puppy housebreaking

Should I get an older puppy?

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“We don’t want to be bothered with housetraining, so we’ll get an older puppy,” she said, talking about getting her first dog.

“Oh, please don’t!” was my reply.

Housetraining is very simple if you know what you’re doing. 

So don’t let fears about that put you off. Your house won’t be ruined, there won’t be poo everywhere. 

If you follow this Guide to Errorless Housetraining closely your 8-week-old puppy will be clean and dry by 10-15 weeks of age at the latest. Just a few weeks in a lifetime with your dog. It’s a very short time and you’ll be building a bond with your puppy as you go (because there’s no crossness or telling-off in this method). 

Get your free guide to Errorless Housetraining and have it all done in a week or two!



You should know three things

1. Poor-quality breeders (or greeders, as I prefer to call them) will have puppies left over long after they should have gone to their new home. 8 weeks is the correct age for that. So these pups - who could be any age, really - have been kept in a bare shed with a gang of other pups for months on end. They have had no socialisation (and no housetraining either!) and they may find it very difficult to adjust to a normal family life. Unwitting buyers may be told the pup is months younger than he actually is. Read up on how to recognise a puppy farm/puppy mill and don’t get caught by these chancers. Do you really want to take on this unsocialised, mentally neglected, pup?

2. Some competitive breeders produce litter after litter in their big operation, and pick pups to “run on” to see if they’ll shape up as potential prizewinners. Once these pups have got to six months or so they decide which one to keep and sell the rest - usually to ill-prepared purchasers who responded to an advert for a “puppy”. These dogs may have lived only with one breed of dog, kennelled in a big run of kennels. Some of the worst cases of fear or aggression I have to work with have come this route. Do you really want to take on a ticking time bomb?

3. Adolescence (5-14 months roughly) is the commonest age for dogs to be dumped in rescue shelters. (Don’t worry, I know that some dogs end up in shelters through absolutely no behavioural fault of their own.) So you have to be prepared that your chosen dog may need a lot of work to repair. People got a fluffy puppy. They may have housetrained it, who knows? They certainly didn’t do anything else they should, because now they’re abandoning their pet because … he’s unruly, he’s too strong on the lead, he runs off, he barks at other dogs, whatever. This is all because of their neglect in rearing and training their puppy properly. While giving a home to an abandoned dog is a laudable and kind thing to do, you owe it to your family to get the most suitable pet possible. Is this mixed-up, neglected, confused dog really right for your home?

Tell me, (apart from exceptional cases where perhaps the caring owner died) where will you get a puppy who has been carefully and sensitively housetrained, is now six months old, lovingly trained and socialised - and yet someone wants to get rid of him?

I know some of you will write to tell me just that. And you struck lucky! I’m delighted to hear your happy story.

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Possibly there was a genuine reason for the owner parting with the dog, or possibly you found a breeder who genuinely loves dogs (I know that sounds crazy) and who did all the work necessary to produce a sound and confident young dog.

Housetraining is a brief interlude, quickly done, soon passed. If you choose to skip it and get an older puppy there is a possibility you could be dealing with its other problems long after the housetraining period is over.

And to find out exactly how I teach my own puppies

check out this mini-course


Your puppy’s first day home!

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“How do I ensure the most successful first day home? I want Finn to feel like this is home but I also want to start off on the right foot, from the moment we pick him up and the long drive home.” Maria

What an excellent question, Maria! You have obviously planned your puppy carefully, and thinking about that exciting first day you have reflected on the importance of getting it right. You’re setting the stage for your new puppy’s life.

For those just starting on this journey, first read my series on How to Choose a Puppy here

Getting things ready at home

1. The most important thing is to make a comfy den for your puppy. Somewhere he can feel at home, somewhere he is fed all his bowl-meals (you’ll be mainly feeding him by hand!), somewhere he is safe and may not be pestered by children, visitors, or other household pets. He needs to be in a quiet place to be able to switch off and sleep properly.

Have your puppy sleep ALL NIGHT from the first night! Get this free guide to show you how



I favour a robust wire crate. It need only be big enough for the size your puppy will be as an adult - big enough for him to stand up, turn round and lie down again, as lying down is mostly what he’ll be doing in there. You can half cover it with a cloth or put it in a cupboard space under the kitchen worktop to make it cosy. And you can use either a custom divider or a big cardboard box to make the space just big enough for your puppy. 

All naps will be taken in this crate, and he can sleep in it at night, in your bedroom. Now you have somewhere where you know your pup is safe and can’t be chewing the telephone wire, peeing on the carpet, or demolishing your furniture. He may protest to start with, but as long as you know he has had his needs met, regard the crate as soundproof - both ways!  He’ll quickly learn that being in the crate means rest and sleep. 

