House Training a Puppy – Practical Tips that will Prevent Mess

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House training a puppy.

It’s a simple enough concept. And yet puppy pee and poo problems persist (how’s that for alliteration?!)

In fact, it causes so much stress that some owners give up on their puppies altogether! Many poor puppies, through no fault of their own, are returned to breeders or handed over to rescue shelters.

Don’t be one of those owners.

Let’s begin this guide on how to house train your puppy by establishing the terminology that we’ll be using.

What’s in a name? There are so many different terms for liquid and solid waste that I could probably fill a page if I listed them all out!

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to stick with pee for liquid waste and poo for solid waste. Hopefully, that strikes a happy balance between the formal/medical terminology and the sort of terminology that some may find offensive.

If you are reading this article in advance of collecting your puppy you might also be interested in the Collecting a New Puppy, Puppy Socialisation Plan, and Canine Coat Colour posts.

If you are reading this post in the hopes of finding information about marking in dogs then please take a look at the Audible Marking in Dogs post which covers that as part of its analysis of the main topic.

Alright, let’s move on with some tips for house training a puppy.

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1 Establishing the Battleground

Puppy containment - establish the battleground

Would you like to sleep in a bed that you had taken a pee or a poo on?

No? Well, neither do dogs.

And this shared like of not sleeping on soiled bedding provides us with a valuable tool in our puppy house training endeavours.

While you are training your puppy you should not allow him complete freedom of the house and garden. Rather, you want to restrict him to one room while he is awake and have him use a crate while he is sleeping.

This room should be the one where you spend most of your time. The reason being that you are going to need to pay attention to your puppy.

The crate should be big enough to be comfortable for your puppy to spend time in but not so big that he might think ‘Hey, I can pee or poo down that end and quite happily sleep at the other end well away from it.’.

Having a Goldilocks-size crate will discourage your puppy from using it as a toilet. He will see it as his sleeping area and will be reluctant to make a mess in it.

Our dog, Harvey, loves his crate. It’s a wire-frame type and we’ve been very pleased with it – sturdy build yet easily folds up to be moved or put away.

Remember, dogs like to have a den area where they feel secure while sleeping or resting. They see a crate as being a den. Therefore they will avoid using it as a toilet if at all possible.

2 Have a Plan

House training a puppy - have a plan

Make no mistake, house training a puppy can be tough. It will be a test of your character as much as that of the puppy.

So, if, at the end of your puppy house training, you want to be able to have a ‘Hannibal’ moment (remember ‘The A-Team’?) and say ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ …

You need a plan!

Remember when I said that you need to pay attention to your puppy?

Well, I don’t mean the odd glance in his direction when you reach the ad break while watching your favourite TV programme! You need to watch the little guy like a hawk!

Not sure what you are looking for? These are common indicators:

  • Whining
  • Sniffing
  • Circling
  • Barking
  • Scratching
  • Sitting near the door used to go outside
The second that your puppy looks like he might be about to pee or poo you need to get out of your seat and pick him up faster than Usain Bolt rushing to the loo with a bad case of diarrhoea!!

Quickly take him outside, to a spot that you have chosen to be the pee and poo location, and gently place him in that spot.

Think carefully about the location of your spot because you’ll be visiting it a lot!

If it’s pitch black in the middle of the night, and the rain is so heavy that you are contemplating building an ark, you’ll be glad of a spot close to your house exit.

Keep him on his lead so that you can stop him from wandering off and getting distracted (which puppies are prone to do).

If he hasn’t been after 10 minutes or so then bring him back inside. You will, of course, have to remain vigilant as your puppy’s desire may soon return.

In addition to taking him out when you spot any signals you should also take your puppy out:

  • When he wakes up
  • Shortly after he has had a meal or a drink
  • After he has played for a while
  • After training sessions
  • On leaving his crate
  • Every 30 minutes or so throughout the day
  • Just before bed

It’s very important that you stick with this, admittedly fairly regimented, approach. We are trying to establish a pattern of behaviour.

As far as your puppy is concerned:
– Outside, in ‘the spot’, means its OK to pee and poo.
– Inside is for sleeping, playing, eating and anything but having a pee or a poo.

House training a puppy - no mess in the house

Another part of the plan is to have regular feeding times (and not leave uneaten food in the bowl for puppy snacks later – pick it up). If the input is always at the same time then you should begin to notice a pattern in the output!

So, too, is the night-time routine.

Some puppies will happily sleep straight through on their first night home (as did our Labrador, Harvey).

Others will need one or two pee trips during the night. When you take your puppy out to pee at night it should be a ‘business only’ encounter. No playing, no eating, no drinking – just pee and then back to bed.

As you and your puppy start to make progress (and you will) you can start to consider gradually extending the time between trips outside. If there is an accident then reduce the time back down and try again at a later point.

