Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
Potty training a puppy can be a very frustrating ordeal. As with human toddlers, it takes time. Some dogs may learn faster, some may take longer, but the good news is that all puppies will eventually get it!
Although all dog owners hope for a miraculous way to make it as brief as possible, the truth is, there is no such thing as potty training a puppy in seven days or less. Owners claiming their puppy got potty-trained in a week are either lying or simply cannot recall how long it really took.
Potty training takes time: There are no shortcuts around it. But there are some strategies that can expedite the process and help minimize the chances for accidents in the house. Below, you will find six basic steps that dog owners should follow to make the process as easy and quick as possible.
Are Some Breeds More Difficult to Train?
Generally, the potty training process of small breeds (such as toy and teacup breeds) takes much more effort since their bladders are much smaller. Also, some breeds are more challenging to potty train than others. For instance, basset hounds, dachshunds, Afghan hounds, pomeranians, and yorkies all have a reputation for not being the easiest to train. It is also important to mention that puppies kept in shelters, pet stores, or puppy mills are much harder to house train since they were basically allowed to urinate and defecate in their cages from the get-go.
What You'll Need to House Train Your Puppy
In addition to time, patience, and consistency, in order to increase the likelihood for success, you will need to arm yourself with a few items. Things you will need:
- timer or watch
- effective cleaning products
Secret Strategy #1: Recognizing the Signs
No potty training program can work well if the owner fails to recognize the signs of a puppy that needs to go potty. When the dog is very young, it has no awareness whatsoever of it bladder and bowel needs, therefore it does not know it needs to go until it actually goes. As the puppy grows, she will learn to become more and more aware of her bodily functions, and therefore she will learn to give you more signs to communicate her needs. As the puppy begins to notice and communicate what she needs, it is imperative that dogs owners read these signs so they can promptly take the puppy out.
Here are some of the signs:
- your puppy— who was actively playing one moment— suddenly wanders off
- she starts sniffing the floor
- she heads towards an area she has soiled on before
- she looks distracted, agitated, excited, or more active than usual
- she starts whining
- she is not interested in a treat or a toy
Strategy #2: Potty Time Frame
How often a puppy should be taken out is a question many people ask. The truth is it varies. A simple formula was developed not too long ago and I call it the month-plus-one rule: Calculate how old the puppy is in months and then add the number one. So let's say the puppy is two months old... you would then add 1 and get the number three. Three hours is how often you would need to take your puppy outside. Or if a puppy is four months old, it would need to be taken out every five hours, and so forth.
As much as this formula may help, truth is, it is not totally reliable. A puppy's bladder and bowel don't know how to count, and there are too many other variables to account for, such as how much the puppy drank or ate, when, and so forth. For instance, most puppies are more capable of holding their bowel and bladder movements when they are sleeping rather than when they are awake. According to applied animal behaviorists Patricia McConnell and Karen B. London in their booklet Way to Go!, pups between the ages of 7 and 12 weeks may need to be taken out every half hour or even more frequently when they are awake and active.
Puppies are also more likely to go potty at specific times of the day. These are some times you may want to take your puppy out:
- right after waking up
- after eating and drinking
- after a play session
- as often as needed when the puppy is active
- as often as needed during the night (yes, this means waking up in the night/early morning to take the puppy out)
Strategy #3: Management
Now that you know the signs and schedule your puppy needs to be taken out, it is imperative to manage the situation. In order to successfully train your puppy, you need to keep an eye on her as much as possible. The more you supervise, the more success you'll have. This means that until she's completely trained, your puppy will always need to be in one of the following scenarios:
a) in a room with you while you actively watch her every movement
b) attached to you with an umbilical cord (a leash attached to your puppy's collar with the end of the leash around your waist or snapped to your belt) as you run errands and do chores around the home
c) outside with you going potty
But of course, your puppy cannot be supervised 100% of the time. When you can't be with her, your puppy should be either left in a crate or in a small puppy-proof area. Crate-training is based on the principle that puppies do not like to soil in an area where they sleep. It is fundamental, therefore, to invest in a crate of the right size— snug enough so the pup is not comfortable soiling in a corner but large enough to allow her to comfortably stretch, stand up, and turn around. Only use use a crate with puppies that have obtained better bladder and sphincter control (which takes around 12 weeks), otherwise use a small puppy-proof area. The small area should be easy to clean up (an area of the kitchen closed off with a baby-gate works fine).
Only use use a crate for a puppy that has obtained better bladder and sphincter control (at least 12 weeks old); otherwise, use a small puppy-proof area.
