I take my 3 1/2 month puppies outside about every two hours to two and one-half hours. They make it for six hours in the night outside of a crate, no problems at all. They take one crated nap for about two hours a day so I can work and one two hour nap outside of the crate. No accidents. but they are in the room with me as I work.
Am I taking them outside too much? One is quite larger than the other and can hold it much longer and he does not always need to go every 2.5 hours, the smaller one, definitely always has to go and has maybe one every other day accident even if I JUST took him out during rough play or chasing a cat, I call them "excitement pees."
We also live in a bilevel and they are not getting the ring the bell upstairs tied low on the door to let me know. There are eight stairs and they are terrified of them, but they are only 4.8 and 5.4 pounds. Sometimes, I get a little whine when one needs to go or they jump in their puppy carrier bag that I carry them out in. Sometimes they bogus me and jump in the carrier bag and are fooling around.
Any how, just an estimate on when your dogs/puppies started to have no accidents or let you know in a more obvious way that they have to go, especially in a bilevel. I have them out so often, maybe too much in order to get a signal?
I actually took my baby out about every 45 minutes. I would keep her out there until she did something and 9 times out of 10 she would. Then I would say good pee pee or poo poo and give her a treat. After about a week she was going to the back door and scratching. Once she started that her accidents went down to once every 3-4 days.
What breed do you have? That can really make a difference in how often you need to take it outside. Larger dogs tend to be able to hold it longer than smaller breeds.
I have 2 schnauzers and really relied on the crate to potty train them. In fact, I only had 1 accident with my male ever and the female had 3 or 4, but never in the kennel or in the house. Don't let them ever have an accident in the house. Also, rubbing noses in the mess are also not a good idea, this acutally causes the dog to be confused, the best way to train is repeating same thing over and over.
Kennels must have just enough room for the dogs to move around but not enough for them to actually play, sounds cruel but they are den animals and really like to be confined believe it or not. Mine now go to it to sleep and get away from it all. When I pick up my keys off the counter, they go in there, it's all about routines.
When a puppy is out of it's kennel, you should have your eyes on it at all times, keep it confined to a small area where you can see it and make sure after it eats and drinks, it goes out. It must go out the same door all the time or it will get confused. Pretty soon, they realize if they go to that door, then you know to let it out. If you are not watching it, put it back in it's kennel. 6 hours or more is not long to hold it, mine hold it for 10 sometimes and have since they were 4 months old. But they must learn to hold it and a kennel is really the best way to train puppies.