How to Potty Train a Puppy


This article was provided to Pet Guardian Angels of America by Bobby Farrell and originally posted atMe And My Puppy


Housetraining a puppy is one of the first important hurdles that you’ll be faced with when you bring your new puppy home.

When puppies are young, they don’t understand our way of distinguishing right from wrong. At this point, peeing outside and peeing on the carpet makes no difference to them – it’s simply a natural bodily function.

However, puppies are born with an innate desire to want to keep their den clean. As they grow older and gain more control of their bladder and bowels, this instinctive trait will work to our advantage in our potty training efforts.

Housetraining doesn’t have to be a difficult process, but you do need to go into it with the right mindset.

Accidents will happen. Puppies don’t know any better. As they grow, they eat and drink more, burn more energy, and are seemingly enabled with a constant flow of digestive waste.

Eventually, they will have more control of their system and they will learn that there are right and wrong places to go.


When to Start Potty Training

It’s best to begin potty training as soon as you bring your puppy home.

Teaching your puppy right from wrong early on will be beneficial, but better late than never.

Typically, the best time to begin training is when puppies are around 8-16 weeks old. By then, they will have at least started to gain control of their system and be able to (even slightly) grasp the idea of holding it.

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What You’ll Need

Bottle(s) of Cleanser:

When accidents happen, make sure that you’re prepared. Keep a couple of bottles around the areas where your puppy spends most of his time.

Consider using enzymatic cleansers. They work wonders to remove any lingering odors. Puppies are drawn to the smell of urine and are prompted to pee on that very spot. Enzymatic cleansers will remove the odors and lower the chance of repeat accidents happening as a result of your puppy’s keen sense of smell.

A suitable crate for your puppy:

The crate should be big enough for your puppy to comfortably lie down and stretch out, stand up, and turn around.

However, make sure that he doesn’t have too much open space in the crate either. If the crate is too big for him, he may pee or poo at one end of it and sleep at the other.

Consider the size your dog will be when he’s fully grown. It may be best to choose a crate based on that and block off the excess space as he grows. Most crates come with dividers.

Click on the link for more detail on choosing a crate:

Choosing the Right Crate for your Dog

A Playpen:

This is the area where they will spend most of their time while housetraining. Your puppy’s playpen should be similar to that of a child’s gated playpen.

Furnish it with blankets and toys that he likes so that it’s a fun place for him to spend time. Also make sure that the area where you place the pen has flooring that can handle accidents.

Small Treats:

Small treats are a nice reward for good behavior.

Make sure that they aren’t too big – you don’t want your puppy to get sick. Its best to reserve these small treats only for potty training.

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Controlling the Puppy’s Environment

The most successful dog owners will be those who are able to control their puppy’s environment most effectively. We don’t want to give them free reign of the house right away.

Your goal is to teach the puppy that your home is their home too and to help them understand not to pee and poop in their living space.

It can take a while for them to understand this, so it’s best to limit their access to the rest of the house early on. You can gradually introduce them to other rooms in the home as they become better behaved.

As you are working with your puppy, stay close to him and keep a watchful eye over what he’s doing.

Try This:
A good way to control the puppy’s environment is to keep him on a leash and attach the leash to you. This will allow you to keep a close eye on your pup and to get a sense of when he needs to go to the toilet.

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3 Ways to Potty Train a Puppy

There are 3 basic methods of toilet training your puppy:

  • Paper Training
  • Constant Supervision
  • Crate Training

The three methods each have their own set of benefits and drawbacks. The following will help you to determine which method is right for you.

Paper Training

Paper training teaches your puppy to pee or poo on a specific spot inside of the house (usually a newspaper or a puppy pad).

As you train your puppy, you’ll notice that he’ll typically go through a fairly consistent routine before he does his business. It’s common for puppies to pace around and sniff the floor before they relieve themselves. However, your puppy may develop a different habit.

When you see him doing his pre-potty routine, gently pick him up and carry him to the papers to let him relieve himself there. When your puppy goes, praise him and give him a small treat.

Try This:
When you go to clean up an accident that you find in the house, wipe up the urine using an old newspaper or pad that you intend to use for the training. Your puppy will be attracted to the scent and they will be prompted to go on the newspaper next time.

