Figuring out the best way to potty train your puppy can be challenging, but getting the job done doesn’t need to be difficult! The puppy potty training process is actually simple and straightforward in most cases once you’ve figured out which potty training method will be best for house training your pup. This article will outline some of the basics to get you started on house training your puppy and will point you in the direction of related Housebreaking Bible articles to help you plan a complete potty-training program.
One of the main issues that confuses owners is whether or not to use puppy pads for potty training. Many people believe this is a necessary first step in training a young puppy, but in most cases it can (and should!) be avoided. I recommend training your puppy to pee on a potty pad in the house ONLY in the following cases:
If you need to leave your pup for longer periods and can’t have a dog walker, neighbor or friend come in to take your pup out for a quick potty in the middle of the day, temporarily training your puppy to use puppy pads or a turf patch in the house may be the best approach. If you think potty pad training is right for your pup, learn more about how to potty train your puppy using puppy pads or a turf patch in our Indoor Potty Training section.
Your puppy potty training program should be based on confinement, supervision and scheduling (which I’ll discuss in more detail below). Please note that yelling, rubbing your pup’s nose in her accidents and smacking her with a newspaper when she makes a mistake are NOT included in that list! Many puppy owners, particularly those of us who may have seen our parents using the tougher, old-school methods of housebreaking when we were kids, think that housebreaking is about harshly correcting the puppy for having accidents inside the house. Even worse, many believe that dragging the pup over to an old accident to correct her after the fact is an effective way to teach her not to make a mess in the house. Corrections after the fact are ineffective, unfair, and just plain mean. Aside from a sharp “NO” (accompanied by a foot stomp or hand clap, if needed) to mildly startle the pup and “shut off the plumbing” if you catch her in the act, there should be no punishment in your pup’s housebreaking program.
If you play your cards right, you probably won’t even need corrections, since the best way to potty train a puppy is to prevent the pup from having opportunities to have accidents indoors so she becomes conditioned to going potty only in her designated potty area. This is achieved through the confinement and supervision part of your training… if you’re on the ball with that, your pup won’t have opportunities to have accidents out of your sight, which are the ones that really slow down your housebreaking. When your pup is wandering around on her own, if she has an accident on your nice, expensive rug, she’s learning that going potty in the house gets her the same relief as going potty outside. We want to make sure she gets that relief only when she goes outside (or in her indoor potty zone if you’re doing indoor potty training), so here’s how to make that happen.
Most dogs and puppies will instinctively avoid going potty when they’re enclosed in a small area, and we can use this to our advantage for housebreaking. In most cases, crate training (training your puppy to stay in a wire cage or plastic airline carrier when she’s alone or unsupervised) is the best option, but in some cases, a small room like a laundry room or bathroom may also be suitable confinement spaces. The area should be small enough that your puppy thinks of the whole area as her sleeping/living area… if you give a puppy too much space in her confinement area, she’s likely to use one half as the bedroom and one half as the bathroom, and that ain’t good! The general rule with a new puppy that’s just starting a potty training plan is for the confinement area to be just big enough for the pup to stand up, turn around and lie down in. To learn more about how to crate train a puppy and whether it’s the right approach for training your puppy, read my crate training article.
Whether your pup’s confinement area is a crate or a small room, the basic rules are the same…. your pup should be in her confinement area whenever she’s alone or unsupervised. This will, in most cases, completely prevent your pup from having accidents. However, in some cases, pups will have accidents in their crates or confinement areas… if that’s happening, learn how to teach your pup not to have accidents in the crate.
Although I want you to be consistent about not allowing your pup the freedom to roam around the house unsupervised, this doesn’t mean the pup should be in the confinement area most of the time… whenever possible, have your pup with you and closely supervised so you have lots of time to bond and teach her the rules of her new home. If you’re getting tired of having to keep an eye on the pup, but don’t want to put her in her supervision area, you can also let her wander a bit if you have a safe, enclosed outdoor area for her. Hanging out with the pup in the yard is a nice way to spend some relaxed time together, since it’s okay for her to go potty out there and you don’t have to watch her as vigilantly… just enough to make sure she doesn’t eat anything dangerous, chew up anything valuable, or fall into the pool!
