How To Potty Train A Puppy

Written by: Sassafras Lowrey

December 9, 2021

Opening your heart and home to a furry new family member is a big decision. It’s also one of the most rewarding choices you will ever make. Whether you’ve chosen a pudgy puppy or an adult dog, both of your lives will be forever changed for the better. Acclimating your new best friend to your lifestyle will surely have bumps, but with the following steps, potty training doesn’t have to be one of them.

fluffy white puppy

That said, accidents are inevitable, but patience and consistency are key! Though we all wish they were, puppies don’t come pre-programmed knowing potty dos and don’ts; they need to learn that relieving themselves is an outside job, and pee puddles don’t belong in the middle of the living room rug.

Signs A Puppy Needs To Go Potty

Even though puppies don’t yet know how to alert you to an incoming poop, it helps to time potty breaks when your puppy needs to go naturally. A few clear signals include:

  • Circling
  • Sniffing
  • Restlessness
  • Whining
  • Going to an area in the home where they have had an accident before

Your new pooch is going to have a few accidents during the training process, but isn’t that a small price to pay for unconditional love? There are several indoor options to minimize damage to your floors. Puppy training pads have an absorbent layer and a plastic bottom to catch and hold messes. Try moving these closer and closer to the door each time your pup uses them. This will train them to go to the door when they need to potty.

Several “doggy litter boxes” have also hit the market featuring Astroturf with a collection tray underneath. These are ideal emergency solutions for high rise city pooches. While training pads and litter pans are great for the occasional accident, be wary of relying too heavily on these solutions. The ultimate goal is to teach your pooch that the great outdoors is the perfect place for going potty.

Supervise Or Confine Your Puppy During Potty Training

My number one rule for getting through puppy potty training as quickly as possible (and with the fewest messes) is to supervise at all times, or confine your puppy when you can’t. This will allow you to keep an eye out for those “I need to go potty” signals.

chocolate lab puppy

If distracted by work, cooking, watching TV, or other activities, create designated puppy areas with baby gates to limit areas of the home you can’t see. You can also tether your puppy to you with a leash to keep them close for brief periods

If you will be busy in the shower or doing something that prevents you from watching your puppy, take them outside to potty first, ask a family member to watch them, or put the puppy in their crate until you are able to supervise again. 

When choosing a crate for your new dog, make sure they can stand up to their full height and complete a full turn inside. Do not purchase an oversized crate. Dogs will avoid going potty in their sleep space, so make sure there isn’t room to potty on one end and sleep at the other.

Reward Your Puppy When They Go Potty Outside

Any time your puppy relieves themselves outside, offer plenty of verbal and physical praise and treats! By pairing successful potty breaks with positive reinforcement, puppies will begin to associate the two and learn that peeing and pooping inside won’t get them any of the good stuff.

husky puppy in grass

Offer Frequent Opportunities To Go Potty

To help puppies be successful with potty training, it’s important to keep them on a schedule and give them plenty of chances to do their business outside. Puppies often need to go whenever there is a transition from one activity to another, including after:

  • Waking up from a nap
  • Finishing a meal
  • An active play session

Carry or walk your pooch outside to their designated potty zone immediately after any of the above activities, and at least once every few hours while you’re awake.

If they decide to eat a stick or chase a butterfly, bring them back inside and try again in five minutes. Repeat until they do their business. Never scold them, but also don’t allow them to get distracted from the task at hand. They’re outside to do their business, not to dilly dally.

If they do their business, yay! It’s time for a big celebration with lots of kisses! Our dogs live to make us happy, so positive feedback will work better than any snack. If you do decide to use training treats, pick something small and low in calories—treats can add up!

puppy and owner kissing

Accidents Happen, And It’s OK

Accidents are part of life with puppies during potty training. It can be helpful as potty training progresses to print a blank calendar page to use as a sticker chart the same way many parents of potty training children do.

Although the chart won’t be motivating for your puppy, it’s encouraging to see the positive changes as the number of accidents decreases over time. Alternatively, if you see a sudden increase in accidents, you can look back at your schedule to figure out where supervision may have lacked.

Never Punish Puppies For Accidents

When your puppy has an accident in the house, punishment will never effectively communicate what you want. Outdated and aversive “training” approaches of rubbing a puppy’s nose in an accident or hitting the puppy with a rolled-up newspaper are harmful, and only teaches them to be afraid of you and find sneakier ways to do their business where they shouldn’t.

Instead, turn an accident into a learning opportunity—look at what “I have to go potty” signs you might have missed, or consider that you waited too long to take your puppy out and schedule more frequent breaks.

Dalmatian puppy looking guilty

How Often Do Puppies Need To Go Potty?

It’s important to be realistic about how long puppies can wait before needing to go potty. Puppies have bladders smaller than adult dogs and will go whenever they need to, and small breed puppies will need to go more frequently than larger puppies.

If you’ll be depending on a pet sitter or doggy day care to babysit your pup during your work hours, be sure to inform them of your training plan. Everyone in your dog’s life needs to be on the same page to ensure success.

Potty training can take puppies between 4 and 6 months old to grasp, but for toy breeds it can take even longer. Try not to lose hope or get frustrated! Just be patient, consistent, and provide endless love and praise for good habits. Your puppy will master potty training in no time!

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

No matter how hard it is to get your new canine companion potty trained, remember that the most important thing is forging a strong bond. Pups need to know that they can trust us and depend on us for their every need.

The potty training path will be marked with a few puddles and piles, but at the end is a rewarding friendship to last a lifetime. So celebrate the victories, shrug off the snafus, and enjoy the moments as they pass. You’re a member of the elite Pup Parent Club now. Welcome aboard!

Sassafras Lowrey is a dog trainer turned trick instructor turned writer who seriously loves dogs! She got involved with dog training as a teenager, but it wasn’t until her and her partner adopted a former street dog in 2011 that she realized she could combine her passion for dogs with her passion for writing! After looking into ways she could enrich her dog Charlotte’s life, and seeing other pet parents do the same, Sassafras decided to write books to help both dogs and their humans. Check out the following activity from her new book, Chew This Journal!

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Written by: Sassafras Lowrey

December 9, 2021

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