How To Potty Train a Puppy and Make Sure it Sticks

Learn how to potty train a puppy the right way so you never get that nasty, smelly surprise when you come home. Most dog owners don’t know there’s a second, important part to the process.

how to potty train a puppy - can you read the signs?


There are Two Parts to Potty Training

The first part everyone knows about. It’s the teaching part, educating your puppy on where they should be going potty. We’ll take you through the steps and include some great tips to help your success.

The second part is psychology element that most people miss. When your fully-potty-trained dog leaves you a present in the middle of the living room (or worse, on your bed), it isn’t because they’ve forgotten where they should go potty. All that training didn’t suddenly leave their mind. No, that’s the sign of a different problem and we’ll cover that for you too.

First, let’s deal with the basics.



Part 1: Education

Puppies are adorable, but they do have tiny little bladders so they need to pee frequently.

As a general guide, puppies can hold on for about one hour for every month of age, plus a little more. Expect a three month old puppy will need a pee every 3-4 hours, more often if it’s a smaller breed.

At What Age Do You Start To Potty Train Your Puppy?

Puppies are infants until they are 12 to 16 weeks old, and they don’t have sufficient control over their bodily functions to be potty trained.

Other training starts the moment you get them home, e.g. establishing a routine, using ‘no’ and ‘good’ consistently, but potty training will need to wait if they are too young.

Also, be prepared for the long haul because training your puppy takes time. You will need to keep your potty training routine in place consistently for 4 – 6 months.


Getting Prepared

Preparation is key in so many aspects of dog training. Everyone involved needs to know how to potty train a puppy and exactly how it will be done at your house.

Decide these things ahead of time:

i. Where exactly you want your puppy to go potty

ii. What words you will all use to prompt your puppy to go

iii. What treat will be reserved specifically for potty training

Let’s explore all of these a little more, one by one.


i. Decide Where Exactly You Want Your Puppy to Go Potty

Assuming for now you have an outdoor area, you need to pick a spot. (We’ll deal with apartments soon).

You don’t want your entire yard to be the potty patch, just one area. Having said that, at the very start of potty training anywhere outdoors is a win.

how to potty train a puppy - find that target

Anywhere on the grass is a good start

A great trick is to define the area using pieces of wood so your puppy can see the area as distinct from the rest of the yard. Start with the area much larger than the final plan and progressively sneak the timber in over time. The reason you start with a large area is so you set your puppy up for success – it’s a bigger target. Potty training is all about rewarding success.

Give a moment’s thought to the weather. Do you have any cover for the area you’r setting up for potty? You can’t interrupt training just because it’s raining!


Puppy Potty Supplies


Dealing with Distance

Whether your dog’s potty place is indoor or outdoor, you need to consider how far those little legs need to travel with a full bladder. Keep your puppy’s bed or crate near the door if you’re training them to go outside. You can click through to learn more about crates for dogs and puppy crate training.


Secure Puppy Crates


Dealing with Apartment Living

In apartments, it’s best to have the potty pad inside the play pen but diagonally opposite the position of the bed. This opposite-corners arrangement works with your puppy’s nature. When they’re tiny, their mother cleans them so they never associate their place of sleep with any potty smells. They will naturally move away from their bed to go potty.

If your puppy won’t have easy access to a suitable grassy area, you’ll need a little artificial yard, like this one.

how to potty train a puppy - indoor toilet

Click for more information


ii. Decide What Words Everyone Will Use to Prompt Your Puppy to Go Potty

It doesn’t matter what the word or phrase is, so long as everyone uses the same words. It can be as simple as ‘Go Potty’, but that’s up to you. Everyone involved in the puppy potty training needs to say the same thing and in the same calm tone. We’ll touch on that some more later.


iii. Decide What Treat Will be Reserved Specifically for Potty Training

The key to proper potty training is positive reinforcement through rewards. That includes praise, but it must also include treats. Not just any treat, but a high value one in the eyes of your puppy. The treat shouldn’t be large, but it must be tasty and ideally moist. Small pieces of cheese or boiled chicken can work well, but see what your puppy responds to best. Click through for more information on how to use dog treats.

Once you have decided on the potty training treat, use it only as a potty training success reward.

Be organised so you always have some on hand, and make sure you take them with you when you’ve put your puppy in their potty patch.

Puppy Treats – Yum Yum!

To keep your puppy on the right track with ongoing potty training make sure you’ve always got some treats on hand!


OK, you’re almost prepared. You know:

  • the target area
  • what to say as a prompt, and
  • what to use as a treat.

Your final preparation is for everyone involved to know how to potty train a puppy, and that’s our next section.



How to Potty Train a Puppy – The Process

This is an education process, where you teach your puppy where to go and reward them for every success.

It’s a process where you teach your puppy the right place to go, not one where you punish them for going to the wrong place. There are good reasons you should do it this way.

Negative Impacts of Negative Training

If you catch your puppy in the act of peeing in the corner of your lounge room and you chastise them, all they learn is that that corner of your lounge room is not right. They’ll try another corner. Keep chastising and they’ll find places to hide before they go potty in order to avoid the punishment. Dogs can even develop a complex where they’ll eat their own mess in order to cover up the crime! We don’t want that.

No chastising or punishment, please.

When Accidents Happen
how to potty train a puppy - eliminate odours with enzymes

Click for more information

If you catch an accident about to happen, pick up your puppy and rush them to their potty spot. If they finish their business in the proper place, reward and praise them as if they’d done the whole thing there.

