Potty Training a Puppy – It’s Easier than You Think!
As a dog trainer, the questions I get asked THE MOST have to do with potty training your puppies. I have always been very successful with potty training my own puppies. I’m not telling you this to brag; quite the contrary.
I want you to know that it is possible for you to have the same success, and I’m going to tell you how! So many people have puppies that sneak off and take potty breaks in other rooms or behind the sofa. Does this sound familiar?
Do you feel like your potty training efforts have been in vain? When someone mentions the words Potty Training are you a deer in headlights afraid? Or are you simply confused about where to start?
Well don’t you worry, because in this article I’m going to share with you, how easy it is to teach your puppy where and when to go to the bathroom. It’s true that potty training a puppy or dog for that matter requires patience, commitment and lots of consistency. But if you’ll implement the following tips, potty training will become a WHOLE lot easier…
First, Let’s Talk About What NOT to do…
Did you know that the #1 reason why 80% of the puppies and dogs are dropped off at animal shelters every year is because of housebreaking issues? Many new dog owners do not realize the responsibility involved in owning that cute little ball of fur, and how very important it is to potty train their young puppy. Dogs are not born knowing human expectations.
Puppies do not spring forth from their mother’s womb knowing that having accidents “inside” the house is wrong. Do not set unrealistic expectations! Young puppies do not have fully developed bladder muscles until they’re at least 4-6 months old.
So, depending on how old he is and his size, it’s unrealistic to expect him to be potty trained before this time. It will be helpful to keep in mind that your young puppy is only able to hold his bladder 1 hour for every month old he is. So if your puppies are two months old, they can hold it for about two hours. Don’t go longer than this between bathroom breaks or they’re guaranteed to have an accident.
If your puppy is older than six months, he’s got a bladder that is fully capable of “holding it”, so, lucky for you, you should be able to fully potty train your puppy in less than 30 days by following this program. And you might just find you may even potty train a puppy in as quickly as 10-14 days. That’s a win for you!
Do not leave any accident evidence behind. Clean up any accidents in your house completely with an enzyme cleaner. This is very important because you do not want your pup to smell somewhere he has previously marked because he will return to that spot again and again.
And on that note… If Fido has an accident in front of you, and you scold, yell or punish, you will only teach him not to take his potty breaks in front of you – Do not punish for accidents.
Most importantly remember:
— Your puppy is never hateful, spiteful or malicious in his thoughts and actions.
— Your puppy does what his instincts tell him. That’s what benefits his survival.
— Your puppy is not your enemy – he loves you unconditionally. He is your partner. Treat him with respect. After all, you have committed to be his steward.
How Do I Potty Train My Puppy?
#1) Schedule – First things first! I understand puppies, so I’m going to let you in on a little secret: The fastest way to potty train a puppy is to FIRST use his instinct to not soil his nest to your own advantage. From the moment your puppy is born, his mother is teaching him that his nest is the place where he eats & sleeps.
And one of the first rules Mama Dog starts to teach her pups is NO peeing or pooping in the family nest – That’s Disgusting! So as long as you didn’t buy your puppy from a puppy mill or from an un-reputable breeder, the puppy you bring home comes pre-programmed with the belief that taking potty breaks where he eats and sleeps is bad and potty breaks anywhere else is good.
But this is really where the first misconception comes in; you and your dog do NOT share the same definition of INSIDE & OUTSIDE.
Un-potty trained dogs often have a VERY small version of “Their Nest” – maybe just a few spots in your home, like their bed, or a couch. Your dog thinks of his Nesting place, where he does NOT pee or poop, as a MUCH smaller space than you realize.
Because most of us humans think of OUTSIDE our “Nest” as literally outside, can you see why you and your dog aren’t coming to an agreement on where he should be eliminating? Can you see how when your dog maybe soaks the carpet right next to his bed he LITERALLY thinks he’s going where he’s supposed to?
Because from his perspective… he DID leave his nest to go pee.
So your dog THINKS he’s been good…
…and you’re questioning your sanity by deciding to bring home that little ball of fur!
So the question then becomes, how do you teach your dog the difference between what YOU think of as “Your Nest” (your entire home) and what your dog thinks it is (that spot next to his bed)?
Luckily puppies have an internal schedule that their bodies follow; your puppy needs to go out right after naps or sleep, after exercise, and after eating and drinking. As a rule of thumb, your puppy can control his bladder about one hour for every month of age. So if your puppy is two months old, he can hold it for about two hours. (Read more about that here)
For good measure I always let my puppies out about every 2 hours (unless they are asleep) and take them to the same potty spot each time. When they are tiny, potty training is all about YOU, not them! It is YOUR responsibility to make sure they get outside.