Once you feel that sufficient progress has been made you can also begin to look at extending the battleground to include other rooms in the house – but remain vigilant.

3 Positive Reinforcement

House training a puppy - positive image

What is it?

I tend to explain it like this:

Say that I wanted you to pick up a tennis ball off the ground and hand it to me. How would I go about doing this?

I could offer you a valuable reward, like a £10 note

Or I could threaten to beat you, or actually beat you, until you did it.

For many years ‘traditional’ dog trainers have used the latter approach. Unfortunately, many still do.

However, many trainers are now using the former approach. I’ve greatly over-simplified it but this is the essence of Positive Dog Training (+R).

And if you are solely interested in which method is most effective for getting results then that is the +R approach.

Want proof?

You need only look at organisations that make great use of dogs and train them to the highest standards. Organisations like the police, the military, and guide dogs for the blind.

If you’d like to read more about the increased effectiveness of +R for these organisations have a look at this article on guide dogs and this one on police dogs.

The guide dogs organisation made the change for the well being of the dogs and hoped that the training results would be as good as the previous methods.

What they found was that their success rate rocketed from 45-50% to 60-85%. They also found that the dogs were more enthusiastic and better at problem-solving.

So, how do we use +R to help us with house training a puppy?

We need to convince our puppy that having a pee or a poo outside in the chosen spot is the highlight of his day. How do we do this?

We need to reward him. And not in a miserly “Happy Christmas, here have a piece of coal” way! It needs to be something that your puppy will really, really appreciate. Something that will make him want to work to get it again and again.

At the moment you know that you need to pay him but you don’t know what currency he wants to be paid in.

As your dog gets older and you get to know him better you will discover what really motivates him – what his currency is. For now, you’ll need to pay him with what typically works for most dogs and see which he appears to like most.

You basically have three types of currency:

  • Food
  • Toy
  • Praise

Now, remember the objective here. We want our puppy to find the reward so appealing that he will resist having a pee or poo indoors and will do his best to do it outside.

So, if you use food don’t use some plain vanilla kibble. Use some warm chicken pieces (I realise it isn’t going to stay warm for long but at least start off with warm chicken!). Or whatever else your dog really, really values as a treat.

The same goes for a toy. You use his favourite toy. For many dogs, this is likely to be a tennis ball but experiment and find what works for your dog.

Dogs love to play and organisations like the police have had great success using play sessions with a tennis ball as the reward in their +R.

Likewise with the praise. You aren’t easily embarrassed, are you? Good! Because you need to be completely over-the-top with your enthusiasm. Be happy and excited – pretend your puppy has just presented you with the winning lottery ticket.

Do not jump the gun. Hide that treat or toy, and hold in that celebration, until after your puppy has performed. No pee or poo = no reward.

Be consistent!

Each and every time that your puppy pees or poos outside you throw a party for him.

You’ll also want to pick and use, a cue word or phrase. Use this while your puppy is doing a pee or poo and it will become part of the association process.

Eventually, you will be able to simply use the cue and send your dog outside to perform without your attendance being necessary. Hooray!!

The cue word or phrase itself can be whatever you want it to be – ‘do your business’, ‘go potty’, ’Rosebud’, whatever works for you.

4 Cleaning Up

Puppy house training tips - cleaning up

When you are house training a puppy it is inevitable that there will be indoor accidents. So, how should you deal with these?

If your puppy should have an accident indoors it is absolutely essential that you clean it up thoroughly.

Of course, you’ll want to be rid of the mess for your own reasons but it is vital in terms of your house training regime too.

The reason is that dogs have an incredible sense of smell. It may look and smell to you as if you have removed all trace of the offending present from your puppy but that may not be the case for him.

And because dogs like to use the same spot to relieve themselves (which is why we have chosen a spot outside for this purpose) if they can still smell it they may choose to use that same spot again the next time they need to go.

So, what should you do to clean up your puppy’s mess?

Poo is fairly easy to clear away but pee takes a bit more work in a carpeted area. First of all, clear away as much of the mess as you can using paper towels to blot up the pee. Put some bodyweight behind your efforts to get the deeply soaked pee.

Then apply a cleaning solution. This is the part that eliminates the odour and reduces the likelihood of a repeat offence in the same spot.

We used Simple Solution from Amazon. You will find plenty of highly-rated options available. Just ensure that you get one specifically designed for pet mess.

If you prefer home-made methods, some people swear by one of the following:

  • Lightly sprinkle baking soda on the damp area. Let it do its thing overnight and then vacuum it up in the morning.
  • Create your own solution for use in a spray bottle. Use one cup of distilled white vinegar, one cup of water, and two teaspoons of baking soda. Give it a shake to mix the ingredients then spray on the offending area. Leave it for a few minutes and then blot it up as you did for the pee.

