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Puppy peeing on grass

The essentials

  • All dogs are different — What works for one puppy might not work for another. Getting to know your new dog is part of the bonding process and will help inform the way you approach how to potty train a puppy.
  • Patience and positive reinforcement are key — Training puppies takes about 6 months. Reward your dog when they pick up on something. Be patient when they don’t.
  • Accidents will happen — A dog naturally goes when and where they want, so it’s up to you to teach them differently.

Whether you use a crate, leash, or a potty pad, housebreaking a dog takes a lot of time and consistent effort. It’s normal for a dog to take 4-6 months to become fully potty trained, and some can take as long as a year. Positive reinforcement with a bunch of treats and lots of praise is an essential part of the process and can encourage your dog to learn quickly.

🚨 Bathroom accidents for housebroken dogs may indicate a serious health problem. You should also take your dog to the vet for a checkup if they aren’t housebroken after several months of consistent training.

Universal principles of potty training

The best potty training method for you comes down to your schedule, household situation, home type, physical abilities, and your dog’s particular temperament. People who live in apartments or cannot go on long walks might opt for pee pad training. The umbilical cord approach may be ideal for people who spend most of their time at home. You’re on the right track as long as you are patient and only use positive reinforcement. You and your pup will get to where you need to be — together.

1. Build in pee breaks

Puppies pee and poop a lot. It’s a fact of their young lives. Your new puppy will need to go first thing in the morning, between 5 and 30 minutes after mealtimes, and before bed. However, that’s not the only time they will need to relieve themself. In general, a puppy can hold their pee for about one hour for every month of age.

For example, a three month old puppy will often need to go potty every three hours, including at night. Once your dog is about 4-5 months old, they may be able to go all night without a pee break, but will still need to go potty every 4 hours during the day.  Becoming familiar with their potty habits and getting on a regular potty training schedule can help your dog catch on quickly.

2. Choose the right spot

Regardless of training type, a designated pee/poop spot will help simplify potty training for your puppy. If your dog can access the entire yard for their breaks, they won’t equate one spot with peeing and pooping, which can slow down the process.

3. Pick a unique key phrase

You can choose whatever potty break phrase you like. Be aware that it’s smart to pick a phrase you don’t use in your regular speech. If you tell your dog to “go,” for example, they will be confused when they hear you say “go” in another situation. For this reason, some people invent their own phrases, such as, “Time to potty!”  Remember to keep it consistent and unique so that you both know what you mean.

4. Always reward, never punish

Keep treats on you at all times. When your dog does their business in the right spot, give them a treat and plenty of praise. If your dog has an accident, never yell at them. Never. We don’t recommend punishment—it will only teach your dog to fear you. If you do this, you’re a “bad, bad, bad human.”

5. Have a regular feeding schedule

A puppy’s tummy and digestive tract are much more sensitive than an adult dog’s. You’ll want to feed your dog on a vet-approved schedule for optimal health. In addition, because they will have to do their business soon after eating, you’ll want to know when their meals are. This way, you can plan to take your dog out shortly after they eat.

How to make housebreaking work with your schedule 

Adopting a puppy is a huge commitment. Puppies younger than six months old must relieve themselves at least once throughout an eight-hour workday, so it’s critical to plan ahead.

If you work full-time, consider asking if a neighbor, friend, family member, or professional dog walker will take your dog out on a potty break while you’re away. If you haven’t adopted a dog yet, you might want to look for a young adult dog who’s already housebroken instead of a puppy.

The most effective methods for potty training a puppy

The best way to potty train your dog depends on a lot of individual factors, like when you’re home, how much time you have, and whether you have a yard. Here’s a cheat sheet to help you decide which method to start with:

  1. Crate/kennel training — This method is widely recommended by vets and dog trainers. Crate training requires a super consistent schedule. The best dog crates can be on the pricey side, but there are solid models out there to fit any pet parent’s budget.
  2. Puppy pad training — While pee pad training is convenient for the owner, it can be confusing for some dogs. Pee pads (also called training pads) are affordable and easy to find. But, there is the risk that your pup will shred the pad or eat their poop.
  3. Umbilical cord house training — Relying on constant supervision, this approach is very effective. However, it’s extremely hands-on and requires a lot of effort.

Some people might start with one type of potty training and switch to another. That’s OK — finding what works best for your dog is more important than the method itself. Once you land on something that starts working, have patience. Learning where to do one’s business is a new concept. Some dogs get the memo quicker than others. You and your dog will get there if you stick with it.