Strictly supervising your pup when she’s in the house with you is a critically important part of potty training your puppy as quickly and easily as possible. If you’re careful about making sure you know what the pup is doing at all times, she won’t have any opportunities to have accidents out of your sight… and she may not have any accidents AT ALL during your housebreaking! Even if she attempts to have an accident, since you’re supervising her and will be able to catch and correct her immediately, the attempt is simply an opportunity to teach her what not to do, not a failure that will cause a setback in your training.
When supervising your pup, you need to have your eyes on her or she needs to be in contact with you, either by being held, being in your lap, or being attached to you by her leash. This will prevent the common scenario in which you think you’re supervising her by being in the same room, but you walk around behind the couch, find a puddle and wonder how the heck it happened… pups can wander out of your sight and have an accident in the blink of an eye, so just being in the same room isn’t close enough supervision in the early days of potty training your pup.
Keeping your puppy on a reasonable potty training schedule is critical. If your pup doesn’t have sufficient opportunities to go potty in the right area, accidents in the wrong areas are inevitable. A common mistake made by lots of new puppy owners is underestimating how often a puppy needs to go potty, which can be a LOT in the early days! People often assume they’ll be able to take their puppy out 2 or 3 times a day like they did with their last dog, but that’s not nearly enough for a young pup. So, how often SHOULD that little tinkle machine go out? You can get a general idea of how often your puppy should have a potty trip using the chart below, but keep in mind that if she’s having accidents on that schedule, you’ll need to take her out more frequently.
|6-12 weeks||12-16 weeks||4-5 months||6-7 months||8-11 months||12 months and older|
|daytime||1 hour||2 hours||3 hours||4 hours||5-6 hours||8 hours|
|nighttime*||3-4 hours||4-8 hours||8 hours||8 hours||8 hours||8-10 hours|
*nighttime hours assume that the puppy or dog was not fed or watered less than 3 hours before bed
Regardless of your puppy’s age, for the first few days of your potty training program, I’d recommend more frequent trips outside… every 30-45 minutes is usually a good way to go. This will minimize the likelihood of accidents and make sure your pup gets off to a good start, even if she’s thrown off by her new environment. Once you’re past those first few days, you can start making those potty trips less frequent as you get an idea of how often your pup needs to go.
In some cases, your new puppy may not go potty at all or may go potty very infrequently on day one, due to the shock of being in a new environment. Don’t panic if this happens… it typically straightens itself out after that first day. Just keep giving your pup opportunities to go to her potty area, and keep an eagle eye on her so when she finally does go, it doesn’t end up being in the wrong place!
One of the best ways to get a handle on the potty schedule that will work best for your pup is to keep a written potty schedule. Remember to include other scheduling info that may affect housebreaking your pup, including meal times and any notes about digestive issues or excessive water intake throughout the day.
Nighttime scheduling for your pup can be tricky, so be sure to check out Surviving the Night with your New Puppy to learn how to schedule your pup’s overnight potty trips.
Another helpful tool for households with multiple people is the written puppy potty chart. By writing down every meal, every trip outside and every pee and poo, you’ll make sure everyone knows what’s up with the puppy—so you don’t accidentally go 8 hours without taking her outside because everyone in the house thinks somebody else already took her out!
The following articles will provide you with additional instructions to help you figure out the best way to potty train your puppy:
Good luck with your pup’s training!!
Purchase Products Related to This Article
|Midwest Life Stages Crate
This is a good all-purpose crate that’s an especially good choice for young puppies, since it comes with a divider that allows you to expand the crate as your puppy grows so it’s always just the right size.
|Petmate Ultra Vari
These sturdy Vari-Kennel plastic crates are an excellent choice for dogs that like a cozy place to hang out. You can use them for travel, too, so they’re perfect for pups who want to join you when you go on vacation!
|Extra Large Potty Pads
These BIG potty pads are essential if you’re pad training a larger dog, but they’re also nice for smaller dogs, since they give them more room to sniff around and choose a spot and the pads won’t get “full” as quickly!
The Porch Potty is a nice-looking potty area for indoor or outdoor use. It’s a nice size for bigger dogs, but I recommend it for smaller dogs, too, if you have the space. Can be used with the included fake grass, or even better, replacement REAL grass… or sod from the home-improvement store!
|Nature’s Miracle Stain and Odor Remover
Nature’s Miracle is everyone’s favorite stain and odor neutralizer. Be sure to use this product to clean up all accidents… regular floor cleaner won’t fully eliminate the odor!
These high-quality leather leashes are waaay cheaper online than in most pet stores!