5 When Things Go Wrong

House training a puppy - wrong way sign

As Elvis Costello told us in one of his songs ” Accidents will happen”

House training a puppy is, to use a popular metaphor, a marathon rather than a sprint.

So, the first thing you need to do is to have appropriate expectations.

Your puppy will not magically have been fully house trained for you when you collect him!

So, just accept that your puppy is not house trained when you first get him. It is your job to teach him.

If your puppy has an accident indoors you MUST NOT shout at him, kick him, hit him with a rolled-up newspaper, rub his nose in the mess or punish him in any way whatsoever.


1. Would you do any of those things to a baby for peeing in it’s nappy rather than using a toilet?

2. You’ll scare your puppy, lose whatever trust he has in you, and make it more likely, not less, that he will repeat the undesirable behaviour. And a scared puppy will hide next time he pees or poos – which makes it tougher for you to watch him and tougher to make progress with your house training.

3. Frankly, it makes you a dick!

If you want to play the blame game then look closer to home – you are the one tasked with watching him like a hawk. Remember?! So, it’s your failing, not your puppy’s.

If you see your puppy a fraction too late – that is, he is already in the act of peeing or pooing – quickly get his attention, for example by clapping your hands, and pick him up and take him outside to the spot.

Contrary to what you might think, when he has finished off his business outside you should reward him. The reward is linked to what he was doing immediately before he got it – which was peeing in the chosen spot.

6 Frequently Asked Questions

How long will it take to house train a puppy?

This varies greatly between individual dogs, even those from the same litter. It generally takes until they are between 4 and 6 months old (but some can take until they are a year old).

What is the best method for puppy house training?

Positive Reinforcement Training has been proven to be considerably more effective than ‘traditional’, punishment-based training. Watch your puppy for signs that it needs to go, quickly take it outside, heavily reward it once the task is complete. This forms a positive association in the puppy’s mind and makes it want to do its business outside again.

What are the signs that a puppy needs to pee or poo?

You need to watch your puppy like a hawk in the early stages of house training. Signs to look out for include:
– Whining
– Sniffing
– Circling
– Barking
– Scratching
– Sitting near the door used to go outside

7 Acknowledgements

Image acknowledgements:

Featured image provided courtesy of Ulrike Leone


Content images provided courtesy of 41330WokandapixOpenClipart-VectorsGerd AltmannJulio Cesar VelasquezGabe Raggio

8 The End

Richie's Room - Harv leaving
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66 thoughts on “House Training a Puppy – Practical Tips that will Prevent Mess”

  1. Wonderful post! We have a 6 month Great Pyrenees, and we had to use many of the same methods on him when he was smaller! Now that he’s over 60 pounds though, he’s pretty much got it down pat. Great tips for puppy owners!

    • Hi Arianne. Thank you, I’m glad that you liked it. You certainly don’t want a Great Pyrenees toileting in the house!

  2. Like the flow. Short paragraphs that are easy to manage.

    Puppy poo and piss ain’t fun. Glad I am past that.

    The walk. The no pee. The come home. The look. The pee in the house.

    • Hi Dylan. Glad that you liked the format. And you’re right, puppy mess, whether solid or liquid, is no fun at all.

  3. This post is so well written and full of valuable information. I am thinking of getting a dog and training it will be the first things I need to do, following your instructions will be so much easier. Thank you for sharing

    • Hi Darina. Thanks for your positive feedback – much appreciated. Good luck with your new dog 🙂

  4. Great post. The useful tips about how to clean up wee stains is great. I have a troublesome cat who likes to leave wee patches and baking soda is brilliant at cleaning it up.

    • Thank you, Alison – glad you enjoyed it. Yeah, baking soda seems to have a great many uses beyong baking!

  5. Great tips. We just got a puppy two months ago. I’m glad to see we did so many things right since I have never had a puppy before. The lifesaver for us has been installing an underground fence so I can let him out frequently without having to stop everything I am doing.

  6. Absolutely spot on advice. I have a 3 year old border collie and we went through almost of everything you’ve mentioned. It’s so important to stay on plan. When you get through the early puppy stage, it’s so nice to be on the “other side”. Thanks for sharing,

  7. I’m really nearly there with house training my little pup (he’s 15 weeks!) we’re just getting the occasional accident now- usually when he’s got overexcited. Some really useful tips here and great to reinforce that I’m (largely) doing the right thing!

    • Hi Katie. Well done. If your pup is house trained at 15 weeks then you’ve done very well. Glad you enjoyed the tips.

    • Hey Kelly. Thank you, much appreciated. Yeah, some seem to pick it up quicker than others – but much of that is down to the owners. So, you must have been ‘doing it right’!

