You just got a puppy! Congratulations! You’ve just given your puppy the best gift ever: a loving home. As you and your puppy grow together, you’re in for a lifetime of adventures. And while some of those adventures will be super exciting, one of the first “journeys” you’ll go on is a little less of a “Yippee!” moment. That’s right: It’s time for potty training your puppy.
Potty training your puppy is the first step in a lifelong relationship. It’s a precursor to obedience training, and also a way to bond, the same way wolf mamas and their pups do in the wild! As your puppy’s “mother,” it’s your duty to help your pup learn the proper time and place to go potty. And with consistency and scheduled training, you’ll be moving on to “sit,” “stay,” and “shake” in no time!
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- When to start potty training
- Using a crate in potty training
- Making a potty time schedule
- What to do when mistakes happen
- Dos and don’ts for puppy potty training
Remember, potty training may seem daunting, but with consistency, scheduling, and positive reinforcement, it’s actually pretty simple. So buckle up and get ready to learn, because by the time we’re done, you’ll be a puppy potty training pro!
When to start potty training your puppy
Before 8-12 weeks of age, puppies aren’t able to hold their bladders. Plus, they are so tiny that any food and water just runs right through them! So your training should start when your puppy is between 9 and 12 weeks old. If you’re adopting a puppy from a shelter, it was likely housed with litter-mates, and won’t have been started on training.
Using a crate for potty training
Crate training is one of the most popular and effective ways to potty train your puppy. Here’s the basic premise: when your puppy isn’t being supervised, is beginning to understand the concept of “home space”, or has failed to use the bathroom on schedule, she gets confined to her crate until her next scheduled “go” time.
When you are choosing a crate for your puppy, it should be just large enough for her to stand, turn around, and lie down. You don’t want your puppy to have room to make a “bathroom” away from where she sleeps. If you are worried about how quickly your pup is going to grow, look for a larger crate that comes with partitions! This way, you can control the amount of space she has as she grows.
One very important note about your puppy’s crate: the crate should never be used as a punishment. You do not want puppy to fear the crate, or associate it with being “bad.” Instead, praise your puppy when she goes into the crate. Leave it open while your puppy plays, so she can investigate, or go lie down for a quick nap. Your puppy should view her crate like a wolf pup sees their den: a safe, clean home where she can rest.
Quick Tip: For more information on crate training, check out our guide on Crate Training Basics.
Making a potty time schedule
In the beginning, your puppy will need to go potty a lot. Like, A LOT, a lot. Much about bladder control has to do with your puppy’s size. If you have a chihuahua or tiny dog, expect to take them out more often. Similarly, a larger dog like a shepherd or lab will likely be able to “hold it” for longer periods of time.
Start by taking your puppy out every two hours at the longest (you might even start with every hour), and slowly increase this time as your puppy is able to enjoy playtime in the house without having an accident. If your puppy does have an accident, it may mean you need to take a step back in your schedule, and go out a bit more often, or stay outside longer.
A rule of thumb is that your puppy should be able to hold their bladder for the same number of hours as months they are old. So, a 3-month-old puppy should be able to go 3 hours between potty breaks. You can use this as a guide, and narrow down your schedule based on your puppy’s needs.
You’ll also want to make sure you take your puppy out:
- First thing in the morning
- Right before bedtime
- Right after being let out of her crate
- After meal times
- After playtime.
- And any time you see your puppy “indicating” that they need to go. Common indicators are whining, going to the door, or intense sniffing of the floor.
It seems overdone, I know. But the more successes your puppy has, and the less accidents in your home, the more quickly your puppy will learn the proper place to go to the potty.
Quick Tip: Take your puppy to the same spot for every bathroom break. They’ll smell their past messes and be encouraged to go there again!
What to do when mistakes happen
Almost every puppy is going to have an accident (or two) at some point during training. If you see your puppy squatting, or looking like she’s ready to “go,” scoop her up immediately and run outside. When she does her business, give her tons of praise. Kisses, cries of “good girl,” the whole thing. Remember, your puppy wants to please you more than anything else–so when they see you happy, it’ll reinforce that they should do that thing, that way, again!
Sometimes, you won’t be able to catch your pup in time. If you find a mess that your puppy has made after the fact, the best thing to do is calmly clean the mess up. Old methods of “showing” the puppy their mess, or even rubbing their nose in it (please don’t!) won’t work. Dogs aren’t capable of making the connections we can, and all you’re really doing is scaring and humiliating your puppy. Instead, when you see a mess, take your puppy outside and encourage them to eliminate there, praising if they do go.
Quick tip: Don’t get discouraged! An accident isn’t a sign of failure–it is a totally normal part of housebreaking. Just clean up and start again. You’ll get there!
How to clean a puppy mess
When cleaning up your puppy’s accident, there are two things to make sure you do: disinfect and deodorise. Disinfecting is important on any surface, but especially on carpet, where bacteria can sometimes linger in the fibres. We recommend using a carpet cleaner to make sure you get any carpet spots fully, deeply cleaned.
Then it’s time to deodorise! This step is incredibly important. If an area has any smell of urine or faeces (even if YOU can’t smell it), your puppy will be highly motivated to go back to that spot and have more accidents. Luckily, most pet stores and many grocery stores carry sprays that are made specifically for this purpose, and can be used on any surface to take care of lingering smells.
Quick tip: Enzymatic cleaners work better than ammonia-based cleaners for deodorising your home.
Dos and don’ts for potty training
While everyone has some different ideas on how to potty train your puppy, there are a few rules that are generally agreed upon. When potty training your puppy, we recommend that you:
- DO: Praise, praise, praise your puppy for using the potty outside! It should be like 4th of July at Disney World. Make your puppy feel like a little Einstein, and she’ll want to get that feeling again and again.
- DO: Stay outside longer with your puppy if they are prone to accidents. They might be getting distracted by the smells outside, and just need more time to go potty.
- DO: Pay attention to your puppy’s poops. Loose stool that is stinky can indicate a need for a change in diet that can help your puppy feel better, and hold their poops better too!
- DON’T: Punish your puppy for an accident. They don’t understand why you are mad, and will only associate that fear with you.
- DON’T: Get ahead of yourself. A lot of people think a puppy is “getting it,” and then try to skip steps, letting the puppy be out for too long or have free reign of the house, unsupervised. This is a recipe for accidents! Stick to the schedule for your best chance of success.
Successful potty training recap
Potty training your puppy is straightforward, as long as you remember consistency, scheduling and positive reinforcement! You’ll also want to keep in mind to:
- Provide a comfortable crate that is just big enough for your pup.
- Start with lots of potty breaks and slowly teach your puppy to “hold it” for longer periods.
- Always clean and deodorise any accidents in the house.
- Never punish your puppy for having an accident.
- And, don’t give up!
Together, you and your puppy will conquer potty training, and then it will be on to all your other fun adventures, whether it be going on walks together, or curling up on the couch to watch Animal Planet.