Potty Training

Puppies are furry little input-output machines that don't develop full bladder control until around twenty weeks of age. The time it takes to complete potty training varies greatly from puppy to puppy; it could take three days or three years. Your pup’s rate of success will greatly depend on your management and training consistency.

Despite the variation between puppies, typically...

  • Younger puppies go more often than older puppies.

  • Smaller breed puppies go more often than larger breed puppies.

  • Female puppies go more often than male puppies.

  • Most puppies go more often in early AM and mid-late PM.

  • All puppies go more often when awake and active than when sleeping and confined.

The first step in potty training is managing your puppy’s environment so that she is unable to make mistakes. The easiest way to do this is by confinement. By nature, dogs do not prefer to soil their living area, which you can use to your advantage when potty training your pup. Most of the time, you can confine your puppy in an area such as a 4x4 exercise pen atop a 5x5 piece of linoleum, or in a small room. However, at high-risk times when mistakes are likely to happen (“hot times”) you should make the confinement area even smaller. If your puppy is crate trained, a crate works great for this. (The ideal crate provides a space large enough for your pup to comfortably stand up, turn around, and lie down with outstretched legs.) If you do not want to crate train your dog, be sure to tether her to you with a leash and then watch her very closely during all hot times.

Most mistakes occur when puppies are given too much responsibility too early. Don’t wait for your puppy to tell you when she needs to go potty until she is at least five months of age and completely potty trained. Instead, take her to potty at consistent intervals. (Tip: Set a timer to make this easy for you. Another tip: Keep a potty diary so that you have a sense of how often your puppy goes pees or poops.)

Until you know your pup's potty pattern, take her outside more often than you think she needs to go (start with every 30-60 minutes, and evaluate from there). Be sure to also let her potty within ten minutes of waking up, being let out of her crate or exercise pen, eating, drinking, chewing, or vigorous activity/excitement.

If your puppy doesn’t go potty within three minutes of being let out, bring her back inside, closely confine her or monitor her for ten minutes, and then try again. Repeat this process until she goes potty.

Bladder production slows down overnight, so puppies can often hold their bladders overnight (if they are closely confined). When your pup is very young, you may need to get up in the middle of the night to take her to potty. If you are sleeping with her crate/confinement area close to you (highly recommended!), you will likely hear her stirring when she wakes up. If you are a heavy sleeper, consider putting a little bell on her collar so that you will wake up when she begins to move about.

You will want your puppy to LOVE going potty in the desired potty spot. The best way to do this is by rewarding your puppy like crazy when she potties in the appropriate place. Throw a party! Treats! Verbal praise! Pets! If amazing things happen when your puppy potties in the potty spot, the behavior will increase. (You can use this for all behavior — any behavior that is rewarded will increase.)

Once you know when your pup is about to go potty, you can label the behavior with a cue to ask for it when you want it. When you see your puppy start to squat or raise a leg, right before she starts going, say “Potty!” (or "Get Busy!" etc) and then then reward her. Pair the cue 30-50 times to create a firm association.

At around twenty weeks of age (five months), you can begin to teach your puppy to “hold her bladder” by slowly pushing back her usual potty time. Since every puppy is different, this will largely be on a trial basis. Every three days that you have success without potty accidents, you can push back the time when you closely confine her by about ten minutes. Repeat this process until you reach a goal time of approximately six hours.

For example: Your puppy needs to go potty every 90 minutes.

  1. Closely supervise or confine her for when you are approaching the danger zone. Then, take her outside at 90 minutes to potty. If no mistakes happen for three days...

  2. Closely supervise or confine her for when you are approaching the danger zone. Then, take her outside at 100 minutes to potty. If no mistakes happen for three days...

  3. Closely supervise or confine her for when you are approaching the danger zone. Then, take her outside at 110 minutes to potty. And, so on!

Your puppy will probably make a mistake at some point — that’s life! Try to avoid mistakes, but if they do happen, remember that punishment will not help and will only cause added stress to your pup's training. Instead, show your puppy what you DO want and then use management to prevent future repetitions.

If you see your puppy about to make a mistake, or in the process of making a mistake, say “Outside!” and then immediately and swiftly redirect her outside to give her an opportunity to go in the right spot. Reward her if she does go potty, and then closely confine her while you clean up. If you did not see the potty mistake happen, take her outside to give her an opportunity to go in the right spot. Reward her if she does go potty, and then closely confine her while you clean up.

Dogs have a keen sense of smell and are likely to go potty in a place they've gone before by sniffing out a previous spot. Prevent this by cleaning mishaps with an enzymatic cleaner which will remove the smell by breaking down the proteins in the urine.

Many people prefer to only have their puppy potty outside. If you want your puppy to have an indoor potty area, however, it is best to choose a distinct potty spot that looks very different from anywhere else in the house (i.e. a litter box or a raised box with grass-like turf). It is not recommended to use any kind of newspaper or “potty pad," as this surface feels far too much like rugs and carpeting.

Puppies are creatures of habit and may not automatically go potty in places away from home, on substrates they are not used to, or off-leash if they have been practicing going on-leash. Therefore, give your puppy opportunities to do her business away from home, on various substrates (ie grass, pebbles, wood chips, etc), and off-leash, as well as on-leash.

Be sure to wait until your puppy goes potty before playing and interacting with her. If your pup enjoys being outside, stay outside for a few minutes before going back inside to avoid associating going potty with ending fun time. You might also have a cup of treats inside the door to reward her when she comes back inside (this will reinforce coming inside, so that you don’t have a dog who plays door-keep-away).

Many puppies go potty two times in a row. If you've got a two-timer, be sure to give your puppy three more minutes after she goes potty the first time. If she doesn’t go during that time, closely confine her for ten minutes, then take her outside to try again.

Potty Training with Beacon Dog Training (That Dog Geek)

Way to Go! by Patricia McConnell
Before and After Getting Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar