One of the first things a new puppy owner wants to know is how to housetrain a puppy…..fast. For many people, teaching their puppy not to go in the house seems close to impossible. But in reality potty training a puppy is pretty easy. All you need to do is follow their natural instincts.
Puppies naturally want to keep their space clean. This means they will look for an area away from where they sleep and play to eliminate. By using this knowledge, along with a few tricks I have learned over the years, you can make potty training your puppy a snap.
Join us as we look at some tricks and tips on how to make potty training your puppy quick and easy.
The Puppy Blues – Dealing with a new puppy can be hard, especially if you are a first time puppy parent. You might even feel like you made a mistake by getting a puppy. Let’s face it puppies generally come untrained, can’t understand you yet and don’t know the rules of the house. But it does get better. It’s important to understand that you are not alone. Check out my post on Puppy Blues: Dealing with Regret to see how I managed my own puppy blues.
Tips and Tricks for
Potty Training a Puppy
I have grown up with dogs all my life, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I had to potty train a puppy. Our first dog together was a 7 year old rescue that was previously trained to go to the back door and bark when he wanted to go out. So that was an easy transition for us. Unfortunately, he died a few years after we adopted him.
A few months later we decided to get another dog. This time we tried our hand at getting a puppy. Molly was 4 months old when we brought her home. Previously she lived in a crate at a puppy store. Based on what we knew about her, she was a puppy mill puppy. Because she had lived in a crate most of her life she was use to eliminating in the crate. Of course the whole point of crate training is that they won’t go where they sleep but if there is nowhere else to go that is what they will do.
On top of that we both worked out of the house full time. But we were lucky in that, since Molly was 4 months old she could hold her bladder longer. She was also very happy to have a home away from the store. Unlike young puppies that are sad when they first leave their family, Molly was more than ready to start her new life with us. This enabled her to bond to us quickly. She also wanted to please us. All of this worked in our favor.
Tip #1 – Dogs like to go where other dogs have gone
Since it was less than three months from the time we lost Charlie until we brought home Molly, Charlie’s scent was everywhere. Including the backyard spot where he would go to the bathroom. Even though Molly was new to going to the bathroom in a yard she instinctively knew where to go because she could smell him. We also shifted our schedules so that she never went more than three hours without being let out. Molly had a total of two accidents. Both of which were our fault and were due to waiting too long to let her out.
Let’s fast forward to our current pup Bella. We brought Bella home when she was 9 weeks old. Prior to her coming to live with us, she lived with her mom and siblings with a foster family. It is possible that the foster family started potty training before we got her.
Unlike Molly, Bella was too young to hold her bladder for long but we also work from home now so it was less of an issue. Just like with Molly, Bella knew where to go in our yard because she could smell the scent of our previous dog.
Now if you don’t have another dog you will not have the potty scents in your yard. To remedy this you can use their own waste to guide them to where they should go. If they have an accident in the house or used a pee pad, bring the waste outside to the area you want them to go in. Leave it there for a little while so the next time they go they will be attracted to the scent. Make sure to clean up any poop before they use the area again.
I previously suggested that you may want to invite a dog, you know well, to come over and christen the potty spot. But you need to be very careful with this approach since your puppy will not be fully vaccinated yet. Although it may work, as it did with my previous dogs, it does carry the risk of making your puppy sick. It is much safer to use you own dogs waste. Also remember to clean up any poop before your puppy comes home.
Warning: Be very carefully about inviting another dog to your home. Feces can carry diseases. Since your puppy will not be fully vaccinated you need to ensure the visiting dog is healthy and up-to-date on vaccines.
Tip # 2 – Create a dedicated potty spot
As you might have realized from tip # 1 we use a dedicated potty spot. I highly recommend that you do too. A dedicated potty spot can accomplish a few things.
- Keeps the rest of your yard poop free
- Makes it easier to clean up the poop
- Teaches your puppy to take care of business when they are in that spot
Never play with your puppy in the potty spot. Play time should take place somewhere else.
