How to Potty Train a Puppy

How to train a puppy

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Proactive puppy potty training makes it your responsibility to keep an eye on your puppy and stop them from having accidents in the house before they happen

• Taking them out every couple of hours (even at night!!) is the fastest way to teach a puppy to go potty outside

• If you don’t have a way to go outside every time, puppy pads are a great solution and can be taught just as easily using a similar approach

• Remember, if your puppy has an accident, never shout at them! It isn’t their fault that they can’t control their bladder yet! Take them outside, reward them as they’re finishing, and move on.

Potty Training a Puppy

If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the hundreds of thousands of people who are struggling with potty training a puppy, and look no further because I have got you covered with superhacks you never hear about! I’m going to teach you how I potty trained my mom’s almost 10-week-old puppy in just one week – this has helped thousands of dog owners so far and it’s really so simple!

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Proactive Potty Training

The BIGGEST hack that I can give you is to never let the puppy have an accident in the house or crate, and that might sound impossible but if you watch your puppy like a hawk for the first little while you will reap the benefits later! Instead of waiting for your puppy to cry by the back door when it might already be too late, you want to give your puppy the chance to go potty as much as possible. 

You’re going to want to take your puppy outside at least once every hour at the start and that might seem like a lot but that’s okay! You read that right, that often. When I was potty training my mom’s dog, Wally, there were some days he would need to go multiple times in forty minutes. Once your puppy is going potty outside, you want to reward them and get so excited so they know they’ve done something good.

Treat, Play, Praise

Something they never tell you is that you must wait to reward your puppy until towards the end of the stream or just as they are completing their business. If the puppy squats and you get super excited straight away, then your puppy might stop going potty because it gets distracted, and that’s going to slow down the process a lot. Just time it so that as your puppy is finishing up you give them treat, play, or praise – this also is a good way to make sure they aren’t just pretending to go potty for treats!

A top tip here is to keep a treat jar with an easily removable lid right by the back door or potty training area so you can just grab a treat on the way outside. It doesn’t always have to be a treat reward, but if that’s what you’re going to use, it’s a good idea to have them at easy access because sometimes you might not have time to get them out of the cupboard!

Make Sure They’re Finished

One superhack I can reveal is that once your puppy has finished their business, do NOT take them straight back inside! This is because sometimes small puppies may not realize that they haven’t completely emptied their bladder the first time round, and then they have an accident inside because they weren’t actually done yet. 

So once they’ve finished their business you wait a couple minutes and let them sniff around, and when you’re back inside if you spot a signal like their nose touching the floor for even a second, you take them straight back out again! 

It sounds like a lot but bear this in mind: a little bit of extra work up front is going to make potty training down the road so much easier! The more you work when they’re young, the less you’ll have to do down the road! Also think about it this way, the mess from a little puppy having an accident is a lot smaller than a grown dog, so it’s really worth putting in the effort now.

How Long Does it Take to Potty Train a Puppy?

This is really up to you, because it’s your responsibility to keep watch over your puppy and prevent them from having any accidents. I managed to potty train Wally in a week, and that’s with a constant eye on him (and of course there were still accidents, he’s a puppy!) This method will work as fast as you are diligent about enforcing it

Some of you may be thinking that it sounds like a lot of work to keep eyes on an excitable puppy all over the house, and you’d be right! I highly recommend getting some playpens or fencing to confine the puppy to a smaller area while you’re potty training them, that way you’re right there if they start signaling they need to go. Limiting exposure and freedom to the whole home until they are fully potty trained is an excellent way to keep tabs on your puppy.

Honestly, if you carry your phone in your pocket or you wear a smartwatch, you should see your step count at least double during potty training. With Wally, I noticed that my step count went up by 4x because I was constantly walking him outside, around the yard, back inside (and then sometimes straight back out again if I didn’t give him enough chance to empty his bladder!) 

Puppy Pee Pads

Some of you may be reading and think, “this sounds great, but I live on the 11th floor of an apartment complex with no garden or balcony,” or, “I want to do this but there’s a snow blizzard outside and I can’t go out,” and that’s okay! I understand it isn’t always going to be possible for every new dog owner to have easy access to take the puppy outside so often, but it is totally possible to also potty train your puppy using pee pads!

When you’re choosing the spot for your pee pad, you want to make sure that they are somewhere that they can be kept out without being in the way, so maybe a guest room or bathroom. If you can, try to find a place with tiles so that if your puppy misses the pee pad it’s easier to clean than if it were laminate or hardwood – it’s important to make sure that your puppy can easily access the pads too! 

