How To Potty Train A Puppy

By Sarah Jeanne Terry
Portrait of brown puppy with bokeh background
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Let's get something straight — puppies are adorable. With their tiny little bodies, their curious eyes, and their oversized feet, they could melt even the coldest of hearts. But what new dog owners sometimes don't realize is that puppies are also a TON of work. If you're thinking about adding a new bundle of adorable fur to your life, just make sure you're ready for the new family member that's about to enter your life. Because we can't JUST enjoy the cuteness.

Of course, when you first get a puppy, one of the first concerns is potty training. Dogs naturally want to do their business outside, but because so many dogs live inside, they need a little guidance about where exactly the right place is to go. And as with most dog training, there's a little human training involved in housebreaking as well. Here, we've collected a few simple tips to help get your new puppy house trained.

German Shepherd puppy
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Step 1: Invest in a crate.

This is one of the best things you, as the owner, can do to help teach your dog to wait before they go potty. Dogs do not like doing their business where they sleep, so being confined will naturally help them learn to hold it a little. In order for the crate to work, your dog should be able to stand, lie down, and turn around, but that's about it. You don't want your dog to have enough room to pee in the corner and then comfortably curl up farther away. Crates are also a great way to keep your puppy from destroying the house. BUT make sure that your little fluff ball doesn't spend too much time confined.

Step 2: Understand that a puppy needs to potty OFTEN.

There's a simple formula for how long a pup can hold it: Puppy's AGE in months + 1 = HOURS they can hold it. That means a 2-month-old puppy can hold it for three hours. Make sure you take your pup out to potty at least this often, if not more. Staying on top of their potty clock will lessen the chances for accidents and speed up potty training.

Morning walk with dog
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Step 3: Create a routine and stick to it.

Now that you know how often your puppy will have to potty, put together a schedule and try to take them out at about the same time. Also, creating and following a feeding schedule will help as well, because that will help solidify their potty schedule. Also, make sure to honor the 15-minute rule. A general rule is that puppies will need to potty within 15-minutes of eating, drinking, playing, or waking up from a nap. If you take them out within that 15-minutes, you'll make it much less likely that accidents will happen. So make sure when you schedule your puppy's meals, you feed them 10-15 minutes before you plan to take them out.

Belgian shepherd puppy biting and pulling leg against white background
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Step 4: Take note of the signs that your dog has to go potty.

Dogs send us lots of signals that they need to use the bathroom, but we humans take a little while to learn them. Try to take note of the signals that your dog needs to go to the bathroom. These could include barking, nipping at feet, going to the door, sniffing, or circling. But remember, not all dogs exhibit the same signs, so take note of your puppies behavior before accidents, as that will give you a clearer picture of their "I gotta go" signals.

Pipi on the grass
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Step 5: Pick a potty spot outside and always take your pup there.

When it's potty time, immediately take your pup to that spot every time. They'll quickly learn to associate that spot with potty time.

Step 6: When your puppy goes to its potty spot, praise and reward.

As with so many positive behaviors during training, when our cute little puppy does what we want, we want to immediately offer them a reward in the form of praise, a treat, or both. Reinforce positive behavior in your pup as much as possible, so that they learn that they get rewards when they repeat it.

dog pee
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Step 7: Don't punish your dog for accidents.

Accidents WILL happen with a new puppy, and it's important not to punish them when they do. When a human rubs a dog's nose in the mess or yells at them after the fact, the dog has NO idea what it means. Punishing your dog in these ways just freaks your dog out. So even though you're mad, just calmly clean it up and stick to the plan. However, you can interrupt your dog. If your dog is in the middle of the accident, make a loud noise to distract them. If they stop, try to hurry and bring them outside to their potty spot. When they finish their business outside, reward them as usual.

Puppy training pads.
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A note about peepee pads.

In case you didn't know, there are special pads you can buy made for dogs to urinate in the house. The reviews on these are mixed. On the one hand, they have a scent that tells dogs "pee here," and they absorb the messes. This can be great when you need to leave your puppy in a room for a little longer than their little bladders can handle.

However, on the other hand, some experts argue that training a dog on a pad can confuse them later when they're not allowed to pee in the house. Personally, my puppy quickly learned to pee on the pads, and when she was a little older, we stopped using them and she didn't seem to notice.

Sweet dream. Toy-terrier dog sleeping with her girl owner
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And remember, always have patience with your pup.

Puppies are new to the world and learning SO much. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt. They will take a lot of time and attention in these early stages, but stick with it, and you'll soon find that you have an adorable AND well-trained pup. And isn't that the dream?

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