When housebreaking a dog or puppy, be sure to keep your dog on a reasonable feeding and potty schedule. Your puppy needs plenty of chances to go potty in the right place; taking him out twice a day won’t do it. In the long run, his schedule will be based on your schedule: You’ll take him out at times that are convenient to your work hours or your daily plans. However, in the early stages of housebreaking – especially if your dog’s still a puppy with limited bladder and bowel control – the schedule must be based on his needs and the length of time he can reasonably be expected to wait between potty trips.

Puppies should always be taken for a potty trip immediately after waking up in the morning, after naps, after eating or chewing, and after active play. You can get a general idea of how often your puppy should have a potty trip using the chart below, but keep in mind that if he’s having accidents on that schedule, you’ll need to take him out more frequently.

  6-12 weeks 12-16 weeks 4-5 months 6-7 months 8-11 months 12 months and older
daytime 1 hour 2 hours 3 hours 4 hours 5-6 hours 8 hours
nighttime* 3-4 hours 4-8 hours 8 hours 8 hours 8 hours 8-10 hours

*nighttime hours assume that the puppy or dog was not fed or watered less than 3 hours before bed

A bit of good news… you don’t have to take your dog out with the same frequency overnight as you do during the day. Since he’s not active and not taking in food or water overnight he’ll be able to hold it for a longer period of time and you can get some sleep! With very young puppies, you will need to do potty trips in the middle of the night, as detailed in "Surviving the Night with your New Puppy." For more in-depth information about overnight scheduling for your pup, click here to buy my Puppy Sleep Training book.

Your dog should be on a regular feeding schedule. Typically, puppies under 4 months of age have meals three times a day; those over 4 months of age eat twice daily. While housebreaking your dog, it’s usually best to put the food bowl down for only 10 minutes at each meal. This prevents your dog from nibbling at his food all day, which can make his digestive system less predictable and slow the housebreaking process.

Sending your dog to bed with a full belly and bladder is a recipe for disaster, so his last access to food and water should be about 3 hours before bedtime (unless you want to take him out for a potty trip in the middle of the night!). Of course, you should check with your vet before setting up your dog’s food and water schedule to be sure your dog doesn’t have any special needs that require a specific schedule.

Your puppy’s feeding schedule can also be adjusted based on your daily plans. If you normally feed him at 8am and there’s a day that you’ll have to leave him alone from 9am to 1pm, you can prevent accidents while you’re away by giving your dog his food and water earlier than usual so he can empty out before you leave the house. You may also find it helpful to feed him a smaller meal than usual in the morning, then compensate by adding a little extra food to his evening meal.

Many people find keeping a written daily schedule very helpful when housebreaking your dog. A written schedule is especially useful when there’s more than one person helping with the housebreaking program, since it helps to keep everyone informed about whether your puppy’s been fed or taken for a potty trip. For more about written potty schedules and to see sample schedules, read our "Keeping a Written Potty Schedule" article.

When housebreaking your puppy, the right kind of schedule makes all the difference. It allows both you and your dog to know what to expect and makes his pees and poos easier to track and predict, which is half the battle!

Go to Commandment #7.