Although everyone wants to give their puppy plenty of space to play and explore, allowing it free run of the house too early on is a sure recipe for disaster.
Not only will you need to buy new shoes, cables and furniture- be ready for wet puddles of pee and poop everywhere!
It is a good idea to let your puppy have free reign of the house only when it is house trained and no longer chews on objects out of curiosity. For a puppy that is trained well, you can begin to let it roam around the house, on a leash, at around 6 months old.
From 8 months onwards, you may be able to give a puppy free access to the parts of the house that you want, as long as it doesn’t cause any damage. However, don’t rush this process as each puppy is different and there isn’t a strict timeline as to when it will be ready.
As the puppy matures, you will be able to leave the house for short periods of time to see if it gets into any mischief by itself. It is important to do this slowly and in stages, so that the puppy is not exposed to so much freedom all at once that it forgets its training!
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It is perfectly fine to let your puppy roam the house- as long as it is well trained. If it isn’t, you run the risk of things being chewed up and eaten. This is not only expensive, but can also be a hazard to your puppy’s health if it swallows something it’s not supposed to.
Electrical wires are an obvious danger that can be fatal. Your puppy may also get into household items that are poisonous while exploring, or choke on objects such as candles. These are all life-threatening risks which will need immediate vet attention.
Secondly, if the puppy hasn’t yet been properly housetrained, letting it roam free could result in accidents as well as in bad habits being built.
When your puppy is young, it doesn’t understand the concept of your “home” yet since the space is so big. It will consider its crate or bed as its ‘den’ like a dog would in the wild, and as it does not want to soil its den it will go anywhere outside of it to mark its territory.
The problem is- anywhere outside its den also means the inside of your home! That’s why it’s so important to begin house training as soon as your puppy comes to live with you.
When it comes to young puppies under 6 months of age, confinement is a good thing.
By confining them when they are young, you will help to get them ready for much more freedom later on.
Keeping their movement restricted when they are still puppies will help them to get used to consistency and a steady routine. It is better and easier to create a good foundation early on rather than have to break bad habits when they are older!
This doesn’t mean that your puppy has to be kept in a crate all day long. While it is highly recommended that you lock it in a crate at night for sleeping, during the day you can create an unsupervised area for it in the form of a playpen.
Exercise or play pens are like baby gates for puppies.
They can be set up anywhere, such as in the living room, but preferably it is in a location that does not have furniture which can be easily chewed on. Instead, you can rotate a few chew toys inside the pen to help the puppy to stay entertained.
Make sure also that it is set up far away from any bustling windows or doors so that a quiet and calm environment can be maintained. You can always take it out for a walk and some exercise early in the day to burn off some of that hyper puppy energy to help it stay relaxed.
The more accustomed your puppy is to a playpen, the more comfortable it will be in one even when it gets older.
Even as they grow stronger or taller than the pen, they will learn not to break out. Therefore, it really is a great tool to use when you don’t want to directly supervise the puppy.
Puppies should not be allowed to roam outside their playpen until they are at least somewhat potty-trained. You can do this by either taking them outside at short intervals, or by using disposable puppy pads inside the pen itself.
Whichever way you choose, understand that a puppy’s muscles haven’t developed fully yet and can’t hold in bladder or bowel movements. Whenever it has the chance to make a mistake, it will build on bad habits that become harder and harder to break.
Some breeds of dogs, such as Bull Mastiffs and Great Pyrenees, are considered to be puppies until they are two years of age. This means that they are prone to longer durations of chewing behavior as their teeth grow in.
A young puppy also shouldn’t have too much freedom even during the times that you are at home.
Giving a puppy unrestricted access to you all the time will quickly make it become overly dependent. Overly dependent puppies tend to develop separation anxiety issues which can be very troublesome for owners to deal with later on.
I’ve heard of instances where puppies became so clingy to their owners that they couldn’t even be in different rooms during the day! Keeping up your puppy’s confinement schedule even when you are at home helps to train them to be calm even when they can’t see you.
Even when you are able to trust your puppy more to behave, you still don’t want to let it loose straight away completely unsupervised. A fast learner may be able to adjust more rapidly, but give it too much leeway too quickly and you will risk all of its training being unlearnt.
There is a bond and a level of trust that must be developed between a puppy and its owner before it can be allowed to have free range of the house.
By the time a puppy is around 6 months old, it should have hopefully gotten used to most of the potty training rules that you have set- at least in a controlled environment.
Note that the age is only a general estimate- every puppy is different so adjust accordingly to your own.