Strategy #4: Set a Routine
Now you can make a puppy potty training routine and try to abide by it. It is crucial that you feed your puppy on a schedule so you can have better control. A good idea would be to prepare a chart and record what the puppy does with check marks. This will help keep track of things. A good routine for a two-month-old puppy would look something like this:
6 a.m.: Take the puppy out. Did she pee? Poop?
8 a.m.: Feed and take her out right after. Did she pee? Poop?
10 a.m.: Take puppy out. Did she pee? Poop? (etc.)
It may help to use a timer or a watch to remind you it is potty time.
Strategy #5: Train Positively
Gone are the days where puppies' noses were pushed in the pile of poop or where their bottoms were smacked with a rolled-up newspaper. These violent acts only teach the pup to fear you and that peeing and pooping is bad so they'll secretly soil out of sight and will stop giving you those important signs that let you know she needs to potty.
We know better now. Puppies learn faster and better with positive reinforcement. This means rewarding behavior we like and expressing praise to the dog. Keep a treat pouch by the door and every time you go out, wear it. From now on, every time your puppy is taken out and goes potty, you will throw a party~! Research shows that behaviors that are rewarded are repeated and behaviors that aren't rewarded disappear.
This is how it goes: You take your puppy out. The moment you notice her squatting to pee or poop— before she actually goes— you say, ''go potty.'' If you are diligent and consistent enough, this will teach her to go on cue. Right after she goes, say "good girl," and hand her a treat.
Of course, they also learn by their mistakes. If you catch your puppy in the act of going on your dining room rug, get up quickly and bring her outside. This should startle your puppy enough to stop her from making mistake in the future and hopefully give you enough time to prevent this one. Forget about punishing her when you come home from work and find a mess; your puppy will have no clue that you are punishing her for something that occurred hours ago. She will instead think you are punishing her for just looking at you or whatever she was doing in the present moment.
Strategy #6: Clean Up Correctly
There are right and wrong ways to clean up messes. An absolute wrong way is to use products containing ammonia. Ammonia smells like urine to dogs and will actually encourage urinating in the home. If you fail to use the right products to clean messes, you will endure unnecessary hardship. With more than 220 million olfactory receptors, dogs can easily find areas they have soiled before. It should therefore come as no surprise that dogs with good noses (such as hounds) may be more difficult to potty train.
It is fundamental therefore to use products that contain enzymes which will ''eat away'' odors. Some good products are Nature's Miracle and Petstatic. If you are afraid you may have missed messes, then you can invest in a special black light that will reveal traces of urine so you can easily identify it and promptly clean it up.
The scent of urine is a neon sign that says restroom to dogs and will attract like a billboard saying 'public restroom.'
— Patricia McConnell and Karen B. London
Strategy #7: Make Sure That Bladder Empties!
You may be baffled when you send your puppy out, she pees, and right when you get back inside, your puppy urinates more in front of you. Or maybe your puppy doesn't pee at all outside only to pee once back inside. What gives?
In this case, your puppy may have not emptied her bladder or hasn't emptied it completely the first time. This happens when your puppy is so excited in the morning to be outside that she can't focus on peeing or she just tinkles quickly just to make you happy. If you have repeated accidents like this, try to stay out longer until she goes or needs to go a little more.
Many puppies will pee two or three times if you give them the opportunity. Also, try not to distract her mid-stream with praise and treats. Wait till she is completely done and about to take the first step to walk away.
While you are at it, it doesn't cost anything to say "go potty" every time she goes potty outside. After about a month, she'll start associating the words with going potty. This is how puppies are trained to go potty on command.
Of course, if you think your puppy is peeing more than it should, you should rule out medical conditions. A urinary tract infection or other medical disorder may the culprit.
For Further Reading
- Dog refusing to go potty in the rain?
How to train your dog to go potty regardless of the weather.
- How to Wean a Dog off Dog Training Pads and Go Potty Outside
Learn how to wean your puppy off training pads.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli
Debra Maldonado on August 18, 2020:
I have a nine week old Catahoula Rhodesian ridge back puppy and she refuses to use the paper! Sometime she will intentionally walk over to the paper and use it in then a minute later Pee on the floor why? I really feel like she knows that she supposed to use the paper but she just pees wherever she standing
email@example.com on October 06, 2018:
We have a 6 month old Maltese and have had him since he was 8 weeks old. We had him potty trained for the most part, or atleast to the point where if we took him outside before allowing him out of his own area and into the "wild", he wouldn't pee in the home. But, if he didn't go, he would have to be placed back into his own area so that he would not pee or soil floor. Lately, it seems as though he's either reverting back to peeing throughout the home, even if we've already taken him out, or he is marking everywhere. How do I stop this in the home in particular. I feel like I can no longer let him out to play, because he will just mark the wall, the corners of the cabinets in the kitchen, etc. we also noticed that when we take him out into the yard to pee, he's also marking the sides of Our Deck, and when going to take him for walks he will frequently stop to pee along the way.
