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How to Potty Train a Puppy

Updated: May 16

If you’ve just gotten a new puppy, potty training is probably one of your first priorities.

We’ll go through the basics here, but if you’d like some personalized help, sign up for a private training session!

Puppy Potty Training Tips

We'll get into more detail in a second, but here's your TL:DR: throw a party whenever your puppy pees outside where you want them to, and prevent them from accidentally going potty inside the house. No punishment necessary!

Potty Training Rule #1: Reward Your Puppy for Going Outside!

The first step to potty training is to get your puppy to pee and poop outside. Because puppies can be distracted and excited about the outside world, we recommend picking a small area outside in the grass (if possible) and walking only in that area until your puppy goes to the bathroom.

Once they potty, throw a party!

Give treats (or you can use some of their kibble) as soon as they potty (not once they come back inside). Give lots of praise and petting if your puppy likes that, and make it a big, exciting moment. Repeat this every single time for at least the first few weeks, and then still reward at least occasionally.

This is positive reinforcement and it’s the foundation of potty training.

How to Manage Your Puppy During Potty Training

Puppies can only hold their bladders for so long, and they don’t have control yet over knowing when they need to go. Management will help avoid accidents and give you lots of opportunities to throw the Potty Party mentioned in the previous step.

Here are some suggestions for managing your puppy to prevent accidents in the house:

  1. Take your puppy out to potty regularly- you may need to do this once an hour while they’re still little.

  2. Keep your puppy in sight so you can check for pre-potty behaviors. Many puppies will start circling around, sniffing the ground, or become more agitated/restless when they need to potty. But you need to be able to notice these signs with enough time to take them out! You may want to keep them in an exercise pen next to you, or have them on leash with you, so you have time to see their behavior change and get them outside.

  3. Overnight, many folks crate their puppies. Being in a smaller space discourages puppies from peeing and pooping in their own space. HOWEVER: very young puppies cannot hold it overnight, so you still need to take your puppy out regularly if you expect them to hold it in between.

  4. If your puppy has gotten overly excited outside, it’s possible they may “forget” their need to pee. So if they’ve been doing fun sniffing, playing with another puppy, or something else super exciting, you may need to take them out again as soon as they’ve calmed down.

  5. Keep a routine! If your puppy gets fed at the same time each day and has regularly scheduled potty breaks, they’re much more likely to be successful.

What Should I Do if My Puppy Has an Accident in the House?

If your puppy has an accident, don’t panic!

Again, puppies have limited control of their bladders and often don’t know they need to go until it’s already happening.

If your puppy has had an accident:

  1. Clean up the accident. We also recommend using a pet odor remover spray to prevent that spot from smelling like “hmm, this smells like a good place to potty!” A thorough cleaning is super helpful here.

  2. Think about why your puppy might have had an accident. Did they need to go out sooner? Did something exciting happen and they skipped peeing on their previous outing? Did you miss the signs that they had to go? These are all things you can change to prevent accidents in the future.

  3. DO NOT punish your puppy. We caution strongly against yelling at your puppy, making them put their face near the accident, putting them in time out, or any other punishment. Puppies at this age have very limited control over their bodies and are not having accidents intentionally: that’s why we call them accidents! Yelling at them for this is not going to help with potty training, and might actually make things worse.

When to Start Potty Training?

We recommend starting your potty training as soon as you get your new puppy (or adult dog!) The sooner you start, the sooner your pup will be trained.

How Long Does Potty Training Take?

This is a great question! It depends somewhat on the individual puppy. And even if a puppy is having no accidents in the house by three months, we sometimes see a regression at four or five months briefly.

As puppies age, they get more capacity to hold it for longer. While an 8-week-old puppy typically needs to go out every hour or so, a four month old puppy can usually hold it for a few hours. But it’s normal to expect that a puppy won’t be able to hold it more than 3-4 hours until they’re older. Typically by 9-12 months puppies have a mostly-fully-developed system that allows them to hold it for 6 or more hours. But just like humans- most of us don’t hold it for 8+ hours regularly except perhaps while sleeping!

Potty Training a Rescue Dog

Don't worry- potty training older dogs is just like training a puppy- except they can typically "hold it" longer! Stick to the same process: reward every time they "go" outside, and prevent opportunities for doing it inside. We recommend taking them outside every few hours to begin with to avoid any accidents!

Puppy Potty Training Schedule

Remember that baby puppies physically can't hold their bladders for very long! If your puppy is only 8-10 weeks old, you may need to go outside every hour (or every few hours during the night). Once your puppy is 4-5 months old, they should be able to hold it for a few hours or most of the night. Consistently giving them the chance to potty outside BEFORE they have an accident is a huge component of potty training!

Troubleshooting Potty Training

My adult dog is peeing all the time and having accidents in the house

This would be cause for a vet visit! It’s possible that your dog has a UTI or other medical condition that’s impacting their ability to hold their bladder.

My dog or puppy sometimes pees when they get nervous or overly excited

Some dogs are more prone to this than others. The best way to work through this is to help your puppy feel safe and stay calm, versus getting to the point where they’re so upset/excited that they pee!

My puppy has been struggling with potty training and we can’t figure out why

This can be so frustrating! We recommend reaching out to a certified positive reinforcement trainer ASAP to help figure out what’s going on and how to help.

Looking for help on other puppy topics? Check out:

How to House Train a Puppy

Are you wondering what's the difference between potty training and house training? It's all a matter of perspective! Some folks actually train their dogs to pee INSIDE using specialized puppy pads. For most families, we recommend teaching puppies to go outside. But whether you call it potty training or house training, it's the same process!


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