The Very Best Way to Potty Train a Puppy
The number one concern of most new dog owners is what the best way to potty train a puppy is. The most misdirected interaction to train a new puppy is also probably potty training a puppy! It isn’t going to be immediate; it takes time!
And no wonder there is such concern surrounding potty training a puppy – the #1 reason puppies and dogs are dropped off at animal shelters every year is due to housebreaking issues. Many new dog owners do not realize how very important it is to potty train a puppy. Humans don’t understand what it is like to be a dog, and dogs don’t really understand what it is like to be a human; this is where the miscommunication lies.
Puppies don’t know that going potty in the house is a mistake, yet the vast majority of owners expect that their puppies come with this understanding. Let me assure you; he does not know that going potty in the house (poop or pee) will result in anger or even displeasure from you. Chances were when he was living with his littermates, they all used “the bathroom” whenever the desire hit.
As humans, we don’t want him to toilet inside or have “accidents” and luckily training your puppy is easy if you have a few essential step-by-step rules that you can follow that are proven to train a puppy! After all, we all need to know how to successfully potty train a puppy! And, training your puppy is easy if you know what you are doing.
But remember it takes time to teach him where the appropriate area where he can go is for him to be successful!
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.
And, 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 periods 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.
Getting Started - When you are thinking about crate training 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.
Acclimation - You want to get your puppy used to his crate before you leave him for 3 hours or more.
The best way to do this is to provide him with a hefty amount of exercise prior to crating him so that he will be too tired to care that he is in a crate.
If he just woke up from a nap and you slide him into a crate he is much more likely to have a terrible fit and a bad experience; which will make crating him next time more traumatic.
When he is exhausted, he might have a small puppy fit; but then he is probably going to take a nap which will help make his experience more pleasurable.
I usually start crate training the first night puppy comes home, (after I exercise him) and I put that crate next to the side of my bed. This way I can hear the puppy if he stirs at night and he can also hear me breathing.
Remember that if he is a puppy, he has probably come from an environment where he is used to hearing his littermates at night and going into a totally sterile environment with no noise at all is going to be a bit terrifying for him! I have found that putting him next to the bed, helps us both sleep and helps with potty training!
Paper Training or Potty Pads
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!
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.
I use a leash on all my puppies while we are working on “toileting outside”. Not only does the leash enable me to help him work on his regular obedience manners, it also is instrumental to the potty training process. Being on a leash and near me forces me to pay more attention to my puppy and deal with his naughty behaviors.
Being on a leash also makes it impossible for your new puppy to sneak off in another room in the wrong area and have an accident, or sneak off and chew on something he shouldn’t have in his mouth.
You’ll quickly notice your dog’s behavior change when he needs to go outside because he will become restless and begin to dance uncomfortably on the leash.
Housebreak your puppy right, and take him to the right spot!
Give him time to do his business.
For many dogs, a nice long walk is a chance for him to relieve himself. However, dogs naturally like to mark their territory, so they may want to sniff around to find the perfect spot.
If you notice that your dog needs to relieve himself, you can stop walking and give him more leash to explore and do his business. Once he is done, be sure to reward him with praise or treats (after all, you're likely going through potty training at this time too).
One thing to keep in mind is that dogs do not always evacuate their bladder at once, so some dogs may look for multiple spots to urinate.
It is vital that you reward him only the first time, otherwise he will start to understand positive associations with marking multiple times. This makes for a much more difficult walk. When he understands he only gets one opportunity to relieve himself, he will start to walk better.
As a veterinary technician, I have seen 4 puppies in the past month who have ingested things (two socks, and one pair of underwear, and another with candy wrappers) that they have not been able to pass on their own, meaning we were forced to do emergency exploratory surgeries to find said items.
I can guarantee you that if your puppy is with you on a leash and he grabs your underwear, socks or candy, you aren’t going to allow him to chew, play with and swallow them.
And, by taking these items away and replacing them with appropriate chew toys, you can teach him manners,
I will admit, it isn’t always fun, keeping your puppy on a leash indoors with you, but the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience.
Did you know all guide and service dog organizations force you to keep the puppy on leash all of the time?
This is because it keeps the puppy from developing bad habits and it forces the surrogate owners to be good parents and teach the dogs obedience through forced exposure.
Again, I am not going to let you jump on the counter, jump on the visitor, grab the cat, or grab the underwear if he is on a leash! Treat him when he leaves distractions and pays attention to you.
Eventually, room dividers will help you manage your dog and his behaviors. If you can keep him out of a certain space and yet confined to a certain space, you can ensure a more successful potty training experience as a whole. Don’t move to room dividers until your dog is fairly reliable. Then, keep an eye on your dog and make sure he is getting out as often as you need.
Take Him Out Often
Potty training a puppy is more about potty training “YOU” than it is about potty training your puppy!
The other key to success is making sure your new puppy gets outside about every two hours. He may need to go out even more often than that after certain situations. Puppies usually need to go outside to the right area about 10 minutes after eating or drinking. They also need to go out after strenuous play. They need to go potty after sleeping.
