How to Potty Train A Puppy (Step by Step Guide)
by Dr Vivian Loren on Jul 03, 2023.
Bringing a new puppy into your home is an exciting time filled with joy, fun, but also inevitable challenges. If you’ve done it before and you already know how to potty train a puppy, then you’ll have it easy. If not, housetraining will have to become a whole new skill for you to learn, as it’s a crucial part of any pup’s early education.
However, at the end of the day it’s actually quite manageable and can be even fun. It does require a lot of patience, consistency and commitment but I’ve always said that slow is the new fast :)..
How long does it take to potty train a puppy?
Keep in mind that each puppy is unique, with individual learning rates and distinct personalities. These factors, as well as their breed (and often size) will influence the duration of this potty training process.
Generally it takes from a few weeks to a few months to potty train a puppy from scratch to having no accidents at home. Even after this period, some dogs may still have occasional accidents for a bit longer, particularly when they’re excited or under stress.
Remember that dogs don’t gain full bladder control until they are around 1 year of age!
A useful initial guideline is the age of your puppy. Younger puppies, around 8-10 weeks old, have little bladder control and are still figuring out the signals their body sends them. They are likely to pass urine without even intending to. Around this age, you’ll need to take your puppy outside to do their business as frequently as every 45 minutes to 1 hour. You should also take them out during key times like after meals, first thing in the morning, before bedtime anytime you leave the house and when you come back.
As your puppy grows older, their bladder control will improve. By about 4-5 months old, most puppies should be able to hold their bladder for up to five hours.
This is about the same length as a half workday, so if you work full time, you’ll still need to arrange for at least one mid-day break. At this age, they’ll also start to have more control over their bowels, so they may not need to poop as frequently.
When your puppy reaches six months of age, they should be able to hold their bladder for about seven hours. However, even though your puppy can in theory hold it, it doesn’t mean they will, so accidents will still happen. It’s also not healthy for them to make them hold their bladder when full, so it’s good practice to still take them outside more frequently.
Which dog breeds are the easiest to potty train?
Interestingly, the time it takes for potty training tends to inversely correlate to the size of the dog. This means that small dog breeds tend to be more challenging than larger breeds.
One reason behind this could be their smaller bladders and higher metabolism, which require more frequent bladder emptying. Some small breeds that tend to be quite difficult to potty train include Dachshunds, Pomeranians and Chihuahuas.
In contrast, larger dog breeds are generally known for their better trainability, so the potty training process can go smoother. Breeds that are some of the easiest to train include Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds. As these types of dog are also quite clever, they will quickly catch on as to what is expected of them when they get the urge to go.
Some exceptions to the above rule are smaller breeds such as the Miniature Schnauzer and Shih Tzu who are also known for their quick learning.
In terms of difficult to train larger dog breeds, this includes the Basset Hound, Afghan Hound and the Husky
Toilet training steps
- Create a Routine: Dogs love routines. Set specific meal times and stick to them, as this will help regulate your puppy’s digestion and make bathroom breaks more predictable. Try to take your puppy out within 15-30 minutes after eating.
- Choose the same toilet spot: Choosing the same spot for them to relieve themselves will increase the association of that spot with them peeing or pooping. This consistency will help them understand where they should go to in the future.
- Use verbal cues: Use a keyword like “potty” or “toilet” to remind them of what they should be doing.
- Praise and Reward: When they’ve finished, reward them straight away with praise and even a small treat. This positive reinforcement helps them associate going to the bathroom outside with a positive outcome.
- Although not necessary, I also always advise new dog parents to also take this opportunity to take them on a short walk at the same time. This means they don’t associate peeing or pooping with the end of their time outside.
- Recognize the Signs: When you’re back in the house, keep a constant look for signs that your puppy needs to go. This could involve pacing, whining, circling, sniffing the floor or furniture or scratching the entrance door. There could even be more subtle signs such as sitting on the entrance mat or by the door. Immediately take your puppy outside when you see these signs.
Other tips on how to potty train a puppy
Confinement and Supervision
When you’re not able to watch your puppy, confine them to a smaller space, such as a crate or a gated area if possible. This place should still be comfortable enough for them, but small enough that they won’t want to soil their sleeping area.
Clean Up Accidents Straight Away
Remember to clean up indoor accidents straight away with a warm solution of biological washing powder or other enzyme-based cleaner. This removes the odor and decreases the chance your puppy will go in the exact same spot next time he can’t hold it in.
If you notice a puppy in the act of peeing or pooping indoors, take them straight away to their bathroom spot. Rather than punishing your puppy, focus on reinforcing the correct behavior.
Pick up your puppy’s water dish about 2.5 hours before bedtime to reduce the likelihood of nighttime accidents. However, very young puppies will still need a bathroom break during the night.
Never punish your dog
There is no point punishing your dog after an accident if it’s already happened. All this will do is scare and confuse them, as they won’t be able to associate the punishing with the accident.
Feeding Schedule and Puppy Potty Training
What goes in on a schedule comes out on a schedule. Puppies, based on their age, need to be fed three or four times a day. Keeping their feeding times consistent means the bathroom breaks will be more predictable if you adhere to the guidelines of also taking your puppy out after every meal.
Make plans for when you’re away
Long absences can disrupt the housetraining process. If you know you’re going to regularly be away for more than four or five hours a day, perhaps reconsider getting a puppy in the first place. If you’re still eager for it, then try to arrange for a pet sitter or a neighbor to take your puppy for bathroom breaks.
An alternative is to teach your puppy to eliminate in a specific indoor area. This may be more appropriate if you have a balcony, but it may also prolong the overall housetraining period.
You could also try the confinement technique already mentioned. You could lay this with pet pee pads or newspapers or even put a small sod box in the area. Nowadays you are be able to buy plenty of dog litter products from supermarkets or pet stores.
How to potty train a puppy in an apartment on a high floor?
Potty training a puppy if you live on a high floor presents the extra challenge of the time it takes to get outside in the first place. The advice already provided still applies, however I recognise that you may not be able to take your new puppy outside every 45 mins to an hour during the day.
If this is the case, you could consider using pee pads for your new puppy. These usually contain scents that will make your dog want to eliminate on the pad. If your puppy needs to go, and you know you won’t be able to get downstairs in time, you could you could place them on the pad until they finish peeing.
Although pee pads can prolong the process of potty training, sometimes they are just necessary. Oftentimes, even if we work from home, we may not have the luxury of taking a break to take the puppy out frequently.
Puppy litter boxes, sod boxes and grass patches are also good options to help your new puppy while indoors.
Here is a video of a dog potty box that you could even build yourself (even on a smaller scale), if you have those DIY skills!
Are Dog Diapers A Good Idea?
Yes, most of the time dog diapers can be used as a short term solution. Make sure that you also monitor your dog's comfort whilst wearing it, as some dogs may not like it.
Here are some scenarios when you might want to use dog diapers:
Incontinence: Especially in older dogs or dogs that have certain health conditions that struggle with incontinence. Diapers can help manage this and keep the dog and its environment clean.
Heat Cycle: Female dogs in heat can use diapers to prevent blood from staining furniture or carpets.
Training: Diapers can sometimes be used as a temporary aid during house training, though they're not a substitute for proper training. They an also prolong a puppy's potty training if you use them for too long as they may learn to rely on the diaper rather than asking to go out.
Traveling or Long Periods Indoors: If a dog needs to stay indoors for a long period of time, or during a long journey, diapers can help manage waste.
Here is an infographic on how to potty train a puppy going through all the main steps in a pictorial way: