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Puppy Rearing 101

Please read even if you are not currently fostering a puppy.  Our Animal Care Coordinator wrote this as a comprehensive guide for what all is involved in fostering a puppy.  Please contact her with any questions at foster@motleyzoo.orgRock On, Rescue On!


Up until 6 months of age, we feed puppies three times because this is when they do their growth spurt. They will eat twice as much as when an adult. For example, an adult 90 pound dog eats 3 cups of food a day, but as a baby he can eat up to 9 cups. DO NOT UNDER-FEED PUPPIES! You should never feel spine or hips. You should never see an indented waist, rib or hip bones.


At 6 months and on, we then feed twice a day.

Tiny hungry puppy ready for feeding!

The 15 minute rule: Let them eat as much as they want for 15 minutes and then pick up the food. Puppies this age typically don't overeat. If they do not inhale their food, the 15 minute rule works. If they are inhaling, contact the Animal Care Coordinator to determine why. If a puppy eats all of the food they are given within, say, 5 minutes, then they are going to need another serving. You won't have a steady exact measurement of food per day until about 9-12 months. You'll see some puppies may regulate themselves or if they should start growing wider rather than taller, you'll have to reduce how much food is given per meal.

I've got the nom noms, foster mom (and pop!)

Pet food transition guide

Puppies have a sensitive stomach and changing their food too quickly in combination to a change in environment will cause diarrhea. Gradual transition is key. Use this chart and the following link as a resource / helpful guideline:

Puppies should be roly poly. You should not see an indented waist with rib bones, or spine or hip bones. You should not easily be able to feel the bones. Like I said before, you can't overfeed but you can underfeed, which will affect their growth and development.

Rule of thumb: If you can buy it in a grocery store, DON'T!

It's feeding time, according to your pup!

When it comes to gettin' their grub on, make sure your foster pup is well-nourished with all the good eats from brands we love.

Brands to avoid: Anything in a grocery store - like Purina, Iams, Blue Buffalo. We also avoid Hill's Science Diet and Royal Canin unless the dog/cat is required to be on a prescription diet ( for example: bladder stones).

Good brands: Open Farm, Taste of the Wild, Fromm, Wellness, Nature's Variety, First Mate. And when older, if you want to go the raw diet route, Stella & Chewy's, Honest Kitchen, Valor, and Bravo, but I never do raw feeding for anyone under 12 months (unless it's Stella & Chewy's). 


The key to potty training is consistency and a schedule. Puppies have such small bladders, they pee a lot!  You have to be patient and committed. And eyes on them at all times!  And despite all that, they will still have accidents.


Puppies under 6 months can only control their bladder for a few hours.


Puppies and accidents go hand in hand and you can’t get angry about it. It’s part of being a puppy and you should expect that. But the goal is to have accidents less frequently. Puppies can have accidents even up to a year old. It’s dependent on them mentally but physically as well, since in their mind they know they need to go out but their bladder muscles may not have caught up yet. A puppy is considered reliably potty trained if they haven’t had any accidents in at least two months.

Get on a schedule!


The minute a puppy wakes up, go outside. That's every time they wake up at this point -- in the morning, after waking, after napping, we go outside. Even after playing.


Once fed, I give it 5 minutes and we go out. As they get older, that time can change to 30 minutes. Since I feed in the crate, I give a puppy 15 minutes to eat, pick up the bowl, go back in 5 minutes and take outside. If the puppy doesn't potty, then out every 5 minutes until they go to the bathroom. 


During the day, I set the oven timer to ding every hour and gradually increase in 30-minute increments as they get older. It's almost like Pavlov's dog. Ding, go to the door, go outside to potty area, say “Go potty!” and throw a party with an excited voice and even a treat when a puppy goes.

Puppy Potty Training is a lot of work!

Puppies have tiny bladders - so, to save your

flooring and your sanity, it's crucial to get them on a potty schedule right away!

You have to throw a party, lavish praise, do a little dance, or give them a treat IMMEDIATELY after they potty. Not after you go back in the house. The reward has to be immediate or the puppy won’t learn that going to the bathroom outside is what’s expected of him and is appropriate behavior.


They won't do it every time at under 3 months, but you will get in the habit and they learn. It's all about having a schedule and consistency, and repetition, repetition, repetition.

Your foster puppy wants to please you and loves the attention!

A trick is to make sure you have one spot to take the puppy.  And make it close to the door.  Do not have it on the other side of the yard.  Some people buy a pee post, which I think is a good visual for them, that's rather consistent.  But also if they have an accident in the house, you pick that up with a paper towel and put that in the potty spot in the yard.  The smell will reinforce that they need to go in that particular spot in the yard.

Positive reinforcement and positive experiences while potty training your foster pups are keys to long-term success.

Another mistake people make is continuing to use potty pads in the house. You just want to train them to go outside and take away the potty pads at about 8 weeks old.


You can also incorporate a bell by the door.  It has to be BY the door and at a level they can easily hit with their paw. Not on the door. You don’t want the bells to chime every time you open the door. The chime needs to be associated with going to the bathroom. So back to Pavlov’s dog and the oven timer. Ding, go to the door, ring the bell with your hand first making sure they see you do it, go outside to potty area, say "Go potty!" and throw a big ol' party.


Also NEVER correct a puppy if you don't catch them in the act of going in the house. They have the attention span of a gnat and won't remember what they did a minute ago. They won't know what you might be correcting them for and it will just lead to fear and insecurity. And you want a confident puppy. NEVER punish a puppy for having an accident. If the puppy has an accident, more likely than not it’s either your lack of consistency and schedule and supervision, or the puppy’s lack of bladder muscle control. So suck it up and clean it up. Do not ever rub a puppy’s nose in a mess that they have made. They don’t understand punishment after the fact. It will cause confusion and fear.


You only correct if you catch them IN THE ACT, and then you DO NOT PUNISH them. You can use a different correction, like "Wait! Wait!," to kind of distract them before scooping them up and taking them outside to the potty spot.  Some people use pennies in a can to make a noise when they shake it.  I'm not too big of a fan of that since it can scare the puppy and sometimes cause submissive urination from fear.  Remember: the most important things for puppies are positive experiences.

Be sure to check this out!

This is a great short video to explain in further detail the importance for puppies to have positive experiences when it comes to potty training.  

Video courtesy of

There could also be other reasons for potty training problems, such as Urinary Tract Infections, Fearful / Excited / Submissive urination, or various fears or phobias. Be sure you discuss these and communicate with your Animal Care Coordinator if you suspect your foster has any of these issues.

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