How to Potty Train Your New Puppy

Is there an easy solution to potty training? Do pee pads and housetraining sprays that supposedly attract your puppy to a potty spot really work? Occasionally,they MIGHT work. More often than not, they will only work the first few times before your puppy discovers that he can pee wherever he likes. This happens because the owner did not invest time in properly potty training their puppy.

You may not want to hear this, but potty training requires close to 24 hour management and supervision that, I believe, is best handled by the family within your own home. I encourage puppy owners to do their own potty training for two reasons: 1) To challenge the family to truly get involved in the care and raising of their new family member, and 2) to let the family establish a routine to incorporate the puppy’s needs early on.

Of course, you could hire a trainer or send your puppy to a board-and-train facility to learn about going potty in the right spot, but to be frank, this to me doesn’t seem a good foundation for your developing relationship with your new dog. Granted, some people (especially first-time dog owners) haven’t got a clue how to go about it. And in that case you can certainly come to me for advice. Here are some tips for what you need to do to become successful in potty training your new puppy:


Supervision and preventing mistakes is extremely important

The most important thing is that you remain hyper-vigilant and as much as possible prevent any potty accidents from happening, ever. Every accident that happens will be a setback in your training, plus cleaning up is a pain in the butt!

To make sure your puppy remains supervised and to prevent accidents, Dr. Sophia Yin (in her book Perfect Puppy in 7 Days) recommends one of the following:

  1. Keep your puppy in a crate during rest periods or when you are unavailable to supervise him. For more advice on Crate Training, CLICK HERE
  2. Keep him in a puppy-proofed and potty-safe area (similar to Dr. Dunbar’s long-term confinement area, described below)
  3. Tether your puppy to you as you are moving around the house (this keeps him from having potty accidents AND from getting into trouble with no-no items)
  4. Directly supervise your puppy: That means you must put your mobile device down and BE THERE physically and mentally while your puppy is moving around your house.

What do I do when accidents happen?

To be honest, even the most vigilant of puppy owners can expect a few accidents to happen throughout this process – Maybe you overslept, or maybe you had to take an extremely important phone call – In the few seconds that you took your eyes off your pup, he’s managed to stain the wood parquet or soil the living room carpet. It happens. Don’t scold your puppy after the fact or rub his nose in the mess. All that will do is cause him to distrust you, and he may end up trying to hide his next potty activity from you. Clean up the mess, learn from your mistake and be more vigilant next time.

Your best bet for thoroughly cleaning the smell of pee or poop out of your flooring is to use an enzymatic cleaner. An enzymatic cleaner helps break down scent particles that if left uncleaned may attract your puppy to go potty in the same area.


Where should my puppy go potty?

The choice of potty substrate or surface is ultimately up to you. Eventually, the surface that he has had the most opportunities to do his business on in puppyhood – whether because of potty accidents or because you trained him to do so – is the kind of surface that he will seek out from then on.


How often and when do I need to take my puppy to go potty?

As a general rule of thumb, your puppy can hold his pee for a number of hours equal to the puppy’s age in months, that is: if your puppy is 2 months old, he’ll need to be taken out every 2 hours; if he is 3 months old, every 3 hours; if 4 months old, every 4 hours, and so on up to about 8 months to 1 year of age when the puppy has developed some bladder control.

It is also a good idea to take your puppy to his potty spot immediately after waking up in the morning or after a nap, and a few minutes after meal times and water breaks. Excitement and play can also stimulate the bowels, so take him to his potty spot after a play session as well.

Watch out for signs that your puppy is about to do his business: sniffing and circling are puppy-speak for “Here it comes!” Be ready to rush to your puppy’s potty spot with him whenever you see these signs.


Potty time

Make sure your puppy is fast on your heels as you encourage him to rush with you to the potty spot. Any stops midway between here and there are an invitation for a potty accident to happen. Avoid picking up your puppy to deliver him to his potty spot as you don’t want your puppy to become dependent on you picking him up to get to where he is supposed to pee or poop.

Having your puppy on leash may be necessary to guide him to his spot and to keep him in that area. So have him wear his collar at all times and keep his leash within reach.

If you catch your puppy in the act of relieving himself where he is not supposed to, say “No!” or “A-ah!” not to reprimand him, but just to interrupt him. Pick him up and rush him to the proper potty area.

Once at the potty spot, watch until your puppy is done with his business. Now, remember: – and this is extremely important – praise and reward your puppy immediately after he’s done.


What happens AFTER he potties?