How to potty train your puppy

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Puppy potty training: The crate training method

Many experts agree that crate training is the most effective way to potty train your dog. Doggie psychology proves a dog’s instinct is not to relieve themselves where they sleep, which goes back to your puppy’s wolf ancestry. ScienceDirect explains just how effective this method can be, showing that puppies that used crates had fewer instances of accidents. It requires — you guessed it — a dog crate, as well as a consistent schedule.

You’ll need to start small, leaving your puppy in the crate for only a few minutes at a time. Over time, you’ll gradually extend the time they’re in their crate once they’re starting to feel more comfortable. If they start to whine, it’s important to leave them in the crate until they stop. Otherwise, if you bail them out, they’ll start to equate making noise with getting their way—which is definitely not what you want.

Puppy potty training: The paper and pee pad method

Paper or pee pad training is a very common method that requires few tools. Before the invention of the “fake grass” pee pads or absorbent pee pads, people used paper simply because it was cheap and available. You can pick whichever material works for you.

👉 If you prefer to use a potty pad, we recommend the Kennel Club Scented Puppy Training Pads with Ultra Absorbent Quick Dry Gel. These lemon-scented, super absorbent potty pads are sold on Amazon in a package of 100, which gives your puppy a good start. 

Here’s how to potty train your dog with a pee pad:

  1. Pick a type of pee pad, fake grass patch, or paper solution — You have many options for what kind of material you want to teach your new puppy to do their business. There are many different options for pee pads, including Frisco Dog Training & Potty Pads or Pooch Paper Biodegradable Dog Waste Sheet. Some experts caution against using fake grass because it can be confused with the texture of the carpet. Not all dogs will have this issue; it’s just something to be aware of when considering which material to go with.
  2. Find a permanent spot for the pee pads and show it to your dog — Keep your dog’s pee pad or paper in one specific location. Show it to your dog so they know where it is, then watch for indicators when they have to pee. Dogs will sniff around, circle, and otherwise show that they have to do their business. Set your dog on it first thing in the morning when you know they have to go, as well as when they first get out of their crate or wake up from a nap.
  3. Reward, reward, reward — When your puppy uses their pee pad, immediately reward them with verbal praise and a treat. The quicker your dog associates doing their business in the proper location with rewards, the faster they will learn.
  4. Slowly move the pee pad outside — Again, patience will come in handy here. It’s easy to think your dog will use the pee pad anywhere once they have mastered it, but this isn’t the case. You’ll need to slowly move the pee pad from its original location towards the exit door.
  5. Slowly reduce the size of the pee pad — Gradually switch the pee pad for (real) grass by trimming it down with scissors, which will help your dog not get confused. Over time, your dog will transition to using the grass instead.  We’d say it’s like magic, but very little about the potty training process is magical — unless you count patience!

👉 Potty pads work best as a temporary housebreaking tool to help your dog transition to relieving themselves outside. While some dogs may be able to permanently use a pee pad indoors, it isn’t recommended because your dog may get confused if they’re technically still allowed to relieve themselves inside the house.  

Puppy potty training: the umbilical method

This approach to potty training involves constant supervision. You (or a family member) are always connected to your new puppy by a leash. If you have a schedule that allows for this it can be very effective. The idea behind umbilical cord training is that it simply won’t be possible for your dog to have accidents.

If you’re no farther than a 6-foot leash away from your dog, you can take them for a potty break before they can have an accident. Once your dog catches on to where to properly do their business, you can allow them more freedom. However, the umbilical cord method requires constant supervision, which is a tedious process that may be impossible for some pet owners. Here are the steps:

  • Introduce the leash to your puppy — You’ve likely already bought a collar and leash for your new puppy, but they will still have to get used to being attached to you. Leash training can take time as well, so be kind and patient with your pup as they adjust. For new puppies, we recommend pet parents avoid retractable leashes, as these can lead to injuries or accidents in untrained dogs.
  • Implement potty breaks — Since you’re connected to your dog, you’re entirely in control of where they can go at all times. You’ll need to figure out what their pee and poop schedule is and be sure to plan for that. Once you have chosen your dog’s designated potty area, show them and use verbal commands and/or hand signals to reinforce the proper potty spot’s location.
  • Reward them with off-leash time — Reward your dog with brief off-leash time, adjusting the duration based on age. Avoid too much off-leash time to prevent accidents. Always stay nearby for observation and never let your dog roam with a dangling leash to prevent injury.

