How To Potty Train A Puppy

By Chyrle Bonk, DVM June 04, 2020

New puppies are one of life’s greatest pleasures. They’re fun, energetic, playful, and not to mention cute! However, puppies aren’t always fun and games. You have the responsibility of teaching them manners, a few basic commands, maybe some tricks, and of course potty train them. Before you drop your shoulders and the smile leaves your face, I’m here to tell you that potty training doesn’t have to be difficult, drawn out, or even messy. Read on for some tips, tricks, and pointers to keep your floors dry and clean from puppy potty messes.

How Long Does It Take To Potty Train A Dog?

Potty training is going to look different for each puppy. Every dog is different in how they’ll respond to different methods. For some dogs, it may only take a couple of days, others are going to need a couple of weeks, maybe months. Puppies will take longer as they work out their bladder and bowel control. One thing is for sure, don’t expect an overnight success because you’re not going to get one. Also, expect there to be setbacks. Even though your pup may seem to have the routine down, there may be the occasional accident. The important thing to remember is to reward your pup for doing right and never scold them for an accident.

How Long Can A Puppy Hold Their Bladder?

Puppies don’t have the capacity or muscle coordination to hold it in for very long. A puppy can typically hold their bladder for the number of hours equal to their age in months. That means a newly weaned puppy of eight weeks (2 months) will be looking to go every two hours and won’t be able to make it through the night until they’re 8 months old. I hope you’re ready for that! This guideline works for puppies up to nine months old. After that, 10 to 12 hours is the maximum amount of time for any age dog holding their bladder before needing to go. So it’s going to be awhile before you can trust your puppy to stay at home alone all day while you’re at work. 

What Items Are Important When Potty Training A Puppy?

Fortunately, for most of us, potty training doesn’t require a lot of gadgets and gizmos. You will definitely want a leash to take your pup outside, treats for a reward, and a timer to stay on a potty schedule.

Other nice to haves will depend on your living situation. If you’re potty training at an indoor space, it is best to have potty pads or papers ready. A crate, baby gates, or an exercise pen to keep your little furry one confined is also recommended.

The Potty Training Process

Now let’s get to it, the step by step process of how to potty train a puppy.

  • Step 1: Set a potty schedule

When a puppy has a potty schedule, they will know when they can go and when they should hold it in. Knowing when your puppy is going to need to go will help ensure that your potty schedule is a success, so plan accordingly.

In general, puppies will need to go:

    • Just after waking up in the morning and from naps
    • Right before bed
    • After playing, eating, or drinking
    • After long periods of confinement

Once your puppy is mature enough to hold it in for several hours, you can start to rearrange the potty schedule to suit your needs. You may decide to take them out first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, when you get home from work, and just before going to bed.

This goes for a feeding schedule as well. Set up specific meal times, two or three times a day and stick with it. Pick up the food in between meals. This will help them stick to their potty schedule.

  • Step 2: Keep your puppy confined

Whether you choose a crate, laundry room, bathroom, or gated area, keep your pup in a small, easy to clean area when you can’t provide them with 100% of your attention. This will make accidents easier to manage.

If you can keep your eye on them, then they can be let out of their confined area. However, you want to be sure that you can catch any signals that your puppy needs to potty before there’s an accident. As your puppy progresses in potty training, they can start to roam through more and more of the house without you having to constantly watch over them.

  • Step 3: Take them out

Take your pup outside, or to their potty pad every 30 to 60 minutes. Remember, puppies that are just weaned are only capable of holding it in for up to 2 hours. So taking them out more frequently will help ensure that your puppy has a chance to potty before any accidents can occur.

Take them to the same spot every time you go out. That will encourage them to go even if they don’t think they have to. Familiar sights and smells will help them feel more comfortable as well.

Be consistent. Don’t let too much time go by in between your outings. Reward them with treats, praise, or pets every time they go.

You’ll need to continue this frequency until they start to potty outside or at their potty spot with some regularity.

  • Step 4: Choose a command

Here’s where you choose what you want your puppy to do when they need to go out. Some pups will bark, others will scratch at the door, and some will ring a bell. Whatever alert you choose, use it consistently every time you take them outside. Repeat as needed until your puppy understands the command.  For instance, when they ring that bell, they get to go outside.

