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  • Writer's pictureCaryl Wolff

Housebreaking Puppies

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

puppy dog urinating
I gotta go now when I gotta go...

Housebreaking Puppies aka The Stages of Housebrokenness

I am very grateful to Barbara McClatchey who let me use her article in my award-winning book Puppy Potty Training. Check it out on Amazon!

1) Neonatal stage (~birth to 2 weeks). Puppy urinates and defecates only when stimulated by mother, who cleans it up.

2) Toddler stage (~2 weeks to 5 weeks). Puppy begins to “go” on his own, and when allowed, tries to do so away from the “nest.” [Instinct for cleanliness?]

3) “Pre-school” stage (~5 to 9 weeks). Puppy begins to want to “go” in a particular place, frequently a place having the right “smell,” but sight picture often enters in. Most puppies leave “home” at this point and lose that favorite place, which can result in confusion.


Sometime during the “pre-school” stage, the puppy is ready to begin the journey into housebrokenness. Some puppies/dogs do not get the opportunity to progress, and may be stuck in the toddler stage even, due to lack of opportunity or because of inadequate response by the owner. From now on, the stages in housebrokenness are the same, whether for a puppy or for an adult dog, and knowing the stage the dog has reached can suggest the best approach to learning. Progression will vary depending on breed, individual dog, owner attention, etc.

4) Dog does his business away from his own bed and feeding area.

5) Dog has a preferred spot for doing his business. (Never mind that it is the middle of the dining room carpet, it’s a preferred spot!)

6) Dog understands that the “preferred spot” is outside on the grass, and when he *needs* to go and is *taken* there, he will do it there.

7) Dog understands the preferred spot and will let the owner know when he needs to go out.

8) Dog learns to “hold it” until taken out by owner.

9) Dog learns to do it on command, whether or not he greatly needs to go.

10) Dog will not release it unless in the right place or under command.

Some time between 6 and 9, the dog learns to “do it” in approved locations away from his “preferred spot.”

I am not talking here about HOW to accomplish all of this, just the recognition that housebreaking is not an either/or proposition.

***Submissive or excitement urination has little or nothing to do with housebreaking, and must be addressed separately.

Copyright 2008 by Barbara McClatchey Permission to distribute is given, but copyright must remain attached.

Please read my other articles on puppy socialization and training.

Thanks for visiting Housebreaking Puppies. I make a small commission on any products or books I recommend.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only. It does not replace a consultation with a dog trainer, dog behavior consultant, or veterinarian and may not be used to diagnose or treat any conditions in your dog.

If you need help with puppy or dog training, we do both private in-person and virtual lessons via Zoom. Please contact us by calling or texting (310) 804-2392 or sending an email to . We look forward to working with you.


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