A step-by-step plan to potty train your puppy quickly
If you recently added a new puppy to your home, you may be wondering how to housebreak or potty train your Labrador puppy. Housebreaking is one of the least desirable tasks when adding a new puppy to your family. It is never fun but consider it a necessary task. You will never regret having a dog that knows your home is not a bathroom.
When to start
Housebreaking should begin the day you bring your puppy home from the breeder. It is important to establish quickly that there is a right and wrong place for your puppy to go potty. If you don’t enforce this right away, you risk confusing the puppy when you try to change the rules later.
How long does it take to house train a lab puppy?
I wish I could give a definitive answer for this, but the truth is that every puppy is different. Most puppies can be completely house broke by the time they are 4-6 months. But assume there will be a lot of ups and downs through the process. Some puppies learn very quickly and rarely have an accident. Others take more time to make the connection.
Here are some things you can do to help the process go smoothly.
Have the right attitude!
While I don’t think anyone loves the process of housebreaking a puppy, it can help if you go into the process with a good attitude. Your puppy will quickly become sensitive to your feelings and if you are constantly angry at your puppy, he/she will sense it. Keep your attitude in check to help this process go quickly and smoothly.
As already stated, potty training can take some time. Don’t expect to have your dog completely house trained in a week, or even a month. It may happen, but it is unlikely. Instead, plan for a long haul and then you will be more patient and understanding when mishaps happen.
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Step 1: Establish a place for your puppy to go potty
To get started housebreaking your puppy, you must first establish a place where it is okay for your puppy to do his business. Find a place outside that is not too far from your home, but an area where you are not worried about killing the grass or trampling plants that are important to you. Consider this carefully, because once your puppy starts going potty in this area it will be exceedingly difficult to move or change the area. Once the scent is there, it is natural for dogs to continue going potty in the same area over and over.
Once you establish a place, take your puppy to this place each time you take him/her outside to go potty. The scent will help your puppy understand why he/she is outside and will encourage him/her in going potty.
Do I have to potty train outside?
In some areas of the country, winters can be very cold. Some new puppy owners wonder if it is too cold for their Labrador puppy to go outside to potty train during these times. The answer is no. Most Labs can easily be outside for a few minutes even during the coldest nights to go potty.
If you don’t want to take your puppy outside during the cold, some people use pee pads inside. A pee pad is a disposable, leak proof pad that is scented to attract your dog and encourage going potty on them. We highly discourage using pee pads because in the long run it is confusing to your dog.
If you spend time teaching your puppy to NOT go potty inside your home and then flip-flop and begin letting them go inside your home on a pee pad, your dog will be confused. Your puppy does not understand the reason you began letting him/her go potty inside. He/she does not know that it is cold outside and that is why it is okay to go inside. Besides, eventually you must retrain them to going outside, so the best policy is to never start letting inside be an option.
Step 2: Establish a routine and schedule for your puppy
Establishing a routine is the single most important step for housebreaking. The more consistent you are, the faster your puppy will learn to go outside for potty.
When your puppy first gets home, he/she will probably only be able to hold his/her bladder for about an hour. This time will increase rapidly over the next few weeks, but that first week is going to take a lot of time and energy on your part to consistently let your puppy out on a schedule.
To make being consistent easier, consider this:
Set a timer
When housebreaking puppies, we find that setting a timer is helpful. It’s way too easy to get distracted and completely forget about letting your puppy out. An hour flies by and you hardly realize it. For the first few days at least, set a timer and let your puppy out hourly, especially if your puppy is not in a crate. We will discuss that more in a bit.
Timing is everything
There are other times when you need to let your puppy outside. Immediately after eating or drinking your puppy should go outside. Eating and drinking will trigger a need to go potty, so to avoid accidents, take your puppy out every time they eat or drink. And if they drink a lot of water, you may have to take them out several times before they are back on schedule.
Same door, same spot
It can be helpful to always let your puppy out the same door and walking him/her to the same spot. Anything you can do to make going potty a routine will help your dog learn and associate that going outside is where I need to go to go potty.
Use a command
I know this sounds crazy but using a command can help your dog form an association between the command and going potty. We use the command OUTSIDE each time we take the puppy outside to go potty. We say OUTSIDE several times as we walk toward the door and open the door and even as we walk to the potty spot.
