How to Potty Train Puppies: A Comprehensive Guide for Success
By Mara Bovsun
Mar 04, 2022
Crates are an important puppy housetraining tool that can make your life easier.
Puppy pads and paper training offer a temporary solution to housetraining.
Consistency, attention, understanding, and patience are all key in housetraining.
Learning how to potty train puppies at the right time and place is one of the most important first steps you can take for a long, happy life together. House soiling is among the top reasons why dogs lose their homes or end up in shelters. Few people are willing to put up with a dog who destroys rugs and flooring, or who leaves a stinky mess that you have to clean after a hard day at work.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure that you do some research in advance on how to house train a dog, decide what will work best for your situation, and make a plan.
Also, frequent walks outside help.
Dr. Burch says that there are pros and cons to each, but they all can be successful if you follow a few basic tips, including:
Controlling your dog’s diet
Keeping a consistent schedule; this pertains to trips outside, feeding and exercise
Providing regular exercise—it helps with motility
Reinforcing your puppy for “going” outside
Have the right potty training supplies
Let’s explore some of these concepts in depth.
Crates Rank High as a Potty Training Tool
Many people who are new to dogs cringe at the idea of confining their puppies in a crate, but the reluctance to use this tool generally evaporates after a few days of living with a new pet. Dog crates make life easier. It’s a good idea to get your dog accustomed to one for many reasons, such as vet visits, travel, convalescence, and safety.
Dogs are den animals and will seek out a little canine cave for security whether you provide one or not. That makes it relatively easy to train your dog to love her crate.
The principle behind using a crate for housetraining is that dogs are very clean creatures and don’t like a urine-soaked rug in their living spaces any more than you do. It’s important that the crate is the right size—just large enough for the dog to lie down, stand up, and turn around. If it is too large, the dog will feel that it’s OK to use one corner for elimination and then happily settle down away from the mess. Many crates come with partitions so you can adjust the size as your puppy grows.
When she feels an urge, the puppy will usually let you know by whining and scratching. That’s her signal that she has to go and wants out of her little den. Now! Don’t delay because if you let your pup lose control in her crate, she’ll get the idea that it’s OK to mess up her living space. Then she’ll think nothing of leaving little packages around where you live, too.
Puppy Pads and Paper Training
Dr. Burch says the use of puppy pads and paper training can be “tricky because you’re reinforcing two different options for the puppy.” In an ideal situation, pups would learn to hold it indoors and only eliminate at specific spots outdoors. But some cases may require a bit of creative thought, such as a person who has a job that makes it impossible to get home several times a day, or for a tiny dog living where the winters are brutal. Puppy pads give a dog the option of relieving herself in an approved spot at home. There are also high-tech indoor dog bathrooms that even work for male dogs. After the dog matures, the owner can then work on having the dog do her business outdoors all the time.
Create a Housetraining Schedule for Your Puppy
It is vital to housetraining success. Puppies have tiny bladders, and water runs right through them. The same is true for solid matter. You have to make sure you are giving your puppy ample opportunity to do the right thing.
A good guide is that dogs can control their bladders for the number of hours corresponding to their age in months up to about nine months to a year. (Remember, though, that 10 to 12 hours is a long time for anyone to hold it!) A 6-month-old pup can reasonably be expected to hold it for about 6 hours. Never forget that all puppies are individuals and the timing will differ for each.
Monitor daily events and your puppy’s habits when setting up a schedule. With very young puppies, you should expect to take the puppy out:
First thing in the morning
Last thing at night
After playing indoors
After spending time in a crate
Upon waking up from a nap
After chewing a toy or bone
This could have you running for the piddle pad, backyard, or street a dozen times or more in a 24-hour period. If you work, make some kind of arrangement (bringing your pup to the office or hiring a dog walker) to keep that schedule. The quicker you convey the idea that there is an approved place to potty and that some places are off-limits, the quicker you’ll be able to put this messy chapter behind you.
Observation and Supervision
You have to watch your puppy carefully for individual signals and rhythms. Some puppies may be able to hold it longer than others. Some will have to go out every time they play or get excited. Some will stop in the middle of a play session, pee, and play on. As with human babies, canine potty habits are highly idiosyncratic.
