Since you can’t supervise him 24 hours a day, you’ll need to have a place for your dog to relax and hang out when you’re not around to prevent him from having accidents. He’ll need a confinement area that’s small enough that he’ll find it distasteful to go potty there. Most dogs avoid going potty in their own living areas, which in the end is what causes them to become housebroken. In the beginning, though, it can be hard for your puppy to recognize the whole house as a living area he wants to keep clean, so we have to start him out with a small area he’ll think of as his home turf.

The amount of space varies, depending on the dog, and you may be surprised by how small an area is appropriate in the early stages of housebreaking. If your dog is new to your home or totally unhousebroken, you’ll most likely use a crate (the type of kennel used for airline transport) as his confinement area. The correct size for an unhousebroken dog gives him just enough room to stand up, turn around and lie down. If the crate is too large, your puppy may use half of it as a bedroom and the other half as a bathroom, so it’s important to have the correct size to prevent him from soiling his crate.

If your dog’s older or further along in his housebreaking program, his confinement area can be any space you’re sure he won’t have accidents in. This might be an exercise pen, a gated laundry room, a kitchen or bathroom, or another room in your house you know he’ll stay in without any mistakes. Just remember that if your dog has even occasional accidents in the area, it isn’t appropriate for his unsupervised time in the house and you should choose a smaller area. As your dog earns your trust by not having accidents in his confinement area, gradually increase the amount of space you give him by adding on a little more space or a room at a time.

Keeping your dog in his confinement area teaches him to "hold it" for extended periods of time. The amount of time he can reasonably spend in confinement depends on his age and how familiar he is with being left alone. For very young dogs or dogs who aren’t yet used to being alone, it’s a good idea to start off with very brief confinement sessions and gradually increase the time until you’re at the appropriate length of time for your dog’s age (shown on the chart below).

  6-12 weeks 12-16 weeks 4-5 months 6-7 months 8-11 months 12 months and older
daytime 1-3 hours 3-5 hours 5-8 hours 6-8 hours 6-8 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

When your dog is unsupervised, he can also be kept outdoors if weather permits and you have a safe area where he can be left alone (such as an enclosed yard, outdoor dog run or balcony). He’ll go potty while in his outdoor area, so be sure it’s a spot you don’t mind him using as a toilet!

When he’s alone or unsupervised, you want to be sure you’re not letting your dog get into any bad habits, so be sure he’s confined or outside at all times when he’s not under your direct supervision.

Go to Commandment #10.

Purchase Supplies Related to This Article

Midwest Life Stages Crate

This all-purpose crate is an especially practical choice for young puppies, since it comes with a divider that allows you to expand the crate as your puppy grows so it’s always just the right size.

Petmate Ultra Vari Kennel Crate

These sturdy Vari-Kennel plastic crates are a great choice for dogs that like a cozy place to hang out. You can use them for travel, too, so they’re perfect for pups who want to join you when you go on vacation!

Exercise Pen w/ Walk-Through Gate

This exercise pen has a walk-through gate and comes in several heights (if your dog’s a climber, get a tall one!). Can be used in multiple configurations as a pen, as a room divider, or connected to a second pen to create a large play area.

Outdoor Dog Run

This dog run is a safe outdoor hangout for dogs who don’t have fenced yards or who aren’t ready to have unsupervised access to the whole yard. Remember to be sure your dog has some shade and a water bowl!

Wire Crate with Wood Frame

This crate is a perfect option if you want an attractive crate but have a pup that may have accidents or nibble on an all-wood crate. It’s easy to clean and there are wire panels between your pup and the finished wood frame.

ZenHaus Crate

If you’re worried about the impact a dog crate will have on your decor or if your space is limited, this gorgeous modern crate doubles as an end table! Available in multiple colors and sizes.