Potty training a puppy takes time, patience, consistency, clean-up sprays and a lot of paper towels.
There are many approaches to potty training, and throughout my years of working with countless families who have brought puppies into their homes, I’ve taken the best of the best cases, as well as personal experiences, to create a full-proof potty training routine. Keep in mind, mistakes will still happen, but this routine will help minimize the mistakes that prevent help pups from progressing.
Also, note that this routine is very strict and can be down-right gross. So hopefully, you have a small breed or 2-month old puppy. But trust me, if you stick with this, your puppy will be able to hold its potty anywhere from 12 to 16 hours – if needed – but I wouldn’t have them do that on a regular basis once they are full-grown.
This approach also should work even if you’re potty training a stubborn puppy that is consistently having issues in the kennel or house – especially if they were taught to go on potty pads and you want to wean them off – or if you have adopted an older dog that wasn’t properly potty trained.
1. Remove All Absorbent Surfaces From Your Home
Don’t leave anything absorbent on the floor; remove all potty pads, rugs and carpets from your home – if possible.
Many people utilize potty pads in the beginning either for convenience or because they think their puppy will naturally use the pads. But potty pads can be hit or miss. Either way, you don’t want them thinking they can go inside the home because that’s going against what we’re trying to teach them.
Expect Additional Obstacles if You’ve Been Using Potty Pads
If you’ve been using pads, expect your puppy to have mistakes in the general area where they were once you remove them, as they already have an association with it. Once you’ve taken pads out the equation. I recommend placing something over the area that takes up a bit more space than the pad so that the puppy cannot get to that spot. Be sure to keep an eye on your puppy, and should you notice them sniffing near the area, pick them up and take them out or do what I mention later in this article.
Puppies also don’t differentiate between potty pads and rugs; all they notice is that part of the floor is absorbent – much like grass – so they think that’s where they’re supposed to go. Because of that, I’ve seen some homes cover their rugs or carpets with plastic to help protect them. This is fine, and it will help prevent them from being ruined. But ideally, you want to remove those things before you bring the puppy home because once they’ve designated a potty spot, it can take some time for them to learn otherwise.
2. Buy a Dog Kennel
Next thing you’ll want to buy is a kennel. The kennel is key when potty training and not utilizing one will put you at a great disadvantage. Unfortunately, in some cases, we’ll get things like separation anxiety, but that’s not what this article is about.
For kennel size, I suggest buying one that your puppy will grow into unless you don’t mind going through 3 to 4 sizes of kennels as your puppy grows. If you bought a German Shepherd puppy, you should go with a 42-inch kennel, for example.
Block Off Only Enough Space For Your Puppy
But you don’t want to give the puppy the whole space in the kennel, as they will potty in one section and still be able to stay away from it due to the size of the cage. Instead, you want to condense the size down so it’s just big enough for them to go in, turn around and lay down.
Most large kennels come with a divider to help with this. If you don’t have a divider, you can purchase one separately or use totes or boxes to help take up the extra space. I also use totes and boxes to reinforce the separation gate as puppies can learn to knock them over.
And keep in mind that your puppy will have potty mistakes, so don’t put anything you don’t want to get messy inside the crate. Also be mindful of your pup’s chewing behaviors, as they can easily tear up cardboard.
Suggestions for Putting Bedding Inside the Crate
In regards to putting beds or blankets in the kennel to make it more comfortable for your dog to lie down, I play it by ear.
For those who want to, I suggest using a white or very light colored blanket or towel so you can see if the puppy is having accidents in the kennel when you’re gone or overnight. Many people think their puppy is holding it when they are actually going in the kennel, but the bedding absorbs and hides the mistakes.
Every time you remove the puppy, check the bedding for yellow spots. If you see that there are spots each time you take them out or in the morning, remove the bedding as it is working against you. If it’s an occasional mistake here and there, you can let it slide. But if it’s happening over the course of months, you’ll want to remove the bedding.
An important component of potty training – or any type of dog training, really – is having an aversive. This is what will deter the dog from doing what we don’t want it to do.
If there is a blanket in the cage, it absorbs the pee, which doesn’t deter the puppy from repeating the behavior. However, if there is nothing to absorb the pee, they have to sit next to the puddle until the next time you let them out, which is very uncomfortable.
3. Establish a Puppy Potty Training Schedule
A key factor to effective potty training is to set up a schedule, regardless of your dog’s age. Whether it’s full-grown or just a pup, you have to start somewhere; you can’t expect your dog to take the initiative on training itself to go outside.
If you have no foundation in place, a good place to start is by taking your puppy out every two hours. This schedule is only in effect when you are home; if you leave, you do not need to return to take the pup out.
