As a new dog owner, one of your first—and most important—goals should be to potty-train your puppy. After all, no one likes a mess on the living room rug.
In theory, potty training is a straightforward task: You just have to teach your pup where and when to do their business. But in practice, that can be a little more challenging than you might expect.
Fortunately, there are a handful of tricks and techniques that can make the process shorter and more successful. Read on to find out what they are.
When should you potty-train a puppy?
We recommend you start potty training as soon as possible, whether you just got an eight-week-old puppy from a breeder or adopted a grown dog from the shelter.
That’s right—older dogs can be potty-trained, too, using these same steps. In fact, they may learn faster since mature dogs have better control over their bladder.
So, without further ado, here’s our step-by-step guide to potty training your pup like a pro.
1. Stick to a schedule.
To avoid accidents, you’ll want to take your pup outside to potty frequently.
How frequently? When you’re just beginning potty training, we recommend taking puppies out first thing in the morning and then regularly every hour or so until just before bed. But keep in mind that some dogs—particularly those of smaller breeds—may need to go more often.
It’s also wise to let your puppy out before and after:
- Anything exciting (meeting new people, etc.)
If your puppy circles, sniffs the floor, whines, or scratches at the door, heed the warning—these are common telltale signs that they need to go out.
That may seem like a lot of potty breaks. But as your puppy grows, so will their bladder control. Once they’re around six months old, they should be able to go as long as six or seven hours without an accident. (But, ideally, they should have the opportunity to relieve themselves more frequently than this.)
Along with scheduling potty breaks, try to feed at the same times each day, and consider limiting access to water a couple of hours before bed—unless you want to get up in the middle of the night to clean up a mess.
What goes in must come out, so mealtime will influence when your puppy has to go.
2. Designate a potty zone outside.
Want to keep your puppy from relieving themselves where they shouldn’t? Then make it abundantly clear where they should go by establishing a dedicated elimination area outside, such as a corner of your backyard.
By around eight weeks of age, puppies develop a substrate preference. (In other words, they decide their favorite surface to potty on.) This substrate could be grass, concrete, linoleum, bark chips, bare dirt, your carpet, potty pads, etc.
This means that—unless your dog was very young when they joined your pack—they likely already have their own ideas about where they would like to go. So, you’ll need to intentionally communicate what you consider to be an ideal potty spot.
Every time you take your puppy outside to do their business, quickly direct them to the dedicated area. In time, they’ll learn to associate that spot with going potty. This will not only help prevent them from going elsewhere but also make it easier for you to clean up after them.
Should you potty-train a puppy on pads?
If you’re unable to take your dog outside frequently, you can lay down newspaper or puppy potty pads. But realize this may slow your dog’s progress or even condition them to go on such materials long-term.
3. Use a consistent command.
Unless you train your puppy to go on command, potty breaks may take a while—there are so many wonderful things to smell and inspect outside!
The solution is to associate a predetermined word or phrase with the elimination process. So, if your chosen phrase is “go potty,” for example, you would say it when:
- Taking your dog outside
- Directing your dog to the potty zone
- Your dog begins to go
Dogs are smart. Before long, yours will learn that “go potty” means it’s time to do their business.
How do you potty-train a puppy with a bell?
Teaching your dog to tell you when they need to go out is a smart way to avoid accidents.
An easy way to do this is to hang a bell from your exterior door handle and ring it every time you take your dog out to potty—and only to potty. Don’t stay out to play or do anything else, or they may associate the bell with something you don’t intend.
Soon, they should pick up on the pattern and attempt to ring the bell themselves to signal their need to potty. When that happens, give lots of praise and immediately take your puppy out. This will quickly reinforce the desired behavior.
If your pup doesn’t seem to be catching on, you can try this more advanced approach to bell-training.
4. Celebrate immediately.
A critical step of house training your puppy is to make them feel absolutely great about going potty where they’re supposed to. Most dogs yearn to please their humans, and you can use this to your advantage.
As soon as your pup finishes eliminating in the designated spot outside—and we mean right at that exact moment—reward them with love, praise, and (at least in the beginning) treats. They’ll quickly learn that going potty when and where you want is very much in their best interest.
What if your dog won’t go potty?
If your dog doesn’t go after a few minutes, take them back inside and try again in half an hour or so. In the meantime, stay on alert for signs that they need to go.
5. Supervise or confine.
To set your puppy up for success, you should always keep an eye on them and take them out at the first sign they might need to go potty. (To make supervision easier, consider confining them to one area of your home.)
But what should you do when you’re not around? How do you potty-train your puppy when you’re at work or somewhere else?
Ideally, arrange for someone—a neighbor, friend, pet sitter, or relative—to help out. But if you can’t do that, we recommend putting your puppy in a crate or other small space (i.e., enough room to stand, lie down, and turn around only) while you’re gone.
This is called crate training. Since dogs naturally avoid eliminating where they eat or sleep, this should encourage them to hold it until they have a chance to go outside.
Pro tip: Make sure you size your pup’s crate appropriately. If necessary, upgrade sizes as your puppy grows. (Some crates come with moveable barriers.) If you give your dog too big of a crate for their size, they may decide their bedroom is big enough for a bathroom in the back!
How often do puppies have to go potty?
Most puppies can control their bladder one hour for every month of age, plus one. So, a three-month-old puppy should be able to go roughly four hours without an accident—or longer if they’re sleeping/inactive, such as overnight.
You can use that rule of thumb to determine whether you need to run home during your lunch break or find someone to help out while you’re away. But remember, every dog is different, and smaller dogs typically can’t wait as long. So, always do what works for your pup.
6. Handle accidents appropriately.
If you ask us, puppies are perfect. Still, inevitably, accidents will happen. When they do, take a deep breath and follow these steps:
- Interrupt them with a surprising noise (e.g., clap your hands)
- Move them to the designated spot outside
- Reward them when they finish going outside
Make sure to also clean up the mess thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner. (This helps rid the spot of any odors, reducing the risk of a follow-up accident.) And after you clean up, relocate any soiled paper towels and/or excrement to the designated potty spot.
Gross? Maybe. But this will reinforce where your pup should do their business.
Finally, don’t punish your puppy for mistakes. They won’t make the connection, so scolding them or rubbing their nose in the mess will only confuse and scare them.
The best way to handle the situation is to redirect your pup and then celebrate good behavior.
7. Have patience and hang in there.
By following this guide, you’ll fast-track your puppy’s progress and should have them housebroken in no time. Still, it’s important to remember your puppy is just a baby with a lot to learn.
So, patience is key. Potty training can sometimes be a frustrating experience, but you will get through it.
How long does it take to potty-train a puppy?
It can take as little as a few days or as long as a year to fully potty-train a puppy. Ultimately, it depends on your training practices, how soon you start, and your pup’s history and/or previous habits.
That being said, if you feel like things are taking longer than they should, consult your veterinarian to make sure your pup doesn’t have a health problem, such as a bladder infection, that might be stalling their progress.
We hope you’ve found these puppy potty training tips helpful, and we wish you the best of luck as you begin this exciting journey with your new furry companion.
For more training tips, check out our guide on how to customize training based on your dog’s breed.