Updated: Jan 15
If you recently brought home a new puppy, congratulations! New puppies are so exciting! Whether you’re a first-time dog owner, or it’s been a while since you’ve had a puppy, here are 5 steps to make potty training a smooth experience!
Before we begin, there are a few key points to keep in mind:
The “cleanliness” of a dog can have a genetic component and how they are raised matters. Therefore, potty training starts by choosing a reputable breeder. If your puppy is going to be a house dog, you will set yourself (and your puppy) up for success by finding a breeder whose dogs live inside and are clean. Along with that, be sure the breeder has some method of starting to potty train puppies before they come home. Some breeders use litter boxes, have indoor/outdoor puppy pens, or begin crate and potty training before puppies come home. These puppies will have a head start to other puppies that are accustomed to pottying where they live and sleep.
Puppy pads are a big no-no. They are extremely hard to wean off from and they condition your puppy that it’s allowable to potty inside. This can be a very hard habit to break, so it’s best to skip the puppy pads!
Each puppy is an individual and how quickly they do or don’t pick up on potty training will vary. But the most important component of how well a puppy does with potty training comes down to YOU!
The first step in potty training your puppy is holding yourself accountable. Puppies do not know where they are supposed to potty, so it is our job to show them and teach them! Their success in potty training is directly correlated to the effort we put into teaching them. We have to set them up for success!
The second step to potty train your puppy is to immediately start crate training. Crate training has endless benefits and potty training is one of them. Puppies naturally don’t want to potty where they sleep and eat. Therefore if we put them in a crate that is the appropriate size for them (small!), they should not have room to potty in one area and move to another. This means if they don’t want to potty where they sleep, they will be inclined to hold it. Crate training is by far the best tool we have to promote potty training! Anytime your puppy comes out of the crate, even if they were only in the crate for 15 minutes, they need to go out to have an opportunity to potty outside.
The third step is to get your puppy on a schedule. If your puppy is on a predictable schedule, they will have an easier time with crate and potty training. We can use the crate to create a predictable schedule. The puppy goes in the crate, immediately when it comes out of the crate it goes outside, it might have some free-time inside, then it goes back outside, back in the crate and repeat. Crate – outside – inside – outside – crate, repeat.
The important part of a schedule is that there is plenty of time in the crate. If you constantly leave your puppy loose in the house, they will have accidents and take significantly longer to potty train. There is no way around it: if your puppy has plenty of space to potty (like being out in a large room or even a small pen), they will potty inside whenever they must go. The only way we can encourage them to go outside is by preventing them from pottying inside. We can prevent them from pottying inside by periodically putting them in their crate and immediately taking them out to potty when they come out of their crate. I also put my puppies on an eating/drinking schedule. As soon as we're up in the morning, I allow my puppy to have access to water all day. I take away water at night prior to putting them in their crate for bedtime. If I have an 8-week-old puppy, I will pick up their water at 7 pm, let them out at 7, 8 and 9 pm. Once they are 12 or so weeks, they can have water until 8 pm, go out at 8, 9 and 10 pm then sleep for 8 hours overnight.
The fourth step is to make the effort to take your puppy out very regularly. Do not wait for your puppy to show you that they have to potty. Most won’t and at that point, it’s already too late. Young puppies (8-11 weeks old) need to go out every 20-30 minutes when they aren’t crated, and every 2ish hours while crated (sleeping). Young puppies will need to go out almost immediately after eating and drinking. Older puppies can go a little longer (12-16 weeks), such as every 1-1.5 hours outside of their crate, and every 2-4 hours while crated. Older puppies should go out ~20-30 minutes after eating and drinking.
The fifth step is to not punish your puppy for pottying inside. If your puppy does have an accident in your house, it’s because you didn’t take it out soon enough or you are leaving it out of the crate too much. Those are not the puppy's fault, so you cannot punish them for that! If your puppy potties in their crate, ask yourself: is my crate small enough? Did my puppy have enough opportunities to potty before I put them in the crate? Was my puppy in the crate for too long? Did my puppy tank too much water before going in the crate?
If you stick to the routine (crate – outside – inside – outside – crate, repeat), crate train your puppy and make sure it is in a small crate and you do not allow your puppy too much free-time in the house, you will set your puppy up for success for potty training!
Always, always error on the side of caution and take them outside if you aren't sure if they have to go or not!
Can I potty train my puppy without crate training it? Maybe, but I will always advise against it. Some people do, and some people who don’t crate train live their pup’s entire life with it pottying inside. I find so much value in crate training my puppies, I have 0% inclination to not crate train them and therefore I am always setting them up for success for potty training.
How long can my puppy go between let outs? This will be determined by your puppy! Puppies should come home from the breeder at at least 8 weeks of age. 8-week-old puppies need to go frequently! Likely every 20-30 minutes if they are active. If they are sleeping, they can hold it longer. But know AS SOON as they open their eyes, they will have to go potty. It’s best to allow puppies to fall asleep in their crate, then wake them up to go out before they wake up on their own. 8-week-old puppies might need to go out every 3-4 hours overnight. As they get older, they will be able to go longer between let outs. By 12 weeks old, most puppies can hold it 7-8 hours overnight.
What do I do if I catch my puppy pottying inside? Accidents happen! Immediately take your pup outside (without punishing them) to see if they still need to go. Take note of why your pup went inside: too much time between let outs? Too much free time? Recently ate/drank?
My puppy seems to be peeing constantly, what do I do? First things first: take them to the vet and have them tested for a urinary tract infection! UTIs are not uncommon in puppies. They will often pee super frequently, sometimes only dribbling, might drink excessive water, might like themselves, and might have more accidents than normal. If your puppy has a UTI, treating them for it will help with the accidents. I use this cranberry supplement for puppies (and adults) that I think might be prone to UTIs.
Still need help with potty training? Check out my puppy board and train programs!