Your puppy needs to be in the kennel when you are gone and overnight. This will help teach them to hold it for extended periods of time. Once you return or wake up, you should take your puppy out and continue to take them out every 2 hours.
How to Increase the Amount of Time Your Puppy Can Hold It
Extend the schedule each week by 15 minutes so they gradually learn to hold it for longer each week. So if you start with 2-hour intervals, your weekly schedule would look like this:
- Week 1 – Every 2 hours
- Week 2 – Every 2 hours and 15 minutes
- Week 3 – Every 2 ½ hours
- Week 4 – Every 2 hours and 45 minutes
- Week 5 – Every 3 hours
This 15-minute increase falls right in line with the puppy’s age if you are starting at exactly 2 months. But regardless of age, this gradual time extension will help ease them into controlling their bladder for extended periods of time.
Many people will comment on how they’re puppy holds it overnight or in the kennel for longer than 6 hours, but that doesn’t mean you should make them wait six hours when you’re home. The difference is that they are inactive and not awake overnight. And puppies don’t want to pee or poop where they eat and sleep; that aids in them in holding it while you’re gone.
Signs That Indicate Your Puppy Needs to Potty
Although it’s good to recognize when mistakes could happen, you must also be strict about when you allow your puppy to have freedom.
Puppies generally have to use the bathroom after eating or drinking, after waking up from a nap or if they have been playing for a while. So although you could take out your puppy after you see they have woken up from a nap in order to avoid a mistake, that does not keep them on a schedule, and that’s what you want to do.
By taking your puppy out every time you suspect they may have a mistake, you are teaching them that they don’t need to hold it when they have to go. That will hinder your training, and your puppy will continue to go whenever it wants as opposed to sticking to the schedule.
If I take my puppy out at 10 a.m. and they take a 30-minute nap, that would put us at 10:30 a.m., which is 1 ½ hours away from their next outing. So, instead of taking them out, I will place them in their kennel until 12 p.m. and then let them out to potty.
I do this each time the outing falls out of line with the schedule – with the exception of after eating or drinking water. If I take out my puppy at 7:30 a.m. and feed them at 8 a.m., I will take them out 15 to 30 minutes later and start my 2-hour schedule at that point. Not all puppies have to go after eating though; it depends on their physiology.
4. You Have To Be Strict When Potty Training a Puppy
Now for the hard part.
In order to teach a puppy to go outside consistently, we have to remove all other options. This is how I train pups that don’t want to go outside because they were trained on pads for too long, they don’t like the cold or inclement weather or they are too nervous or scared to go outside. This is also how I teach puppies to potty in very specific areas, such as litter box or grass patches.
One of the biggest causes of potty mistakes is that owners will think their puppy doesn’t have to go when they don’t potty outside, only to have them potty immediately when they walk inside.
Whenever you take your puppy out, whether it’s the first thing in the morning or later during a scheduled potty break, just assume your puppy has to go. If they do not go outside, you should carry them inside and immediately place them in the kennel. Don’t walk them to the kennel as they will most likely have a potty mistake on the way.
Once you’ve placed them in the kennel, they should not go out for a restroom break until their next scheduled outing. If this is first thing in the morning, expect to have a mistake happen between breaks.
If you take your puppy out at 8 a.m. and they don’t go, place them in the kennel. If they have a mistake in the kennel at 8:30 a.m., do not remove them and clean it up; leave them in the kennel until the next outing. Next time you take them out, then clean everything. If they do not go to the bathroom during this break, place them back in the kennel and repeat.
Puppies are not allowed freedom in the home unless you know that they are empty! At some point, the puppy will realize that they only get a small opportunity to go to the bathroom and that it’s limited only to outside.
Once you’ve seen them go potty outside, then you may let them be free in the home for their allotted time. But remember, if they nap, eat, drink, or play, place them in the kennel after for the remainder of the time so they don’t have an accident.
5. Reward Your Puppy For Pottying Outside
Last, but not least, is rewarding your puppy for using the bathroom outside. I personally use – and recommend – very high-value rewards, like cheese, hot dogs, turkey and sausage. I will limit this treat to only when the puppy potties outside. This helps motivate them to go outside again as it’s the only time they get this level of reward.
Over time, you will see your puppy immediately potty and run to you to get their treat. This is good, as we want to motivate them to potty outside every time we take them.
These are the five key fundamentals I use when working with clients on potty training. But keep in mind, you weren’t potty trained in a day, and your puppy won’t be either. Again, it will take time and consistency. But if you stick with it, your puppy will make incredible progress, quickly.
Until next time.