New puppies are adorable but they can also be a huge mess since they don’t yet know how to control their bladder. If you get a puppy that hasn’t been house broken, you’ll want to start potty training right away.
Potty training is usually thought of as something stressful and difficult. But if you follow the right steps and make sure you are both consistent and patient, you will be able to successfully potty train your dog relatively easily.
A Special Note on Potty Training Dogs
Potty training a dog is not the same as potty training a child. There are few important differences that require special attention:
- Dogs can’t speak to you: a child at potty training age has enough vocabulary to communicate their needs to you. A dog, on the other hand, has no language skills. At this young age, they might not even understand basic commands yet so you have to watch their behavior more closely.
- Reward and punishment are more challenging: you can easily tell a child that they will get a certain reward for using the potty as they are supposed to but a dog won’t know there’s a reward involved until after they show the right behavior. This can make the early stages a challenge but once they learn there’s a reward involved, they will start to make progress more quickly.
- Don’t start too young: before 12 weeks old, your puppy is too young to have enough bladder and bowel control for potty training. On the other hand, if they are older than 16 weeks and haven’t started potty training, expect the process to take a little longer since they will have already developed his own set of potty habits.
- Dog digestion is quick: keep in mind that your puppy will need to take a potty break 5-30 minutes after eating or drinking water. So make sure to take your puppy out soon after meal time.
Most Common Potty Training Mistakes to Avoid
Before we get into the potty training steps you want to follow, it’s important to make sure you approach the process the right way. If you make these mistakes, you might risk dragging out the potty training process or failing at it altogether.
This list contains common mistakes as well as a better option to replace that mistake.
- Punishing: some training requires negative reinforcement but potty training is not one of them. Your puppy is still learning to control his bladder and bowels so if he has an accident in the house, it’s not because he refuses to learn, it’s because he simply had an accident. Punishing him at this point will just teach him to fear you. Focus on using a reward system that rewards your puppy each time he does go outside or wherever he is supposed to. Also make sure you are paying close attention to his behavior to recognize signals that he needs to go. If you catch him in the act, clap loudly to get his attention and then take him outside by gently taking his collar or just calling him. When he finishes outside, give him a treat.
- Rubbing their nose in it: if you see the evidence but you didn’t catch him in the act, there is no point in rubbing their nose in it. They do not have the mental capacity to understand that your anger is related to their accident. Just clean it thoroughly and try to get the scent out as much as possible so your puppy doesn’t associate that spot with potty time. Use an enzymatic cleaner instead of ammonia-based cleaners to get a more thorough clean that will prevent your puppy from coming back to the same spot.
- Taking too short or too few breaks: at the beginning, your puppy will likely need extra time for exploring the outdoors. You want to make sure he gets comfortable with being outside so that he will be more comfortable doing his business there. Take him out often and let him explore a bit before bringing him back in.
- Using too big of a crate: Some people crate their pets. This is fine. But it should not be big enough that he could use a corner as a bathroom. Otherwise, that is exactly what he will do. If you do decide to use a crate for your puppy, you want to make sure it is just big enough for them to stand up and turn around, and no bigger than that. You should also make sure you are taking him out often enough so that he can relieve himself where he is supposed to.
- Being inconsistent: if you do not stick to a fairly rigid routine, you are going to make things more stressful for yourself and your dogs. A schedule is important for helping your dog make the correct associations. Follow a rigid schedule and make sure you always take your puppy out at the same times (and that you take him out often). Your routine should be so consistent that you even take him to the same exact spot outside to relieve himself. Consistency is absolutely key so that your puppy can learn when and where potty breaks should happen.
- Being impatient: impatience is what leads to punishing behavior and frustration. Potty training is not an overnight success. It takes time and it takes a few accidents along the way. Remain calm and stick with the routine even if you feel like it’s not working so well at the beginning. It just takes time for your puppy to make the right connections. You will not notice results right away.
A Step by Step Guide to Potty Training Your Puppy
Here is your complete step by step guide to potty training your puppy:
- Regulate feeding: in order to make potty breaks more predictable, it’s a good idea to start regulating the feeding schedule. Feed your puppy at the same time each day. The same applies to water. Remove the food and water after feeding time is over so that they can’t snack in between.
- Take him out more often than he needs: start taking your puppy outside for potty breaks every 30 minutes to an hour. Even if he doesn’t go, it will get him used to the habit of going outside.
- Always take him at specific times: there are a few key times when you always want to take him out for a potty break. This includes right after he wakes up, right after a nap, right before he goes to sleep, and right before you are planning to leave him alone at home.
- Always take him to the same spot: take your puppy to the same spot outside to take care of business. The scent of older breaks will trigger his need to go. And it will also start to strongly build the link between potty time and going outside so that he learns where he should do it.
- Stay with him when he is out: don’t just let your dog out and close the door. Go out with him and stay there until he is finished. Puppies are scared, curious, and still learning. Until you see that he is well trained, you want to stay with him to make sure he is following the routine.
- Give rewards: bring treats with you to give him right after he goes. Rewards help really reinforce the good behavior. In addition to treats, you can also reward him with a walk around the neighborhood.
During this training period, it is important that you pay extra close attention to your puppy’s behavior. Check for these signs that he needs to go:
- Walking in circles (especially if they are doing it around you).
- Scratching at the door
Take him out as soon as you notice any of these signs. This not only helps you catch him before he goes in the house, but it also teaches him that you are aware and responsive to his signals. Eventually, he will likely develop one specific signal to tell you it’s time for a potty break.
Be prepared for some frustrating moments early on stick with it even through these tough beginnings because eventually, your patience and consistency will pay off. For most puppies, it takes anywhere from 4 to 6 months to fully potty train. Some can take as long as a year.