"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
-Charles Dickens (he must have had a puppy)
That Dickens quote really sums up what it's like having a puppy. There's nothing more exciting than bringing your new puppy home, playing with him and kissing him on his cute little nose... it's the best. And there's nothing more horrifying than realizing that puppies seem to pee and poo constantly and finding out that they have zero respect for your need to sleep at night... it's the worst.
We'll break it to you as gently as we can. If you have a new puppy, you're not going to get a solid 8 hours sleep for a while. If you accept that fact, it'll be easier to do the necessary training to teach your puppy to sleep through the night.
Most puppies aren't able to sleep through the night when they first come home to their new owners, but almost all puppies sleep through the night by the time they're 16 weeks old. With proper training and scheduling, you should be able to teach Fido to do it even earlier.
Sometimes even adult dogs are unable to sleep through the night without waking up for a potty trip when they first come to a new home. The stress of coming to a new environment and adjusting to a new schedule and possibly a new food can wreak havoc on your new dog's digestive system. The instructions that follow will work for him, too. The good news is that if he's 6 months or older, it'll probably be just a few nights of adjustment before you'll be able to get a full night's sleep.
Where Should Your Puppy Sleep?
This training will work best if your puppy is in your bedroom so you know what he's up to. He'll also be more likely to settle in and sleep if he's in the same room with you instead of alone in a new, unfamiliar environment.
If you aren't willing or able to have little Fido in your room at night, you can do this training with him in another room. If you do this, you might try leaving music, a fan, or a white noise machine on, since the sound may help to soothe and relax him. Since you won't be able to hear Fido if he starts to fidget or fuss when he needs to go potty, you'll need to be extra responsible about getting in there to take him out to potty at regular intervals.
You'll most likely have your puppy sleeping in his crate overnight, so, along with this article, you should also read our article about "Acclimating Your Puppy to his Crate". If necessary, you can get additional help from our articles that teach you what to do if Fido barks in his crate or goes potty in his crate.
If you're doing indoor potty training, your puppy can sleep in his confinement area with his bed and access to his potty area. If you don't want him to be by himself in another area of the house, you can crate him in your bedroom overnight. You should not create an additional indoor potty area for him in your bedroom unless you plan to have one there long-term, so using the crate overnight and his confinement zone with potty area during the day works well for many puppy owners.
Preparing Your Puppy for Bedtime
What you do with Fido in the evening will have a big impact on how well he'll sleep (and how well YOU'LL sleep) at night. Puppies sleep a lot, so he'll probably try to snooze for much of the evening. If you allow this to happen, of course, he'll wake up refreshed and ready to rock and roll at bedtime or in the middle of the night. Don't let Fido sleep too much in the evening... run around in the yard with him, play with him, have your friends come over to visit him and keep him busy. We want him to be good and tired by the time bedtime rolls around.
Fido shouldn't have food or water before going to bed, either, for obvious reasons. If he goes to bed with a full belly and bladder, you're pretty much guaranteed a rough night. Generally, it's best to avoid giving Fido food or water for 3 hours before bedtime. Rarely, a puppy needs to have access to food and water very frequently due to medical issues. This is most common with small-breed puppies. If you have any concern that this may be the case with your puppy, please talk to your vet before setting up Fido's feeding schedule.
Be sure that you have everything you'll need for a potty trip set up and readily accessible before you go to bed so you won't have to scramble around looking for it in the middle of the night. Have something to wear (slippers and robe, shoes and jacket, etc.), Fido's leash if you'll be using it, a flashlight if you need it, poo pick up bags if you'll need them. When you wake up later, you'll be glad everything's ready to go.
Be sure to give your puppy a few chances to empty out during the evening and make sure the very last thing you do before going to bed is take him out to potty, even if he's asleep and you have to wake him to do it.
Your Puppy's Overnight Potty Trip
Overnight potty trips are a little different from potty trips during the day. During the day, you play with Fido and fuss over him after he relieves himself. If you do that at night, you'll have big problems, since Fido will start waking you up just to have a party! Overnight potty trips are strictly business. Take him directly to his potty area and give him a couple of minutes to go. When he goes, calmly tell him he's good, take him back inside, put him in his crate and go back to bed.
