Potty Training a Puppy

Here are some guidelines to help you potty train your puppy. These procedures will work whether you're training your puppy to go outdoors or to go in a litter box indoors (which many toy dogs are trained to do). I don't advocate paper training, especially with a dog that you will eventually want to potty outdoors. If you paper train him to go indoors, you'll just have to retrain him later to go outdoors. Why not start by training for what you really want?

  • If you buy a puppy, buy from a responsible breeder who has already started potty training.
  • Crate or confine your puppy when you can't watch him—always. Train other family members to do the same.
  • If you feed your puppy a commercial dog food, feed dry food. It will keep his stools more solid.
  • Confine your puppy to rooms with tile or other washable flooring so mistakes don't ruin carpets.
  • Keep your puppy on a schedule. Feed him at the same time every day, and try to get up and go to bed close to the same time every day while he's being potty trained.
  • Puppies need lots of water, especially if they eat dry dog food. However, while you're potty training, feed your pup at least four hours before bedtime, and remove his water two hours before bedtime.
  • Take your puppy to potty after every meal as well as the first thing in the morning, the last thing at night, every time he wakes up from a nap, after an active play session, and in the wee hours of the morning if you hear him moving around. Take him on a leash to the place you want him to use—that will teach him to use that spot, and also teach him that he can go even on leash with you standing right there. That can be important if you're away from home.
  • When you take your puppy to potty, don't play with him until after he does his business. If he doesn't go within 10 minutes, put him in his crate for 10 to 15 minutes, then take him to potty again. When he potties, praise him and reward him with a treat or short playtime. Wait a few minutes before you take him in—sometimes puppies don't finish on the first try, so give him time to be sure he won't have to go again in three minutes.
  • Keep your puppy's potty place clean—pick up feces every day. You don't like to step in it, and neither does he.
  • If you don't have the time or patience to potty train a puppy, then adopt or buy an older puppy or adult dog that is already potty trained.

Puppies do have accidents. It's very important to remove all trace of odor from any place your pup potties. Regular cleansers won't do it—you may not smell urine or feces after washing the area with soap and water, but your pup has a much more sensitive nose than you have. If he smells waste odors, he'll think he's found the toilet. Pet supply stores sell several types of special cleansers designed to eliminate odors. An inexpensive alternative for urine odors (but not feces) is a 50-50 mixture of white vinegar and water. I keep a spray bottle full when I expect puppy messes to clean up.

If you see your puppy start to go in the house, say “No” or “Anh!” pick him up, and take him out. When he's finished, put him somewhere safe and clean up the mess. Don't yell at your puppy or punish him for accidents. Don't rub his nose in it. If you don't see him start to go but find an accident later (a minute later is later), just clean it up and scold yourself for giving him the opportunity to make a mistake. Puppies don't go in the house to be mean or to “get you.” They do it because they haven't learned where they should go. Remember, he's a puppy, not a child. You can talk until you're blue in the face and he still won't understand why you're upset about the peepee on the rug.

If your puppy is still having regular accidents in the house at four months or older, talk to your veterinarian. Some medical problems can interfere with housebreaking.

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