Control the Diet
Puppies have immature digestive systems, so they can’t really handle a lot of food. That’s why it is recommended that you break up the puppy feeding schedule into three small meals. Another thing to keep in mind is the food itself, which should be the highest quality puppy food. Whatever you choose, make sure it agrees with your puppy.
Examining a dog’s stool is the best way for an owner to figure out whether it’s time for a change in diet. If your puppy is consistently producing stools that are bulky, loose, and stinky, it may be time to talk to your vet about switching to a new food. Overfeeding may also provoke a case of diarrhea, which will only make the task of housetraining that much more difficult.
Scolding a puppy for soiling your rug, especially after the fact, isn’t going to do anything except make her think you’re a nut. Likewise, some old methods of punishment, like rubbing a dog’s nose in her poop, are so bizarre that it’s hard to imagine how they came to be and if they ever worked for anyone. On the other hand, praising a puppy for doing the right thing works best for everything you will do in your life together. Make her think that she is a little canine Einstein every time she performs this simple, natural act. Be effusive in your praise—cheer, clap, throw cookies. Let her know that no other accomplishment, ever—not going to the moon, not splitting the atom, not inventing coffee—has been as important as this pee. Reward your pup with one of his favorite treats. Make sure they’re nice and small, easy for your puppy to digest.
If your dog has an accident, says Dr. Burch, don’t make a fuss, just clean up the mess. A cleaner that also kills odors will remove the scent so the dog will not use it in the future. Blot up liquid on the carpet before cleaning the rug.
If you catch the dog starting to squat to urinate or defecate, pick her up and immediately rush outside. If she does the job outdoors, give her praise and attention. Remember that when it comes to housetraining, prevention is the key.
Following these rules will usually result in a well house-trained puppy. But sometimes, it doesn’t go as planned.
Dr. Burch notes that sometimes house soiling is a sign of a physical issue. “Well before the several month mark, a dog who has seemed impossible to housetrain should have a good veterinary workup,” she says. If your vet finds that your dog is healthy, the next step is to find a trainer or behaviorist who has had experience with this issue.
Here are some common complaints that trainers say they have encountered:
“My lapdog is piddling all over the house!” This is common among people who own toy dogs. Some trainers recommend teaching little dogs to use indoor potty spots, in much the same way as a cat uses a litter box. In addition to piddle pads, there are actual dog potty boxes for indoor use. Other trainers say that with consistency, you can house train a little dog. It just may take a little additional time, attention, and effort.
“My dog keeps peeing in the same spot where she had an accident.” That’s probably because you didn’t clean up the mess efficiently and there is still some odor there, signaling that this is a prime potty spot. In your new puppy supply kit make sure you have plenty of pet stain enzymatic cleaners and carefully follow instructions on using them.
“I gave her the run of the apartment. When I came home, there was a mess.” This is a common mistake among dog owners. They see some early signs that the dog is getting the idea, and declare victory too soon. Even when the puppy is consistently doing what you want, keep to the schedule to make sure the good habits are ingrained.
“He’s soiling his crate!” Dr. Burch says dogs who come from pet stores, shelters, or other situations where they have been confined for long periods and have had no other choice but to eliminate in their kennels will often soil their crates. The best approach would be to go back to square one with crate and house training. Here are the steps to follow:
Assess how well your dog can control his bladder and bowels when not in the crate.
Carefully controlling diet and schedule.
Give frequent trips outside, including after every meal, first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
If you work, consider a dog walker.
Clean everything so there are no odors left.
How Long Does Puppy Potty Training Take?
That can vary considerably, says Dr. Burch. There are many factors to consider, such as age, learning history, and your methods and consistency. An 8-week-old puppy is very different developmentally than a 5-month-old puppy. Some puppies have perfect manners after just a few days. Others can take months, especially if the dog has had a less than ideal situation before coming to you. With patience and persistence, though, most dogs can learn.
Dog Adoption Tips – Bringing Home a New Rescue Dog | Petfinder
Bringing home a shelter dog that you adopt may be a rescued stray or a dog that someone has voluntarily surrendered for adoption.
Whether he was born in the bushes behind the laundromat or an adolescent abandoned on the streets by his once-upon-a-time owner, the streetwise stray can be a real challenge to incorporate into your life. The famous “he followed me home, can I keep him, Mom?” canine is a special animal that needs time and space, patience, and understanding.
