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How to Potty Train Your Puppy

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Dog in front of pee pad

Mastering potty training can be the thing new puppy owners find most challenging outside of basic puppy training. Cleaning up puddles of urine or smelly poop around the home isn’t something anyone wants to deal with—but it comes with the territory when you bring home a new puppy. Potty training your puppy, however, doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Providing you’re consistent and patient, your pup could be toileting outside reliably in no time.

Curious about the best way to potty train a puppy? There isn’t an exact one-size-fits-all approach. Much will depend on your lifestyle, environment, and what your individual puppy is like. But it’s all about appropriate management, supervision, schedules, rewards, and clean-up. Read on to learn helpful tips and tricks to house train your dog.

Watch For The Potty Signs

Many experts advocate for what they sometimes refer to as the “umbilical cord” approach to potty training. This involves close supervision at all times and possibly even tethering your pup to you with a six-foot leash when you’re moving around the home. Using baby gates to restrict unsupervised room access can also be helpful. Doing this means your pup won’t wander off into another area of the home to eliminate while you aren’t watching.

Watch for the signs that they need to go potty too.  This can include pacing, panting, circling, sniffing the ground, or going to the door. When you see any of these, get them outside as quickly as possible.

Crate Training

Of course, you can’t be supervising your pup 100% of the time—and this is when crate training your puppy can be helpful. Dogs are naturally clean animals and prefer not to eliminate in their sleeping space. The key to using a crate is to make sure that your pup associates it with positive things and that you don’t use it as a punishment tool. Don’t crate a young puppy for more than a couple of hours during the day, and you may even need to give them potty breaks during the night too. You want them to think of it as a comfortable and secure den-like space for them to relax in. 

Make sure the crate is the right size for your pup. Too small, and they won’t be able to stretch out comfortably to sleep, stand up, or turn around. Too large, and they may sleep at one end and use the other end as a toilet. If you don’t want to opt for a crate, a confined smaller area such as a bathroom or laundry room closed off with a baby gate can be an alternative option. Unsupervised whole house access in the early days generally leads to more accidents.

Paper or Pad Training

Puppy pads or paper allow you to direct your dog to an approved spot when toileting indoors. There are varying opinions on using them because you’re essentially teaching your puppy to piddle in the house as well as outdoors. However, they can be helpful if you live in an apartment with no yard access. Some people also use them during the depth of a harsh winter, or if they have to leave their pup unsupervised for a couple of hours a day. You just might have to allow for a little extra time to transition your pup away from them to complete outdoor pottying.

Keep a Consistent and Frequent Schedule

As your puppy matures, their ability to control their bladder and bowels grows. So, while a two-month-old puppy may only be able to hold on for a couple of hours, a four-month-old could manage for around four hours between toilet breaks. Of course, this depends on the individual dog and their size. 

By keeping a regular, consistent, and proactive potty break schedule, regardless of their age, you’re setting your puppy up for success. For a newly arrived puppy, you’ll want to give them the opportunity to toilet outside as often as possible—at least every couple of hours. This will include when they first wake up, before they go to bed, or after playing, eating, or napping—basically after any major change. Be prepared to be heading outside at least ten times or more a day in the early stages.

When you do take them outside, keep them on a leash and head to a designated potty spot. Avoid distracting them with play or other exciting things. Your goal is to be as uninteresting as possible while you wait for them to relieve themself. If they have done nothing after fifteen or so minutes, bring them back inside, but you should keep a close eye out for any signs that they need to go.

Always Reward Outside Potty Training

Never go out for potty breaks unless you’re armed with the most delicious food rewards for your pup. Pick something you know they love and save it just for rewarding them for outdoor toileting. Getting the timing of the reward right is also important. If you get the treats out too quickly, they may get distracted and not finish eliminating. If you’re too late, they won’t associate the reward with the act of pottying.

Some owners also use a verbal cue, like “wee wees” or “potty”. This can sometimes help to speed along the process. By praising and rewarding your puppy every time they potty outside, you’ll reinforce the behavior and make it clear that this is what you want from them.  This is the type of positive reinforcement approach to take with all your puppy training.

It’s also another reason why any outdoor play shouldn’t start until after your pup has gone to potty. Not only will it prevent them from getting distracted from the important stuff, but they’ll also learn that the fun happens after they’ve done it.

Clean Up Any Accidents Properly

When the inevitable accident happens indoors, cleaning it up quickly and thoroughly minimizes the chances of your pup going back to that spot again.

Blot up as much as possible first and then, ideally, use a specific enzymatic stain and odor remover. The enzymes help break down the uric acid from the urine, which can linger when you clean up with other products.

Diet Plays an Important Role

Feeding your puppy small, measured portions of highly digestible food regularly can help with potty training.  Large portions can be too much for their digestive system and can lead to soft poops.  Two to four meals a day is ideal.

Plan For When You’re Not Around

If you have to leave your pup for more than a couple of hours, especially if they’re not paper trained, having a neighbor or puppy sitter pop by for bathroom breaks will help maintain a potty training routine. Make sure when they’re on their own that they don’t have free access to the entire house either.

Be Patient

Potty training can be a bit of a rollercoaster, and it doesn’t happen overnight. You may have had a good few days and think you’ve cracked it, and then a couple of accidents occur. Setbacks like this are normal. Evaluate if you’ve slacked off with your consistency of schedule, levels of supervision, or reward giving, and keep at it.

Of course, if you’ve had an excellent schedule and suddenly lots of accidents are happening, it may be worth a trip to the vet. They can rule out any medical issues, like urinary tract infections.

What Not to Do When Potty Training

Even though it can be frustrating when your pup pees on your rug or favorite shoes, the number one thing not to do is punish them. It can damage the bond of trust that you’re building, and they may try to hide when they do it the next time. Remember, one puppy step at a time.

Interested in more?

Gemma Johnstone Contributor

Gemma is a writer and official dog nut. She is based in the Italian Alps with her rescue dog Annie and is currently studying towards an Advanced Diploma in Canine Behavior and Training.

Read more about Gemma Johnstone

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