How to housetrain your puppy

December 21, 2021 - 4 min read

This article was written for the United Kingdom market and the advice provided may not be accurate for those in the United States.

pug standing on rug atop wooden floor waiting to go outside sliding glass door with panes

One of the first things you’ll need to teach your puppy is house training, so they know where and when they should go to the toilet.

Dog trainer Sue Mosedale guides us through what to expect as you start this vital part of your puppy’s education.

How Long Does It Take to Housetrain a Puppy?

The answer to this question really depends on your puppy. “Every puppy is an individual, and they all learn at different rates,” says Sue.

Some puppies might be nearly housetrained within five days, while for others it’ll take much longer.

The key is not to expect too much, too soon. On average, most puppies will be housetrained within four to six months.

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How to Housetrain a Puppy

As you’re housetraining a puppy, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place so all family members know what to expect.

You’ll also need to choose a ‘cue word’ that your puppy starts to associate with going to the toilet - something like ‘be clean’ or garden’.

Sue recommends “using this word very quietly to start with, so you don’t put your puppy off. As they get older, they’ll associate that word with what you want them to do.”

Here’s Sue’s puppy toilet training schedule to get you started:

First Thing in the Morning

As soon as the first person in your family gets up, they should take your puppy straight outside. Choose a designated ‘toilet spot’ in the garden and take your puppy here every time.

Don’t leave your puppy alone. Stay with them and use the cue word when your puppy starts going to the toilet. Remember to offer plenty of praise and treats.

After your puppy has had their breakfast, take them outside again and repeat the process.

During the Day

Puppies have small bladders and need to go to the toilet a lot! Take your puppy outside every half an hour, and gradually build up the amount of time in-between toilet visits.

Sue says that “playing can also stimulate the digestive system”, so make sure you take your puppy outside after a play session.

It’s also a good idea to take your puppy outside after every meal.

Housetraining a Puppy at Night

Decide on your puppy's ideal bedtime and feed them at least two hours before this. Also, take your puppy outside just before you go to bed.

Crating your puppy at night can also help give them a safe space of their own and discourage them from going to the toilet indoors.

Sue recommends “placing puppy pads at one end of the crate, in case of accidents. You can also use these pads elsewhere to help establish where you want your puppy to go to the toilet. A lot of dogs won’t want to go to the toilet at all in their crate.”

You will still need to let your puppy out at regular intervals during the night. For the first week or so, you’ll probably need to stay up later and get up earlier, in addition to getting up during the night.

As your puppy gets used to their routine, you can slowly extend the amount of time you leave them overnight.

A puppy asleep in a crate

Look for the Signs

Sue mentions that one of the main issues she comes across is owners not seeing the signs that their puppy needs to go to the toilet. “Study your pup to see what little signs they give before they need to go,” she says.

These signs can include:

  • Starting to fidget

  • Sniffing the floor

  • Circling

If you see any of these signs, pick up your puppy and take them to their designated toilet spot. If your puppy does have an accident, don’t punish them; instead, just clean up and carry on as normal.

A puppy next to a puddle

What's the Best Age to Housetrain a Puppy?

House training should begin as soon as your new puppy arrives home, but Sue mentions it’s also important to “do your homework before you get your puppy.”

Knowing what to expect and having a schedule in place will help keep things as smooth as possible.

If you’re training an older dog, perhaps a rescue, then the house training schedule outlined above will still apply, but the process may take a little longer.

Sue says that “while older dogs can hold their bladders for longer than puppies, they still need to be taught where they can go to the toilet.”

If your rescue dog has only lived outside, then they won’t know where they should or shouldn’t go.

Behavior Problems and Housetraining

If your puppy’s house training isn’t progressing after a couple of months, Sue suggests now would be a good time to seek help from a behaviorist.

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It could even be down to a health issue, but fortunately, this is quite unusual. Vet Tim Kirby says that “we rarely see true urinary tract infections in puppies, mainly due to the fact that they urinate so frequently, which helps keep the bladder empty and promotes good urinary hygiene.”

“If you do notice your puppy dribbling urine almost constantly, this isn’t usually a sign of a urinary tract infection,” he says. “In most cases, this is a symptom of an 'ectopic ureter,' where the normal anatomical position of the ureter is deviated. As a result, the urine doesn’t accumulate in the bladder as it normally should.

“This is more common in female puppies than males, and these puppies often have congenital issues such as a very small bladder as well. Surgical intervention does carry a good prognosis.”

Patience, consistent training, and praise are all key when it comes to successfully training your puppy, but don’t be afraid to seek advice if your puppy’s training isn’t going according to plan.

Emma has written extensively about the environment and health but she has a real passion for pets. She has written articles for The Happy Cat Site, Pet Life Today and Dogsnet, as well as ManyPets.