books; How To Housebreak Your Dog In 7 Days, by Shirlee Kalstone; Veterinary Notes for Dog Breeders, by Annette Carricato, V.M.D., and in How To Raise a Puppy You Can Live With, by Rutherford and Neil. These books are excellent references and could be found at your local bookstores.



3-6 Month Puppy Eating 3 Meals a Day -- OWNER HOME

  • 7 am Wake up. Take pup out.
  • 7:10-7:30 am Free period in kitchen.
  • 7:30 am Food and Water.
  • 8 am Go Out.
  • 8:15 am Free period in kitchen.
  • 8:45 am Go Out - then Confine.
  • 12:00 noon Go Out - then Food and Water.
  • 12:30 PM Go Out.
  • 12:45 PM Free Period in Kitchen or Supervised.
  • 1:15 PM Go Out - then Confine.
  • 5:00 pm Go Out - then Food and Water.
  • 5:30 pm Go Out.
  • 6:15 pm Go Out - then Confine.
  • 8:00 pm Go Out - then give last water for the day.
  • 8:15 pm Go Out.
  • 8:30 pm Free period in kitchen or supervised with family.
  • 9:00 pm Go out - then Confine.
  • 11:00 pm Go out - Confine for overnight.

NOTE: If the above schedule was followed for one week and the puppy was over 12-14 weeks old, your puppy should be completely toilet trained to going outside within that week or so. As your puppy goes for longer and longer periods without an accident, change the above schedule accordingly. If you use a similar schedule as soon as your puppy is 8-10 weeks old, your puppy should be totally house trained by the time he is approximately 4 months old.

3-6 Month Puppy Eating 3 Meals a Day - OWNER WORKS

  • 7 am Wake up. Take pup out.
  • 7:10-7:30 am Free period in kitchen.
  • 7:30 am Food and Water.
  • 8 am Go Out - Confine when owner leaves for day.
  • Leave safe toys and chews to keep puppy entertained.
  • ------at work-----if older kids come home before you -----add this to schedule---------
  • ------try to slip home for lunch as much as possible during this time--------------------
  • 5:00 PM Go Out - then Food and Water - back Out.
  • 5:30 PM Free period in Kitchen or supervised with family.
  • 6:00 PM Go Out.
  • 6:15 PM Confine. (Now try to make and eat your own dinner!)
  • 7:30 PM Go Out - Come back to free period with family.
  • 8:00 PM Small meal or snack and plenty of water (take up water)
  • 8:30 PM Go Out - Free period in kitchen or supervised with family.
  • 9:00 PM Go Out - More free time or confine.
  • 11:00 PM Go out - Confine for overnight.

NOTE: If you have to be to work by 8:00 am, then of course you have to adjust your schedule accordingly and start earlier. This schedule is to give you some sort of an idea of what could work for you. Once you have made up your own schedule, stick to it. The only thing that should change is the frequency of the going OUT and afterwards, FREE PERIODS. The OUTS should become less frequent as your pup grows, the FREE PERIODS should become longer and more frequent as your pup grows and becomes more trustworthy.

Final Last Note -- The Power of Praise

Praise is the most effective way to show your puppy that you are pleased with him. It is a crucial element in any type of canine training, and it should be administered in generous doses. Every time your pup does something right, flatter his ego with plenty of praise! Let him know that what he has just done has pleased you tremendously. Make a huge fuss as you say "GOOOD DOGGG!" or "GOOOOOOOD BOYYYY!" enthusiastically. You don't need to use the same word or phrase always when you praise your puppy; your tone of voice will convey your enthusiasm. Express your pleasure with your touch as well. Stroke and hug your puppy lovingly as a reward. Each time you express your approval, you will be positively reinforcing the behavior you praise. Puppies (and Dogs) love to be the center of attention. They live and breathe for it. They want to hear how wonderful and how smart and how beautiful they are. Just watch how eager your pup is to please you after a few kind words!


By: Patti Conroy


Basic Housetraining Rules

  1. Most puppies are easy to train because they are pack animals with strong instincts to follow and please a leader ---YOU. Learn to understand your puppy's inherited behavioral instincts and work with - not against- them.
  2. Don't expect to completely housebreak a puppy under 14 weeks of age, because he does not have full muscle control. Very young puppies 7-10 weeks can't hold bladder and bowel movements for long periods.
  3. Decide on your schedule and stick to it. Consistency from your entire family will expedite the training and make your puppy a better-adjusted pet.
  4. Feed a premium nutritious diet on a consistent schedule and he will begin to eliminate on a consistent schedule.
  5. Do not give your puppy table scraps between or with meals while you are attempting to house train.
  6. Confine your puppy in a crate, part of the kitchen, or makeshift "den" certain periods of the day and for the night. It is the best way for him and for you to teach him control of his body functions.
    • First thing every morning
    • After every meal and drink of water
    • After every nap
    • After every play period or excitement
    • Right before bedtime
  8. Stay alert for whining, restlessness, sniffing floor or circling -- RUSH OUT !
  9. Use praise lavishly every time he relieves himself. Use only a verbal correction like "NOOOOO" when he makes a mistake. He will know you are displeased with him.
  10. Clean up with NATURE'S MIRACLE or similar product to get rid of odors so your puppy won't find the spot and go there again.


This page was last modified at 14:05:35 on 05/30/2014.