The first few days in your home are special and critical for a pet. Your new dog will be confused about where he is and what to expect from you. Setting up some clear structure with your family for your dog will be paramount in making as smooth a transition as possible.
Bringing a puppy home, they need more than just a bed and a food bowl to thrive. They also need constant care and attention. While a puppy’s first night at home may require a lot of work initially, it’s well worth the effort down the road. Establishing good habits in those first weeks will lay the groundwork for a lifetime of happiness for you and your dog. Remember, you have a responsibility to help your puppy grow into a happy and healthy dog. Here are some tips for puppy care to help first-time dog owners get started:
Before You Bring Your Dog Home:
Determine where your dog will be spending most of his time. Because he will be under a lot of stress with the change of environment (from a shelter or foster home to your house), he may forget any housebreaking (if any) he’s learned. Often a kitchen will work best for easy clean-up.
If you plan on crate training your dog, be sure to have a crate set up and ready to go for when you bring your new dog home. Find out more about crate training your dog.
Dog-proof the area where your pooch will spend most of his time during the first few months. This may mean taping loose electrical cords to baseboards; storing household chemicals on high shelves; removing plants, rugs, and breakables; setting up the crate, and installing baby gates.
Training your dog will start the first moment you have him. Take time to create a vocabulary list everyone will use when giving your dog directions. This will help prevent confusion and help your dog learn his commands more quickly. Not sure which commands to use? Check out How to Talk to Your Dog.
Bring an ID tag with your phone number on it with you when you pick up your dog so that he has an extra measure of safety for the ride home and the first few uneasy days. If he is microchipped, be sure to register your contact information with the chip’s company, if the rescue or shelter did not already do so.
We know moving is stressful — and your new dog feels the same way! Give him time to acclimate to your home and family before introducing him to strangers. Make sure children know how to approach the dog without overwhelming him. Go here for more on introducing dogs and children.
When you pick up your dog, remember to ask what and when he was fed. Replicate that schedule for at least the first few days to avoid gastric distress. If you wish to switch to a different brand, do so over a period of about a week by adding one part new food to three parts of the old for several days; then switch to half new food, half old, and then one part old to three parts new. For more information about your dog’s diet, check out our section on Dog Nutrition.
On the way home, your dog should be safely secured, preferably in a crate. Some dogs find car trips stressful, so having him in a safe place will make the trip home easier for him and you.
Once home, take him to his toileting area immediately and spend a good amount of time with him so he will get used to the area and relieve himself. Even if your dog does relieve himself during this time, be prepared for accidents. Coming into a new home with new people, new smells and new sounds can throw even the most housebroken dog off-track, so be ready just in case. Need more housetraining tips? Check out our Dog Housetraining section.
From there, start your schedule of feeding, toileting, and play/exercise. From Day One, your dog will need family time and brief periods of solitary confinement. Don’t give in and comfort him if he whines when left alone. Instead, give him attention for good behavior, such as chewing on a toy or resting quietly (Source: Preparing Your Home For A New Dog).
For the first few days, remain calm and quiet around your dog, limiting too much excitement (such as the dog park or neighborhood children). Not only will this allow your dog to settle in easier, but it will also give you more one-on-one time to get to know him and his likes/dislikes.
If he came from another home, objects like leashes, hands, rolled-up newspapers and magazines, feet, chairs, and sticks are just some of the pieces of “training equipment” that may have been used on this dog. Words like “come here” and “lie down” may bring forth a reaction other than the one you expect. Or maybe he led a sheltered life and was never socialized to children or sidewalk activity. This dog may be the product of a never-ending series of scrambled communications and unreal expectations that will require patience on your part.
Keep him off balconies, elevated porches, and decks. Keep all cleaning supplies, detergents, bleach, and other chemicals and medicines out of the puppy’s reach, preferably on high shelves.
Remove poisonous houseplants, such as amaryllis, mistletoe, holly, or poinsettia, or keep them in hanging baskets up high, where your puppy cannot reach them.
Keep toilet lids closed, unplug electrical cords and remove them from the floor, and keep plastic bags and ribbons out of your puppy’s reach.
People often say they don’t see their dog’s true personality until several weeks after adoption. Your dog may be a bit uneasy at first as he gets to know you. Be patient and understanding while also keeping to the schedule you intend to maintain for feeding, walks, etc. This schedule will show your dog what is expected of him as well as what he can expect from you.
