5 Steps to Potty Train a Puppy

Follow these comprehensive steps to toilet train your puppy and settle them into a new home.

Mar 5, 2024By Donna Hobson
steps to potty train puppy

Bringing a new puppy home is a special moment you’ll never forget. As they transition into a new life with you, they’ll have so many new routines and rules to adapt to that it can be challenging to know where to start.

You’ll soon notice that toilet training is a priority as puppies pee a lot and have very little control over their bladders. Teaching them where and when to eliminate is the first step in making them feel safe and comfortable in their new home.

Start as Early as Possible

dog pooping on grass
Credit: Image by Petra on Pixabay

Whether picking up an 8-week-old puppy or adopting a dog from the shelter, you’ll want to start toilet training as soon as possible. Experts say the best time to begin potty training with a dog is between 12 and 16 weeks old.

You can also train older dogs - for example, those you have adopted from a shelter - to learn the routine of your home and where they should go to the toilet. Establishing a routine early on helps your dog to feel comfortable and reduces stress.

On average, it takes four to six months for a puppy to become fully reliable at toileting, but it varies depending on the dog. Smaller breeds may take longer to train because they only have tiny digestive systems which don’t allow them to hold for very long. On the other hand, some dogs can take to toilet training in just a few weeks with a consistent routine.

Designate a Toilet Area

puppy sitting on the grass
Credit: Image by Lucian Aeris on Pixabay

Establishing a designated toilet spot is one of the most critical steps in toilet training your puppy. A spare corner of your backyard or patch of dirt works well; avoid letting them eliminate near vegetable patches as their feces carry parasites that can contaminate your food.

By the time you adopt a puppy - at the age of 8 weeks or older - they’ll already have a pretty good idea of where they like to eliminate. Preferred options include grass, bark chips, linoleum, dirt, pads, etc. Still, you need to pick one area and consistently direct them to that medium.

Each time you take them outside to go to the toilet, direct them to their toilet area. Over time, they will learn that this is the spot where you would like them to go to the toilet. Not only that, but they will start to track their scent and become familiar with the area. The feeling of that specific area beneath their feet can also help create a sense of familiarity.

When you first bring a new puppy home, you may want to keep them in a designated space - a room in your house or a crate - until they learn where they can go to the toilet. This helps to prevent too many accidents from occurring in undesired spaces. As you work through the training program, you’ll be able to let them roam around your house more freely.

Set a Schedule and Be Consistent

puppy sitting outside
Credit: Image by Karen Warfel on Pixabay

To help avoid accidents, it’s best to set up a schedule that allows frequent toilet breaks. Take your puppy outside first thing in the morning and every hour through the rest of the day. Remember that some dogs - especially small breeds - may need to go to the toilet more frequently as they have not yet learned proper bladder control.

In addition, allow your puppy to go out before and after the following:

  • Sleeping
  • Eating and Drinking
  • Playtime
  • Anything else that excites them (such as meeting new people)

Signs that your puppy might need to take a potty break include circling, whining, sniffing the floor, or scratching the door. Pay attention to telltale signs and do your best to accommodate them before accidents occur.

Puppies require a lot of toilet breaks until they learn how to control their bladders. This usually happens at around six months, when they should be able to start holding their bladders for as long as six hours (though you should still aim to toilet them more often).

Consistency is key and sticking to a schedule with other elements of your puppy’s life can help with potty training. For example, meal times feed into toilet times, so if you serve their food at the same time each day, you might find that it helps to keep their toilet breaks regular. During this time, it can also be helpful to take their food away between meals (but always keep fresh water available).

Plan Ahead for Night-Time

dog lying in bed at night
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Night time can be one of the most challenging elements of toilet training; you need to sleep, so it’s difficult to keep an eye on your puppy and waking up every hour to take them to the toilet probably doesn’t sound too appealing.

The good news is that many puppies, even those who are only eight weeks old, will already have learned not to soil the bed. No one wants to sleep in a bed full of pee and poop, so the puppy’s mother would encourage them to consistently move away from the bed when they want to toilet.

For this reason, providing your puppy with a restricted area - such as a crate - to sleep in means they’re more likely to try and hold. These restricted areas also prevent your young pup from wandering through hazardous areas of your home while you’re sleeping.

You’ll still need to get up every four hours or so to allow them to relieve themselves, but you can minimize accidents by planning. Keep your puppy’s supper time to 7 pm at the latest (bearing in mind that digestion takes at least four hours) and have a gentle game with them an hour before bed to help stimulate digestion and make them more likely to eliminate before bed.

Tiring them out also makes them more likely to sleep for longer periods without interruption.

Deal With Accidents

dog pooping outside
Credit: Image by Simon Kadula on Pixabay

The best way to deal with accidents is by taking the necessary steps to prevent them from happening in the first place. When your puppy needs to go to the toilet, it will engage in several behaviors, all signs that they’re about to eliminate. These include:

  • Sniffing the floor
  • Fidgeting or becoming restless
  • Walking around in circles
  • Squatting
  • Pacing
  • Whining

Paying extra attention to your dog during this phase of their life can help make the toilet training process smoother and helps avoid embarrassing accidents for your puppy. Still, no matter how hard you try, accidents will happen, and you must deal with them appropriately. Avoid getting angry with your dog, as it’s very unlikely they’ve done it on purpose, and your reaction could make them anxious and fearful.

If you see your dog going to the toilet somewhere they shouldn’t be, say “no” in an authoritative voice and move them to their toileting area. Clean the area with ammonia-free products to remove the scent.

Most importantly, offer a reward every time that they do something right. This could be praise, treats, or a toy. Let them know every time they get something right and allow them to build positive associations with doing the right thing.

Donna Hobson
By Donna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.