Benefits of Paper Training:

  • Works well for people who live in high-rise apartments or areas with harsh climates.
  • Recommended for when puppies are very young and don’t have enough control to hold it until they get outside.
  • Teaches them that there are right and wrong areas to relieve themselves, and it will start to give them some control over their system.
  • Trains your puppy to pee or poo in an acceptable area when you have to be away from the house for a bit and are unable to take him outside.

Drawbacks of Paper Training:

  • Puppies are creatures of habit and they will get used to peeing inside of the house, which hinders our long-term goals.
  • Gives your puppy two different bathroom options.
  • As he gets more freedom and opportunity to roam the house, seeing a piece of paper on the ground could spark a reflex-like reaction to pee on it.

Ideally, you would train your puppy to hold it indoors and only go to the toilet in a specific spot outside. If you absolutely must leave your puppy home alone at times in the house, this method will work in the early stages of training. However, please consider against making this a long-term strategy.

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Constant Supervision

This is a great method for people who are in situations where they can always be with their puppy, because it requires A LOT of attention. This method requires you to take him outside every time you think that there’s even a chance that he’ll need to go.

You should take your puppy out immediately after waking up in the morning and last thing before taking him to bed at night. Expect to take your puppy out to the toilet approximately every 45 minutes to an hour. Here are some of the recommended opportunities to take them out:

  • 15-30 minutes after eating/drinking
  • After playing with/chewing on a toy
  • After waking up from a nap
  • After spending time in their crate

If you notice him doing his pre-potty routine at any point, take him out then as well.

We’re trying to minimize accidents and create good habits by giving the puppy more opportunities to go in the right spot. It’s still recommended that you use a crate for the times when you absolutely must leave your puppy home alone.

Benefits of Constant Supervision:

  • This will be the most effective of the 3 methods IF you are able to be aware of what your puppy is doing at all times.
  • When you are able to take your puppy out as often as necessary, it will help to instill the right habits in him faster.
  • You will be able to gain a better understanding of your puppy’s habits and tendencies to help you more accurately predict when you’ll need to take him outside.

Drawbacks of Constant Supervision:

  • Constant supervision means CONSTANT SUPERVISION. Even something as simple as browsing the Internet could be distracting and cause you to miss an accident.
  • If the accidents start to get out of hand, it could set back the housebreaking process as your puppy gets more comfortable with making mistakes inside.

If you’re able to handle the rigors of this toilet training method, it can be rewarding. However, it can also be exhausting and limit your lifestyle.

Feel free to experiment with this method if you wish, but there is a better method.

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Crate Training

Crate training is often considered the best of the 3 methods.

If introduced thoughtfully, your puppy’s crate will eventually be their favorite place in the house and the space where they feel most safe. You should intend to ALWAYS associate positively with the crate and never use it for punishment.

The idea is to have your puppy hang out in his crate whenever you aren’t able to watch him carefully.

Benefits of Crate Training:

  • It’s much more realistic to expect that there will be times when you can’t keep a watchful eye on your puppy. A crate is a perfect place for him during those times.
  • Crates help puppies to develop control over their bladders and bowels because of their natural tendencies to not want to soil in their crate.
  • Teaches a puppy that even if he has the urge to go, he can hold it until he gets to an appropriate place to relieve himself.
  • Most puppies will have fewer mistakes later on if crate trained.

Drawbacks of Crate Training:

  • If they aren’t taking to their crate well and you need to put them in there against their will, it will negatively affect their relationship with the crate and their overall wellbeing.

Although crate training is the fastest and simplest way to housebreak a new puppy, it’s likely that your puppy will not take to the new space so easily.

Spend the necessary amount of time working with your puppy to get him comfortable enough to eventually want to go into his crate voluntarily.

