Puppy Potty Training 101

As a dog training instructor, proper communication between dog and owner is vital for success. Proper communication between trainer and the human client is also vital.  Case in point:

It became clear to me during a week when I was watching a friend’s dog, that my communication skills may not be all that I thought they were. I left my 18, 15 and 9 year old children in charge of a puppy (Eva) . They were given the following instructions:  make sure you keep an eye on Eva, let her out all the time and shut your bedroom doors so that she doesn’t wonder in there and go potty. Secure in my talents as a dog trainer, off I went feeling confident that my children were quite capable of following instructions.  After all, I was their mother and they were well versed in my valuable knowledge of dog training.

Five hours later I returned home.  Eva met me at the front door which was strange because I knew I had put a gate across the living room to block her access to the front door. Walking through the house, I discovered a chewed up piece of paper that Eva had gotten ahold of ….. not a good sign. In the family room I discovered my kids engrossed in their own activities…mainly electronic. Continuing to survey the house, I found 2 out of 3 of their bedroom doors open and closer examination of those rooms revealed what I had feared…poop and pee.  “Guys, get in here!” I yelled.  “Look at that”, pointing to the evidence, “Didn’t I tell you to keep your doors shut”. “We did, but I had to go in there to get my ipod.”, quipped my 16 year old.  “Why wouldn’t you close the door behind you?” “Well…..I fogot.”, was the only explanation I received.  “And didn’t I tell you to take her out all of the time?”, I continued.  “We did take her out all the time. Twice!” And then it hit me, MY definition of “all the time” was not THEIR definition “of all the time”.  So as I cleaned up the mess (with their help) I made a promise to myself to double check my communication skills and make certain everyone is on the same page.

With that in mind, I give you my potty training tips:

  1. Take the puppy outside to the same area of the yard each time.  This way he/she associates that area with going potty.
  2. You can “mark” the behavior by saying “go potty” as your puppy is peeing. Then immediately after, reward.  Do not reward once back inside…reward immediately after your puppy finishes pottying.
  3. If your puppy gets too distracted and doesn’t go potty, you can take him back inside and crate  him for about 5 minutes. The take him outside and try it again.
  4. Remember, we want to set your puppy up for success, so don’t give him the opportunity to have an accident inside. Most people give their puppies too much freedom in the house.  In order to prevent potty training accidents, you must be able to watch your puppy at all times.  If you can’t then he/she should be in a crate or a puppy pen.
  5. Make certain that you have your puppy go potty before you take him/her on a walk.  If you have them potty first, the walk can become their reward!
  6. If you can’t get home in time to let your puppy out, find a friend or hire a pet sitter to help you out for awhile.   Again, this won’t be forever.  It is worth putting the effort in now to avoid problems later.
  7. Don’t let your puppy get used to peeing in his/her crate.  If he are having accidents at night, it is worth getting up to let him out during the night.
  8. If you catch your puppy having an accident in the house, you can clap your hands or make a noise to startle your puppy and stop the peeing.  Quickly take your puppy outside to his area to finish going potty.  Never punish the puppy for having an accident. Dogs are not “born” knowing where you want them to potty.  They must be taught. You don’t want to run the risk of creating a situation where the puppy is afraid of YOU.  If you find that the puppy has had an accident inside and you did not catch it…clean up the mess and forget about it.  The puppy already has!
  9. Take up your puppy’s water up a couple of hours before bedtime. What goes in must come out, so monitor his intake of water.
  10. Have your puppy on a regulated feeding schedule.  Don’t leave food out all the time. Most puppies eat 3 times a day, but quickly move to 2 feedings a day.
  11. Take your puppy out a lot! The rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold his urine about 1 hour per your dog’s age in months plus 1.  So a 3 month old puppy can hold it for 4 hours.  However, this may vary with each dog.  Smaller dogs have smaller bladders and may need to be taken out more often. Below is a basic schedule, but is just a guideline.  You may need to alter it depending on your dog:

Puppy Schedule:

First thing in the morning

Immediately after the morning feeding

Again before you leave to work (1/2 hour to 1 hour after feeding)

Mid morning


Mid afternoon Immediately after the evening feeding

½ hour to 1 hour after feeding

Late evening


Possibly once or twice during the night

Eventually your young dog won’t need to go out as often, but to make the potty training easier….be consistent, reliable and proactive!

And remember, communication is always a two, three and four way street depending on the number of people in the room! Make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to instructions about your puppy.  The end result will be …..success!