  8. Such great tips, I wish I had this info for when I had my puppy (she’s 2 now). Crate training is a must and it helps them feel safe. My dog still goes in her crate to sleep even though she has the run of the house now, she still prefers it.

    • Thank you, Mrs D. Yes, our boy still loves his crate and often takes himself off there to have a nap 🙂

  9. These are great tips! A friend recently adopted a puppy and has difficulties in house training. I’ll definitely share these tips to her!

    • Thanks, Mrs P&P, for your comment. I’m sure the tips would apply to other species too … 🙂

    • Hi Rachel. I’m glad that you found it helpful. Good luck with the puppy. Let me know if you have any questions.

  10. Thank for this post Richie. As always, when it comes to anything dog related I always look forward to reading your post. These are great tips and for anyone looking to train a puppy. I had puppies before but never took the time to train them. I’m actually thinking of getting a puppy for my bday birthday this month, so these tips will be handy for me. Thanks so much.

    • Hey Rebekah. I’m really glad to hear that you look forward to reading my posts – that’s made my day 🙂

      And good luck with the birthday puppy! You know what to do if you have any questions …

  11. Having realistic expectations is SO important! This is something that will take time, effort and patience. If you’re not ready to put those things into house training your puppy, you may be better off adopting an older dog. I don’t say that as a bad thing! We didn’t have the time in our schedule to commit to house training when we adopted our boy Indiana. He was 1 1/2 years old, young enough that we still have most of his life with him but old enough that we were able to skip that phase.

    • Hi Britt. I completely agree. You have to go into puppy ownership with your eyes open! And adoption is always a good option.

  12. Hello Richie,

    I must say, I did really enjoy reading this post. Even though I do not have a dog, I feel that I do have one while reading this post. And I feel so happy and warm when thinking of my imaginary dog 🙂

    You have given great and useful tips on how to train dogs. Harvey is so lucky to be in your family.

    Having a dog is a challenge, but it is a privilege to have them in our lives. To train a dog seems to be a hard work, but that is the same with all kinds of relationship. We have to work for it.

    Looking forward to your next post.


    • Hello Ray. What a lovely comment, thank you. You and your imaginary dog are welcome here anytime 🙂

    • Hi Jaya. Yes, I’m very much in favour of positive dog training methods. Thanks for your comment.

  13. Great post. I often hear people say some dogs are aggressive etc I have a Staffordshire bull and people say they are aggressive dogs but it is all to do with how you bring them up from a puppy.

    A friend of mine has a dog that uses his house as a toilet constantly and I always tell him you never trained him right that’s why he is going to the toilet in your house.

    As your post shows if you train a puppy the right way they will act responsibly and be well trained.

    • Hey Watto, thanks for your comment. I love Staffies – they are fantastic dogs, they just get a bad reputation because of some of their owners.

  14. Loved reading this post! Although I don’t have a dog (maybe one day…), you’ve given some great tips! Thanks so much for sharing – it’ll definitely help a lot of people!

  15. Ok, I laughed out loud at Battleground and the little green army men. In fact, I laughed out loud several times while reading this post. That does not change the fact that you give really, really good information about this poopy subject. I’ve trained a pup or two in my time, some with greater success than others. (My brilliant Ozzie didn’t even need a crate, but he is a Very. Perfect. Boy.) Limiting space and planning to devote a lot of attention in the early weeks are both key to training. Thanks for another excellent article!

    • Hi Lori. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post. There are lots of good sources of information out there but some of them can be quite … dry. I try to add a little bit of humour to my posts where I can – I figure that if I can provide useful information in an entertaining manner then people will find it easier to read.

  16. I don’t have a dog but much of what you say is pertinent to getting a new kitten as well. Certainly in terms of positive reinforcement, cleaning up and having a plan. From memory, kittens don’t take as long to become litter or house trained (luckily) but as we’re hoping to get a new kitten soon, this post was well timed, thank you! Lisa

    • Hey Lisa. Thanks for your comment. I imagine that you are right, there would be similarities between puppies and kittens. We’ve had cats and they certainly seem to learn this aspect more quickly – perhaps the use of a litter tray makes it easier …

  17. These will come in very handy when I finally get to have a dog to train (hopefully by the end of the year!) Thank you Richie x

    • Hi Simona. Thanks for your comment. I hope that you have great fun when your 4-legged friend arrives. Give me a shout if you have any problems.

  18. Another post filled with such indepth and valuable information that I’m bookmarking! You were right, it does make we want a dog more haha. I know a bit about dogs but this is so handy for house training and such I didn’t realise, positive reinforcement is a great way to do it.

    • Hi Jordanne. Thank you very much – I’m glad that the post was useful enough to be bookmarked for later use. Positive reinforcement is the way to go for all of your training needs. All you need now is your dog … 🙂


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