2. For travel you’ll need either the same crate if it’s small enough to move easily, or a custom car crate. Again choose a wire crate - I don’t use a soft crate till I know the dog is content in a crate and won’t chew or attack it. I’m not convinced about the safety of car harnesses and always travel mine in well-built crates with escape hatches on the inside. 

For the journey home you may want to shroud the bottom half of the crate with plastic sheeting on the outside (that pup can't reach) so that any vomit stays inside! Or one of those airline crates that split in half would be excellent for this.

On the day!

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3. Take your puppy’s new collar and id tag with you and put it on him before you leave his old home. Better to be sure, in case of accident or drama on the journey home. And puppies are much wrigglier than you may remember - always slip a finger or thumb through his collar when you’re carrying him.

Your pup’s breeder should give you - along with any paperwork - his worming schedule, a blanket that’s been with his mother, a week’s supply of the food he’s been on, a diet sheet - maybe a toy or a bowl. Breeders who care will also give you photos and info about the parents, perhaps some pictures of your puppy when tiny, and the benefit of their experience of puppies of this breed or type. They should also tell you what the pup is used to toiletting on - grass, concrete, gravel …

4. For the journey home, park your puppy in his secure crate with lots of washable bedding or screwed-up paper to make it cosy. Ignore wails and cries, throwing up and peeing in the crate. You need to focus on the road and not get anxious yourself. The journey cannot be avoided so get it over with fast! Gentle music on the radio may help, and covering the crate so he can’t see out of the vehicle will also probably help. Placing the crate in the body of the car, not the back end, will minimise swinging and lurching and maybe prevent carsickness. 

Arriving home

5. If you have eager children at home waiting to greet the puppy, ensure they keep cool and don’t overwhelm this poor scrap. He’ll be exhausted after his journey, and is being constantly bombarded with strange sights and smells and people. 

6. If he’s in a mess from the journey just wipe him over - don’t bathe him now. He needs to keep his own scent and a bath would be too stressful. 

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7. You can take him out on a lead to the garden to see if he needs to relieve himself. Don’t worry if he doesn’t. If he’s scared bring him right back in again. Get my Errorless Housetraining Cheatsheet and get it right from the start.

8. Introduce him to his new den, and put his mother’s blanket in there along with some chewables. Feed him a light meal in the crate, try the garden again, and have some gentle play with him before he crashes for the night. Puppies need an astonishing amount of sleep, and a young puppy should only be awake for an hour or so at a time. 


9. Stick to the food he’s already on for a week or so, then start to change to a better food. You can research those in advance. Breeders often get free packs of food from canny manufacturers, so you’ll want to improve on that. Here’s a good site which gives you the lowdown on dog food ingredients. It’s geared for the UK market but is very educational and would be well worth a visit wherever you live. 

For a free no-obligation trial of some excellent home-cooked food (UK readers) go to www.butternutbox.com/brilliantfamilydog They provide instructions for how to change your puppy on to a new feed.

The first week

10. By all means have some visitors to admire your new puppy, but be sensible! Give him a day or two without visitors. Then ensure your puppy wants to go forward to greet them. If he hangs back or hides, on no account force people on to him. As you’ve planned so carefully in choosing your pup, he’s likely to have been well-socialised in the litter.

You’ll probably be visiting the vet for a check-over and some jabs. Make this visit as gentle and calm as possible - don’t pass him round the waiting room of ooh-ing and aah-ing people! 

And while he can’t yet go out for “walks” you should certainly take him out and about with you on your errands. He gets used to travelling in the car on short journeys, and you get to carry him about to see new places, things, people, and dogs. He doesn’t need to meet the dogs yet, but he does need to see them. 

11. Build a routine of naps, food, garden visits, play … and more naps. This routine doesn’t have to be timebound, but the order should become predictable. He’ll be on four meals a day to start with, and most of those will be handfed by you, or in a foodtoy - not just slapped in a bowl.

Learn how to teach your new puppy

12. Lastly - and importantly! - learn how to teach your new dog. It’s important you find only a force-free trainer to work with, who will have small, calm, classes, and teach only through kindness and love. 

Stuck for a local class that fits this description? No worries! Check out this mini-course and enjoy training your puppy at home with me, with four specially-selected training videos. It’s much better value than a conventional local puppy class - you can take part for as long as you like!

I hope that helps you with your planning, Maria - and I wish more people thought ahead as you have!




“I know he's only a puppy, but …” What you expect is what you get!

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The lady on the phone sounded harassed. 

She was ringing to look for help with her 16-week-old puppy. 

I asked her how her puppy was doing, and she replied:

“He’s very bitey, and he jumps up on everyone. I can’t tell you how many things he’s destroyed. I’m looking forward to him being clean and dry in the house - we’re not there yet. I know he’s only a puppy, so perhaps I’m expecting too much.”