  • Step 5: Keep them close

Until your puppy is fully potty trained, you will need to accompany them outside. This will help ensure your puppy’s safety and lets you to see what they did and didn’t do. Since a puppy can get distracted easily, having you out there to remind them of the task at hand will help prevent them from forgetting to go and having an accident inside.

Again, try to take them to familiar spots so that the sights and smells will encourage them to go. If you have a safe enclosure and you are able to trust your puppy to go on their own, then you will no longer have to go with them every time.

  • Step 6: Reward, reward, reward!

Tell them to keep up the good work with lots of praise and excitement every time your puppy goes outside to potty. Treats, pets, play, and praise are all good rewards. Never punish your dog for having an accident. Instead, figure out where things went wrong and try again the next time.

What To Do If Your Dog Keeps Having Potty Accidents

Even with the best potty training plan, there’s bound to be some problems in the execution. First of all, don’t worry about it. Stressing over accidents will only make it worse for your puppy. Remain calm and take a step back. You may have to start the potty training process from the beginning until your puppy gets it right.

  • Recognize the signals

Often potty training puppies can fail because you do not understand each other. Your puppy may be telling you that they need to go, but you don’t recognize their signals. So try to recognize the cues. Your puppy isn’t going to come over and tell you outright that they need to go potty. Instead, watch out for whining, pacing, or scratching the floor. They may even begin to posture like they’re going. If you notice any of these behaviors, get your pup outside or to their potty place quickly without making it scary. Praise and repeat as necessary.

  • Clean up accidents

You may notice that your pup keeps having accidents in the same place in your house. That’s probably because there’s still an odor there. Use enzymatic cleaners to completely remove the potty odor that keeps your puppy coming back for more. If you’re using indoor potties or potty pads, this may be a good spot to move them to since your puppy is already accustomed to going there.

  • Slow down training

Remember, young puppies just aren’t capable of holding it in for very long. If your puppy has taken a step backwards in the potty training process, it could be because they’re not ready to move on to the next step. Maybe you’re asking them to hold it in for longer than they can, or you don’t have them on a schedule that fits their biological needs.

Moreover, make sure you give your puppy enough time outside. Puppies will want to explore the sights and sounds of their environment before they defecate. If your puppy is still having frequent accidents, it may be because they’re being taken inside before they’ve had a chance to get the job done.

How To Potty Train An Older Dog

Adult dogs can be potty trained in the same way as puppies. Even though they’re capable of holding it for longer periods of time, that doesn’t mean they will. So, you’ll still need to take them out frequently in the beginning until they get the idea.

Older dogs, especially rescue dogs, may have some abuse problems or improper training in their past which makes potty training more difficult. There may be some other issues that you may have to overcome before starting the potty training routine with these dogs. For example, they may have trust issues or separation anxiety that leads to potty accidents. If that’s the case, get those issues worked out first. Just remain positive and speak with your veterinarian or a trainer if you’re experiencing problems.

When To Use Indoor Potties

Indoor dog potties are wonderful inventions for those dogs that don’t have easy access to the outside. For dogs living in apartments, an indoor potty can offer immediate relief rather than running up and down several flights of stairs every time a pup has to go.

Indoor dog potties are also great for cold, winter months when your pup doesn’t want to brave the snow and ice. For those of you that have seen a Chihuahua in the snow, you know what I mean. Rather than clothing your pup up each time they feel the urge to go, using an indoor dog potty will allow their feet to stay warm and dry.

Are Some Dog Breeds Easier To Potty Train Than Others?

Every dog parent will tell you that some dogs are easier to potty train than others. The difference is usually due to a mix of intelligence, fastidiousness, and eagerness to please. For this reason, herding and working dogs often top the list as the easiest dogs to potty train. Border collies, Australian Shepherds, Labs, Dobermans, Brittanys, and German Shepherds are often reported as the easiest.

That doesn’t mean that the smaller breed dogs aren’t easy to train. Bichon Frise, Maltese, Boston Terriers, and Miniature schnauzers can also be quite easy.


Potty training a puppy may sometimes feel like you’re stuck in a very messy and smelly rut. But with some consistency, perseverance, and resilience, you and your pup will be enjoying some puddle-free playtime before you know it.

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