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Potty Training Puppies? Here’s the Best Ways To House Train a Puppy

by | Mar 30, 2022 | Ask Amy Videos, Dog Training & Care | 2 comments

Potty Training Puppies? Here’s the Best Ways To House Train a Puppy

Do you have a dog or puppy with potty woes? Whether you have a tiny puppy, like when Shadow-Pup arrived, or a big old dawg — my Bravo (below) at one time tipped the scales at 120 pounds — potty training puppies keep your house hygienic and offers discipline and routine to our dog. Here are my tips for the best ways to house train a puppy.

A new puppy brings great joy, but potty training puppies can lead to frustration. Puppy potty accidents start your relationship off on the wrong paw. Without the right training, he won’t know how to please you. He may not even know how to go potty on grass. Even older dogs can benefit from refresher training if they’ve had potty training lapses.

house training puppies

Don’t let that innocent look fool you — Bravo had his share of “whoops” messes!

House Train Dogs–Listen to Their Needs

When Magic came to live with us at 8 weeks, he already knew a potty word — “take-a-break” — and never had an accident in the house. His breeder did all the prep work for us, but of course, we still had to follow up. However, our Bravo-Boy had spent his whole 12-weeks of life outside on a ranch. He got to “go” when (and wherever) the urge struck. Oy.

Think of potty training from your puppy’s point of view. When he has to go, he won’t wait–he simply squats in place. He won’t understand why you’re always mad when you come home. If he’s punished but not shown what you want, he’ll think you don’t want him to potty at all. Rubbing his nose in it makes him wonder, “She want me to eat that stuff?” Punishing teaches puppies to potty when you’re not watching, or to hide deposits more carefully.

potty train puppies

Potty Train Puppies by Catching Him In The Act

Timing is key when teaching cause-and-effect. He won’t understand your anger has anything to do with the deposit he created five minutes ago. Unless caught in the act, or pointed out within 30-90 seconds, correcting the baby won’t work.

Instead, catch the pup in the act…of doing something right. Then throw a happy-dance praise party to tell him how smart he is! People work more eagerly for a bonus than a reprimand, and dogs are no different. Once he learns he gets paid to go in the right spot—positive reinforcement—he’ll virtually cross his legs to please you. 

Oh, and be sure to clean up the mess so the smell won’t draw him back to the scene of the crime. Here are some tips for cleaning up potty accidents.

house training puppies

Our new boy, Shadow, at 13 weeks old (estimate) does very well, but we still use the crate. He LOVES his crate because that’s where he’s fed and gets special treats. He’s a multi-sprinkler, too–pees multiple times, so he gets extra time outside. *s*

How to House Train Puppies: How Long Can He “Hold It?”

Pups need a bathroom break after every meal, nap, and playtime. Depending on his age and breed, feed him two to four or more times a day. Prevent potty accidents by anticipating when the puppy needs a break. Your pup has a baby-size bladder and limited capacity to “hold it” no matter his best intentions.

If you have puppy-friendly adult dogs, your puppy often will copy the adult dog’s behavior. So if your adult dog has good potty etiquette, that can speed up the process. Bravo helped me teach Shadow his cue-word to go to the bathroom: “Take A Break.” You’ll love having a cue word especially late at night, or during inclement weather! Learn about puppy intros to other pets here.

It can vary a bit between breeds with large and giant breeds having a bit more “storage” capacity and Toy breeds a bit less. Learn more about puppy development here. In general, here’s what to expect:

  • Two-month-old pups need a break about every two hours
  • Three-month-old pups can hold it for four hours.
  • Four-month-old pups can wait five hours
  • Five-month-olds can wait about six hours
  • Seven-month-old pups should be able to wait about eight hours.

8 Steps to Potty Training Puppies

Dogs can be potty trained at any age, but puppies learn much more quickly than adults. Puppies are so cute that owners forgive puppy-size accidents, but adult-size deposits aren’t cute and often lose the grown-up pet his home. Use these 8 puppy potty training tips to housebreak puppies and ensure he grows up to be the best friend he’s meant to be. Learn more about caring for your puppy in the book COMPLETE PUPPY CARE. 

  • Create a schedule. Base potty breaks on the pup’s age, activity level, and mealtimes.
  • Choose a location. Dogs rely on scent cues to remind them what’s expected. Whether you create an indoor toilet spot with newspaper, pee-pads or a doggy litter box, or select an outdoor potty, take him to the same place each time.
  • Concentrate on business. Keep him on leash until he’s productive, or he’ll only play and then have an accident inside. Take off the leash for a playtime as part of his reward for eliminating.
  • Name the deed. When he squats, say a cue word that identifies the action. I’m teaching Bravo the same “take-a-break” command that means to get down to business. It’s a bit less off-putting than saying “poop & pee” if your dog is in public. *s* Make sure your entire family uses the selected cue consistently. Once the puppy has been productive, reward with lots of praise, play or a tiny treat that doesn’t upset his regular nutrition.
  • Confine and supervise. Puppies don’t want to live up close and personal to their own waste, so confinement can be a great tool. A small room won’t work-he can poop in one corner and sleep in the other–and be sure you’ve puppy proofed the area to avoid danger. If the pup isn’t productive after fifteen minutes during a potty break, confine in a crate for fifteen minutes and then try again. If he potties in the crate, that confines the mess to an easily cleaned area. He’ll have to live with his mistake for a short time. The next time he’ll be more likely to empty when offered the opportunity. Alternatively, hook his leash to your belt so he can’t sneak away and do the dirty deed.
  • Watch for warnings. Puppies sniff the ground and walk in circles before they pose. If he squats inside, pick him up so he stops the process, and move him to the designated legal toilet area. Give your cue word, and praise when he’s successful in the right spot.
  • Clean accidents. Use an odor neutralizer to eliminate the smells that lure your puppy back to the scene of the crime. We also confine the new pet to an easily cleaned area of the house, using baby gates.
  • Roll up newspaper. When you find an accident, it means you’ve not paid attention to his needs. If you’re feeling really aggravated, don’t hold back. Roll up that newspaper—and hit yourself over the head with it, and resolve to do better next time. Just like puppies, owners take time and patience to learn important lessons.

Oh, and you can also trick train cats! Here’s how.

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2 Comments

  1. Karyl

    Hey Amy, I know this is an oldie, but I have a friend who is about to get a year-old dog from a shelter, and he was living on the streets so isn’t potty trained. Is there anything different about potty training older dogs, or is the process pretty much the same as with puppies?

    • Amy Shojai

      Hi Karyl, the process is very similar, other than adult dogs have a much better capacity to “hold it” longer. *s*

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