- 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.
🚨 Bathroom accidents for housebroken dogs may indicate a serious health problem.
Universal principles of potty training
The best potty-training method for you comes down to your schedule, household situation, home type, your 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.
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.
As we mentioned before, puppies need to do their business often based on the “month plus one hour rule.” Take your puppy’s age in months, then add one hour; that is the maximum number of hours they can go without a pee break, including nighttime hours. Have a 6-month-old puppy? Then 7 hours is the max.
Choose the right spot
Regardless of training type, a designated pee/poop spot will help simplify potty training for your puppy. They will learn more quickly this way. 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.
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 quirky phrases, such as, “Let’s whizzipoos.” Remember to keep it consistent and unique so that you both know what you mean. Who cares if people laugh at your weird pee break terminology!? Everyone whizzipoos, after all.
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.”
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 their 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.
3 most effective methods of potty training a puppy
What works best for you and your doggo depends on a lot of things, like how much 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:
- Crate/kennel training. Universally recommended by vets and dog trainers. They require a super consistent schedule. Quality crates can be expensive.
- Puppy pad training. Super convenient for the owner, but can be confusing for some dogs. Pee pads (called training pads) are cheap. There’s the risk your pup will shred the pad or eat their poop.
- Umbilical cord training. Very effective, but is extremely hands-on and requires a ton 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 a tad quicker than others. You and your dog will get there if you stick with it.
Many experts agree that crate training is the most effective way to potty train your dog. It requires — you guessed it — a dog crate. Doggie psychology proves a dog’s instinct is not to relieve themselves where they sleep, which goes back to your puppy’s big wolf ancestry. In fact, ScienceDirect explains just how effective this method can be, showing that puppies that used crates had fewer instances of accidents.
The why of the crate
Animal care experts are often big fans of crate training because it’s a safe way to contain your dog. Just think, what if your dog gets injured or infected with heartworms and needs a calm, contained place to recover? If your dog isn’t already crate trained, you’ll have even more of an uphill battle keeping your doggo calm and happy.
Paper and pee pad training
If you prefer not to use crate training alone, you might consider paper or pee pad training. It’s 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. It takes about 2 weeks to potty train a puppy on pads.
Kennel Club Scented Puppy Training Pads with Ultra Absorbent Quick Dry Gel
Pee Pads for Dogs
The 5 steps of paper and pee pad training
Step 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.
Step 2: Show your dog their pee pad
Find one specific location to keep your dog’s pee pad or paper. Show it to your dog so they know where it is, then watch for indicators when they have to pee. Set your dog on it first thing in the morning when you know they have to go. Dogs will sniff around, circle, and otherwise show that they have to do their business.
Step 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.
Step 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.
Step 5: Slowly reduce the size of the potty 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!
The 3 steps of umbilical cord training
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 for more freedom. However, the umbilical cord method requires constant supervision.
Step 1: Introduce the leash to your puppy
You’ve likely already bought a collar and leash for your new puppy and 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.
Step 2: Introduce 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 “do your business” spot, show them and use verbal commands to reinforce the proper potty spot’s location.
Step 3: Reward with off-leash time
Reward your dog with brief off-leash time, adjusting the duration based on age, but 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.
Potty training a pup can be challenging and frustrating, and it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times. Remember, patience and consistency are key. If you struggle or need additional guidance, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a dog trainer or behaviorist. They can provide tailored advice and support to make the potty-training journey smoother for both you and your furry companion. And don’t forget about getting FidoAlert just in case your puppy gets away from you.
Frequently asked questions
What is the fastest way to potty train a puppy?
Take your puppy outside at least every 2 hours, immediately after they wake up, during and after playing, and after eating or drinking. Pick a bathroom spot outside, and always take your puppy (on a leash) to that spot.
Can an 8-week-old puppy be potty trained?
You can start potty training when they’re anywhere from 8 to 16 weeks old. Ideally, they’re with their mother at least until 8 weeks of age, if not longer. The puppy’s mom takes care of their every need, and so will you as you are raising this new puppy.
My puppy and I are not making any progress. What’s going on?
If you’ve given potty training a fair shake and are still having difficulties, consult your dog’s vet. Medical problems, like urinary tract infections and digestive issues, require medical attention and can cause problems with potty training.