Good indications that a puppy is ready to roam is if it hasn’t had a toilet accident in a few weeks, and that it knows to tell you when it needs to pee or poop. At this stage puppies really begin to understand what is acceptable and what isn’t, and will respond well to feedback.
Inside the home, you can begin to take it out of its pen to explore new areas on a leash. Take the puppy with you to another room and see how it responds to being in a new environment. Keep the time periods short and increase them slowly only when the puppy does well.
Keeping your puppy on the leash at this stage allows you to stay in control over his behavior. It allows you to stop the puppy in its tracks if it begins to chew on things that it’s not supposed to, and gives you the chance to discourage and correct it immediately.
It will also reduce the risk of toilet accidents since you will be able to take the puppy outside as soon as you notice it sniffing around suspiciously.
Once your puppy has mastered being on leash with you around the house, you can transition it to being off-leash in one room with constant supervision.
Constant supervision means that you are watching it all the time and not doing other things such as watching Netflix or scrolling through your phone.
Eventually, less and less attention will be needed as the puppy becomes more stable, and you will be able to progress to the next level of free-range training.
When it reaches around 8 months of age or has mastered the requirements above, you can start to give your puppy more and more off-leash access to different parts of your house without direct supervision.
This is best done incrementally by opening up one part or one room to the puppy at a time. As long as there are no problems, you can add to the size of the area gradually. Puppy proof everything in sight so that it is safe for both the dog and for your belongings.
At first, only let your puppy into rooms where there is less chance of trouble. If you can’t be certain that a room will be safe for a puppy, then simply don’t open the door to it.
Remember, if a puppy can reach and chew something, it will reach and chew that thing. You are responsible for putting things away properly, rather than expecting off the bat for a puppy not to be interested.
It is up to you to set up your puppy for success at this stage.
You can do this by doing proper puppy-proofing in advance, and making sure that it’s gone to the toilet before setting it loose inside the house.
Like with the playpen, a big walk in the morning and plenty of toys to play with will help to keep your puppy entertained and well-behaved.
Also, when the puppy behaves well and doesn’t cause any problems while it is by itself, remember to reward it with treats to further reinforce the good behavior.
A method to use alongside this is to increase a puppy’s alone time at home in small increments, such as 5-10 minute blocks. In this way, you can easily keep track of the puppy’s progress and reduce time as necessary when any accidents happen.
For example, if your puppy has shown that it can be safely left in the chosen rooms by itself for 15 minutes but then starts to tear up cushions half an hour in, simply slide back the time allowed.
The final test to determine whether your puppy is ready for free reign throughout the entire house is when it shows that it can go a full 30 days without any accidents or bad behavior. Usually this becomes more likely when the puppy is around 12 months old.
It is vital that you are very strict in this phase of your puppy’s development. When there is any sign of destruction, pull back on the amount of freedom given and do not increase it until your puppy shows that it can be trusted. A slow transition is best.
When regression occurs, go back to managing your puppy more directly. Some puppies naturally have higher energy levels and a tendency for destruction, so don’t become discouraged.
Don’t be afraid to keep your puppy confined to a pen or crate for as long as it needs to be while it learns what is allowed and what is off-limits. According to professional dog trainer Jennifer Mauger, it is absolutely fine to keep dogs in crates as long as they are happy staying in it.
It is a slow process, but with patience your dog will eventually learn to behave without supervision.
In reality, there is no magic age where a puppy will become automatically reliable enough to have free range of the house.
While 6 months, 8 months, and 12 months are good general indications of where a puppy’s maturity level may be at, whether they will be ready to be left alone really depends on each particular puppy’s response to training.
It is extremely important not to rush the process. When the puppy is adequately house trained and begins to understand feedback, start to leave it by itself in small, dog-proofed areas for short amounts of time.
As it shows progress and doesn’t revert back to any destructive behavior, you can begin to leave your dog for longer periods and with an increasing area size to access.
Keep setting your puppy up for success by making sure it has toys to play with, has had plenty of exercise beforehand, and has already gone to the toilet.
Eventually, once it is able to go a full month without making any mistakes, it will be truly ready to roam the house as its own. Don’t expect a completely smooth process- but do expect a rewarding one as you develop an unspoken bond with your dog.
Heather Abraham is a professional blogger who owns two dogs, a cat, a parrot, and a leopard gecko. She has a connection with animals since she was a child. She shares her love for all pet breeds and provides information on pet food, toys, medications, beds, and everything else.
She is committed to learning about the internal workings of animals. Her work permits her to work closely with knowledgeable vets and obtain practical expertise in animal care. When she is not working, her love of animals continues in her writing. Her goal is to educate and uplift readers who also have a passion for animals through her writing.