When there’s any mess inside, clean it up using an enzyme based cleaner to eradicate the smell. Dogs use smell as one way to know where to go, so the desired potty area will start to smell right over time. You don’t want anywhere indoors to smell right too.


If you have an older dog already trained for the potty spot, this is a great advantage as the area will already have the right smell.

Don’t Forget to Clean Up the Potty Area Too

Before we leave the topic of cleaning, you also need to keep the potty area fairly clean. Your puppy doesn’t like putting their foot into doggy-do any more that you do. Make sure it doesn’t become an obstacle course. (You don’t use the enzyme cleaner for this area, naturally).


Fundamental Parts to the Process

  1. Get your puppy to the potty area before they need to go potty
  2. Use your encouragement words, and WAIT
  3. Praise them and give them their special treat immediately they do their business
  4. Rinse and repeat, consistently, for months.


Timing, Timing, Timing

Timing is the most important element in how to potty train a puppy, in more ways than one.

You want to have your puppy already in the potty area every time they need to go. They need to make an association between the area and going potty before they’ll ever think to take themselves there. That association can take a couple of weeks to take hold, so be patient.

Timing Tip #1. As soon as they wake up, take them there.

The moment your puppy steps off their bed or out of their crate, get them out to their spot. Their bladder will have filled up while they napped.

Timing Tip #2. As soon as they finish eating, take them there.

Most puppies will need a bowel movement 5 – 30 minutes after eating. Have some outdoor time while that clock runs down, and have those treats ready to go.

Timing Tip #3. Set your routine in stone.

Puppies find routines to be calming, and routines have the added benefit of making toilet time predictable as well. Feed your puppy at the same times every day, and the other bodily functions will follow. We recommend you make time last feed for around 4 pm.

Timing Tip #4. Set the alarm.

Although a puppy’s metabolism slows down overnight, young ones will still need a night time trip. If you have people in your house with different sleep patterns, you might get away with the last person to bed putting puppy out and also the early riser taking them for a trip. Otherwise, you’ll have to set that alarm.


Just Wait

When you’ve taken your puppy to their potty spot, be calm and be patient. Use your ‘go potty’ words in a calm manner. Don’t excite your puppy or make them anxious – you should exude calmness so they can relax. And then you wait and watch. A big part of how to potty train a puppy is simply waiting.

how to potty train a puppy, with patience

Your patience will be rewarded.


If your puppy is wanting to run around you may need to put a long line on them so it’s easy to keep control. A long line is a lightweight rope that you clip to your puppy and allow to trail behind them as they run around, making it easy for you to catch them. You’ll use this tool again when you train your dog to come, every time.


So, be prepared with your treat, be patient, and wait.


Give the Gold

As soon as your puppy goes potty in the right place, praise them and give them the special treat. You need to be quick, so it’s easy for your puppy to form the correct association. It needs to happen within seconds, so be ready.

This positive reinforcement of  the correct behavior is at the core of your training.


Keep Going

You will be tempted to easy off the training when your puppy starts regularly going in the right spot. Resist that temptation. Quitting early is not how to potty train a puppy!

As we said at the start, this process will take 4 – 6 months. Don’t stop early. Your puppy has learned what you expect, but you must reinforce that learning again and again.


Well done. That’s Part 1: Education, complete. You now know how to potty train a puppy. Next we’ll deal with making sure it sticks.


How to Potty Train a Puppy

Part 2: Psychology

This is where it can all go so terribly wrong.

As your young puppy starts to grow and becomes an adolescent, some time from 6 -18 months of age, they will start to test their boundaries. They will work out where they fit in your household, which in their eyes is a pack. They will test your authority.

If you handle this incorrectly, your adolescent can start to think they are the top dog. You will have the pack leader problem.

how to potty train a puppy - big problems if they think they are the pack leader

Dog psychology stems from their wild roots. Every dog needs to know their place in the pack.

The pack leader problem affects all aspects of your dog’s behavior, but for this article we’ll stick to how it can ruin your carpet. Here are two examples.

Example 1: Marking 

When a dog thinks they might be the pack leader, they can feel the need to prove it. This can manifest in defecation in shoes or on beds, often picking on the youngest member of the house. This marking behavior is more prevalent in male un-neutered dogs.

Example 2: The Scent Beacon

When a dog thinks they are the pack leader, the full responsibility for the pack falls on their shoulders. When one of their pack wanders away (say, you go to work), the pack leader needs to get the pack back together. Otherwise they can’t protect you.

Often this causes constant barking, a calling of the pack, but sometimes your frustrated pack leader decides to use scent to help the lost pack members find their own way home. In this instance, you’ll find the surprise right in the middle of a room.

When these problems happen, your young dog hasn’t forgotten their training. They still know the right place to go. They just have more important issues to deal with.



Easy to Avoid

You know how to potty train a puppy. Now you need to know how to avoid it going bad.

Fortunately, the pack leader problem is easy to avoid when you know how. It’s best to start your puppy off right and avoid the problem altogether, but it is still curable in older dogs.

Doggy Dan the Online Dog Trainer has distilled the principles you need to apply into 5 Golden Rules. Every responsible dog owner needs to know and apply these simple and gentle principles. They will firmly establish you as the pack leader, keeping that impossible burden well away from your dog.

Start learning these important principles today. Take up the 3 day trial offer from Doggy Dan (click the green button below), and go straight to the 5 Golden Rules for Pack Leadership. You (and your dog) will be glad you did.

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