How To Potty Train a Puppy - Written By a Professional Dog Trainer

How To Potty Train a Puppy

Small dog sits on the toilet reading a newspaper.

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There are few things in life better than getting a new puppy. They are so sweet and cute, it is easy to love them. New puppy owners face many training tasks and one of the more difficult and most important ones is house training a puppy.

Potty accidents in the house are an undesirable event and the time to stop them from happening is the first day the puppy comes home. This is done by using planning, training and consistent management. The more consistent a puppy owner is in the beginning, the less time it will take to achieve reliable house training.

Planning is important. Be prepared for your puppy’s first day in his new home. Having the appropriate tools and supplies on hand can make the unexpected easier. The goal of potty training is to eliminate accidents from occurring, but nobody is perfect and easy clean up makes accidents less stressful for people and puppies. 

Gather cleaning supplies and assemble them in a box or bucket. Keep these supplies in a closet or set up a designated cleaning supply station in the house so that clean up items are easy to find for quick use.

Man wearing gloves cleans his carpet with a sponge

Things to keep in your cleaning station:

  • Gloves – rubber or disposable (this just makes clean up less icky)
  • Paper towels
  • Old towels and rags
  • Potty pads or chucks (very absorbent and good for wet messes)
  • General spray cleaner (Simple Green is a good choice)
  • Rug and upholstery cleaner specifically designed for pets
  • Scrub brushes
  • Spot cleaning machine like the Bissell Spot Clean
  • Plastic bags
  • Bucket
  • Mop

Remember to keep your puppy away when you are cleaning to avoid aggravation as he will try to “help” and learn about cleaning up. He will also be at risk of getting irritants in his eyes, nose, or ingesting cleaning supplies. Cleaning up a puppy accident is no place for a puppy!

Managing your puppy until he is reliably potty trained is one of the key components of a successful house training program. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cleaning up poo!  

Use a Crate

Crate training a puppy is a skill that is not only useful for puppy potty training but for boarding, vet visits, travel and emergency situations. Introduce him to his crate by feeding him inside the crate. Treats, meals, yummy chews, all those things happen in the crate. 

He should be able to see his owner when he sleeps in his crate initially, so he does not associate being in the crate with being alone. The crate can be used for naps and night time but keep in mind that puppies must be let out to go relieve themselves regularly and frequently when they are very small. The crate is not a place for a puppy to spend the day while the owner is at work, especially if the owner works nights.

Supervision

If a puppy must be left alone for more than a couple of hours, he should be kept in a restricted puppy safe area. This space is useful for any time he cannot be supervised such as going on errands or to work, during deliveries, making dinner, multiple houseguests and bringing in groceries. 

The puppy safe area is a play area and should have a soft bed and plenty of toys. It can be a laundry room or kitchen with a baby gate to restrict access to other areas, or it may be an exercise pen or other form of fence within the house. There should also be a potty area available such as a potty pad or another alternative.

Confining a puppy when his human is not supervising him will keep him safe and reduce the number of times he has an accident or gets into things he shouldn’t. It also allows the owner to reinforce good puppy potty training habits. Good management prevents accidents, and the fewer accidents a puppy has the more quickly he can be successfully potty trained.

A smal dog is standing near a puppy gate.

An expandable puppy gate will be your best friend during this stage of the training. Simply tighten the gate between the doorway you would like to block off and there you have it. An effective barrier that allows you to confine the puppy to any room of your choosing. The kitchen and the bathroom are both solid options as the flooring in these rooms often make for easy clean up. 

Be Consistent

Teaching a puppy to relieve himself in the desired location is a matter of consistently taking him to that spot and rewarding his success. Puppies should go out hourly in the early stages of potty training. They need to immediately relieve themselves when they wake up, while playing and a few minutes after meals or taking a drink. 

As soon as a puppy wakes up, he should be taken out to potty. It is best to use a leash and take him to the spot he should go. When he is sniffing the ground, the owner should begin to condition a command “hurry up”, “go potty” or whatever the person wishes to use in the future as the cue to tell the dog to relieve himself. 

A golden retriever puppy potty training

When the puppy successfully goes potty where he is supposed to, he should get lavish praise and be given a good treat such as liver or chicken. Kibble and dry biscuits will soon lose out to sniffing and playing with your slippers, so it is better to use a high value food in very small amounts to reinforce and generalize the behavior more quickly. 

Each time the puppy is taken out, he should be given 5 minutes to go potty. If he is not able to do so, bring him back to his crate and try again in a half hour. Once he is successful, praise and reward and then give him some play time or a chance to explore the yard and house. All of these things will motivate him to get his business done so he can get on with having fun.

Management, training and clean up done consistently in a positive manner will result in a happy and housetrained puppy, and a happy and satisfied owner!

Basic puppy potty training guidelines:

  • Puppies need to have limited access to the house when not being supervised
  • Take the puppy out consistently and especially after sleep, play and eating
  • Reward success with food and play
  • Do NOT scold or frighten him for mistakes (this does not teach a puppy to be housetrained. It teaches him to hide from you when he relieves himself.)
  • Be prepared for clean up
  • The more consistent the owner is the faster the puppy will learn 

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