Housebreaking: It's Not as Hard as It Seems

Ah, yes. You've bought a new puppy. Your little bundle of joy delights you every waking moment except one: when he does you-know-what on the floor of the living room. The solution to you-know-what is called housebreaking.

Housebreaking isn't difficult. But to be fair, it's not a slam dunk, either. Some dogs—not many, but some—are trained in just a few weeks.

Most require several months or more, and some may take longer than a year. But the training never changes: it's straightforward, consistent and lasts as long as is necessary to get the job done.

There are many ways to housebreak a dog; here's how I do it.

First, invest in a puppy-sized dog crate. A crate that's too large will allow your puppy to move too far away from the mess he's making, which defeats the purpose. (He should have enough room to move a little ways away from his mess, however.)

Wire crates often come with dividers that allow you to customize the interior of the crate to fit, giving you two crates for the price of one.

Next, set aside a specific part of your yard as the place where your puppy can "go." A wire enclosure, which can be purchased at any pet supply store, is tremendously helpful, but they're pricey and not absolutely necessary.

Finally—and this is the tough part—set aside some time for you. For the next week or 10 days, you won't be getting much sleep.

Here's how it works: Put your puppy in his crate in your bedroom. When your puppy whines or begins fussing in the middle of the night, take him outside and let him do his business in the wire enclosure you've erected.

Most puppies stop crying after a week or two, and then you can place their crate in another room and catch up on the sleep you've lost. By 12 weeks, most puppies are able to control their bladders and bowels, at least for a little while.

But you'll still need to keep an eye on them, and the moment they start whining or pawing at the door, take them outside to their spot. If they make a mistake, don't rub their nose in it, but do try to be a little more vigilant about catching them before they have an accident.

It may take six months or longer before your dog is reliably housebroken, so keep at it. But have faith. Sooner or later, you'll get there.

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