“Empty” puppies are allowed free time in areas around the house. Once you’re sure that your puppy has done his business – he can be declared “empty” and may have a few minutes of supervised exploring- and play-time in areas around the house that are no-potty zones. Continue keeping an eye on your puppy at all times as he goes exploring or plays – an accident may yet happen in but a few unsupervised seconds.

Don’t make the mistake of immediately locking your puppy up inside his crate every time he is done relieving himself. Some puppy’s are smart enough to quickly recognize the pattern in such a routine and may learn to hold their pee and poop just so they can prolong their “outside” time.


What if he doesn’t go when I take him to his spot?

If your puppy gets distracted or for some other reason won’t relieve himself when you’ve taken him to his potty area, wait for up to 5 minutes. Then, if he still hasn’t relieved himself, take him back to his crate. Wait another 15 minutes before letting him out to the potty spot again.

In the first few days of potty training, you may have to repeat this routine a few more times before your puppy actually relieves himself and you are able to reward and praise him for doing it in the proper place. Trust me, your vigilance and patience will pay off in the long run, and with time the puppy will learn this routine.


What if I can’t take my puppy out every so often during the day?

In a Filipino household, there is typically always someone left at home (either a relative or house help) to watch over the puppy while you are away. This makes it easier to stick to the training schedule, but you do have to make sure that all other household members are on board with your potty training program.

However, if you live alone and have to go to work or go to school, Dr. Ian Dunbar (in his book Before and After Getting Your Puppy) recommends providing a long-term confinement area for your puppy for times when you need to leave him for more than just a few hours at a time. The long term-confinement area is either a puppy-proofed room or an enclosure like a secure exercise pen. In it you will place the puppy’s crate or a sleeping area such as a bed or mat, water in a bowl, and lots of appropriate chewtoys such as stuffed Kongs to keep your puppy occupied while you are away.  You can read about Kong Toy Stuffing Ideas HERE.

One part of the long-term confinement area will be covered with your chosen potty substrate – this could be a patch of grass (artificial or real), soil or sand in a sandbox, absorbent pee pads, etc.


Night time
At night, your puppy should be confined to his crate. Take away your puppy’s water bowl during the night, and make sure he’s had one last chance to empty his bladder before bedtime. Your puppy will be alright if he is crated throughout the night (although some young pups may need a midnight potty trip) but do make an effort to wake up early to let your puppy out, first thing in the morning.


How long will it take to potty train my dog?
If you can keep accidents from happening, and strictly stick to your schedule, your puppy will develop a good potty habit within a month or two. But do maintain the potty schedule as appropriate for your puppy’s age because even though he will try to hold in his pee (or poop) in anticipation of being let out to the potty area, his bladder control is still in development. Don’t expect your puppy will hold it in for longer than he is actually capable, or even if he does, you just might predispose him to urinary tract problems.


Puppies pottying inside the crate
Some puppies learn to pee and poop inside their crate because of irresponsible breeders and pet store owners who keep puppies confined within cages or crates for days at a time until they are purchased by buyers. This leaves the puppy with no other alternative but to soil his crate repeatedly, which overrides a puppy’s instincts to keep his den or living area clean. Responsible breeders maintain puppies in hygienic conditions and start potty training even before the puppy is collected by their new owners.

Another reason why puppies learn to pee and poop inside the crate is because, oddly enough, some Filipinos actually prefer for their puppy to relieve himself inside his crate. I can only surmise that this is because they find it easier to clean out the crate (although I don’t really understand how that is so) than cleaning up after their puppy outside.

Your puppy sleeps in his crate and even eats in there, so to me, encouraging such a habit is similar to asking a child to relieve himself on his bed or beside the dining table.

If you’re the type of owner who encourages pottying inside the crate, I strongly urge you to re-train your puppy. Firstly because this behavior is unhygienic, and secondly, because the crate should serve as your puppy’s den and also be his home away from home – it should be clean and cozy at all times. In my experience, puppies that have learned to pee and poop inside their crate are often those that have malodorous skin and coat even with frequent bathing, have dermatological problems, and tend to eat their own feces.


A final word of encouragement
So there you have it. Now you know most if not all of what I would advise any puppy parent to do when challenged with a furry house-soiling pup. Is potty training easy? Not really, although some puppies may be easier than others to train. If you will let yourself be guided by the advice outlined here, you now at least have a plan, and if you stick to it your puppy should be housebroken in no time.


Other resources to help you through potty training and other puppy-raising problems:

E-book: Perfect Puppy in 7 Days by Dr. Sophia Yin
Click HERE to purchase a copy from Dogwise.com

Before and After Getting Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar
Click HERE to purchase a copy from Dogwise.com

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