No! You’re expecting far too little!

I had to explain to this caring owner that she was asking too little of her puppy, and instead of giving him the chance to grow, she was keeping him a baby.

With the exception of the jumping up, which can take longer (more anon), all of these things should be resolved by 10-12 weeks.

The sooner you start, the better!

And the longer you leave it, the more you have to undo!

That’s why I welcome puppies at Puppy Class from 9 weeks of age. And my own puppies are learning from the moment they come through the door - at 7 or 8 weeks.

The new arrival

When your puppy first arrives, it’s very simple to lay down the ground rules. He’s tiny, a bit anxious, eager to please, ready to learn, bursting with enthusiasm, and he needs to sleep most of the time. What better time to start building a solid relationship of trust?

Using a crate from Day 1 answers most of the problems this lady was having. If a crate is not possible, then at least have a puppy playpen or baby-gates. But a crate is best and will establish firm boundaries for the future.

1. If he gets too bitey in play, this is a sure sign that he’s overtired and needs a nap: into the crate for a while for a restorative ziz

2. Always wait till he’s stopped bouncing before you open the crate door - you may need to walk away from the crate and come back a good few times before he realises that staying still opens the door, but bouncing keeps it shut. Then greet him at his level as he emerges while you clip the lead on and whiz him out to the garden for a pee.

3. He can’t destroy anything if he’s in his crate with his chewtoys at those times when you can’t be actively supervising him. Bliss! Remember he needs oceans of sleep. If he’s been awake for an hour you’re back to No.1 above.

4. Housetraining is a breeze when you use the crate and some simple rules. Free download here


Check out my new online Wild Puppy Mini-Course  teaching new dog and puppy owners to achieve lasting results through four carefully-selected lessons of dog-friendly coaching


I don’t want my dog to think the crate is a punishment

I don’t know why I sometimes meet resistance to the use of a crate. 

Most parents will use a cot for their baby or toddler to ensure that she’s safe and secure when left alone. The crate is the exact same thing for a puppy. 

There is no hint of punishment. So, just as with your baby, put the puppy in the crate, shut the crate door, and leave the room. 

He’s safe. He can sleep. A well-reared puppy is unlikely to soil his bed. You can relax and do something else for a while.

And know that you’re putting your puppy on the path to becoming a Brilliant Family Dog right from the start.

It’s all about connection

If you can make a connection with your dog, you can build trust, understanding, confidence. 

The quickest and best way to make this connection is through Choice Training.  Have a look at how fast people were getting results on my recent 5 day online Workshop:

Chewie waits patiently instead of jumping up to steal the food!

Chewie waits patiently instead of jumping up to steal the food!

“Just want to say a massive thank you for the 5 day Workshop. Chewie would jump up and try and grab and bite me if I was prepping food. Now he’s lying down with treats dropping. Loving his focus.”
Jan & Chewie

“Thank you Beverley from Molly and me! We have enjoyed the workshop immensely and made a lot of progress in a short time.”  Robin & Molly

“Bonnie and I are having great fun with the Sit Game - all round the house and outside too. Feels like she’s listening better and I’m more relevant to her when there’s distractions (and she’s a working cocker spaniel with a history of pulling like a train!).”
Sheila & Bonnie

“Really enjoying the Workshop. Willow now getting so much better and more eye contact. Thank you for all your time and hard work putting this together.”
Pat & Willow and Poppy

“I was amazed at the results encountered during your 5-day workshop and could not wait to get started on this course*.”
Scott & Gabriel and Gizmo


*What course is Scott talking about? Our new online Puppy and Dog Courses! 

Want to join us and get results like this?  Yes - as you can see above, you CAN learn all this online, and transform your life with your dog.

The course is now open for enrolment and you’ll be able to check out the course for yourself before jumping in.

Got an older dog that you need a bit of help with? There’s also a course specially designed for the dog just out of puppyhood

New Puppy? First teach her how to learn!

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The minute you get your new puppy - she is learning! She's like a sponge, soaking up experiences, processing them, discovering the outcome, and learning whether that thing was good or bad.

So whether you like it or not your puppy is learning every moment she’s awake, and processing that learning while she’s asleep. 

What does that mean for you?

It means that you need to grab this opportunity and teach your puppy as much as possible while she’s in this absorbent, influenceable, state. Once she hits adolescence she’ll be developing ideas of her own, and they may not accord with what you’d like in your family dog!

Now, I’m not suggesting drills and route-marches, "don’t don’t don’t", and some kind of puppy bootcamp! 

If you focus on teaching your puppy how to learn, adding things like sits and downs are a snap

When’s the right age to start?

