Learning how to housebreak a dog is something that every puppy owner needs to do as dogs don’t naturally know where they’re supposed to go to the bathroom. Nobody wants to deal with a stinky surprise that they need to clean up as soon as they come home from work. Housebreaking a dog takes time and using the right strategy can make a big difference in how long it takes.

When should you start housebreaking your puppy?

Housebreaking should start when dogs are between 12 weeks and 16 weeks of age as that’s when they have enough control over their bladders and bowel movements so that they can learn how to hold it in. As a general rule, puppies are able to hold their bladders for one hour for every month of age, plus one more. This means that the maximum time between potty breaks according to a puppy’s age are:

  • 2 months old: 3 hours
  • 3 months old: 4 hours
  • 4 months old: 5 hours
  • 5 months old: 6 hours
  • 6+ months old: up to 8 hours

But don’t take these times for granted as it can vary from dog to dog and on the specific circumstances. For example, dogs are more likely to need a potty break within 15 minutes of eating, drinking, playing, exercising, or waking up. Don’t expect a puppy to hold for hours after any of these activities. With this being said, if you see that your dog is having difficulty holding its bladder for a reasonable amount of time for its age, it’s best to check with a vet as this could be a sign of a medical problem.


6 steps to successfully housebreak a dog

Learning how to housebreak a dog is fairly simple. The hard part is being consistent. Here are the steps dog owners need to follow to start housebreaking their puppies:

  1. Establish a feeding schedule: If dogs eat on a schedule, they’ll also feel the need to evacuate on a schedule. As mentioned before, dogs are more likely to need to go to the bathroom within 15 minutes of eating and drinking. Feeding them at the same time every day will make it more likely that they’ll need to evacuate at the same time every day as well.
  2. Build a potty break routine: Dogs thrive on routines and this is especially true when it’s time to housebreak a dog. Taking dogs out first thing in the morning, after meals, and before leaving them alone to sleep at night is a great way to establish a potty break routine that dogs can rely on.
  3. Choose a Cue: It’s possible to train dogs to associate their potty break with a cue. To do this, dog owners simply need to use a specific word or phrase while their dog is evacuating. This will remind dogs what they’re expected to do and will make it easier for them to understand where it is that they should go.
  4. Pick a spot and stick to it: Using the same spot every time will help dogs evacuate faster as the scent can urge them to go. You can purchase disposable dog pee pads or even bark-based pads from most pet stores and supermarkets to mark the designated space in your home. Many of them contain charcoal or other odor neutralizers so if you are housebreaking your pet indoors, the odor won’t become an issue.
  5. Praise abundantly: In order for dogs to understand that they used the right spot, they need to be immediately rewarded with praise or treats. Dog owners shouldn’t wait until they get back home, the reward should be given on the spot, right after the dogs finish.
  6. Taking away the water bowl at night: To prevent ruining all the work and any accidents during the night, dog owners should take away their puppy’s water bowl about two hours and a half before bedtime.

How to deal with accidents

As great as dog owners are at following the steps listed above, they’re bound to have to deal with one or more accidents, especially at the beginning of this training. A big part of housebreaking is also what dog owners do when things don’t go exactly as planned. Here are some things guidelines on what to do (and what not to do) when faced with one of these accidents:

  • Saying “no” and taking them outside: When catching dogs in the act, dog owners should say “no” or clap loudly to let the dogs know that they’re doing something they shouldn’t. Then they should be taken immediately to a place where they can finish and, as soon as they finish in the right spot, they need to be praised.
  • Never scold a dog: Scolding dogs only teaches them to fear the idea of evacuating when there are people around but won’t solve the problem of them doing it indoors. If dog owners bump into an indoor accident, there’s no use in being angry and yelling or rubbing their dog’s nose in it.
  • Accidents should be cleaned immediately: To minimize odors that can attract dogs to come back to the same spot, accidents should be cleaned straight away with an enzymatic cleanser which are easy to find online.


Making sense of it all

When dogs aren’t fully housebroken they need constant supervision. However, you’re bound to have a few accidents around the house so it’s important that you’re mindful of how you react when the time comes and how will that reaction affect your dog’s behavior. Training a dog is all about using positive reinforcement and being consistent. Housebreaking is all about teaching a dog to associate something positive like getting a treat with going potty outdoors. The more consistent you are in sending this message, the faster will your dog learn.