We also use the command EMPTY when the puppy is going potty. We say EMPTY several times as they are doing their business. At first this is meaningless to the puppy. But over time, your puppy can associate the OUTSIDE and EMPTY commands to going out to go potty.
Step 3: Someone is always on watch
One rule that you should incorporate into your housebreaking routine is that whenever the puppy is out of his/her crate, someone must be watching the puppy constantly. If you cannot watch the puppy very carefully, he/she is going to have accidents that you never see. And you cannot discipline your puppy for a potty accident in the house that you never saw happen. Your puppy will not understand if you correct him/her for an offense that happened minutes or hours ago. Just clean up the mess thoroughly with a good odor erasing product and vow to catch him/her the next time.
The solution for this is never let your puppy go unsupervised. This can be exhausting, that is why we suggest using a crate to help. The less accidents your puppy gets away with, the faster he/she will learn not to go potty in the home.
If you catch your puppy in the middle of an accident, sternly say NO and OUTSIDE. Then pick him/her up and say OUTSIDE a few times as you walk him/her outside. The stern words must be said during the accident or immediately after to have any effect.
Using a crate to house train your puppy
First, while your puppy may not love his crate right away, if properly introduced and used consistently, Labs usually come to love their crates. As den animals, dogs will view their crate as a den where they can go to sleep or get away from the business of the home. Learn more about crate training your Labrador puppy here.
When using a crate to housetrain your puppy, you first want to make sure that you have a very small crate. One that is just a little bigger than your puppy. This is particularly important because you do not want your puppy to be able to move around much in the crate. If they can move around, they can and often will go potty in the crate. So, start with a very small crate and get bigger crates as the puppy grows.
If you don’t want to buy multiple crates, some people have success blocking off a large portion of a larger crate so that the puppy cannot move around as much. Whatever you choose to use to block off the larger area, make sure that it is not something your puppy can chew on or ingest. You will still need to find a way to gradually increase the area that the puppy has access to, so I just find the multiple crate solution easier.
Whenever the puppy is not able to be supervised, he/she should be placed in the crate and the door closed. Always let your puppy go outside to go potty before and after he/she will be in the crate. You should still set a timer and take your puppy out on a regular basis, and you will want to schedule some time each day for the puppy to run around the house and play while supervised.
Step 4: Using praise to speed the house breaking process
You can help your puppy more quickly understand that going potty outside is the right thing to do by giving your puppy well-timed praise. Each time your puppy goes potty outside, say GOOD DOG in an upbeat tone. You can even give your puppy a pat on the head or pet him saying GOOD DOG. But the praise must be well-timed. You should give the praise while your puppy is going potty outside or immediately after. Timing is very important!
Lots of people get upset when the dog goes inside but fail to praise when the dog does the right thing.
Step 5: Study and learn your puppies behaviors
It is important that you study your puppy’s behaviors so that you can learn what his/her actions mean and what he/she is trying to tell you. Not all dogs are the same. Some puppies will whine just before they go potty in the house, or whine at the door when they need to go. Some will hide somewhere you cannot see them and do their business there. Still others may scratch at the door. If you study your puppy’s behavior, you will soon learn the actions you need to watch for that tell you your puppy needs to go potty.
How long can a puppy hold it overnight?
With young puppies, 7-8 weeks old, you will need to get up several times a night to let them out. It can be helpful to limit the amount of water your puppy has access to close to bedtime. We usually aim for every 3 hours and then steadily increase the time as they get older. Often within a week the puppy can hold it for 4 or 5 hours and after another week your puppy might make it 7-8 hours enabling you to get a full night’s sleep. But each puppy is different. Slowly increase the time you leave him/her in their crate at night. If your puppy kept his crate clean for 3 hours, try 3 ½ hours, then 4 hours. Doing this will quickly teach you how long your puppy can hold his/her bladder.
Final thoughts on how to house train your Labrador puppy
Remember that housebreaking is a process. It rarely follows a straight line and more often there will periods of success and occasional mishaps. Stick with it and before long your puppy will understand that going potty in the house is not okay.
Until next time, happy retrieving.