A puppy wrapped in toilet paper that is struggling with potty training.

Puppy Potty Training Schedule: Tips & Tricks for the First-Time Dog Parent

Congratulations! You’re a new puppy parent. It’s fun! It’s exciting! It can be a little overwhelming.

Take potty training. One of the first things a new puppy parent wants to know is “How do I house train my new puppy?”

My sister recently became a new puppy parent. It turns out her puppy training schedule is much like a human newborn. As in, she and her family are taking turns taking the puppy out for bathroom breaks throughout the day and night.

Consistency is one of the most important parts of training your puppy. When you get your new puppy on a consistent schedule, you can reward him or her for good behavior. Frequent potty breaks instill good habits.

Yet, there are many things new puppy parents don’t know about how to house train their puppies. In those first weeks and months, it’s common to have a lot of questions.

For example, you may wonder how often you need to take your puppy out for potty breaks. What’s a typical potty-training schedule?

Fortunately, there are common truths based on your puppy’s biology.

Puppy Potty Training Expectations

Let’s say you adopt a puppy at the age of 9 weeks. That’s an early age to expect them to be house trained. A lot depends on the puppy’s size and how early you start their potty training. Many puppies can be pretty dependable by six months. Yet, some puppies might take up to a year to be fully house trained.

In general, most puppies start having bladder control at around 20 weeks, which is 5 months of age. Yet, it can take longer for your puppy to be fully house trained.

It’s normal for your puppy to have frequent or occasional accidents in the house when you start potty training. But with patience, consistency, and plenty of praise, you’ll be able to achieve your goal within a few months.

One key to successful potty training is to keep your puppy confined. Whether a dog crate, playpen, or section of your kitchen or laundry room, it’s easier to clean up accidents if you know where they are.

Young Puppies Have Physical Limitations

Young puppies have small bladders. Think about a puppy 3 or 4 months of age; they have a time limit on how long they can hold their urine. The younger they are, the less control they have over the muscles that start and stop the flow of urine. This means, they’ll need more frequent “bathroom breaks.”

There’s a formula for estimating the number of hours a puppy can hold their urine. The formula is the puppy’s age in months +1 or N +1. “N” is the puppy’s age. For example, once your pup is potty-trained, a 3-month-old puppy should be able to hold its urine for around 4 hours. That’s if you’ve been potty training and your pup is starting to make the connection. Otherwise, your pup may not make the connection.

Now, some puppy parents use dog crates for their puppies. In theory, this can help with puppy potty training because puppies don’t want to soil their living space. Yet, you still need to adhere to the N +1 rule to help your puppy develop good habits and stay happy and healthy.

Sample Schedule for a 3-Month-Old Puppy

Let’s take the idea that a 3-month-old puppy can hold their urine for up to 4 hours. In that case, you’ll want to plan your house training schedule around potty breaks every four hours.
You do want to have a plan and maintain a consistent schedule. That and plenty of praise will make potty training a positive experience for your puppy.

At the beginning of the day, it is important to take the puppy outside first thing. If you wait, you risk an accident. Choose the same area for potty time so your puppy learns to associate it with bathroom breaks.

You’ll want to keep your puppy on a leash as well. That way, they don’t run in the opposite direction and risk getting hurt. Some dog trainers recommend using a specific command too. For example, the late, great Barbara Woodhouse popularized the expression, “Hurry up,” as the verbal cue. Though others have used words like, “Make,” or even “Poopies.”

One way you encourage your puppy to use the same area every time is by sense of smell. Use a small piece of newspaper or cloth with the scent of urine on it to show them the right place.

Bathroom breaks need to be frequent. Let’s say you had a successful mission at 7 a.m. and you’re wondering when your next potty break should be. For a 3-month-old puppy, 11 a.m. would be the latest. Yet, if you’re just starting out your potty training, you’ll want to go out more frequently. In the first few weeks, you may discover that every hour or two is better.

As your puppy gets used to the potty breaks, then every three hours is appropriate. For example, 7 a.m., 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m., and 11 p.m. are optimal. However, that doesn’t mean your puppy can hold it all night.

A puppy 3-months of age will probably not be able to make it through the night without a trip outside. Setting the alarm for 3:00 a.m. may be the only way to stop the puppy from soiling the house at night. Thankfully, this stage of puppyhood doesn’t last long. (Click here for advice on paper-training your puppy.)

Your pup should ALSO go out 10 or 15 minutes after each meal. Eating stimulates the gastrocolic reflex, which means they’ll feel the urge to go right after a meal. Note that different puppies will have slightly different times after eating where they’ll feel the urge to go to the bathroom.