Go outside with them to monitor their success (this is crucial), and keep them with you around the house. If you can’t see your puppy…chances are he is getting into trouble somewhere! So, keep him with you all of the time, either on a leash or with a baby gate or boundary!
#2) Crate Training – The smaller the environment, the more successful we will all be! This is the same reason why crate training works. Most puppies don’t want to poop or pee and then be subjected to it, or lay in it. Provided that the crate you got for him is not too big crates make going potty uncomfortable.
If your puppy pees or poops in the crate; he is going to have to lay in it until someone comes along and lets him out. And, let’s face it as long as you keep your dog clean, chances are he is going to desire to be clean. Almost no dog wants to sit in his own urine or excrement.
Once he has an accident in his crate he realizes this, and it gives him motivation and teaches him to hold his bladder etc. Please note that he has to be old enough to hold his bladder! It is unfair to crate young puppies for long durations because they are incapable of being potty trained when they are little infants.
And, if you crate young puppies until they poop or pee on themselves… it simply desensitizes them to being clean. They learn that being dirty and stinky is just part of life! Be sure to get puppies out for potty breaks often! And, it is recommended that puppies only be crated however many months of age they are plus one. So if you have an 8 week old puppy (2 months old) he should only be crated a maximum of 3 hours.
How to Crate Train – The Cliff Notes Version – When you are getting ready to crate train and purchasing a crate, I recommend getting a crate that will be big enough for your adult dog. Unless you have oodles of money laying around, I would not necessarily get a crate the size of your puppy and then continue to get bigger crates as he ages. And, don’t think you aren’t going to need a crate when your dog is full grown, because crate training has its benefits throughout the lifetime of your dog!
Instead, I would recommend getting a crate big enough for your adult dog and partitioning it off to be smaller depending on the size of your puppy. Many crates come with a partition that can be inserted. If the crate is TOOOO big, chances are your puppy can have an accident at one end of the crate and lay at the other end, which mostly defeats the purpose of crate training.
Puppies Are “Den” Based Animals Who Crave A Safe Place to Go – So when we do OUR job as pet parents, and help our young puppies understand that their CRATE is a safe place that they can call their den, a WHOLE lot of wonderful behavior changes start to happen in your dog. For starters, young puppies are taught by their mothers to NOT pee in their den. So when we create a den for them, it’s like we kick start a little evolutionary ingrained gene in their brains that tells them ‘NOT TO PEE in Their Crate’.
Of course, there are limits to how long a puppy can hold their bladder at different stages of life, that you have to abide by to make this happen; but as long as you follow the guidelines we’ll share with you later for how long to keep your puppy in his crate. If your dog loves his crate, he’ll hold it for as long as he physically can.
But therein lies the trick…
How Do You Get Your Puppy to LOVE Going To His Crate?
Introducing “Den Training”! – Den Training is the process for how to get your puppy to learn to LOVE his crate, and treats it like his Mother’s Den.
Fun and Games
1. First You Will Need to Make the Crate Inviting
You DO NOT have to leave these in the crate when you are not training (this may not be safe, because the dog or puppy may shred or potentially ingest them). But it certainly makes a crate less scary and more inviting.
Don’t forget your High Value Treats!
— Hot Dogs
2. Exploring the Crate
Click and treat for any interaction with the crate, from looking at the crate to putting a body part inside. Remember to work at your dog’s pace and slowly raise the criteria. If you move too quickly he may become overwhelmed or lose interest.
3. Next, slowly change the criteria and click and treat him for:
— Putting his full body in the crate
— Sitting in the crate
— Laying down in the crate
— Choosing to stay in the crate
4. Close door and latch (click and treat)
5. Close door, latch, walk away (click and treat)
6. Release and reward him at intermittent times
If your puppy tries to lunge through the door, latch and wait. Only staying inside equals reward. The reward can also come from the back of the crate to keep your dog from wanting to forge through. For example, if my dog wants to race out when I open the door, I simply refuse to reward. Instead, I hold the reward near the end of the crate while I open the door. If the dog stays inside he will get a jackpot.
Holding It – Once your puppy is trained to go into his crate WILLINGLY, now you start to teach your puppy to “HOLD IT” while in his crate for longer and longer periods of time. This becomes HUGE when it comes time to teaching your puppy how to warn us that he has to go.
But for now…
We want to use the power of your pup’s UNWILLINGNESS to pee in his den to our advantage by containing a puppy in one spot for a period of time.