Some dogs, especially young puppies, are so sleepy when you take them out that they just lay down in the potty area and try to go back to sleep. This doesn't necessarily mean he doesn't need to go potty... he's just so sleepy he hasn't noticed yet that he needs to go potty. If Fido does this, you should encourage him to move around a bit. You can pick him up and put him back on his feet if you need to... whatever it takes to get him to wake up and get down to business.
When you're up with Fido in the middle of the night, you shouldn't talk much to him, and you shouldn't play with him, take him for a long, fun walk or give him treats, food, water or a chew bone. If he gets to do cool stuff when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he'll start waking you because he wants some attention or a midnight snack. We want him to learn that nighttime is for sleeping and nothing fun happens when he wakes up in the middle of the night.
Overnight Scheduling for Your Puppy
Anticipating and preparing for Fido's need to go potty in the middle of the night is the key to training him to sleep though the night as quickly as possible. Most puppy owners just go to sleep in the middle of the night with their fingers crossed, hoping little Fido will be okay until morning. Not a good plan. He'll likely either have an accident in his crate or start barking and crying in the middle of the night to go potty. When he starts barking, his half-asleep, groggy owner stumbles around in the dark, looking for his slippers and MAYBE gets Fido out for a potty trip before it's too late.
Aside from the obvious problems with that plan, there's the really big problem... that Fido learns he can wake you up by yipping and yowling. Once he learns he has control of whether and when you sleep or wake up, he'll likely wake you up earlier and more often. When you plan his nighttime schedule properly and in advance, you'll be taking control and you'll be able to make wake-up times later and less frequent. A much better plan.
The way to take control of overnight potty times is to set your alarm to wake you up in the middle the night, whether little Fido wakes up or not. We want to beat him to the punch... waking him before he's so uncomfortable that he wakes up and starts to fuss. This way, he never gets into the habit of making noise to wake you.
At first, you'll probably need to set your alarm to go off a few times at night, depending on your puppy's age at the time you're starting his program. If you start him when he's 7-9 weeks old, it'll probably need to be every 2 hours, from 9-14 weeks every 3 hours, 14 weeks and up, every 4 hours. These are general guidelines, of course, and you may find that Fido needs to go out more or less frequently.
If you've already been through a few hellish nights with Fido, you probably have some idea how long he can hold it, so you can base your scheduling on that. If your puppy has been waking up screaming every 4 hours, wake him up every 3 or 3 1/2 hours. The goal is just to catch him before his need to go becomes so critical that he starts barking and howling.
Once you've got Fido on a schedule of waking up at intervals during the night, you're going to start to push it so he sleeps longer. This is where the program starts to pay off... since you've taken control of the nighttime schedule, you can adjust the wake up times and work toward the holy grail of puppy training... sleeping through the night.
Once you've been able to wake Fido up and take him out to potty on schedule with no barking, howling or accidents in the middle of the night for three consecutive nights, you can move on. What you're going to do now is set your alarm for 15 minutes later for each potty trip. So, if you've been waking Fido up at 1:30, 3:30 and 5:30, you'll now start waking him at 1:45, 3:45 and 5:45. After another three good nights, you'll move all 3 potty trips ahead by 15 minutes again.
Keep moving the potty trips ahead until the last potty trip coincides with your wake up time. Congratulations... you're now down to two potty trips instead of three! And if you keep pushing ahead by 15 minutes at a time, you'll soon be down to one, then NONE!
What if Your Puppy Barks or Cries Overnight?
Sometimes, you'll get lucky and find that Fido is so knocked out by the excitement of coming to his new home, he'll just sleep like a rock. Sometimes, you won't be so lucky. If your puppy is making noise in his crate when you first put him in, it's likely he's just unhappy about being closed in there, since all of this is new to him. You'll find help for this problem in Acclimating Fido to his Crate and What to do When Fido Barks in his Crate.
if your puppy starts barking, howling or whining in the middle of the night, there's a good chance he needs to go potty, so you should take him out for a quick potty trip as outlined above, even if it isn't his scheduled time to go. Although we don't want Fido to get into the habit of thinking he can wake you up as often and as early as he likes by barking and crying, we need to play it safe, so he should get a chance to relieve himself any time he gets noisy. You should not ignore his crying if it occurs spontaneously in the middle of the night, since you run the risk of forcing him to go potty in his crate and starting him on the path to habitually soiling his crate. This will mess up your housebreaking program and make a lot more work for you in the long run, so get up and get his little butt out for a potty trip!