  • Start with four to five potty pads, depending on the size of your dog, and lay them out on the floor. 
  • Using a crate or playpen to make the designated potty area more clear to your puppy – I like to use a crate with a door so they can get in and out easily!
  • When you lay out the pads, you want to overlap them a bit to prevent leakage, and leave about three to four inches of pad outside the playpen or crate if you’re using one.
  • Walk over to the potty pads, and reward them when they smell it or show interest – but not if they try to bite them!

  • Go to these potty pads every single hour, just like you would if you were taking them outside, and also if they eat, sleep, or play! [pro tip practice leash walking]
  • When the puppy eventually goes potty in the potty area, right in the middle of it just like outside, I want you to reward them with a click if you’re doing clicker training, or a marker word and a treat!
  • Once they go potty, you can replace the pad – sometimes it’s a good idea to leave one pad out for a little while just so your puppy associates the smell with the potty pad area, but only in the beginning.

You’ll notice that the puppy will tend to go potty in one specific area of the puppy potty pads, and when that happens you’re slowly going to gradually remove pads until there’s just one left that your dog uses. 

A lot of people ask me if they potty train their dog using puppy pads whether they can eventually train the dog to go potty outside, and the answer is absolutely yes! I’ve done it dozens of times with puppies I’ve fostered, and although it might be a slightly slower process it is more than doable. 

Once the potty area is down to just one puppy pad, you can move it so that it’s by the door, and then you can start to take your dog outside every hour just like when you were training with pads originally. Once your dog is wrapping up their business, you are going to reward them with treats, praise, or play – dogs are smart and they love to learn, so soon enough they will figure out that outside potty means treats and cuddles!

Top tip! If your puppy tries to play with their puppy pads, like my dog Finn did while we were filming, then don’t wrestle it out of their mouth or raise your voice because they’ll think it’s a game. Don’t react with excitement, but hold it and wait for them to release. Then, give them your marker word or a treat!

What if My Puppy Has an Accident Inside?

This is important, NEVER shout or scold your puppy for having an accident inside. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s yours (and I mean that with love, just like it was my fault when Wally or any other puppy went potty inside) because it is up to us to keep an eye out for signals that the puppy gives you that they need to go out!

If and when your puppy has an accident inside, you have to pick up your puppy and take it outside immediately, and if you’ve cut them off mid-stream it’s likely that they will finish up their business outside. As they’re almost done you’re going to reward them for going outside, and then right back to normal! When you go back inside, clean up the accident and move on. 

Some people say put your puppy’s face in the urine, or shout at it, and I do not advocate that at all! What you will probably end up doing is scaring the puppy, and then they aren’t going to learn because they’re going to be acting out of fear. Just guide them outside, and keep it up! 

Signals to Look Out For

Even if they only do it for a second, your puppy will always show signals that they want to go out. Every puppy is different, just like every human is different, and the signals will also change as the dog grows up, so you really have to learn your puppy’s behavior and keep an eye out for any signs they need to go potty. 

Some common signals include:

  • Sniffing the ground or putting their nose to the floor
  • Walking in circles or pacing slowly
  • Going to a certain area (such as the back door)
  • Change in behavior 

And also after…

  • Nap
  • Food
  • Drink
  • Play
  • Treat

Crate Training Tips

Just like you don’t want to let your puppy have an accident in the house, you also don’t want to let them do it in their crate! This means taking them out every couple of hours, even at night. Generally they’re not going to want to potty in their crate, but if you let them do it once, they’ll do it again. 

When you’re choosing a crate, you might want to choose one for your dog to grow into, and if that’s the case then think about getting a Digg’s crate with a divider for when they’re still small to prevent them using the crate as a potty area as well as sleeping. 

When you do take the puppy out at night – and I recommend doing this regularly, not just when the puppy starts to cry or whine – you have to distinguish between play time and potty time. When you take them out, only use their command and their marker words, nothing else, and no extra excitement like belly rubs or treats. They need to be able to tell that this is purely a potty trip, not time to run around. 

If you find your puppy cries at night, obviously after checking there’s nothing wrong, just ignore them. They will stop! When I was crate training my puppy and he cried, the first night it was 20 minutes, then the next it was 15, and the next it was five… A great way to prevent this is by making the crate an absolute haven that they love to go to, make it like Disneyland!

Final Thoughts

I know it sounds like a lot to be taking your puppy out like clockwork every couple of hours – especially at night – but this is the fastest method I’ve found to house-training a puppy, and it has helped thousands of other new dog owners too! Just remember that putting in this work now will really save you a lot of time and frustration in the future, so even if it’s a bit tiresome at first, it’s well worth it. If you can’t make it outside every time, then puppy potty pads are definitely the way to go, and you can always make the move outside later down the line!

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