Get your free email course to find lots of ways to teach your puppy how to learn

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In days mercifully gone by (mostly), puppies were given no training at all until six months or so. They were considered too soft to take the punitive methods then popular (and happily becoming less and less popular now). Of course they were! They were babies! But the good news is that there’s no need to use punitive methods at any age. In fact, they’re counterproductive.

These early weeks of your pup’s new life with you are, in fact, the best time of all to teach her how to learn.

What do I mean by that?

Instead of focussing on “commands”, “obedience”, and fighting the puppy’s “stubbornness”, focus instead on teaching her that being around you is good, being in your home is good, being with your family is good. And you do this by simply rewarding everything she does which you like! There isn’t any need for “No!” or “Stop that” or “Get down” or any of the other things that new puppy owners think they have to do to establish superiority. 

You don’t need to establish superiority! The puppy knows which side her bread is buttered, and all she needs is kindness and patience while she works out what has a good outcome and what has no outcome worth pursuing.

And to harness this great learning skill, you simply

Reward what you like
Ignore what you don’t like
and Manage what you can’t ignore

Rewards are anything the puppy finds rewarding - play, cuddles, laughter, tasty treats, dinner, toys, running, chews, garden - etc. Ensure that every action you like is marked and rewarded, and your youngster will soon learn to repeat the things that earn her a reward and not bother with the things that don’t.


Check out my new online Puppy Training Course 

teaching new dog and puppy owners to achieve lasting results through six weeks of dog-friendly coaching


Never say NO

There isn’t a place for NO in training babies, of any species. Love and encouragement are what works. But to ensure that you aren’t chasing round after a puppy trying to divert his attention from the electric cables and your favourite dining chair legs you need to set up a safe environment for your pup. 

I like to use crates and playpens or babygates to make a safe area with plenty of chew toys. You want to have the puppy always in the same room as you so you can monitor what he’s up to. Then when you’re busy you can pop him in his crate for some much needed sleep and processing time while you get on with the rest of your life without having to worry about what the pup is doing. And when he’s with you, loose, you can watch him exploring his environment without having to do any “No” or “Ah-ah” because you’re there to divert him if a sniff looks as though it’s going to turn into a nibble.

In general, let your puppy explore everything. Don’t be curbing his enthusiasm for the world he now lives in. While we explore our surroundings largely with our eyes, and babies with their hands and mouth, puppies work largely with their nose and mouth. Let him! You can intervene and distract if necessary, but people are often surprised how little it is necessary if they can simply pay attention to their roving puppy and provide him with plenty of chewables in his playpen or crate.

A cat may look at a king!

Look to your puppy’s physical needs

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Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which is much the same for dogs as for people.

If you cater for all your pup’s physical needs - shelter, security, food, sleep, exercise, warmth - you’ll then be free to work on her higher needs - companionship, love, self-confidence, and self-fulfilment. Everyone knows that continually nagging and chiding a child will destroy his self-confidence, and we naturally tend to encourage children in their efforts. Puppies are the same! Continual nagging and telling off will damage your puppy’s confidence in her coping abilities, which will seriously affect her ability to learn without second-guessing, fear, and anxiety.

Alongside all this is the necessity for appropriate socialisation. This does not mean thrusting your puppy into the face of every dog you see, or handing him round to strangers to touch. What it does mean is slowly and gently exposing your puppy to all the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells, of our world, and ensuring that all experiences are good ones.

What you expect is what you get

If you think that inviting a puppy into your home is inevitably going to lead to destroyed furniture, soggy carpets, scratched and bitten hands and arms, shredded clothes, and all the rest, then maybe that’s what you’ll get. 

If, on the other hand, you prepare well, supervise your puppy at all times - inside and outside the house - and work with rewards and patience, you’re setting yourself up for a life of harmony with a dog who knows how to please you, knows her boundaries, and is happy to learn whatever you ask her to. 

For an example of how this learning takes place, have a look at this article which gives you a simple recipe to follow to get the results you want - whatever you’re teaching. 

And if you want to know a bit more about the nuts and bolts of Learning Theory in dogs - exhaustively researched and proven over the last 100 or so years - see this piece by the marvellous animal trainer Bob Bailey. There was never any room for sentiment in Bob’s work, training animals and birds for astonishing wartime feats to change the course of history. His work, which guided much of what enlightened dog trainers do today, was based totally in science. 

We want our pups to grow up confident and ready to learn, able to manage new things and new experiences. Excise NO from your vocabulary and you’ll be making a great start!

For lots of force-free methods for changing our puppy’s behaviour to what we want, check out this free email course.

For lots of force-free methods for changing our puppy’s behaviour to what we want, check out this free email course.

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And if you’re just beginning with your precious new puppy - look at

Choosing a Puppy

Housetraining made easy


the very valuable cheatsheet on getting your puppy to sleep through the night! 

Got a dog already? Check out this article for successfully rearing a puppy in a multi-dog household.