How to Toilet Train a Puppy?

House training (or potty training) may be one of the most important things you do with your new puppy. Everyone—whether two- or four-legged—is happier when puppy knows the rules of where and when to go potty. As you work on potty training for a puppy, keep in mind that it’s natural for a puppy to view the whole world as one giant potty area. The keys to teaching your puppy where to take potty breaks are regular outings, proper management, appropriate supervision and positive reinforcement. (Punishment has no place in potty training!) It is a process that takes both time and patience, but you and your puppy can master this important task. 

So how long does it take to potty train a puppy? That largely depends on how consistent you are and how long your puppy can hold it. (Small breed puppies typically have a harder time holding it than large breed puppies, for example.) Some dogs get it within a  week, but personally I think two-three weeks is more of a reasonable exception, but it can take longer, especially with male dogs (my beagle boy was not reliable until 18 months or so!). As noted before, it largely depends on how consistent you are; if you are not around enough to notice the accidents when they happen, it will take longer for your puppy to understand the rules.

Things you need for Potty Training a Puppy

  • Collar
  • Hands-free 3-4 foot non-retractable leash
  • 15-foot non-retractable leash
  • Newspaper or Cardboard flattened
  • Tasty small-sized treats
  • Carpet cleaner for pet stains
  • Mops and floor cleaner
  • Lots of love!

Proper management and supervision are crucial to successful house training. Until your puppy is fully house trained, make sure your puppy is always either managed or supervised. By management I mean either a confined space in the house where you don’t mind him to go or crate.

If you are going to crate train your puppy, make sure the puppy is comfortable in the crate. It should be just big enough for your puppy to turn around and lie down, but not much larger. That way, the puppy can stretch out a little, but they can’t potty in the corner and then snooze comfortably in another corner.

Pottying that happens outside is an opportunity for positive reinforcement for going in the right place, and the more often you reinforce appropriate pottying, the faster your puppy will be house trained. It’s still important to keep an eye on the puppy, though, so you know if the puppy has pottied or not. 

How can I tell if my pup wants to go to the toilet?

There are a couple of classic signs to watch out for, such as your pup looking around the room or sniffing and circling certain areas, particularly the floor or near the door they would usually use to visit the garden.

Steps to house-train a puppy

  1. Take your puppy out at least once every 30 minutes
    Take your puppy out on a lead, which will help your puppy learn to potty on a lead in general, which is useful since you’ll probably want your dog to potty on walks at some point. It also keeps the puppy from running around and getting distracted by all the interesting things around them.
  2. Give your puppy 5 minutes, watching the whole time to see if the puppy pees or poops.
    Stand still in one spot, in an area where it’s OK for your puppy to potty. Quietly watch the puppy. By standing still, you keep the puppy in a small enough area that they will get bored with exploring fairly quickly and focus on pottying faster. By keeping quiet, you help your puppy stay focused on pottying, instead of interacting with you.
  3. Praise and offer a treat if the puppy pees or poops outside within 5 minutes.
    Wait until the puppy has finished pottying. You don’t want to interrupt the puppy and have them finish that potty indoors! As soon as you’re sure the puppy is done pottying, offer praise and hand them a tasty treat. NOTE: If puppy does not pee or poop within five minutes, that’s OK. Take your puppy back inside for 10 to 20 minutes. After 10 or 20 minutes, go back to Step 1.
  4. After the puppy pees or poops, give the puppy off-lead fun time.
    Fun time can take place outdoors if it’s a safe area to be off lead (and if your puppy likes being outdoors), or indoors under supervision if outdoors is not an option (or if your puppy doesn’t want to stay outdoors). Giving your puppy off-lead fun time once the puppy pees or poops teaches the puppy that pottying leads to more fun.
    Most importantly, avoid the common mistake of confining the puppy right after they potty. If you bring the puppy back to their confinement area right after a successful mission, they learn that pottying ends the fun. Then they may start to wait longer and longer to potty, which is the opposite of what you want, right?
  5. Repeat these steps throughout the day.
    Give your puppy lots of chances to potty in an appropriate potty area. Then use positive reinforcement (treats, play, praise) to encourage your puppy to keep pottying in those areas. The more times your puppy gets it right (and the fewer times your puppy has an accident), the faster your puppy will learn the routine.

In addition to regular 30-minute potty breaks, take your puppy to the potty area at these likely potty times:

  • After eating
  • After drinking
  • After 5-10 minutes of play or other vigorous activity
  • Immediately after waking up from a nap

The importance of feeding schedule

One good way to get toilet-training under control is to put your puppy on a feeding schedule. In addition to pottying right after eating, many puppies potty again some regular period of time after eating. If you note a) when you feed your puppy and b) when your puppy potties between meals, you can start to find patterns. Use your notes to make sure your puppy always goes out to a potty area at the right times after eating.

With a feeding schedule, you give your puppy regular meals, at regular times, rather than leaving the food bowl out all the time. Fixed meal times make it easier to set up a schedule of potty breaks. The right feeding schedule depends on age, size and what suits you most. However, up to the age of 6 months, it’s advisable to feed your puppy 3 times a day.

What if my puppy potties in the wrong place?

If you see your puppy having an accident, calmly take the puppy outside and then praise and offer a treat for going in the right place. Fight the urge to yell or scold! Punishing your puppy, whether that’s by yelling and scolding or pushing the puppy’s nose into the urine, will not help.

Punishing your puppy usually teaches them to pee and poop where you can’t see them. In other words, they won’t stop doing it in the house; they’ll just hide before they do their business. This is because puppies often misinterpret punishment to mean they shouldn’t potty in front of you. The nuance that the punishment was about pottying indoors may be totally lost on them.

Clean up past accidents thoroughly

The odour from past accidents is like a “restroom” sign for your dog. Identify the spot and use a simple mix of water and white vinegar (50:50). Do not use bleach as it has ammonia in, which is also found in urine! After you clean, get on your hands and knees and sniff the area to make sure the smell is gone. You may also want to sniff other areas, just in case—you’d be amazed how many “missed” pee spots I’ve found this way!

Cheat Sheet

  1. Take your puppy to a potty area (outdoors or indoors) on a lead at least once every 30 minutes while you are home and awake. At night, one or two outings are enough for most puppies.
  2. Stand still and quietly watch to see if the puppy pees or poops. 
  3. Praise and offer a treat as soon as the puppy finished its business. If the puppy does not do anything, that’s OK—take the puppy back inside for 10 to 20 minutes, and then outside again.
  4. After the puppy pees or poops, play with the puppy outdoors, or give puppy up to 15 minutes of carefully supervised time in the house (whichever the puppy prefers).
  5. Repeat these steps throughout the day.


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