Think of it this way, you can’t get him out to the right area too much, but you can take him out too little, causing him to make urine or feces accidents.
Make sure that you are going out with your puppy and monitoring him while he is outside. Not only do you not want to allow him to chew on things he shouldn’t or dig up your yard, it is critical to learn his potty schedule.
All puppy potty schedules are a little different, but each puppy will have one.
One of my puppies would poop three times daily, morning, noon, and night and urinate after water consumption and about every two hours. Once I learned that, I could watch the puppy if he missed one of his outside scheduled potty episodes. If I don’t know my puppy’s schedule, he is more likely to have an accident.
Puppies get distracted while outside. They may be mid-stream and notice a butterfly and stop to give chase, or they may be so busy sniffing what critters were in the yard the night before that they forget to utilize the time to use the bathroom.
Remember, when your puppy is young it is up to YOU to make sure he isn’t having accidents in the house.
The more you know about him and his habits, the more you set him up for early success and move through the potty training stage!
If you don’t have a routine in place, you can start by taking your puppy out every two hours. Your puppy needs to be in his crate when you are gone, aren’t supervising him and while he’s sleeping at night. This will help teach him to hold it for extended periods of time. Once you return or wake up, you should immediately take him out of his crate and continue to take him out every 2 hours.
Next, start adding more time between his potty breaks each week by 15 minutes so he gradually learns to hold it for longer. So if you start with an 8 week old puppy and 2-hour intervals, your weekly schedule should look something like this:
Week 1 – Every 2 hours
Week 2 – Every 2 hours and 15 minutes
Week 3 – Every 2 ½ hours
Week 4 – Every 2 hours and 45 minutes
Week 5 – Every 3 hours
A 15-minute increase is in line with your puppy’s age if you start him at 8 weeks. But regardless if he’s 8 weeks, 8 months or 8 years, adding a time gradually will help ease him into controlling his bladder without either of you feeling too much anxiety.
Puppies generally have to use the bathroom after eating or drinking, after waking up from a nap or if they have been playing for a while. So although you could take your puppy out after you see they have woken up from a nap in order to avoid a mistake, that won’t keep him on a schedule, and that’s what you want to do.
If I take my pup out at 10 a.m. and he takes a 30-minute nap in his crate, that would put us at 10:30 a.m., which is 1 ½ hours away from his next scheduled potty break. So, instead of taking him out, I will place him in his crate until 12 p.m. and then let them out of his crate to go potty. I do this each time the scheduled potty breaks fall out of line with the schedule – with the exception of after eating or drinking water.
If I take my puppy out at 7:30 a.m. and feed him at 8 a.m., I will take him back out 15 to 30 minutes later and start my 2-hour schedule from that point.
I know I keep mentioning this, but it is SO IMPORTANT for you to understand that in the dog potty training process, there are going to be accidents. What you do when your dog has an accident is very important. Yes I know that nobody likes cleaning up after the fact but if you react negatively your dog will start to associate your anger or frustration with him going to the bathroom and will be afraid to eliminate around you. I would say this is the biggest mistake people make while dog potty training.
So instead of reacting negatively by yelling or even rubbing their nose in it concentrate more on heavily rewarding the good behavior. Now your family has a potty trained dog they can enjoy in the house or if you’re dog sitting you can return the dog fully potty trained to the owner with of course a small bill!
Honestly, I am all about positive reinforcement training and using treats and rewards, but I don’t recommend it for potty training.
From the puppy’s perspective, he is being rewarded for going to the bathroom, the behavior he is currently showing.
He doesn’t understand that he is being rewarded for going to the toilet OUTSIDE!
You may think he draws that conclusion, but I assure you after my 25+ years training that he is not.
This is why many of my clients come to me and say their puppy will urinate outside and then come inside and urinate in front of them almost immediately. Your puppy is working for that treat!
Instead, while my puppy is going potty, I quietly praise him. You don’t want to be over the top about it and stop what he is doing, just reinforce that what he is doing and where is something you like. Then if you catch him going potty inside stop him with an abrupt sound “Ahhh” (not too scary), then get him outside and quietly coo and praise when he continues to go in the right area. This makes it clear that “place” is important and he is also not just getting in trouble for going potty in front of you.
Don’t Over Correct
Understand, there will be accidents and you will need to clean up any accidents in your house completely with an enzymatic 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 Fido not to take his potty breaks in front of you – Do not punish for accidents.
What we want is a puppy who is willing to go potty outside with us, so we don’t want them to think that the act of toileting in front of us is wrong. After all, your puppy is going to have to “go” you just don’t want him to learn it is easier to sneak away from you.
It is acceptable to try and stop him if you catch him in the act, but kindly take him outside to the correct area and continue the lesson that being outside is where he should be going potty.
Having a potty trained puppy will lead to having a well potty trained dog and a dog that knows where to eliminate in the correct spot outside if you take the time to train him while he is young!
Yes, it takes a bit of effort, but everything good in life takes effort.
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.