Rebecca on August 07, 2018:
I recently (5 days ago) adopted a 4-5 month old chocolate lab mix. He is in and outside throughout the day. He has urinated in the House in one time each day. And every time he had been outside within 20 minutes. He just stops playing and pees. It has been over 20 years since I last had a puppy. At least we have hardwood floors now. Any advice?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 29, 2017:
Valerie, the amount your puppy poops a day (4 times) is average for a puppy of that age. Things will get better as your puppy matures. Hang in there! Since this is a repeat problem, this empowers you to work on it as you have a predictable pattern now. If your dog poops outside after eating and then again in 15-30 minutes, get your watch ticking and get your puppy out again right before that time frame, better a bit earlier than too late. It might be an issue with the food you are feeding at times. This is what I was taught when working for pet store: some premium dog foods are known for causing dogs to poop less and smaller versus the bulky, messy and frequent poops associated with the lower quality brands. It sounds like you are doing everything right, just keep track of accidents and plan accordingly for another outing. Eating is known for stimulating the gastrocolic reflex, so your puppy may just have to go more than once.
Valerie on December 29, 2017:
Question: my 10 week old puppy poops A LOT. 4 times a day on average. I do the whole routine as recommended, wake up- potty- feeding- potty - play ect just to find her pooping inside right after she pooped after a meal ( like 15-30 minutes to an hour later) What am I doing wrong? She is outside long enough time, after she does her business I praise her, she loses interest in potty area and starts just playing. Inside I can't put her back in a crate since she did everything outside, but a few minutes later- Boom! There we go yet again... Too much food? Idk... Trust me, I clean the area well, it is not in the same area. I follow every advice I read online and what the vet said, watched countless videos. Do you think she will grow out of it? What should I do? Thank you very much in advance, the experience is very frustrating to say the least!
Jeanette Bowman on August 22, 2017:
Question: I have 2 male yorkies. I think they're in a "Do what I do" contest. 1 will pee on my table leg and the next 1 will do the same thing. Definitely need to change cleaners.
Katekea on May 12, 2017:
Finally found an article that is Clear, Precise and to the point! Excellent information - Thankfully I am already doing most of what you say, so it's good to know I'm on the right path and and you gave me a few extra "Hints" that I need to continue. I have a 9 week old Shih-Tzu and she is doing Much better than I expected. Also want to say Thanks for being specific on what product to use for clean ups.
Bev on July 30, 2016:
I will do the training like you suggest
I have a Morkie (very stubborn ) he is 1 years old Holds his pee all night but pees all day on everything He knows where his papers are and sometimes uses them And poops where he wants then eats it and scatters it
I am about to give him away but really don't want to
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 21, 2015:
How old is your puppy now? and what breed is he?
nic on October 20, 2015:
When we got our puppy, I would take him out about every 30 minutes and each day make it a little longer in the first week and he would actually sleep through the night. He was trained in a week.
Candy on October 20, 2015:
this was a very informative article and answered all our questions...I was going to buy a puppy apartment but have been training my dog for 17 weeks now using your strategies.. we have a small dog and i don't feel good allowing him on carpet because quick as a wink ...he pees...under a bed etc.
when does this whole thing really click?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 11, 2015:
I am happy you found this article on potty training puppies helpful, best wishes.
Jan Lova on May 11, 2015:
Thanks for a great article. It was very useful.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 15, 2014:
Thank you, I am happy to hear you found it useful.
AnnaCia on October 15, 2014:
Very interesting hub. Valuable information. Well done.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 17, 2012:
Thanks twodawgs, I have had many clients with puppy potty training issues so I created it with them in mind!
kita on January 05, 2012:
thank you for this information im gunna try this and see how he goes
twodawgs on November 28, 2011:
This is by far the best article I've seen on house-training puppies. Well written, comprehensive, and the advice is 100% right-on. When I learned this approach 30 years ago, house-training my pups became so much less stressful for both me and the pups.
And I second your recommendation for the enzyme products - they really are miraculous.