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This is the first in a series on early socialization and training that breeders can do with young puppies to help them adapt to life in their future new homes.

Housetraining is almost always the number one concern of a new puppy owner. While puppies are still in the whelping box, they begin to learn preferences for where to eliminate. Taking advantage of this instinct by encouraging them to eliminate in a litterbox can go a long way to helping owners have quick potty-training success.

By the time the puppies are 3 weeks old, put a shallow pan with litter in it at one end of the box. It should be large and obvious to start; they need a big target. At a very young age, puppies instinctively crawl away from their nesting spot to relieve themselves, and if it’s easy for them to land on the litter pan, that’s where they’ll take care of business.

You can use just about any type of metal pan to hold the litter. Multiple smaller ones will work, or you can get very large ones (called jelly roll pans) at restaurant supply stores. They are only about an inch deep so even the littlest puppies will be able to get in. You can also use a plastic crate liner, but once the puppies have teeth and have moved into a larger pen, you may want to switch to metal that won’t be tempting to chew on. Other breeders build a low wooden barrier across one end of the puppy’s area and place the litter behind that barrier.

This whole process used to be done with old newspapers, but these days most people don’t accumulate those in the quantity needed to train puppies. Many breeders like litter pellets that are made of recycled newspaper, but there’s a variety of materials that will work. Ideally the substrate in the potty area should feel different from the rest of their pen.

Once the puppies are weaned, eating puppy food and moved into their big-puppy pen, they will already know to make their way to the litter box when they need to go. At that point, it won’t be necessary for it to take up as much of the pen area. It still needs to be nearby; puppies won’t yet be able to “hold it” if there is a long journey to the potty area.

Once weaned, feeding puppies on a schedule helps to regulate their developing GI tract. Always follow your veterinarian’s advice on how often to feed puppies. What goes in on a schedule, goes out on a schedule. Predictability of bowel movements will help owners with establishing their potty-training schedule at home.

In their new homes, they will still need to be taken outside for potty breaks very often, but the process of learning to eliminate in a special place, away from their living quarters, will help the training go more smoothly. If a new owner is opting to teach the puppy to go inside in a litterbox, then you have done the work for them!