But here’s the trick…
We need to teach the puppy how to hold it a little longer than he wants to, but not so long that we’re becoming abusive. So what we’ve created for you is a chart that helps show you how long your dog should be left in his crate at a time. This chart shows you not only how to tell how long your dog can currently be left in his crate, but how to adapt those time lengths to your puppy as he ages.
Plus by following this schedule you will INCREASE the amount of time your dog is willing to be in his crate without soiling it by 30 minutes every week.
Important Facts about House Breaking Puppies and the Crate – You must get your puppy on a crate training schedule, a schedule for spending periodic time in his crate but not being left for too long! Puppies can be left in a crate up to however old they are in months plus one hour. So if your puppy is 8 weeks old (2 months) plus one hour = 3 hours. You wouldn’t want to leave an 8-week old puppy over 3 hours in a crate, and I would strive for something less if at all possible. The more time you spend with your puppy, the more time you bond and your puppy learns appropriate manners.
Remember to utilize the crate throughout the day to help your puppy acclimate to it easier, get your pup really tired and then let him have a nap in his new house. Also, feeding your pup in his crate will help him associate good feelings with his new home!
What about Potty Pads? Should You Use them While Potty Training Your Dog?
Anyone who is familiar with my training philosophy and my writing, knows my answer to this question.
NO, no, no, no, don’t do it, and NO!
I know this is a controversial topic and have heard from several of you who have never had a problem with puppy pads and transitioning your pup to the outside. This method of “house training” we used to call “paper training” because people used newspapers to give the pup an appropriate place to potty.
And, before the invention of puppy pads, this kind of training was actually more effective! Why? Because most people don’t leave newspapers scattered on the floor all over their house. Think about it; unless you are a hoarder, you probably don’t have a bunch of newspaper on your walls or on your floor. So, once the newspapers disappear the puppy is more likely to acclimate to going outside.
Potty pads aren’t like newspaper. Potty pads are soft and plush. Potty pads feel like your carpet, your clothes, and your towels. So when the potty pads disappear the pup begins to use soft things he finds on the floor or walls of your house. And, let’s face it… there are a lot of soft things in the floor of our homes!
Personally I would rather not teach my dog to take potty breaks inside my house. It is counterintuitive if I want him to learn to take potty breaks outside. So it is better for me to get him outside every two hours, rather than to allow him to form a bad habit.
#3) Supervision – Once you have a handle on your puppy’s potty schedule and he is learning that outside is the place to take his potty breaks, it is time to teach him how to tell you he has to go out!
The Bell Method – The way I taught my 11 week old Golden Retriever to tell me when he needs to go out was to simply hang a little Christmas jingle bell with ribbon or string at nose height on the door handle that leads outside. And then I trained him to ring it ONLY when he had the urge to go potty.
Here’s why this bell is Magic:
— I no longer had to “Catch My Dog in the Act” to train him to go outside. Now he tells me!
— Now my dog had a way to communicate his need to go outside. And he could call me from the other side of the house WITHOUT barking (who wants to train their dog to bark to go outside – super annoying and a whole new problem to solve)
— When my little dog’s bladder was 15 seconds away from bursting, he didn’t have to run all over the house trying to find me to tell me he had to go, and have an accident on the stairs or something. Cuz he knew if he rang it, I’d come a runnin’.
So there you have it… Once he understands what you want, you can begin giving it a command.
The Most Important Puppy Potty Training Tip?
Don’t over react when he has an accident. Never, ever yell or rub his nose in it! This hostility is the reason dogs “sneak” around, go behind couches, and in other rooms to have an accident. You want your puppy to relieve himself in front of you outside, so yelling at him is counterproductive! Your puppy doesn’t understand why you yell sometimes and not others! TEACH him where you want him to go potty by being patient, taking him to the same potty spot outside, staying with him and quietly praise him when he goes potty outside and provide a great treat afterward! Praising him for a job well done! The goal is to avoid instilling fear in your dog, which will make him think it’s OK to relieve himself in the wrong place— just as long as you’re not around!
Here are a few tips to ensure you have a house trained pup in no time:
Stick to a schedule
Teach the difference between the floor and the pad
Take regular trips to the potty pad every few hours, and simply wait for him to go
Practice makes perfect!
If you approach dog potty training your puppy with this great new attitude I know that you too, will be successful!
That’s right, potty training has very little to do with your puppy until he is much, much older and you have already solidified good habits. Thinking that it is up to your puppy to potty train himself is setting you both up for failure.
One of the most important things you will do is potty train your puppy! Be diligent, get him out every 2 hours, and keep him with you so that he doesn’t have accidents and form bad habits.
One day, you will thank me for it!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.