What to do when accidents happen

Naturally, accidents will occur—and for puppies, they happen even more frequently than adult dogs. When your puppy does have an accident, it’s important not to act overly dramatic. Just scoop the poop or wipe up the pee and keep rolling.

If you find them right before or in the middle of doing their business, try to pick them up and take them to the designated spot. Calmly and firmly say “no” as you pick them up and then give them the command word for potty once they’re outside or on their pee pad.

Don’t ever yell, hit, or otherwise punish your puppy for relieving themselves in the house. Not only is this wrong, but it’s also extremely ineffective, since some dogs crave attention, even if it’s negative.

Thoroughly cleaning the accident and applying a dog urine odor eliminator can help speed up the potty training process. Dogs are more likely to return to a spot that already smells like their pee and poop, so it’s important not to leave a trace.

👉  Whatever method you choose, avoid giving the command for your dog to potty right before you leave the house. Puppies are on limited time with their small bladders, but you want them to create positive associations with the potty word—and with you leaving the house. After your dog does their business, you should give them a treat and play with them for a few minutes before you leave or put them in their crate to avoid creating separation anxiety.

dog pee pad

📷 by reader of the pack

How long will it take to potty train my puppy? 

Dogs catch onto potty training at their own pace. Realistically, it takes an average of 4-6 months to potty train a dog. It can take up to a year for a dog to reach complete housebroken status, but some will learn much faster. Factors that can affect how quickly they learn include:

  • History. Adopting a puppy from a shelter or rescue can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Housebreaking a rescue can take a little longer, however, especially if they’re an older puppy who’s been in an unstable environment. For example, if a dog has been through multiple owners before their first birthday, it can be difficult to establish a rhythm.
  • Age. While you can (and should) begin housebreaking your dog as soon as they come home, it can take young puppies longer to learn. Puppies should stay with their litter until they are at least 8 weeks old to develop properly and receive the nutrition they need from their mother’s milk.
  • Breed. Smaller breeds can’t hold their pee as long due to their tiny bladders. For toy and teacup-sized dogs, you may find that they need to relieve themselves more frequently than the one hour per month of age guideline.
  • Intelligence. It’s a conundrum that intelligent dogs catch on to commands quicker than dogs who aren’t as sharp, but they also tend to be more stubborn than dogs with less mental acuity. Breeds that fit this bill include border collies, Rottweilers, and others.
  • Spaying too early. Some studies have linked spaying a female dog before their first heat cycle with an increased risk of developing urinary incontinence. Ask your vet for their advice on the best time to spay or neuter your pup.

Potty training a pup can be challenging and frustrating. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times, and it’s okay to seek professional help from a dog trainer or behaviorist for additional help. They can provide tailored advice and support to make the potty training journey smoother for both you and your furry companion. Remember, patience and consistency are key. And don’t forget about getting FidoAlert just in case your puppy gets away from you.

Frequently asked questions

What’s the easiest way to potty train a puppy?

Housebreaking takes time and patience, but some methods may work better for you and your dog than others. For example, umbilical training can be a good match if you work at home. Crate training makes more sense if you have a pet sitter who comes and checks on your dog while you’re away at work.

How long does it take to potty train a puppy?

Dogs mature and learn at different rates. On average, it takes between 4-6 months for a dog to be completely housebroken. If you’ve been consistently training your dog for longer than 6 months and they’re still having frequent accidents, you might want to take them to the vet for a checkup to make sure they don’t have any underlying medical issues.

How do you stop a puppy from peeing and pooping in the house?

If you catch your dog in the act or see signs that they’re about to go, you can pick them up and set them outside, or on their pee pad. You should never punish them for relieving themselves, but you can say “no” and give the command word for potty once you’ve reached the appointed area.

What age is easiest to potty train a puppy?

Potty training should begin at an early age, but always adopt after 8 weeks old. Puppies need to spend their first couple months of life with their mothers in order to receive the nutrition and social learning that they need for a wholesome life. Separating a dog from its litter too soon can create headaches, including a hard time with potty training since they’re too young to comprehend commands. That being said, you should start potty training your new pet as soon as you bring them home from the shelter or a responsible breeder who won’t let them go before they’re ready.

Does rubbing a dog’s nose in poop work?

No! We don’t know who created this “trick,” but we sure hope they don’t use it on their human children, either. Potty training takes time, patience, and positive reinforcement of good behavior. Leave the poop out of it.