Before You Start
Note: This sheet assumes you have a puppy between 2-4 months old. If you have adopted an older pit bull who needs a house training refresher course, or has never been house trained, start off by treating him as you would a 2 month old puppy, and progress at his pace. An older pit bull should “get it” much quicker than a puppy, but only if you are consistent and don’t expect too much too soon.
- Designate a puppy-safe area for when the puppy can’t be watched
- Crate is best IF puppy is properly acclimated to it AND if puppy can “hold it” for the length of time he will be alone.
- If not using a crate, other options are a puppy playpen (x-pen), a baby-gated area of bathroom or kitchen, or other puppy-proof room. Do not leave your puppy with anything you don’t want teeth marks in!
- Designate a “potty spot” outside where the puppy will be taken for potty breaks
- Decide on a “potty phrase” you will teach the puppy means he should go potty now. Common phrases – go potty, do your business, empty (anything you’re not too embarrassed to say in front of the neighbors!)
- Buy enzyme pet cleaner solution to clean up accidents – Petzyme, Nature’s Miracle, Simple Solution are some common brand names. DO NOT use regular household cleaners.
- If it helps, write up a schedule for walks, feeding, and potty breaks (example schedule attached). But be flexible!! Always watch your puppy for signs he may have to go potty.
Potty Warning Signs
Remember: An awake, active puppy under 4 months old probably has to go potty every hour. Puppies 4 months and older may have to go every 2-3 hours. “When in doubt, take them out!” For a sleeping or alone puppy, the rule is: hours he can hold it = age in months + 1 (maximum 8 hours). So a 2 month old puppy will probably only sleep for 3 hours before he has to potty, and a puppy probably can’t hold it for a full 8 hour workday until they are 6+ months old. Obviously these are rules of thumb and every puppy is different, so please adjust your schedule according to your puppy’s individual needs.
Your puppy probably needs to go potty IMMEDIATELY if:
- He has just eaten (make sure to get him outside within 30 minutes!)
- He has just woken up from a nap
- He is being let out of his crate
- People have just come home
- He stops playing suddenly and walks to the other side of the room
- He starts sniffing intently and turning in circles
- He is playing rambunctiously (if your puppy starts acting hyper and “zooming” around the house, make sure he has gone potty recently – he will probably not realize he has to go until it’s too late!)
How to Make a Schedule
Remember: Follow the rules of thumb for how often your puppy will need to go potty depending on his age, and remember to be flexible and always be watching for potty warning signs.
Remember: Make sure there is always someone able and willing to watch the puppy when the puppy is awake and free. If no one can watch the puppy, even if it’s just for 2 minutes while you use the restroom or answer the phone, the puppy needs to be confined in his safe spot. Believe me, the second you turn your back the puppy will either have an accident, or decide something valuable is a chew toy!
- First thing in the morning, let the puppy out and IMMEDIATELY put his leash on and take him to his potty spot. Don’t go for a walk – he will learn very soon that going to that specific place means he should go potty. If you would like to take him for a walk (which I highly recommend!) do so as a reward after he goes potty.
- If he goes potty in his spot, say his potty phrase right as he squats so he starts to associate the phrase with the action. Calmly praise him and give him a little treat if you remember to bring one. After a week or two you can start using the potty phrase to get him to go faster.
- If he does NOT go potty after 2-3 minutes, take him back inside and put him back in his safe spot for 5 minutes. This is not punishment – this is confining a ticking time-bomb until you are certain it won’t go off on your carpet! After 5 minutes, take him back outside and rinse/repeat until you have success. You are giving him the choice between going potty in his bedroom which he doesn’t want to do, or going potty outside – eventually he will go where he’s supposed to without hesitation.
- After he’s gone potty, he earns about an hour of free-time/play-time. Make sure he is supervised! Sometime within that hour, feed him his breakfast.
- Watch him closely after he eats – most puppies will need to go potty anywhere from 5-45 minutes after they eat. About 30 minutes after he eats is a good general rule for a potty break. Again, take him out for 2-3 minutes, and if he doesn’t go either bring him back to his crate or watch him VERY closely and try again in 5-10 minutes, repeating until he goes.
- After he goes potty again, he can earn another hour of free-time, but by then he’s probably ready to nap. If he falls asleep while “free”, make sure to watch closely for the moment he wakes up. If you don’t take him outside immediately, he will most likely wake up, stand up, take a few steps away from where he was napping, and go potty on the rug. Grab him as soon as he stands up and take him outside!
