Toilet training a puppy

How To Toilet Train A Puppy -
In A Few Easy Steps

You’ve got your new, cuddly puppy and cannot wait to start a life together… but they still need to learn the basics of living in a home. If this is your first time ever owning a dog, and you’re wondering how to toilet train a puppy or even an adult dog, we’ve got your back.

Keep reading to get our best tips to toilet train a dog without stress.


How To Toilet Train A Puppy

If you’ve never potty trained a puppy, it might seem like a daunting process. But really, it isn’t so complicated: it all comes down to patience, consistency and love. No worries, here’s a step-by-step of what to do to teach your dog to go potty.

Step 1. Decide your location

Before even thinking about potty training your dog, you need to decide what you want to teach them. House training isn’t a one size fits all thing, and you should adjust according to your needs. So, do you expect your dog to go to the backyard to do their business? Do you want to only go potty while on walks? Are you interested in teaching them to go inside the home? You need to be clear on what you want your dog to do, because changing the goal mid-training can confuse your puppy. While this won’t be the end of the world, it can make potty training an even longer process.

Here’s what you should consider before beginning potty training:

  • Your medium- and long-term living arrangements: will you be moving to a flat with no backyard in the near future? Then teaching your puppy to go inside might be a good idea. Or if you live in a flat but plan to upgrade, teaching them to go on walks could be easier for you.
  • Your schedule: do you expect your dog to be home alone for the majority of the day? Do you have the time to go on walks 3 times a day until they are 2 years old? This might change whether or not your puppy should learn to go outside or on a pad.
  • Your personal taste: nowadays, the backyard isn’t the only option to potty train your puppy. On top of the traditional ‘go outside’ cue, now you can teach your dog to use a doggy litter box, go inside to a puppy pad, or even use a grass toilet for dogs.
  • Your dog’s age. Puppies less than 8 weeks old are simply too young to be potty trained. Remember that your dog needs to be able to control their bladder muscles, and when they’re too young they just can’t do it. Wait until they are at least 2 months old, and expect some accidents along the way.

Once you know where and when you want your pup to go potty, then you can start the training process.

Step 2. Prepare

Ok, you’ve chosen the right spot to start training your puppy, now what? It’s time to gather up your tools. Of course, you can potty train with barely nothing, but here are the essentials you’ll need:

  • Treats. To praise your dog whenever they do it right.
  • A cue word. You’ll constantly repeat this word whenever you take your puppy to their elimination spot. The cue word should be short and easy to recognize, and it should be different from other cues or your dog’s name. Many people use the word ‘potty’ or ‘go potty’, but if your dog’s name is ‘Poppy’, for example, it’s better if you choose another cue.
  • A collar and leash. These can be the same you use when you take them outside for their walks. Make sure they are comfortable and fit well, puppies grow overnight and a collar can quickly become too tight.
  • Your surface of choice. If you’ve chosen anywhere in the backyard, this item doesn’t matter. But if you want to paper train, use a litter box or a grass toilet, stock up on those.
  • A crate. This one is optional, but many people choose to keep their pups on a crate while potty training to keep them from soiling the rest of the home.

PRO TIP: Choosing the right crate size is essential if you intend to use it to potty train your dog. The crate needs to be large enough to be comfortable, but small enough to dissuade your puppy from eliminating inside and just ‘scooting to the side’. To choose the right crate, take your dog with you to the store or buy from a place that takes returns. Then, make sure the crate is big enough so they can comfortably stand, lie down and turn. If your puppy will grow large, there are ‘adjustable crates’ with movable partitions to make it bigger or smaller as they grow.

Step 3. Set up a schedule

This is still part of the prep stage, but a proper schedule is probably the most important part of successful potty training. In words of the Humane Society of the US:

"What goes into a puppy on a schedule comes out of a puppy on a schedule." – The Humane Society

This means, the more you stick to consistent feeding times, the more accurately you’ll be able to predict and prevent accidents. Considering most puppies need to eat three to four times a day, you can expect at least 3 or 4 bathroom breaks as well.

Of course, a schedule for your dog goes beyond feeding times. It’s also a bathroom schedule that will fit your own day-to-day and accustom your puppy to it.

In general, when bathroom time comes around, you’ll take your puppy to their designated spot, and tell them their potty cue word. You should take bathroom breaks as soon as your puppy wakes up, after playtime, after eating or drinking, right before bed, and at least every two hours.

The more consistent you are with these times, the easier it will be for your dog: their body will get used to the schedule and soon enough they’ll know exactly what’s coming, at what time.

PRO TIP: Try to keep your pup’s schedule even if you’re out of town, have a busy day or someone else is taking care of them. It might help to keep the schedule written down or have an alarm on your phone. If you know you won’t be able to make it, have a trusted friend or neighbour take your puppy out to prevent accidents.

Step 4. Follow through

So now that you have your supplies and your schedule, it’s time to follow through. Whenever it’s time for a potty break, you should take your puppy to their spot and tell them their cue word.

