How To Potty Train Your Puppy [Step-by-Step]

White toilet paper on white background with dog.

Potty training a dog at an early age to teach them where – and where not – to go to the bathroom is important. Every dog owner will have to potty train their puppy at some point. 

A day of getting to know each other with your puppy – playing at the park, running around, throwing balls, and bonding together – can be spoiled if your dog has an accident in the middle of the living room. While this is something that you should expect when potty training a puppy, there are things you can do to make the training easier for both you and your pup. 

In this article, we will help you understand where and how to begin potty training with your puppy, what to do when there is an accident, and give some useful tips on this topic.

Firstly - prepare to bring your dog home

Preparation is the key to potty training a puppy. Your puppy is most likely just separated from their siblings, its mother, and the only environment they know before you take them home. A smooth transition from where you bring the puppy to your home will comfort them and speed up not only the potty training, but other types of training as your puppy grows. . 

Before bringing your puppy home, prepare the area that your pup will spend time by sanitizing it first. Many dog owners in the United States have multiple pets or had pets in the past. Make sure that any area in the home where other pets had accidents is sanitized. If the puppy smells old urine from previous pets, they will be tempted to do the same.

brown stray puppy

In particular with potty training, purchasing a crate is one of the best preparations before the puppy comes home. It is also a great way to house train puppies to give them a sense of safety and security. When you have to leave your dog alone in the home, the crate will be a useful tool to keep the dog, your personal belongings and furniture safe as puppies tend to become destructive.

As the crate will be the puppy’s personal space, where they sleep and feel safe, they won’t want to make a mess in there. It is also critical to purchase the right size of dog crate. You wouldn’t want it to be too big where the puppy can potty on one end and retreat to the other, or too small that the puppy can’t stand and turn around. Most pet owners prefer buying a large crate that the puppy will grow into. While it makes sense to purchase a single crate for the lifetime of your dog, you might need to make a few modifications. A crate should accommodate a dog’s fully grown size, but shouldn’t be too big to make potty training difficult in puppyhood. If there is excess space in the crate where the puppy can avoid a mess, use cardboard or plywood to block off the extra space or purchase a crate divider.

How to potty train your dog [Step-by-Step]

Step 1: Know your dog

There are a few things you should keep in mind before starting to potty train your dog. 

  • The size of your dog
  • Where they have come from (rescue, shelter, breeder, etc.)
  • Their behavioral history/circumstances
  • Whether or not they have started potty training or not

Whether they’ve actually started potty training matters a lot. Puppies can generally hold their urine for one hour for every month they’re old. For example, if you have a two-month-old puppy, he can hold urine for two hours. If you have a three-month-old puppy, he can hold it for three hours, and so on. Smaller breeds may require a little bit more patience as they have smaller bowels and bladders. Knowing and understanding your dog will make a significant difference in how quickly you both go through potty training.

golden retriever in training

Step 2: Active supervision

Actively spend time with your dog to avoid accidents whenever possible. If your dog has an accident in an undesirable location in the house, there is a high chance that they will want to do the same there again. Monitor where your dog goes in the house and keep them out of surfaces similar to grass, such as carpets or rugs. Because dogs are contextual learners, they have a hard time differentiating between grass and similar surfaces. 

However, this doesn’t mean that you can never have carpets or rugs in the house. Consistency in training will make your dog understand that carpets and rugs are not for potty time. You can also utilize indoor areas such as artificial grass or training pads to take care of the business when unsupervised.

Step 3: Crate training

A crate might seem like punishment to you as your puppy is in a confined space, but know that most dogs have the natural desire to relax in enclosed areas. Your puppy should enjoy spending time inside the crate. Feeding your puppy or giving treats and toys in the crate will encourage them to not want to potty inside. 

Crate training teaches puppies to hold their bowels and urine, but make sure they’re not spending too much time in the crate. Dogs that are left in their crates for prolonged periods may have uncontrollable accidents as their organs are still developing and also develop anxiety. The crate should also serve as a safe and secure place when you can’t actively supervise your puppy.

dog crate opened

Step 4: Create a schedule

Creating a schedule is helpful to stay consistent with potty training. Set up a schedule suitable for your dog’s age, size, and toilet habits. Take your puppy outside to the place you would like them to potty after eating, drinking, naps, and playing. Once your puppy finishes, give compliments and rewards for encouragement. However, wait for the puppy to finish before giving compliments and treats. Otherwise, you might confuse or distract the puppy. You can also extend the duration of time spent outside as a way to encourage them to hold pottying.

Puppies, especially under 12 weeks of age, don’t have enough muscular control to hold themselves, so it is important to frequently take your dog out for potty. If you only wait for the signs of immediate pottying, it will lengthen the training, and you will spend a lot of time cleaning and sanitizing. This is why creating a schedule for your puppy is so important. A schedule will also help your dog understand there is a time for everything. Create a routine and stick to it – even if it means waking up in the middle of the night to take the dog outside.

Step 5: Avoid punishment

It’s almost inevitable that your puppy will have accidents along the way. When an accident occurs, avoid punishing the mistakes. The puppy won’t understand the punishment, even in cases where you catch the puppy in the middle of it. Your dog is far more likely to link punishments with pottying in front of you than in the house – and punishing your puppy for the accidents can make them potty when you’re not around as they think this is what they should do. Dogs with a history of punishments for pottying have a higher likelihood of avoiding this in front of humans and wait until they’re alone. Always use positive reinforcement to potty train your dog.

beagle puppy

What to do if your dog has an accident

Having accidents is a normal part of potty training. As mentioned above, avoid punishment if and when your dog has an accident. If you catch your dog in the middle of relieving, interrupt the puppy and take them outside. You can use words like ‘potty’ or ‘outside’ as indications and take them outside right away. If it’s too late, don’t overreact. Just clean it up. Make sure that there aren’t any odors or residue. To eliminate odor on the carpets and floor, use enzyme-based deodorizers so that your puppy doesn’t have an urge to go in the same spot again.

Although cleaning up after your puppy can get overwhelming, rubbing their nose in it or shouting at your puppy won’t help with the progress of the training. Again, always use positive reinforcement and do not punish your dog.

Top tips to make it easier to potty train your dog

  • Reward your puppy by giving compliments and treats every time they potty outside. You can never have too many rewards for outside potty breaks. 

  • Take your puppy’s water bowl away after 8 PM, unless in hot weather conditions or when they are thirsty.

  • Gradually allow your dog to have more freedom in the house. As your dog’s housebreaking skills improve, extend the amount of time spent out of the crate. 

  • Keep your dog on a leash while in the yard. If you want your dog to potty in a specific area of the yard, hand walk your dog there every time until they learn.

How long does it take to potty train a puppy?

There are a lot of factors in determining how long it takes to potty train a puppy, such as size, age, and breed; but, it usually takes between four and six months, but some puppies might take up to a year to fully housetrain. Generally, smaller dog breeds like Pomeranians take longer than bigger breeds like the German Shepherd, due to their small bowels and bladders and faster metabolism.

If you need help with potty training your puppy, our professional dog trainers can help you! We have trainers located across the United States. Find a dog trainer in your area who can help!