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Crate Training Instructions

This by itself is a significant process. The steps are briefly outlined below:

  1. Introduce your puppy to the crate
    • Let him explore the crate on his own terms.
    • Entice him to go to the crate by either calling to him in a happy tone or placing treats inside and around the crate.
    • Furnish the crate with a blanket and some of his favorite toys.
    • Stay close to your puppy as he investigates the crate.
  2. Feed your puppy meals in the crate
  3. Start by putting the bowl close to the crate door, then gradually move it towards the back of the crate so that he goes all the way inside.
  4. When your puppy is eating all the way inside the crate, close the door while he eats, then immediately open it when he’s done.
  5. Begin to experiment with leaving the door closed a bit longer than before until he’s eventually able to sit calmly in the crate for about 10 minutes.
  6. Go out of sight
    • Call your puppy over to the crate and give him a treat when he goes inside. Make sure that he has a chew toy inside to play with.
    • Begin by sitting with him while he’s inside of his crate with the door closed.
    • When he’s settled, briefly leave the room and come back in shortly after.
    • When you come back inside, sit with him for a bit and then let him out of his crate.
  7. Leave for a little bit longer

By now, he’ll be comfortable spending time in his crate alone in the room, so you can experiment with leaving him for longer periods while you leave the house.

For a more detailed look at these steps and an in-depth guide to crate training, please see the following:

  • Crate Training a Puppy (AN EASY HOW-TO GUIDE)

Don’t Potty Train with a Crate Until He’s Comfortable Inside of It

As you work through the crate training process with your puppy, don’t use the crate for potty training purposes yet. If you begin to use the crate as a potty training technique before he is comfortable going in his crate, you’ll be solving one problem by creating another.

Instead, consider keeping your puppy in a nearby space where you will be able to keep a watchful eye on him and monitor his behavior closely. If you absolutely must leave him alone and unsupervised, leave him in his playpen. The long-term implications of puppies having accidents in the playpen are less severe than when they have accidents in their crate.

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Taking your Puppy Outside to go Potty

Puppies need to be let out to relieve themselves often when they are young (usually every 45 minutes to an hour).

Take them outside to go to the toilet first thing in the morning when they wake up, immediately after you come home from an errand, and immediately prior to going to sleep at night.

A young puppy (3 months and younger) often won’t be able to hold his bladder long enough to make it outside to the predetermined spot. To avoid premature accidents, try carrying your puppy outside and placing him down where you would like him to go. Don’t forget to fasten a leash to your puppy before you carry him outside.

If your puppy is quite large or carrying him is not an option for you, make your best effort to walk him out to his spot quickly, but calmly.

Be sure to choose a potty area that’s not too far from the house. Be consistent with it so that your dog gets used to that spot and, eventually, a trigger goes off in his mind whenever he gets to it.

When you get to the potty spot, associate a command with the action such as “go potty” and use it consistently. It’s important to use this command every time so that your puppy becomes familiar with it and begins to understand what it means.

If he does his business, praise him enthusiastically and give him a small treat. Your puppy wants to please you, and he’ll start to remember how happy you get when he goes potty outside in the right place.

You can reward him with a long walk around the block if he does a good job and then bring him back to his playpen. A good walk is a nice reward for a young pup.

If he doesn’t go after you give him the opportunity, simply bring him back home, monitor him closely, then try again in 15 minutes or so.

You may notice your puppy indicating that he may need to pee immediately. Some of the most common cues include:

  • Pacing
  • Sniffing the ground
  • Whining
  • Circling

If you notice any of these signs and suspect that he may need to go, take him out immediately.

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When You Catch Your Puppy Having an Accident

When you catch your puppy while he is peeing or pooping inside of the house:

  • Clap loudly immediately when you catch him doing it.
  • Calmly pick him up and carry him outside to his spot.
  • Let him finish his business in the spot.
  • Praise him immediately after he finishes as if you would normally.

Try This:
While carrying your puppy to his washroom spot, hold his tail down. It will help to prompt him to stop peeing or pooping.

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Start to Use the Crate for Potty Training Purposes

Before you begin with this method, make sure that your puppy is comfortable in his crate. If he’s okay being inside of the crate alone when you aren’t in the room, then you can proceed with this.

Your puppy should be in his crate whenever you aren’t able to keep a watchful eye on him. This will give you more freedom to do other things and the peace of mind that your puppy is safe and not causing trouble in your home.

Continue to expect to take him out about as often as you normally would and follow the same steps outlined above.

It’s worth noting that alone time spent in a crate does not substitute quality time spent with you. Dogs are social animals and it’s about as important for them to spend time playing with you as it is for them to eat and sleep.

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How to Handle Mistakes

Accidents will happen. It’s normal to be cleaning up after your puppy during the toilet training process.

If you find a pee or poo in the house and you didn’t catch him in the act, do not get mad at your puppy.

