Potty Training Your Puppy Doesn’t Have to Be a Nightmare
By Kristen Seymour
Potty training is one of the most important—and potentially aggravating—lessons you’ll teach your puppy. However, understanding what’s reasonable to expect from your furry little friend may give you some peace of mind. And if you follow these potty-training tips and steps with consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement, you’ll have a housetrained puppy within a few short weeks.
Step 1: Establish a routine
Create a potty-training schedule that takes your puppy’s age and meal times into consideration. Puppies—especially those that are very young—can only control their bladders for short periods of time. While every puppy is different, a puppy can typically go as many hours as they are months old plus one hour. So, a 3-month-old puppy may only be able to go without an accident for about four hours and that means he or she will need frequent trips outside. Puppies can often hold it for much longer overnight, especially as they get older, but you probably shouldn’t anticipate a full night’s sleep for the first stage of puppyhood.
It should also be noted that although a 6- or 7-month-old puppy can probably control their bladder for hours on end, it’s not okay to leave them alone in a crate all day. Puppies require regular exercise, affection, and mental stimulation as they develop.
The number of hours between potty breaks isn’t the only factor to consider. There are also specific events that should always be followed or preceded by a trip outside to go potty, at least in the beginning: when your puppy first wakes up in the morning or from a nap, right before your puppy goes to bed for the night, after a play session, after spending time in a crate (which we’ll discuss in Step 2), and especially after eating and drinking, because little puppies simply can’t hold what they consume for very long.
Sticking to a feeding schedule is a must. If possible, feed your puppy three small meals a day at set times, moving to two meals as they get older and have more control over their bodily functions. When it comes to water, you might want to restrict access to water for a couple of hours before bedtime.
Step 2: Limit opportunities to roam your home
It’s natural for your puppy to want to explore, but during the early potty training stages, this leads to easy opportunities for your puppy to relieve him- or herself in more remote corners of your house. Remember, your puppy’s brain is still in the early stages of development, so you can’t expect him or her to understand that going potty is an outdoors-only activity.
Most experts and veterinarians agree that crate training with a crate that’s just large enough for your puppy to stand up, turn around, and lay down in is a smart step to take when potty training. Your puppy may not understand why urinating on your rug is unacceptable, but naturally, they want to avoid soiling the area where they sleep. Placing them in a den-like crate when you are away not only gives them a cozy and safe spot to snooze, but also incentivizes them to control their bladders.
That’s not to say your puppy should spend all downtime crated. If you’re home and able to keep a close eye on your little one, that’s a perfect time to allow a little supervised exploration. When you’re home but otherwise occupied, you can use a pen or baby gate to keep your puppy within a small play area.
Step 3: Use consistent verbal and environmental cues to get your puppy to go
Consistency from everyone assisting with your puppy’s potty training is crucial, so decide on a few things early on.
First, choose a verbal cue, such as “Outside!”, that means it’s time to go out for a potty break. Put your puppy on a leash then go outside to a set potty spot. This spot acts as both a visual and olfactory reminder. (Your puppy will smell his or her previous eliminations and be reminded what to do.)
While your puppy relieves him- or herself, use another specific word or phrase (such as, “Potty!”). They’ll connect that word to the act and, as your puppy matures into a house trained adult dog, you’ll be able to use that phrase to get them to go potty on command.
Step 3: Praise, reward, and celebrate
Now, here’s the most important part: Once your puppy does their business, make a really big deal out of it. Praise and pet your puppy every time like they’ve achieved the most amazing feat imaginable so they look forward to potty breaks. You can even offer treats for a job well done if your pup is food motivated.
You should also praise them wholeheartedly when they go to the bathroom in any other acceptable place, whether that’s elsewhere in your yard during a play session, on a walk, or at a park. This will help them learn that while they shouldn’t let loose just anywhere, there are several acceptable options.
Constant trips outside and cleaning up puddles and piles can wear on a pet parent’s nerves. But if you find yourself becoming frustrated, think about how much love and laughter your puppy has already provided. Be confident that this trying time will pass—and when once your pooch is potty trained, it’ll all be so worthwhile.
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And remember, puppyhood is fast and is gone before you know it. Make sure to savor the time when your pup is young, and take lots of pictures along the way!