Staffordshire Terrier puppy playing with a roll of toilet paper

How to Potty Train a Puppy

It can be wonderful to have a new puppy in your life. They’re adorable, sweet, and do things that will make your heart melt. On the other hand, there is potty training, which can be the most frustrating and stressful part of puppy ownership.

When potty training a puppy, it is important to understand both what YOU CAN DO to help train them, as well as what THEY ARE ABLE TO DO. Just as you cannot expect a 3-month-old baby to walk or use the toilet, you also cannot expect a young puppy to be housebroken.

Can Puppies Control Their Bladders and Bowels?

As a puppy matures, they develop different capabilities. For example, at age 2 weeks, puppies should be alert and able to stand up. Around four weeks, they should be able to run around and play. At 12 weeks, puppies will have most of their 28 baby teeth and may have their first 2 to 4 adult front teeth.

It is critical to appreciate when a puppy starts to develop muscles that control their urination and defecation. Every dog matures differently, but, typically, the younger the dog, the less control they have over the muscles that start and stop the flow of urine. Younger dogs will also have to go outside more frequently for bathroom trips.

The formula commonly used to estimate the number of hours a puppy can hold its urine is N+1, where N is the puppy’s age in months. So, for example, a 2-month old puppy should be able to hold its urine for approximately 3 hours and a 3-month old puppy should be able to hold its urine for about 4 hours.

It is important to understand what you can expect from your puppy. This means that you can’t leave a 3-month-old puppy in a crate for 6 hours and expect them not to have an accident.

How to Potty Train a Puppy

As you begin training, everyone that interacts with your puppy should be patient, kind, loving, and consistent.

Here are 5 tips on how to properly potty train your puppy:

  1. Know Your Pup. As you spend time with your puppy, learn your puppy’s love language. Just as some people prefer gifts, touch, or time spent together, puppies can be the same way. Some puppies love praise or pets, while others prefer treats. As you get to know your puppy, consider what reward your puppy loves the most.
  2. Create a Daily Schedule. It is best to have a routine for your puppy. A schedule helps them understand when to eat, play, and “go to the bathroom.” Your puppy should go out frequently and the routine should be the same every time.
    1. When? Start the day by taking your puppy outside, and repeating based on age and ability. They should also go out after napping, chewing, playing, and within 10 to 15 minutes of eating. Although some puppies can sleep for seven hours, it is important to set an alarm and take your pup out during the night. When you do, don’t make a fuss about it. Quietly take them outside with minimal stimulation and light. Praise them if they go to the bathroom and gently return them to their bed or crate. You don’t want them to get stimulated and ready to play in the middle of the night! As you get to know your puppy, you will become aware of their individual habits. Click here to learn more about house training schedules for puppies.
    2. Where? Take your puppy to a specific area to urinate or defecate. Be consistent. You can create an area by using urine-soaked paper or bowel movements to help create an aroma to stimulate your puppy.
    3. How? Take your puppy out on a leash so they can focus on the desired activity. This will help prevent them from wandering off to play. Once your puppy is in the selected area, use your verbal cue, such as “Hurry Up,” “Poopies,” “Go tinkle,” or any phrase your puppy responds to.
    4. What? Know the signs that your puppy has to go to the bathroom. Every animal may have a different “I gotta go” gesture, which often include restlessness, sniffing around, circling, scratching at the door, barking, and, eventually, squatting. At the first sign that your pup has to go, calmly and quickly take them outside to their bathroom spot.
  3. Deal with Accidents. Accidents are a normal part of house training a puppy.
    1. What to Do
      1. If you see your puppy in the process of urinating or defecating inappropriately, calmly and quickly interrupt them in the act. Tell them to stop (either by a jarring sound or command), and immediately take them to an appropriate location for elimination. After your puppy goes to the bathroom, lavishly praise them and offer a treat.
      2. Thoroughly clean up accidents, so your puppy is not attracted to this area again. Cleaning products such as Zero Odor® work well.
      3. Create a consistent feeding and watering schedule. Depending on the age of your puppy, they will eat three to four times a day. A consistent feeding routine can create a regular bathroom schedule. Take away water about 2 hours before bedtime. Learn more about ideal dog schedules here.
    2. What NOT to Do
      1. Don’t punish your puppy when they have an accident. At that point, it is too late. When a puppy has an accident in the house and they walk away, within seconds they have already forgotten about what they did. Taking them to the scene of the crime and yelling and/or rubbing their nose in it does not help and, in fact, can harm your puppy!
  4. Supervise. The best thing you can do is to prevent accidents and the best way to do this is to supervise your puppy at all times. You can tether your puppy to your waist with a five or six-foot leash and carefully observe them for signs that they need to go to the bathroom. If you can’t supervise, then crate or confine your puppy. The more accidents your puppy has in the house, the more confusing it will be for them and this can delay house training. Click here for tips on Crate Training Your Puppy.
  5. Reward, Reward, Reward. It is important to give your puppy a reward for their good behavior. This can be for commands such as sitting and coming to you, or for appropriately eliminating outside. In a puppy, a reward can be a couple kibbles of puppy food or a treat, such as a small piece of meat. The treat should be exciting for them and only available as a result of good behavior.

The time you spend now training your puppy is an investment in a well-trained, happy dog.