Our expert advice will help you navigate the housebreaking process in no time.
bernese mountain dog puppy lying on wooden deck
Credit: Getty / Thomas Barwick

Potty training a puppy can feel like a daunting task. As one of the first bonding moments between a dog and its owner, this is a process that's so important to get right. And while it's imperative to train your pet to do its business in certain areas, it's not that simple. Clicker training and specific rewards are effective, but when it comes down to it, one of the greatest practices you'll need to prioritize when housebreaking your canine companion is time management. Still, there's so much more that goes into potty training your puppy. Here, we gathered insights from dog experts to best help you tackle this important form of training like a pro.

Understand the Basics

Whether you're housebreaking a newborn puppy or an older dog, there are a couple of popular options to try. According to Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, staff doctor at New York City's Animal Medical Center, paper training is a good option if you're trying to teach your puppy while inside your home. Simply line an animal pen with newspaper or a similar material of your choosing and place your dog in the space. After you gradually cut back on the amount of paper every few days, newborn puppies in particular who have only experienced paper potty training will take notice, she says. Once the lining runs out and the floor is exposed, the dogs will instinctively understand that the paper is missing and will only go on the surface they were first trained to use.

Another expert tip? Try crate training. "When you can't watch your dog [and take them outside as often], have [them] rest for shorter periods of time in a crate," Andrea Arden, CEO and founder of Andrea Arden Dog Training, shares. But don't forget your dog's comfort. She recommends helping your canine to get accustomed and stay occupied by regularly feeding meals and offering food-stuffed chew toys in the space. After your dog is cozy in the crate, you will better understand your puppy's potty timeline. "By allowing your dog to rest calmly in the crate for short periods of time, you can most easily predict when they need to eliminate [like after a nap] and take them to the right spot [outside]. This use of the crate to help predict elimination should go hand-in-hand with a food, water, and play schedule to also aid in potty prediction," adds Arden.

Consistency Is Key

If crate training is your preference, make sure you stick to a strict routine when taking them in and out of the area. "Keep to a schedule because then the puppy knows that when you are coming to the crate to get them out in the morning, they are going right outside," Dr. Hohenhaus says. "They have an attention span that is really short, so you need to get them out and not let them get distracted by the ball, or the neighbor's dog, or the trashman, or whatever else is going on in the street." Keeping up with this repetition and also taking them to the same spot each time will help them learn their everyday schedule.

When you're taking your puppy outside to use the bathroom, there are also subtle cues you can teach your furry friend in order to avoid having accidents. "Until your dog is potty trained, keep [them] on a light leash so you can hold the leash, step on it, tether it to a stable object nearby, or have it dragging while you play with and train your dog," Arden notes. "In any of these ways your dog is far less likely to have a potty accident because you aren't allowing them to wander about and do so."

Practice Makes Perfect

While it takes time, being patient with your dog will make a big difference. "Realistically, most dogs are not fully house trained until about a year of age. Of course, with proper guidance from us, they will be well on their way prior to this," Arden says. Depending on the consistent walking, playing, and feeding schedule, canines tentatively "can 'hold it' in a crate for a few hours by the time they are three or four months of age."

All in all, your dogs are learning these steps just as much as you are learning their behaviors, so it will all come naturally in time. "[Remember] that there's not going to be perfection from day one," Dr. Hohenhaus shares. You can help limit the chances for accidents, though. "That means, don't let the puppy run around the living room for five hours without taking it out, because that's asking for imperfection. And continue to reinforce the desired behavior with a treat. Ultimately, a puppy doesn't need a treat every time it does [successfully go to the bathroom outside], but in the beginning, it speeds things along very nicely," she adds.


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