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Tips On Potty Training Your New Puppy

Puppy walking across a grassy backyard, on its way to use the bathroom
Alexey Savchuk/Shutterstock

You decided to get a cute little puppy, and now the fun begins. Most puppies don’t come pre-trained, and potty training can sometimes be a daunting task. We’re here to help you tackle the job.

How Not To Potty Train a Puppy

When it comes to teaching your puppy how to do his business outside, it’s important to start with the things you shouldn’t do. The key thing:  you’re working with an animal that has a short attention span and can’t completely understand the things you’re saying to him. What he does understand are consistency and repetition.

  • Don’t expect too much, too early. Before 16 weeks puppies typically can’t control their bladders very well and smaller breeders with faster metabolisms generally are more challenging than bigger dogs.
  • Never punish your puppy for an accident. All this does is cause him to fear you, and doesn’t teach him anything about alerting you to his need to go outside.
  • Never rub your puppy’s nose in an accident or yell at him after the fact—dogs lack the cognitive ability to understand what you’re upset about and both actions can lead to even more trouble with potty training.

When you do catch your puppy having an accident, clap your hands (don’t yell) to interrupt him, and then take the puppy outside to do his business. Once your puppy finishes outside, give him a treat or some praise for a job well done.

Also, to help avoid future accidents in the same spot, use cleaners with enzymes that help neutralize and minimize odors. There’s more to the matter than just that, however, so let’s look at how to read the signs your puppy is sending and how to create a consistent environment makes potty training easier on the both of you.

Know When Your Puppy Needs to Go

Accidents will happen, and they may continue to occur for a little while even when you think training is complete—while some dogs take quickly to the training, other dogs take up to a year to be fully trained. Changes in the living environment and even diet can cause accidents. Avoiding accidents is about more than just proper training; it’s about knowing the signs that your puppy needs to go to the bathroom.

Common signs include:

  • Crying
  • Sniffing around
  • Barking
  • Circling

Every puppy is different though, and you’ll need to pay close attention to the signs (or lack thereof) your puppy is sending. Our Editor in Chief, Jason, had a tough time training his puppy until he realized that the dog’s signal was to sit there and stare at him intently, waiting to be taken outside.

If your puppy is in a crate, he’ll be more likely to make extra noise to get your attention. If he’s not confined, your puppy may scratch at the door. If your puppy does any of these things, take him outside.

Take your time while you’re outside. Your puppy may need some time to explore before he does his business. If you give him plenty of outdoor time, he’ll be less likely to make a mess inside.

How to Get Started

Begin with the understanding that your puppy will not be potty trained overnight. For a puppy to be fully potty trained, expect to spend at least four to six month working consistently. It could take up to a year if you’re unable to work with your puppy consistently.

Size matters when it comes to dogs and their frequency of needing to go to the bathroom. Small breeds have smaller bladders, so they’ll need to urinate more often than larger dogs. If you’ve adopted a puppy that’s already a few months old, you’ll be working around habits he picked up for his previous owner as well; habits that may take time to break.

You also need to know when to get started. 12 to 16-weeks old is a good time to get started. At this age, your puppy is beginning to have the ability to control his bladder and bowel movements. Now that he can hold it, you want him to learn to hold it until he is outside.

How to Potty Train Your Puppy

Potty training your puppy begins with keeping your dog in a defined space. You don’t want to allow an untrained puppy free roam of the house or you’ll be finding messes all over the place.

You have a few choices for keeping a puppy in training confined:

  • Use a crate
  • Keep him in a specific room with you (confined by a door or a gate)
  • Keep him on a leash

As your puppy starts to learn to alert you to his need to go outside, you can start letting him have more freedom.

You want to make sure that you are keeping your puppy on a regular feeding schedule, meaning he eats at the same times each day. Don’t leave food down all the time, only during specific feeding times. Consistency in diet will help lead to consistency in potty training, as will taking your puppy outside on a regular schedule.

Take your puppy outside when you get up in the morning. Follow that by taking him out every thirty minutes to about an hour throughout the day. Meals should always be followed by a trip outside, and so should naps.

It also helps to take them to the same spot in your yard each time you take them out because the scent of previous visits will help prompt your puppy to go. Reinforce this continued good behavior by giving your puppy praise and a treat each time he goes where he is supposed to. Above all else, that’s the most critical thing: praise and reward with treats every time your puppy uses the bathroom in the correct place.

Here are some of the ways to train your puppy to potty where they need to, and not anywhere they want to.

Using Potty Pads

Potty pads are an excellent investment for people that might not be able to take a puppy outside consistently. They are usually treated with an attractant that encourages them to go potty there. The key is to put the potty pads near the door you want your puppy to go to when it is time for him actually to go outside.

While there’s a risk the use of potty pads will form an association between using the bathroom and the interior of the house, the benefits with very young puppies outweigh the risks. The goal is to use the pads as a transitional tool for containing messes while the puppy is too young to consistently hold it in until he can get outside.

Be sure to swap potty pads out the moment your puppy uses them (or the moment you get home from work). Don’t use potty pads as a replacement for litter training if you plan to have a completely indoor dog that does not go outside (common for people who live in a big city in condos and towering apartment buildings).

Bell Training

One great way to teach your puppy to let you know when he needs to go outside is to hang a bell on the door you want him to use when he wants to go outside. Make sure that the bell is at a height your puppy can reach it. Each time you take him to go outside, ring the bell first. This will help instill that behavior.

Obviously, your puppy needs access to the door and that bell to let you know he needs to go out, so make sure you’re confining your puppy in that same area. The bell is something you can continue using throughout your puppies adult life, too.

Don’t be dismayed if your puppy isn’t a fan of bell training, though. While effective, it seems to be one of those things that dogs either love or hate. If your puppy hates the bells, don’t push it because you don’t want to puppy to end up with an aversion to going near the door or using the bathroom outside.

Crate Training

Crate training is recommended by veterinarians and the American Kennel Club as a beneficial way to potty train your dog. The idea behind crate training is that dogs are “den” animals and they won’t soil the place they sleep and eat—they’ll do their best to hold it until they are away from their den. (In theory, anyway, some puppies take a while to get the memo and will happily lay down in a soiled area.)

The crate allows you to keep your puppy confined to a small area where you can keep a close eye on him and easily notice the signs that he needs to go out. It’s also meant to help teach him how to hold it until he does get outside to relieve himself.

The crate you use needs to be only big enough for your puppy to stand up, turn, and lie down in. (Some crates feature a movable divider so you can resize the interior as your puppy grows). If you’re using the crate while you’re out of the house, leave your puppy some fresh water if you’ll be away for more than two hours. You also don’t want to leave him unattended for too long at a time, so you may need to come home on lunch breaks to let him out or have somebody else relieve him mid-day, at least until he’s old enough to hold it for longer periods.

If crate training doesn’t work, and your puppy is going to the bathroom in there, this may be a sign he’s not ready to potty train, has some bad habits you need to work with, the crate is too big, or there may be an underlying medical issue like a urinary tract infection.

Don’t Give Up

The most important lesson in potty training your puppy is never to give up. If you keep teaching and keep your puppy on a regular schedule, he will learn over time. Be patient, and ask your veterinarian for tips and advice for extra difficult puppies. Don’t be discouraged—like children, puppies all learn at different speeds too!

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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