Just repeat the cue word until they go to the bathroom. Then when they’re done, praise them and offer a small treat. Take care to praise them after they’re finished: puppies are easily distracted and they might forget what they were doing, only to have an accident moments later. You should also try to praise them immediately after going potty, and not when they return to the house. That way, they’ll associate praise with eliminating in their spot, instead of getting praise for entering the house.

Keep in mind, the more your puppy grows, the easier it will be for them to hold it in. In general, try to keep the every-two-hours schedule at least until they are 4 or 5 months old. Then, gradually up the time between potty breaks.

The key is rewarding the good behaviour, and ignoring the bad. Your puppy is smart and in a few weeks they’ll understand what you need from them.

As your dog gets older, they might resist a bit when going potty, or they might simply not want to go. Stick to the schedule, tell them their cue word, and wait. Be patient, and don’t yell. If after 10 minutes they haven’t gone potty, you can take them back WITHOUT praising them. Just act normal. If this happens, keep a closer eye on them once inside to make sure they don’t have any accidents.


How To Potty Train A Puppy: Dealing With Accidents

Your puppy is like a young toddler. They’ll have accidents, forget about their spot or simply won’t be able to hold it in. So, your best option is knowing what to do when they happen.

If you catch your puppy in the middle of going to the bathroom in the wrong spot, get their attention with a strong word. Don’t yell at them, and avoid using their name. Saying something like ‘hey!’ will get their attention and hopefully stop them from continuing.

Then, gently approach and, without praising them, quickly take them to their designated spot. Once there, say their cue word and wait. If they go potty, praise them and offer a treat. If they don’t go potty after 10 minutes of saying the cue, bring them back inside without any praise and keep an eye on them.

If, on the other hand, the accident has already happened and you didn’t see it, it’s your fault. Suck it up, and clean it thoroughly. There’s no need to punish your dog: you didn’t get them to the potty soon enough, and they won’t understand why you’re reprimanding them. Scolding or yelling will make them scared of you, and they still won’t understand why you’re angry.

This is a great video to check out.


What NOT To Do When House Training Your Puppy

It’s stunningly common to see negative training recommendations to potty train puppies. We don’t support mistreating animals and potty training should be focused on rewards instead of violence. When potty training your dog, you should never:

  • Rub their face on their accidents. This will only make your dog scared of you. They won’t understand why you’re doing it, get scared and could push them to develop aggressive and anxious behaviours.
  • Ignore their cues and their schedule. If you see your puppy sniffing around, lifting their tail and looking for the ‘perfect spot’, it’s time to take them out. If you kinda know potty time is coming but think ‘they can hold it in for a little bit…’, don’t be surprised to find an accident a couple of minutes later!
  • Yell. If you catch your puppy in the act, yelling and running towards them will scare them. This can cause them to develop a fear of going potty in front of you, and associate going to the bathroom with negative feelings. In turn, they’ll have an even harder time with potty training. Save them the heartache and just distract them, then take them to their spot.
  • Use a shock collar to ‘train them’. We don’t approve of shock collars or any other violent methods to discipline a dog. Your pup won’t understand why they’re getting punished, and you’ll end up with an anxious, aggressive dog that isn’t trained.
  • Punishing your dog for accidents. Similar to yelling, this will only forge a strong association of going potty with negative consequences. Plus, your dog won’t necessarily understand why you’re punishing them, especially if the accident already happened and you weren’t a witness. In fact, accidents happen because you weren’t properly vigilant and didn’t follow a schedule.

FAQ

How long will house training a puppy take?

It depends on your own experience as a dog owner, other dogs in the home, and your individual puppy. In general, new dog owners have a harder time because they move too fast too soon and fail to stay consistent until the puppy is old enough. On the other hand, some puppies need more time to learn to control their bladder muscles. Finally, having older dogs in the home will make potty training easier: puppies learn better from example and they’ll quickly see how the older dogs do it.

Most puppies need between 4 and 8 months to be properly house trained.

How long can a puppy hold it in?

Puppies have small bladders so they’ll need to go up to once every hour, or even every 20 minutes. However, the more your puppy grows, the longer they’ll be able to hold it in. in general, puppies can hold for about 1 hour per month of age, up to 9 months. After that, they’ll be able to wait for 9 to 10 hours at most. However, even for adult dogs holding it in for 10 hours is a lot.

References
  1. Humane Society. How to housetrain your dog or puppy. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/how-housetrain-your-dog-or-puppy
  2. American Kennel Club. Potty training. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/how-to-potty-train-a-puppy/
  3. Paw culture. 10 potty training mistakes. https://www.pawculture.com/tips-advice/dog-training/10-potty-training-mistakes-youre-probably-making/
Eloisa Thomas

Eloisa Thomas is a dog lover & anthropologist. She enjoys writing content that will actually help people understand their dogs better. Eloisa is able to use her expertise to write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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