You’ll also want to take your pup outside when they transition from one activity to another. For example, when they wake up after a nap is a key time, or when they have finished a round of play. So, if you’re playing games inside with your puppy, you’ll want to take them outside after. Then, you can put them back in the crate or playpen and feel confident.

4 Typical Puppy Potty Training Situations

1. What to Do if Your Puppy’s “Bathroom Run” Is Successful

“Yay!” Praise your puppy with enthusiasm. Puppies respond with wagging tails and wriggling butts when they know you’re happy with them. Make sure you make potty training a positive experience.

The best time to reward your puppy is as soon as they potty in the right place. Don’t be shy about showing your happiness either. Clap your hands, jump up and down, sing to your pup, whatever makes it feel like a positive experience for your dog.

You can also pet your obedient puppy like you mean it and give them a morsel of delicious food as a reward. This is all-powerful positive reinforcement for a job well done.

2. What to Do if Your Puppy’s “Bathroom Run” Is Unsuccessful

Confinement is the name of the game if a trip outside proves to be a dry run. This is especially important when you know it’s been two or three hours since the last trip outside. There are four ways you can help your puppy get on the right track.

Such confinement should last about 15 minutes. Then, you take the puppy outside for another potty break.

It also helps with potty training to keep your puppy feeding schedule consistent.

3. What to Do if Your Puppy Has an Accident Inside

Accidents happen. Please do not punish your puppy for having an accident inside the house. Dog trainers will tell you that part of having a puppy is that you have to watch them all the time. Then, you’ll learn to appreciate the subtle signs the puppy gives when they need to go potty. For example, circling and sniffing the ground are classic signs.

You’ll be able to escort them outside before they pee inside. If you’re not quick enough, then try to make a loud noise and distract the puppy. This can cause a muscle contraction and you can get the puppy outside and to the right place.

Then praise the puppy when they finish in the right spot. You can use an odor neutralizer to clean the area inside, which will help with the smell.

Then, note the time and make sure to get back on schedule. (Click here for tips on dealing with accidents.)

4. What to Do If You Have to Leave Your Puppy for Longer Than They Can Hold Their Urine

This is tough. If you have to leave a puppy for longer than they can hold they urine, they’ll likely have an accident. You’ll be disappointed, the puppy will be upset, and it’ll set you back on the housebreaking schedule.

Can you bring the puppy with you? If not, do you have a trusted person who can help with potty training and keep the schedule consistent?

If you have to leave the house for 2 or 3 hours, then you can confine the puppy in a small area. By confining them in a crate or gated area, you’re creating a “home” and puppies don’t want to soil in their home. Anything over 2 to 3 hours is tempting fate. Plus, there’s a danger to puppies who continuously have to hold their urine beyond their comfort level. This tempts a urinary tract infection that is painful and requires antibiotics.

Some new puppy parents find pee pads to be helpful while potty training. With pee pads, you’re training your puppy to go in a specific location. You put them in an accessible area for your pup and treat it like the right place for potty training.

Again, you’ll need to use lots of praise to train your puppy. Pee pads can be useful if you live in a high-rise building. They’re also useful if you have extreme weather in your area where it’s not always safe to go outside.

Housebreaking Older Puppies

Have you adopted a slightly older puppy that’s not yet housebroken? For example, puppies in the 4 – 7 month age group are maturing, but they’ll still need a consistent schedule for potty training.

The good news is that the time interval between trips can be longer. If you follow the N +1 formula for a 5-month-old puppy, then you’re looking at around five hours in-between bathroom breaks. That’s a bit of an easier schedule for you as a pet parent.

Your puppy will still need to go out first thing in the morning. Then again at lunchtime, in the later afternoon, early evening, and before bedtime. Then, they’ll need a bathroom break following mealtimes and as the puppy transitions to another activity.

Older puppies should be able to hold their urine through the night for at least five or six hours. However, confinement is still a good idea to prevent early morning accidents. You don’t want an untrained puppy to have free access to your whole house. Instead, you can use the crate, pen, or confinement them to a room.

Conclusion: Invest the Time House Training Your Puppy Now for Future Happiness

House training a puppy is like potty training an infant. The more time and attention you invest upfront, the quicker you’ll have a potty-trained puppy.

Your investment of time early in the puppy’s life will save you energy and aggravation in the long run. House training a puppy requires a consistent house-training schedule. Frequent potty breaks and lots of praise will help you raise a confident and happy dog.