After discussing it with your veterinarian to ensure your dog has all the necessary vaccines, you may wish to take your dog to group training classes or the dog park. Pay close attention to your dog’s body language to be sure he’s having a good time — and is not fearful or a dog park bully. If you’re unsure of what signs to watch for, check out this video on safety at the dog park.
To have a long and happy life together with your dog, stick to the original schedule you created, ensuring your dog always has the food, potty time, and attention he needs. You’ll be bonded in no time! For more information on creating a feeding schedule for your dog visit How Often Should You Feed Your Dog?
If you encounter behavior issues you are unfamiliar with, ask your veterinarian for a trainer recommendation. Select a trainer who uses positive reinforcement techniques to help you and your dog overcome these behavior obstacles. Visit Dog Training for more information on reward-based training.
Bring your puppy to the veterinarian for regular checkups. Talk to your veterinarian about any signs of illness that you should watch out for during your puppy’s first few months.
Ensure Your Puppy Receives Proper Nutrition. Your puppy also needs complete and balanced nutrition to help him grow properly. In fact, the first year of his life is critical in ensuring the proper growth of his bones, teeth, muscles, and fur. As a growing animal, he’ll require more calories than an adult dog. Read the labels, and find a food that has been specifically created to ensure the proper balance of protein and fat for a puppy. Check the food package for the recommended feeding schedule and serving size. Never feed your puppy bones, table scraps, or big snacks in between meals.
Responsibilities for the Parents of the Newly Adopted Dog:
Courtesy of Rondout Valley Kennels, Inc. (Sue Sternberg suesternberg.com)
Never, ever leave a child alone with your new dog. Not even for a second to turn your head and answer the phone. The type of relationship we see on TV between children and dogs is a fantasy, and not a reflection of what real dogs can be like with children.
No one in the family should be encouraging rough play, wrestling, or the dog to play with his mouth on human body parts or clothes. This is especially relevant when an adult member of the household plays with the dog in this manner, because when the child next excites the dog, the dog may be stimulated to play in the same rough manner, thereby putting the child at risk for injury.
Your dog should be fed his meals in an area completely protected from and away from children, as much for a bit of peace and privacy as it is to prevent guarding behaviors. The dog should also be fed portions that are quickly finished, so there is nothing left in the bowl for the dog to linger over and guard. Empty bowls should be taken up and put away, so the dog won’t consider guarding the feeding area.
Most children are not bitten by their own dog, but by a friend or neighbor’s dog. This means two things: watch your own dog closely when your child has a friend (or friends) over. Many dogs will tolerate a lot from their own family’s child, but not tolerate a visiting child. Visiting children often do not behave as well as, or may behave differently from your own children, and could bother or provoke your dog. Consequently, if your child’s friends have dogs, you need to, (as a responsible parent) go over and meet the friend’s dog BEFORE you allow your child to visit their house. It is a good idea to see the size and general nature of your child’s friend’s dog, and check to see if the owner of this dog will allow unsupervised interaction between the children and the dog, to ask where and when the dog is fed, and to check if there are any chewable toys or bones lying around, and then to either request that they be picked up and put away while your child visits, or ensure that their dog has no possessiveness problems.
When to Phone the Shelter for Advice:
Any signs of physical rough play from the dog towards the child
Any signs of displays of rough, physical strength from the dog towards the child
Any growling (even during play)
Any snapping or nipping
Any humping or mounting of the child OR adults
Any avoidance or resentment of physical contact (dog backs off or leaves the room when child hugs or pets or gets close to your dog.)
Any signs the dog is afraid of the child (your dog backs away or tries to escape when the child appears or gets close.)
Your dog seems “jealous” of intimacy or physical affection between parents or especially between child and parent (the dog barks or cuts in between people during intimacy.)
Any signs the dog is guarding his food bowl, his bones, his toys, or “stolen” items (the dog may tense up, freeze, stiffen, growl, snap, show his teeth, snarl, or just give a ‘hairy eyeball’ to anyone approaching or coming to near his item.
Your dog seems out of control or disobedient and “wild” with children who are playing or running around.
Remember that with proper puppy care, your new pet will grow into a happy, healthy dog — and provide you with love and companionship for years to come.