Getting our pups on a sleep schedule

by Catarina and Dan
(Concord, CA)

Hi there, we have 2 (brother and sister) 11 week old rottie pups. We adopted them when they were 4 weeks, starting them off in a playpen. At 8 weeks when they received their first round of shots, we began letting them roam the house and our backyard, and are practicing crate training at night.

We have gotten pretty close to having no accidents in the house during the day, as we make sure we take them outside after every meal, and then every hour throughout the day. But at night, we are still having such difficulty with them!

They will sleep in the crate for about 4 hours, at which point they wake up crying and we get up to feed them and take them out. They are then too wound up to go back to sleep and in the crate, so we let them roam free in the front of the house while we go back to bed for another few hours.

In that time, they will have accidents all over our carpets, and no matter how much I clean our house constantly smells like a toilet! What should we be doing to assert potty training while allowing us time to sleep?!

Also, I've heard mixed reviews on how to discipline them for having accidents. Some say you should lightly spank them and rub their nose in it, while others say to just let it be and make sure we take them out more often. What do you recommend?

Thank you so much for your insight!
Catarina and Dan

Hi Catarina and Dan
For such young puppies your guys are doing amazingly well during the day, and most of that is down to the fact that you've been doing everything right by supervising and taking them outside regularly.

I think your night-time problems center around the fact that you're feeding them when they first wake up. I'm not exactly sure of the timeframe you're talking about, but for example if you went to bed at 11pm and the puppies wake up at 3am and you feed them..... then they are going to need to eliminate, most likely more than once, and will be 'awake' thinking it's morning.

This is what I would suggest, and what we do in our house with a new puppy.....

  • Bedtime - whether it's 10pm or 1am, take the puppies outside for a last potty break and then crate them. Lights out.

  • When they wake up - take them outside for a potty break and then straight back into their crates. This isn't time to feed, play or anything else, it's purely 'business'. Don't talk to them other than to use their 'potty command' in a low voice, no eye contact, no playing, no food. Back in the crates. Lights out. IGNORE ANY FUSSING!!

  • When they wake up a second time - if it's about time to get up (ie it's light outside or after 7 - 8am), then get up, take them outside to eliminate and give them breakfast and outside again. At this point, at their age, you're up for the day! If they wake for a second time and it's only 5am or something, repeat the procedure outlined above for the first night time awakening.

Some points to bear in mind.

At 11 weeks old they probably need a potty break during the night, but this need will fade soon... and it will fade faster if waking up doesn't gain them attention, play or food :o)

Any change in routine will be met with resistance, and you need to be firm in ignoring their complaints and fussing. You set the rules and they have to learn to live by them. It may be that you have a few sleepless nights, but they WILL get the picture as long as you stand firm. It will be worth it.

Make sure their dinner is eaten by 6pm and pick up their water 2 - 3 hours before bedtime. That gives them a chance to empty their bladder/bowels before bedtime.

As for how to reprimand them for having accidents indoors.... there's no point in doing anything if it's after the fact and you haven't caught them in the act. They simply won't understand what they've done wrong. They are simply too young to be running around the house unsupervised and be expected not to 'go' when they need to.

If you DO catch them squatting, make a loud noise (clap your hands, shout 'NO' etc.) whatever gets their attention and hopefully stops them mid-squat. Tell them firmly 'NO potty indoors' and scoop them up immediately. Take them outside to do their business, lots of praise for anything that comes out! Don't smack them, rub their noses in it or anything like that. It's counterproductive.

Housebreaking a puppy is one of the most difficult tasks new owner face and it's never a smooth upward learning curve. But with patience, persistence and the right methods and attitude most puppies learn to be fairly reliable by around 6 months of age.

I hope this helps, my Housebreaking A Puppy page has lots more tips and advice too. Best of luck :o)

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