- If you have trouble noticing when he wakes up (some puppies are sneaky!), a good trick is clipping a leash on him while he’s napping, and looping the leash around your wrist while you’re sitting on the couch. When he wakes up you will feel the leash move and can get him outside fast. Another option is to put him in his crate or safe spot for a nap, then just listen for when he wakes up.
- Continue the schedule of sleep – potty – play – potty – eat – potty – play – potty – sleep – potty throughout the day. Again, remember to be flexible – your puppy may want to sleep more than play if he is very young, or vice versa if he’s an older pup.
- It is recommended that you feed puppies under 6 months of age 3 times a day if at all possible. If absolutely necessary, feed no less than twice a day. Consult with your veterinarian on the best feeding schedule for your specific pup. Always give your puppy free access to water!
Remember: EVERY puppy, no matter how much he is watched or how good the trainer, WILL HAVE ACCIDENTS. Be prepared, and don’t stress about it. If you are consistent in training and very good about cleaning it up, they WILL get better over time. Every puppy, unless they have a medical condition, can be house trained. Small dogs, big dogs, hyper dogs, lazy dogs, hounds, terriers, retrievers … every dog can be trained.
- If your puppy has an accident and you “catch him in the act”:
- Startle (don’t scare!) him into stopping by clapping or making a short, sharp noise (“eh!”). You want to startle the puppy into stopping long enough for you to grab him and get him to his spot. The intent is to distract, not terrify, so take into account how noise-sensitive your puppy is and adjust your distraction sound accordingly.
- Take him out to his spot as fast as possible and do the usual 2-3 minutes outside. If he doesn’t go potty, it’s either because he emptied it all on your rug, or because he was a little too startled by being rushed outside. When in doubt, let him chill in his crate for 5 minutes and try again (just once … if he still doesn’t go then he most likely emptied everything on the rug).
- If your puppy has an accident that you find after the fact:
- Clean it up.
- Troubleshoot and figure out why the puppy was unsupervised – who was supposed to be watching the dog? What can you change in the future to make sure the puppy is never unsupervised? Use management tools such as leashes or baby gates to make sure the puppy can’t sneak off into another room if he’s the sneaky type. Use alarm clocks for any family members who tend to lose track of time and not take the puppy out every hour. Use the crate whenever someone needs to leave the room or is too busy to watch the puppy.
- That’s it. You can only correct a behavior while the behavior is happening – correcting after the fact results in confused and scared puppies!
- Yell at your puppy for having an accident. He will most likely take that lesson as “Mommy/Daddy is scary and I shouldn’t ever go potty when they are watching!” which is NOT a good thing when you try to get him to go potty outside!
- “Rub his nose in it”. Same reason as #1, with the added reason of … it’s gross! It teaches the puppy nothing other than “those people are scary”.
- “Spank” a puppy. This can easily cause retaliation and hand-nipping. The last thing you want is a child to get bitten because your puppy is scared of hands coming towards it.
Example Schedule for 8 Week Old Puppy
|7:30am||Wake up, take puppy to his potty spot|
|7:35am||Supervised free time while you eat breakfast|
|8:00am||Exercise puppy with play or a walk|
|8:20am||Feed puppy in his crate while you get ready for work|
|8:40am||Take puppy out to potty|
|8:45am||Put puppy in crate with a chew toy, leave for work|
|12:15pm||Come home for lunch, take puppy out to potty|
|12:20pm||Feed puppy and let him play while you have lunch|
|12:40pm||Take puppy out to potty|
|12:45pm||Put puppy in crate with a chew toy, go back to work|
|2:45pm||Kids come home from school. Hire a neighborhood kid to take the puppy out to potty and go for a walk. Can also hire a professional dog walker. If your puppy is over 3 months old, he can probably hold it from 1-5pm, but I would still recommend having someone walk him mid-day. Puppies under 3 months will not be able to hold it during this stretch.|
|5:15pm||Come home, take the puppy out to potty|
|5:20pm||Exercise puppy with play or a walk|
|5:40pm||Supervised free time|
|6:00pm||Feed puppy in his crate while you make dinner|
|6:20pm||Take puppy out to potty|
|6:25pm||Supervised free time while you eat dinner|
|7:00pm||Take puppy out to potty|
|7:05pm||Exercise puppy with play or a walk|
|7:25pm||Supervised free time til bedtime|
|8:30pm||Take puppy out to potty|
|9:30pm||Take puppy out to potty|
|10:30pm||Take puppy out to potty|
|10:35pm||Put puppy in crate with a chew toy for bedtime.|
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