How To Potty Train Your Puppy Or Dog

In this post:

  1. Potty training basics
  2. Accidents in the house
  3. Management and supervision
  4. Schedule and consistency
  5. Other tips and tricks

It doesn’t matter whether you’re bringing home a new puppy or an older adopted dog, you’re in for at least a little bit of potty training.

If your puppy is young and hasn’t had any significant potty training yet, then you have to start from scratch and be patient with them while they train their bladder. But even if you’re bringing home an older dog, they’re entering into new territory with new smells, new people, and new rules. You may have a few accidents before you get a system down that works for everyone involved.

Potty training basics:

Potty training is all about patience and consistency. You need to make sure you are not losing “your cool” and getting upset with your dog and make sure to keep your puppy or dog on a strict schedule. The basics of potty training are:

  • Accidents: They will happen! Make sure not to punish a puppy for an accident – especially if you were not there!
  • Management and Supervision: Your puppy/dog is always supervised or is in a puppy safe area like a crate until fully housebroken.
  • Consistency and Schedule: Puppy/dog goes out after sleeping, playing, eating, and, every x-amount of hours (depending on age).

You might have to take time off from work or hire a dog walker to properly house train and potty train your puppy or new dog as the first few days are crucial to the process.

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Before you start…

It is normal for puppies and even a newly adopted dog to have accidents in the house. However, if your dog or cat starts having accidents out of nowhere, you must have your veterinarian check your dog out. There are many medical conditions, such as diabetes, that cause dogs and cats to start urinating uncontrollably. You want to get a diagnosis right away to rule out any medical issues.

Accidents in the House

You cannot punish a dog after the accident has happened. Most dogs only follow one step of causality, that means what “happened right before this moment.” If you come home and scream or get upset at your puppy or dog for having an accident inside, all your puppy or dog knows is that you came home and were mad at him or her.

Research shows that dogs do not feel guilty. This study investigated 14 dogs. The dogs had the option to disobey their owners and eat the treat or not. The owners did not know if the dog ate the treat or if the scientist took the treat away. Even if the dog did not misbehave, he still “acted” guilty when the owner was upset. The research showed that the so-called guilty look was a response to cues from the owner rather than the appreciation of a misdeed.

Pat Miller once wrote “That old rolled-up newspaper? You can use it to smack yourself in the head every time your dog has an accident, for allowing your management program to slip. If a medical problem does not cause it, an indoor potty incident is always a management lapse.”It is essential to clean up the messes right away and to neutralize odors, so the dog does not continue going to that spot.

If an accident is happening in front of you, just interrupt the puppy or dog and take them outside (trail of pee or poop might follow you). Try not to scare your dog; it should be just a simple interruption. I like to use “Ah-Ah” or “Oh No”.

Once outside, make sure to reward your dog or puppy. I recommend avoiding giving treats outside for potty. This is because some dogs (Pumpkin in the video!!) will learn to just pee a little so they can get a treat. Then come into the house and finish.

Management and Supervision

Until your puppy or newly adopted dog is house trained, he cannot have the full range of the house. He should be supervised at all times. This means that he is either tethered to you by a leash or is confined in the room with you. You want to have fast access to your dog or puppy so that you can spot your dog starting to potty and interrupt him. Remember, if you did not see the accident happen, you CANNOT do anything about it except clean it up.

If you cannot supervise your dog:

He or she should be in a crate or a small puppy safe playpen.  Most dogs do not want to potty in small confined areas and will try to hold it.  The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand up in and turn around. But not so large that there is plenty of extra space to designate as a bathroom.

What if you have to go to work:

If you are unable to get some pup-ternity time from work (yes, this is something that some companies offer), I suggest hiring a dog walker to come let your dog out to go potty. Between their dog walker outings, your puppy or dog should be in a crate. If you are leaving your puppy too long in the restricted area, he or she might have an accident and then learn that they can potty in the crate.

Consistency and Schedule

Keeping your puppy or dog on a potty schedule is an essential part of house training and potty training. Young dogs and puppies need to let out more often than older dogs. When you bring your puppy home, take them out as often as you can. If you are not home to take them out, you must make arrangements with a dog walker.

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A puppy needs to go out every hour for his age. At 2 months old, they can usually go 30 mins to every 2 hours, 3 months every 3 hours and so on. After 6 months, your puppy needs to go out every 6 to 8 hours. You need to take your puppy out first thing when you wake up, after eating, and soon after he drinks. You should take him out after playtime as well.

When your puppy or new dog first comes home, he might need to go potty during the night. Put his water and food away from an hour or so before bed. Make sure to take him out right before you go to bed. Figure out how long he can hold it and then slowly increase that time for him. If he can sleep for 4 hours before going out, maybe the next night have him hold it for 4.5 hours and so on. How quickly you increase his time, will depend on your dog.

Be consistent! Make sure the puppy knows that we are going out to potty not to play! Wait for them to go potty and then let them run around. If the puppy does not go, just bring them back in and take them out about 5-10 mins after. It’s important to remain consistent throughout the following:

  • Always praise your dog when he goes outside. I recommend saving the praise for right when you think the puppy or dog is finishing up because you don’t want to interrupt the puppy and then have them finish inside.
  • Try to avoid using treats. This will eliminate him stopping halfway so he can get the treat and then finish inside.
  • Never end a walk right after your dog or puppy goes potty. If you do, the dog or puppy can learn to hold it so that they can control how long the walk is. It is better to try to get your dog or puppy to potty before the walk or during the beginning of the walk.

Other Tips and Tricks

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I strongly suggest avoiding potty pads or potty areas in a crate or the house. They do have their benefits, however, it can be hard to help your dog then transfer the knowledge to outside. You will have to go through the potty training steps anyway, so just do them out, to begin with, it will save you lots of trouble in the end. My girl Pumpkin was trained to potty inside on potty pads by her old owner, and when I got her she had no bladder control (6 years old!), so she would potty on any small rug. So we had to go through potty training from step one.

There are times though that I recommend using potty pads. Those times are best for when you have an older dog who no longer can wait as long and you are just not able to take them out as often. Also, dogs who have medical needs, like diabetes, post spay issues, or incontinence.

Teach “Go Potty” Command

  1. Oversee your dog when you let her outside or when on a walk.
  2. Pay attention to her showing any signs that she is getting ready to pee.
  3. As soon as she squats or starts to lift her leg say “Go Potty.”
  4. Praise and reward after she does.
  5. Do this every time she goes to the bathroom, and soon she will start associating the word with her actions.


Final thoughts:

Potty training is an essential component of helping your dog adjust to his/her new home. Getting mad or frustrated isn’t going to do either of you any good or make the process any easier. Be patient and remember that your dog isn’t having accidents to upset or spite you. They’re accidents. Learn your dog’s “tells” when they have to go or keep in mind about how long they can hold their bladder. Set a timer on your phone if you need a reminder. Your dog will be housebroken before you know it and you can move on to some of the more fun training exercises.

But keep in mind: always seek medical advice if your puppy or dog starts having accidents in the house when they did not before. This could be a sign of an illness.

Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions