15 Effective Puppy Potty Training Tips for New Puppy Owners
Potty training your new furry friend is one of the first and most essential steps towards a harmonious and mess-free life together. In this crucial phase, patience is your best friend, consistency is key, and positivity will always bring about the best results. Today, we'll explore the fundamentals of potty training – from the basics to common challenges and product recommendations – with plenty of expert puppy potty training tips that will help you build a stronger relationship with your dog while teaching this important life skill. So let's embark on this exciting journey together!
Understanding Puppy Potty Training Basics
Your puppy's age and development play an essential role in potty training. Young puppies have small bladders, so they need to go out frequently. As a general rule, puppies should be taken out every hour for each month of their age. For instance, a two-month-old puppy should go out every two hours.
In addition, a puppy’s brain and bladder don’t work together yet! Just as a toddler must learn to recognize the senses associated with the need to potty, puppies must learn to pay attention to the feeling of a full bladder AND what they should do when it occurs! So, as you can imagine, it takes some time to get the hang of bladder control – which is essential for successful potty training.
How much time? Well, don’t freak out when I tell you this, but most puppies are potty trained by 6 months old. Yep! 6 MONTHS! If you follow my suggestions, you won’t be seeing potty training accidents every day for 6 months, but some pups just need that much time for practice, repetition, and brain development. So if you are worried about your 12-week-old puppy who is still having accidents, just remember that it’s normal. You’ll get there with time and training!
Puppy Potty Training Tips: The Do's
1. Consistent Feeding and Drinking Schedule
Keep your puppy's meals on a regular schedule. Avoid free-feeding as it makes bathroom breaks unpredictable. Your pup will need to go potty within 30 minutes (or less) of eating, so a regular feeding schedule means potty breaks are more predictable.
2. Regular Bathroom Schedule
Take your puppy out first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and after meals, naps, playtime, or other physical activity. And be sure your puppy gets a potty break that coincides with their age in months. A 2-month-old puppy should be taken out to potty at least once every two hours.
3. Use a Dog Crate
Most, but not all, puppies avoid going potty where they sleep. So using a crate can help with potty training because it encourages the puppy to hold his bladder until he gets out of his sleeping spot.
BUT…this isn’t a guarantee. Not all puppies avoid going potty where they sleep. If there is a lot of room or if the puppy is really stressed, or maybe he’s been in there too long, he might have an accident. Some mama dogs were also not so good at cleaning up their pups. So if the puppy got used to sitting in his own mess, he might be more likely to have an accident in the crate.
In addition, a puppy’s early warning system has a short time span at first. There’s often a matter of seconds between, “Oh! I have to go!” and “Oops.. too late!” And using a crate will make clean-up much easier in the event that your puppy has an accident.
4. Pay Attention to Puppy’s Signals
Puppies often give off very subtle and not very noticeable signals that owners tend to miss because they’re unfamiliar signals to humans. Common signals that your dog has to go are: sniffing, circling, being rambunctious, whining, or even jumping or barking to get your attention. I have a student enrolled in my course who says that her dog will jump straight up wherever he is when he has to poo. But each pup has a unique way of communicating, “Hey! I need to potty!” that you’ll need to figure out.
Understanding your dog’s language can be so rewarding and really further your relationship. In my online course, 30 Days to Puppy Perfection, I have some awesome lessons on how to read canine body language. My students always tell me it’s one of their favorite parts of the course.
Another signal our students often miss is when their puppy has finished using the bathroom.
If you have a very young and small puppy like a Yorkie or Chihuahua, it can be hard to determine if they’ve peed. You’ll get better at noticing the signals if you watch your puppy carefully. Here are common canine potty behaviors: a fixed gaze, a slight squat, or more rigid stance, a raised tail, standing very still, and then a sudden burst of energy.
But it can be tricky because puppies are easily distracted and will stand still and focus on an unfamiliar object in their environment until they determine it’s not a threat or get distracted by something else. So if you want to be sure your puppy has finished going potty, you can feel the tummy or put a tissue down there to check for wetness.
Did you catch what I said about a fixed gaze? When a dog is going potty, he stares straight at you. Sometimes people think that a dog who has an accident in the house, right in front of them while staring them in the face, is being defiant. Let me assure you nothing could be further from the truth.
Your puppy is in a vulnerable position when going potty and stares straight at you for reassurance that he’s safe. He’s kind of saying to you, “Please watch out for me when I’m in this vulnerable position. You stand guard, Mom, I gotta take care of this business for one second!”
Successful potty training relies on your understanding of your puppy’s signs. Watch for signs that your puppy needs to go, such as circling, sniffing, whining, jumping, or barking. And watch for signs that your puppy is actually done going potty, such as a fixed gaze, a slight squat or more rigid stance, a raised tail, standing very still, and a sudden burst of energy. When in doubt, check it out before returning your puppy to the house.
5. Dog Bell Training for More Reliable Results
Take the guesswork out of deciphering your dog’s signals by teaching your puppy to use potty bells. The dog bell training method is my favorite because it has proven to be the most reliable.
You can find the complete lesson on how to train your dog to use potty bells in the free New Puppy Starter Kit at the bottom of this page.
6. Positive Reinforcement
Rewarding your dog when he does what you want is essential for shaping dog behavior. We always want to reward our dogs when they go potty outside, at least when they are still learning and maybe long after they’ve gotten the message.
The timing of our reward is also important. I’ve heard of people who take their dog out for a potty break, then go inside and give him a treat. We definitely encourage you to give him a treat, but in this case, the dog thinks that going inside is what is getting him the treat. So the human has sent the wrong message accidentally. Be sure to reward your dog outside, the minute he has finished going potty.
Always reward your puppy with treats, praises, or a quick play when they do it right. This reinforces the behaviors you want to see more of.
7. Specific Outdoor Spot
Choose a specific outdoor spot for potty. The scent will encourage your pup to go and contain potty messes and smells in one area. And using the same spot every time helps your puppy to understand what you want him to do when he gets to that spot.
8. Keep Puppy’s Focus on the Task
I often hear about owners who have diligently watched the schedule and the signals and get that pup outside for a potty break at just the right time. It’s time! He needs to go! Let’s do this!
And then… he pancakes. Lays flat in the grass or just outside the door. Or he rolls in the grass, sniffs the flowers, or sits down and just sniffs the air, like Ferdinand the Bull in the bullring. Now what do I do? they ask me.
Here’s how you can help your dog stay focused:
- Keep your puppy on a leash when working on potty training.
- Use an outdoor puppy pen to provide a safe and secure potty spot.
- Practice the potty break routine outside of the time you need him to do it. This helps normalize it, so it’s not so exciting at the time you need your puppy to potty.
- Spend some time outside with your puppy at other times of the day so he has an opportunity to explore and become accustomed to his surroundings. This will minimize distractions during potty time.
- It’s essential to keep outside play time separate from potty time so your pup understands the distinction. Even if you go inside after a potty break, play a training game for one or two minutes, then head back outside to play, that will send the message that those two activities are separate things, and potty breaks do not equal play time.
9. Clean Up Accidents When They Happen
Remember how I mentioned that smell is a cue that tells your puppy he’s in the right spot to potty? That’s why it’s crucial to clean up accidents when they happen so your puppy doesn’t mistake your favorite rug or clean floor for his bathroom.
Using the right product to clean, sanitize, and remove stains and odors is important for accident clean-up. We recommend Nature’s Miracle – an enzymatic cleanser that tackles the source of pet stains and odors.
If your puppy could say one thing to you about potty training, it would be this: “Have patience with me, I’m still learning.”
I share this because I often hear owners mistakenly talk about how stubborn their dog is. But that’s not the case! Dogs are not stubborn or willful. If a dog is not learning what you are trying to teach, you need to adjust your training techniques to help the process work better.
Potty training involves 4 key elements:
- Reward when he goes in the right spot,
- Keep him on a schedule so you can predict when he needs to go,
- Restrict his freedom to prevent accidents and watch for potty break signals, and
- Clean up with the right product to try and eliminate the smell.
If you’re having accidents when you think you’ve done all the right things, check those four fundamentals and see which one – or more – need to be tightened up. Remind yourself that no one is perfect–not human nor canine.
Accidents DO happen. There may be a medical issue (like urinary tract infections), you might have missed an extra long water break, maybe the schedule got away from you, or maybe the pup just forgot what was expected of him. These potty accidents are normal throughout the first year, or even later in life, especially when something big changes in a puppy’s life or environment.
Potty accidents do not mean that all potty training has failed or you have to start over from scratch. They are part of the potty training process and signal that it's time to recommit to the potty training fundamentals and continue to work on potty training skills. If you do this with the love and patience of a parent, you’ll get on the right track to a potty-trained dog and a great relationship with your pup.
Puppy Potty Training Tips: The Don’ts
1. No Punishment
Accidents will happen. But punishing your puppy doesn’t help your puppy understand the behavior you want. Punishment teaches a puppy to fear you and want to sneak away from you to go potty. Instead of punishing, calmly clean up and redirect your puppy outdoors.
2. No Rushing
Every puppy is unique, and some may take longer to train than others. It’s best to go at your puppy’s pace, not your own.
3. No Inconsistency
Maintain a consistent schedule for feeding and potty breaks, even on weekends. The more you stick to the schedule, the faster your puppy will learn.
4. Don't Ignore Signals
It’s easy to miss a puppy’s potty signals when we’re busy or in the middle of a project. You might think, “I’ll just finish this one thing and then I can take you out to potty” but doing so will set you back in your puppy’s potty training. Pay attention to your puppy's signals and give them plenty of opportunities to go outside.
5. No Pee Pads
In spite of what manufacturers claim, the truth is that puppy pads teach your puppy to pee inside. Yep, pee pads in the house teach your dog to go potty in the house! Is this what you want for a lifetime?
Furthermore, if your dog learns that inside is the place to go, there’s nothing that will necessarily teach him that the pee pad is the spot. To him, a pee pad is not very different from the kitchen rug or bath mat, or any other floor surface in your home.
If you must use something inside for potty breaks, use a grassy patch with a little fence or border around it to clearly distinguish it from the rest of the house.
Dealing with Common Challenges in Puppy Potty Training
Night-time potty training can be a challenge as puppies have a limited bladder capacity. To manage this, limit water intake before bed and make sure to take them out during the night. Regression is also common but can be managed by going back to the basics and being consistent. Remember, each breed may have different needs, so it's important to understand your puppy's specific needs. When accidents happen, clean up thoroughly to eliminate the smell and prevent a recurrence.
Product Recommendations for Effective Puppy Potty Training
A few products can make the potty training process easier. Potty bells can help your puppy signal when they need to go out. Crate training is also useful as it taps into a dog's natural instinct not to soil their sleeping area. An enzymatic cleaner like Nature’s Miracle for accident clean-up eliminates the toughest pet stains and odors.
In essence, effective puppy potty training is all about consistency, patience, and understanding your puppy's unique needs. It can be a challenging task, but the reward of a well-trained pup makes it all worth it.
Be sure to share this post with other new pet owners. Let's make this journey of pet parenting easier, together!
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About the trainer
After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.