Puppy Love

Part One: House Training

By: Erin Wigginton, CPDT-KA


Who doesn’t love puppies? Tiny, adorable, playful, precious… little angels, right? They’re also known as “poop machines” and “teeth with tails.” In truth, they can be all of those things as they grow and develop. My mom said this about babies and puppies, “God made them so precious when they sleep so that we can forgive them for what they do while they’re awake.” I feel like that’s pretty accurate. I love puppies. They’re fun to play with and teach and train…and then it’s fun to give them back to their owners. Seriously, though, puppies can be a source of such joy and laughter if you can have a sense of humor and maintain some structure. I’m hoping to help provide some ideas for the latter so that the former is a little easier.

The subject of puppies is so huge that it has been the subject of many books, videos, blogs, and articles. Here I’m hoping to offer a few helpful tips on how to survive the worst of what puppies dish out. Here we go…


 Miniature English Bull Terrier pup, 6 weeks old, urinating

The bane of any puppy owner’s existence. Imagine having an infant that doesn’t wear a diaper. You’re up every couple of hours overnight and have to keep a close eye during the day to avoid accidents. Despite your best efforts there will doubtless be clean-ups galore. How can you minimize the mess and speed the house training process? Here are my suggestions. First, don’t expect too much of your puppy. Remember that her body is growing on a daily basis but her bladder is still teeny tiny. At eight weeks old she can only hold her bladder for 2-3 hours during the day. She may be able to sleep most of the night but during the day, with sunlight and household/neighborhood activity she will need more chances to go outside. EVERY time you take puppy outside, take tiny, soft treats with you and deliver a treat as soon as she’s done her business. Yes, I really do mean every single time. During the day and over night. As soon as she potties, give her a treat. Do NOT wait until she gets inside; by then she won’t equate the treat to going potty outside. When you take her outside either keep her on a leash or stay right next to her so you know exactly when she has done her business and you don’t miss an opportunity to convince her that pottying outside is the best thing to do. As your puppy ages she will be able to go longer between potty breaks but if you find that she’s having accidents at regular intervals or at the same time of day make sure you increase her trips outside.

When your puppy is inside she should have very little freedom to roam and should be closely supervised when she’s given more freedom. If a puppy can wander freely around the house there will be more messes to clean up and more bad habits to fix later. You can use a crate, puppy playpen, or leash attached to a piece of furniture or your waist to prevent unsupervised exploration. If you notice your puppy sniffing the floor or turning circles she probably needs to go out immediately. Pick her up (don’t try to coax her or walk her to the door as an accident along the way will be all but guaranteed) and take her outside. Give her a treat when she potties. If you must leave your puppy alone for longer than she can physically hold it you will need to make sure she has room to potty somewhere appropriately and then get away from it. This is best accomplished with a wire pen (ex-pen) attached to or surrounding a crate.

The crate will be where puppy rests and the pen will give her somewhere to potty when needed without having to lay in or next to it. I highly recommend using sod or turf squares in the pen since it will ease the transition to grass outside. If this isn’t possible you can use potty pads or a litterbox. You can get creative with the arrangement and, depending on your puppy’s habits you may want to avoid bedding that can be dragged into the potty area. You can also tie a rope or twine (cotton) through a Kong and other toys and secure it to the crate so the toys don’t end up in a mess.

Kong tied to crate

Lastly, when cleaning up messes it is of utmost importance to use a cleaning product with enzymes in order to remove all odor. This will help to prevent the puppy from establishing a habit of pottying in the same place inside. Some great brands are Nature’s Miracle and Simple Solution. When puppy makes a mistake don’t scold or punish her. This will only serve to convince her not to potty near you (which will prevent her from wanting to potty when on-leash) and/or hide before she potties inside (such as under a bed or behind furniture). Instead, simply clean up the mess and try to prevent any messes in the future by monitoring more closely or not allowing as much freedom. As your puppy gains reliability in house training she can earn more and more freedom in the house. Be sure to only allow your puppy to explore with supervision and watch for any sign that she needs to go outside. She should always be taken outside after waking up from a nap, after play or training, and after eating.

With some patient guidance, appropriate rewards, and strategic containment your puppy will soon learn where you want her to potty and where she should keep clean. You will learn how to tell when your puppy needs to go outside or you can teach her to let you know by ringing a bell. Just keep in mind your puppy is just a baby and needs to learn the skills to live in your home with your family. Hang in there and you’ll reap the rewards of a well-trained pup for many years to come!

Stay Tuned for Part Two of Puppy Love, Chewing


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