First of all, he won’t understand why you are yelling at him because he won’t be thinking about the accident after the fact. But more importantly, he may become frightened by you and won’t want to pee or poo when you are around.

Just clean it up and forget about it. Remember to use an enzymatic cleansing solution to ensure that you fully eliminate any lingering smells.

If these accidents happen quite frequently (2-3 times a week), perhaps your puppy isn’t being taken out enough. Just try to take him out more often. Also consider limiting access to the rest of the house so that you’ll be able to keep a closer eye on him.

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Maintain a Consistent Routine

Consistency will help to instill the right habits in your puppy’s mind.

Making a schedule and committing to it will help to avoid accidents in the house and your puppy will get accustomed to the routine of going potty outside.

As outlined above, puppies typically need to go out at all of the following times:

  • Immediately after waking up in the morning
  • 15-30 minutes after eating/drinking
  • After playing with/chewing on a toy
  • Upon waking up from a nap
  • After spending time in their crate
  • Immediately prior to going to bed at night

This may require you to take him out a dozen or more times every day. It will get tiring and tedious, but it’s an investment that you must make to have a well-trained dog in the future.

It’s important to only give them access to their food during predetermined times in the day so that you’re fully aware of what’s in their system and when.

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Don’t Make These Common Training Mistakes

Punishing your puppy when he has an accident: People often feel like they need to scold their puppies when they make mistakes, similarly to how they would discipline a child. However, that thought process isn’t effective with dogs and it will make your puppy fear you.

Also, the idea that you should punish mistakes by rubbing your puppy’s nose in the mess is a myth. It’s an abusive tactic and will only make matters worse.

Leaving your puppy inside without a toilet break for too long: This will guarantee that your puppy will have an accident in the house and it’s a surefire way to set back the housebreaking process. Not to mention you’ll have a mess on your hands.

If you absolutely must be away from your puppy and won’t be able to take him outside, consider hiring a dog walker or asking a neighbor or friend to take them outside. It’s important to give them every opportunity to go in the right place.

Leaving their food out for them at all times: This is often overlooked, but it’s a big housetraining mistake. Leaving their food out for them whenever they want will make it harder to predict when they’ll need to go and more likely that they’ll release a surprise attack inside.

Consistently feed your puppy at predetermined times every day. You’ll be able to more accurately gauge when they’ll need to be taken out and start to become familiar with their unique habits.

Cleaning accidents with ammonia-based cleansers: Ammonia-based cleansers don’t eliminate the lingering smell of urine. In fact, they typically make it worse.

Ammonia is actually a component of dog urine and it could amplify the smell. It’s important to completely remove the smell of urine so that it doesn’t attract your dog back to the scene of the crime. Enzymatic cleansers will thoroughly clean messes and remove any odors.

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Common Complaints Among Dog Owners

My puppy keeps peeing in the same spot inside: This is likely the result of not cleaning up the mess as thoroughly as necessary. Dogs are drawn to the scent of urine and the smell stimulates the sensation to relieve themselves on that spot. Removing the scent with an enzymatic cleanser will help to resolve that problem.

I left my puppy alone and came home to a mess: This is a very common issue. People who have early potty training success often give their puppy free roam of the house before they are ready. It’s best to restrict your puppy’s access to the rest of the house early on and gradually grant him more access as he gets better behaved. Just because they learn not to pee in the family room does not mean that they’ll know not to pee in your bedroom.

My dog is soiling in his crate: Even though dogs are born with an innate desire to keep their den clean, some dogs may have developed bad habits from birth. A puppy that came from a pet store was likely forced to soil in their den daily and they are likely to bring that habit to their crate. It will take a little bit more time for puppies in these instances to adjust to the new rules, but it’s just a matter of consistent practice and following the process outlined in this article.

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Almost done. Finally!

Potty Training is one of the most important steps to living a happy life with your puppy. Although it is a significant process and there will be setbacks, staying disciplined and consistent with a routine will eventually help to instill the right habits in them.

Your puppy wants to please you and they don’t mean to upset you when they make mistakes. As they learn that it’s their home too, they’ll want to keep it clean just like you.

Keep persevering and maintaining a positive attitude. Housebreaking doesn’t have to be difficult; it just takes a little bit of commitment. Good luck to you and your pup!


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See Also:

  • Crate Training a Puppy (AN EASY HOW-TO GUIDE)