For ideas and tips on how to create a dedicated potty spot check out our post: Dog Potty Area Guide: Tips and Ideas
Tip # 3 – Take time off to train your puppy
Plan to take time off from work in order to focus on your new puppy. Not only will this time allow you to work on potty training a puppy, but it will also give you time to bond with your puppy. A puppy that is left home alone will not be able to learn the rules of the house from you.
Tip # 4 – Create a schedule
As I mentioned in Tip # 1 Molly had a couple of accidents, so did Bella in the beginning. In both cases the accidents happened when we lost track of time and did not let them out at the appropriate times. By creating a schedule and sticking to it you will remember to take them out every couple of hours.
Everyone’s schedule will look different. But when creating your schedule here are a few things to keep in mind. Puppies should be taken out for a potty break:
- When they get up in the morning
- 10 to 15 minutes after they eat or drink
- Before and after naps
- At night before going to bed
- After extended play times
- Anytime that they are taken out of their crate or playpen.
Now look at the schedule. Are there any times that go beyond two hours? If there is, schedule a few more potty breaks so you never go more than two hours in between at least in the beginning. Of course if you still have accidents make the time between potty breaks shorter. As your puppy matures they will be able to hold it longer so you should gradually increase the time between potty breaks.
Here are a couple more thoughts to think about when creating your schedule.
- Smaller dogs have smaller bladders so they may need to go more than a larger dog.
- Puppies, especially in the beginning are easier to crate train when they are on a schedule.
Tip # 5 – Pay Attention
In addition to creating a schedule make sure to pay attention to your puppy. This will help you to learn the signs that they need to go.
And there are signs, but more on that in the next tip.
One of the recommended ways to keep track of your puppy is to keep them on a leash at all times and attach the leash to you. This way your puppy will never be more than a few feet away.
While this may work it wasn’t something I could see myself doing. Instead we kept her gated in the kitchen, which is on the small side. That way I could keep my eye on her even as I was taking care of other stuff.
I also didn’t want her to develop separation anxiety. I wondered if having my puppy attached to me all the time would cause her not to want to be alone. Being comfortable with being alone is an important life lesson that a puppy needs to learn. Please read my post on how to prevent separation anxiety in puppies to learn more.
Tip #6 – Learn the signs that indicate they need to go
I mentioned earlier that our Golden Retriever, Charlie would go downstairs to the back door and bark whenever he needed to go out. We knew once he started heading down the stairs that he needed to go out but if we didn’t move fast enough he would make sure we were aware of his needs.
Molly was a quiet dog and was much less demanding. She would simply go to the back door and whine.
Bella just goes to the back door and stares at it. If we don’t notice she will eventually tell us by crying but most of the time she is hard to miss standing in front of the door. All dogs will eventually learn to tell you when they need to go out, but when they are a puppy they don’t yet know how to tell you.
This is why you need to learn their signs. Dogs by nature don’t like going to the bathroom near where they sleep and play. So they will look for a place away from their area. Many puppies will sneak away to a quiet spot like under a chair or behind the couch to do their dirty deed. This is what Bella did the two times she had an accident in the house.
Signs that a dog needs to potty:
- Start sniffing around looking for a perfect spot to go. Dogs often like to pee on top of other smells.
- Abrupt change in activity. If they are playing one minute but then starts looking for something, it may be that they are looking for a place to go.
- Circling – Dogs often do tight circles before deciding to poop
- Going to a previously soiled area
- Start to whine
- Lick themselves in the groin area
- Go to the door and wait
- Go back and forth to the door and you
- Scratch at the door
- Become restless
How do I train my dog to tell me he needs to go outside?
The easiest way to train your puppy to tell you that he needs to go out is to use “Potty Bells”. Potty bells are bells that are attached to a long strap with a hand that goes over the door knob. The idea behind Potty Bells is to train your dog to ring the bells when they want to go out.
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How to train your dog to use Potty Bells
Place the “Potty Bells” on the door handle you use most often to let your dog out. Next whenever you take your puppy out to go potty, gently touch the bells using their paw. At the same time give the command “outside”. Overtime they should associate the act with going out to go potty.
Many people have had success with teaching their dog to use potty bells but they are not for everyone. Some dogs will want to play with the potty bells. Others will ring the bells whenever they want to go out even if they don’t need to go potty. Also in an active household you may be hearing the bells all the time.
Tip# 7 – Where you get your puppy matters
As I mentioned in my Puppy Potty Training Mistakes post, where you get your puppy really does matter when it comes to potty training a puppy. A reputable dog breeder will begin potty training before they are scheduled to go home. This early potty training makes it easier for you to potty train them once they are home. Instead of teaching them the concept of going outside, you are just reinforcing what they have already began to learn.
However if you get your puppy from a puppy mill or kennel there is a greater chance that they did not receive potty training. Even worst, they may have lived their life in a cage with no place else to go but where they sleep and eat.
In our post How to Find a Reputable Dog Breeder we show you 16 ways to tell a good breeder from a bad breeder.
Tip# 8 – Don’t use puppy pee pads
Let me start by saying I am guilty of using pee pads for Bella. It is the first time I had ever used pee pads. But after using them I realized it was a mistake. I believed we confused her by giving her mixed messages.
One minute we were telling her it was ok to pee on the pad in the house, the next we were telling her to pee outside. This meant we were being very inconsistent with her training messages. And the number one rule in puppy training is consistency.
Tip# 9 – Getting them to go when outside
A typical complaint people have when potty training a puppy is that the puppy goes inside the house right after they were outside. There are a few issues that might cause this.
- If the dog is allowed to use puppy pads they may assume that going in the house is what you want them to do
- It may be that the puppy was not ready to go when they were outside
- Or it could be that they were distracted when they were outside
The answer to the first issue is addressed in Tip # 7. The rest can be handled by allowing your puppy time to walk around for a while. Just like with humans, exercise helps get a puppy’s digestive system moving. The trick is to give them some exercise but to get them back to the potty spot before they are ready to go. To master this you will need to pay attention to timing.
Tip # 10 – Learn the proper way to use a crate when potty training a puppy
I often hear people say they are crate training to potty train a puppy. Crate training and potty training is not the same thing. When you crate train you are teaching a puppy to be comfortable in an enclosed space. This is important if you want to travel with your dog or if they ever need to stay at a veterinarian’s office. Potty training is teaching your puppy to go to the bathroom in a preferred place.
You can’t potty train a puppy if they are always in the crate. Yes they won’t go inside their crate but that doesn’t mean you are teaching them not to go in the house when they are out of the crate. They have to be out of the crate to understand that they shouldn’t pee in the house.
The only time a puppy should be crated is when you are unable to watch them during the day or at night when you are sleeping. If you are unable to use gates to keep her close consider using an exercise pen to keep her nearby and contained.
Tip# 11 – Clean up accidents completely
Like I said in tip #1 dogs prefer to go to the bathroom where there are potty scents already. This means if they had an accident in your home they will want to return to that area the next time too. So it is really important to thoroughly clean up the accident area.
Questions on Potty Training a Puppy
How long does it take to potty train a puppy?
How long it will take to potty train a puppy depends on a few things, the biggest one being how consistent you are with your training. We potty trained Bella in less than two weeks. If you are not consistent or you do not follow the tips listed above it can take between 4 and 6 months to fully potty train a puppy. Maybe even a year.
Sometimes potty training issues are caused they health issues like an Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). Make sure to discuss potty training progress with your veterinarian during your regularly scheduled puppy check-up visits.
Should I wake my puppy up to pee at night?
Young puppies will not be able to hold their bladder all night long. So if you don’t want an accident in the middle of the night it is best to plan to take them out once or twice per night until they are older.
Should I punish my puppy for peeing or pooping in the house?
Although you should never punish your puppy for having an accident in the house you can let them know that it is an unwanted behavior. You can do this by saying “No” in a loud, stern voice if you catch them in the act. But try not to scare them. You want them to realize you are unhappy but not to the point that they become afraid of you.
Do You Have the Right Tools?
Having the right stuff for your new puppy is half the battle. Take a look at the 7 essentials you need to care for your puppy in our post What You Need for a New Puppy
Here is a list of the posts that were mentioned above:
- Crate Training a Puppy – Made Easy
- How to Crate Train a Puppy: 10 Mistakes to Avoid
- How to Find a Reputable Dog Breeder
- Puppy Potty Training Mistakes
- How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Puppies