Know Before They Go: How to Potty Train a Puppy

One of the greatest challenges of puppyhood is figuring out how to successfully potty train a puppy.

Don’t worry—we’ve got you.

For the sake of your flooring (and your sanity), puppies need to learn to eliminate in a designated area you both are comfortable with. Often, this is either outside in the yard or on a walk (in which case compostable poo bags are a must). There are other options, too, especially for potty training puppy parents living in condos, apartments, or urban areas with limited access to grass: litter boxes (yes, you read that right), grass potty pads, pee pads, and even newspapers can do the trick.

We field potty training questions from puppy parents all the time:

  • How long does it take to potty train a puppy?
  • How long can dogs hold their pee?
  • How often should I be taking my puppy out to pee?

Some of the answers to these questions depend on the puppy, but our hope is that these puppy house training tips will help speed up the process and take some of the pains out of potty training.

How to potty train a puppy: When to start, what to do

Between 3 and 12 weeks, puppies will start leaving their den area (usually a crate or a puppy plan pen) to go to the bathroom. Good news for you: you can start puppy potty training early! Come prepared with patience, though: on average, it takes between 4-6 months before your puppy is fully house trained.

One of the biggest goals of puppy potty training is to help your puppy learn where to go when it’s time to go. After all, what goes in must come out.

Setting a puppy potty training schedule gives you the best chance of success. Like humans, puppies thrive in routine.

Example puppy potty training schedule:

EXPERT TIP: If you’re a morning person, your puppy’s breakfast can be used as a reward after a quick training session. Food-motivated puppies will be more willing to work for their meals. A win-win, if you ask us.

  • Immediately after your puppy wakes up for the day, guide them to their designated area to eliminate.
  • Have a play to burn off some of that early morning energy before breakfast.
  • After breakfast, take your puppy for a bathroom break and/or a walk. Puppies usually have to go potty about 15 minutes after eating.
  • More playing and training.
  • Time for a nap. How long your puppy sleeps for depends on how long they can hold their bladder for.
  • Another post-sleep pee. This helps your puppy build an association between the two.
  • Even more playing and training. (If you’re a puppy parent, you know just how energetic a freshly-rested puppy is.)
  • Repeat the two steps above at least one more time. (What can we say? Puppies play hard and nap hard.)
  • Time for dinner! You know the drill: feed, digest, eliminate.

EXPERT TIP: How long can dogs hold their pee? The number of hours usually works out to age in months + 1. If your puppy is 4 months old, you should offer a bathroom break at least every 5 hours.

  • After dinner is when puppies are most rambunctious. Zoomies, anyone? If your puppy has a hard time settling down, offer them an interactive toy.
  • Instead of an after-dinner nap, try a long sensory walk. Mental stimulation + physical exercise = an engaged, exhausted puppy.
  • Set a time for bed and stick to it.
  • You’ll likely need to get up at least once overnight to let your puppy out for a potty break. If you’re a deep sleeper, set an alarm so you don’t wake up to a soiled crate or play pen.


Dog bathroom etiquette: Tips to successfully house train a puppy

There’s a lot for puppy parents to consider when they’re figuring out how to potty train their puppy. To help you out, we’ve rounded up a few of our top tips:

  1. Pick where you want your puppy to go and stick with it.

Switching locations may confuse your puppy, causing them to inappropriately eliminate around the house or the yard. The last thing you want is to have your puppy peeing on your garden beds!

EXPERT TIP: Just because your puppy doesn’t have all their booster vaccines doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be interacting with other dogs. Provided your puppy’s playmates are fully vaccinated and play well with pups, we recommend as many play dates as possible!

The exception to this rule is puppies whose parents potty trained them indoors but are ready to take things outside. (We recommend sticking with whichever environment you start with, but we also understand life sometimes doesn’t go according to plan!) For a smoother transition, you’ll need to temporarily relocate their indoor potty device so your puppy can work out what’s going on and what they need to do.

When choosing a location, steer clear of areas where lots of wildlife pass through. Wildlife, an event other dogs, can transfer diseases like parvovirus—things you especially want to avoid until your puppy is fully vaccinated.

2. Constant supervision is key.

The ticket to successfully house training a puppy is constant supervision. If you have a rambunctious pup, you may want to keep them on a leash when they are awake and about so they don’t sneak off and have an accident in the house. There are plenty of vet-recommended hands-free leash options available, a solution that’s super attractive to puppy parents working from home.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not enough to discipline a puppy after you discover an inappropriate elimination. You have to catch puppy in the act, interrupt them with a clap or word, and quickly relocate them to their designated potty spot. If they finish the deed there, offer plenty of praise and reward.

Of course, constant supervision may not always be achievable. During times when you can’t be there with a watchful eye, contain your puppy in a crate or exercise pen. But remember: puppies should only be crated for a few hours before they’ll need a bathroom break.

3. Stay on schedule.

This is another one that may not be doable 100% of the time, but as often as possible it’s important to stick to the schedule you and the other members of your household have set.

Here are some tips to help make your schedule a success:

  • Even if you’re letting puppy out in a fully fenced area, join them for potty breaks. You may not love this at 3 a.m., but this way you can consistently offer praise and rewards and help your puppy learn that this is a desirable action with an even more desirable reaction.
  • Pair potty time with a cue or command. Words like “potty,” “pee,” or “poop” can become so effective that your little bundle may learn to go on command. This will come in handy if your vet even needs a sample.
  • Give your puppy at least 5 minutes to go. Younger pups likely will need to pee twice to empty their bladder.
  • If, after 5 minutes and all signs pointing to it being time to go, your puppy won’t pee or poop, take them back to whatever they were doing before (playing, eating, sleeping). Stay nearby if you can to monitor their behaviours and body language.


How to know if your puppy needs to go potty

There are a few telltale signs common to most puppies that tip off puppy parents it’s time for a bathroom break:

  • Circling
  • Sniffing (more than usual)
  • Whining
  • Posturing to potty
  • Moving towards their designated elimination spot

The quicker you catch on to these signs, the faster your puppy will learn to come to you when they need to go (versus sneaking away to pee where they shouldn’t).

What do I do if my puppy has an accident in the house?

As you and your puppy are learning how to house train, there are bound to be accidents. Yes, these accidents can be frustrating, but it’s important not to yell at or punish your puppy. Remember: they’re still babies, and they’re still learning. Puppies also have a hard time figuring out why you’re mad at them, especially if time has passed between the incident and the discipline. Getting upset with your puppy may inadvertently teach them not to eliminate near people, which makes the puppy potty training process that much harder.

What should you do instead? Ignore the mistake and give it a good clean to prevent future accidents. Most household cleaners and deodorizers aren’t powerful enough for your puppy’s strong sense of smell, so choose a puppy-safe, vet-recommended enzymatic cleaner instead.

EXPERT TIP: We only include vet-recommended products like cleaners and supplements in our Waggle Mail Puppy packs, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed by choice… choose us!

Crate training can also prevent puppies from having accidents in the house. Puppies naturally don’t want to eliminate in their den (which a crate mimics) or where they are. If your puppy isn’t yet comfortable with a crate, an exercise pen is a great alternative, but because of their size it’s wise to designate an elimination spot in there, too.

What about marking?

Marking is when dogs use a small amount of their urine to mark their territory and send social signals. Both females and males can mark, but it’s a behaviour more often observed in males.

Marking is a normal behaviour, and while it can start as early as 3 months old it often appears close to sexual maturity (which depends on your puppy’s breed).

If you find your puppy marking up your house, follow the same steps as house training: regular supervision, regular outings. Usually, puppy parents find success in training their pups to stop marking in the house, but they should be given the opportunity to mark outside so they can still express this behaviour.

How long does it take to house train a puppy?

It depends.

Some puppies may not be able to make it through the night until they are 5 months old. Daytime training can sometimes take longer. As a rule of thumb, whenever your puppy is awake they should be given a bathroom break every 1-2 hours.

Potty training a puppy also depends on how successfully the two of you communicate. Some puppies quickly learn to whimper or paw at the door; when they do, praise them for letting you know. If you’re having a hard time reading the signs, try teaching your puppy to hit a button or ring a bell.

After 2-3 months without a major potty training mishap, you can start giving your puppy more freedom by weaning them off their leash and allowing small bouts of unsupervised play. Keep the praise coming, though!

If your previously house trained puppy is suddenly having regular accidents, give your vet a call. They may want to rule out medical issues like urinary tract infections.

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