How To Potty Train Your Puppy

You just need a little patience 💖

puppy having an accident

So you’ve just got a new puppy — you’ve gotten them the comfiest bed ever and their dedicated toy bin is bursting with tons of things to play with.

But before all the fun starts, you’re probably thinking about one very important step to a well-adjusted dog: potty training.

You’ve heard the horror stories, and if this is your first puppy you may even be a little nervous, but all you need is a little strategy, some patience and probably a few cans of urine destroyer to get the job done.

To help guide you during this potty training journey, The Dodo reached out to Shelby Semel, head trainer at Animal Haven rescue in New York City, for some tips on how to house train a new puppy.

Before starting house training

Before you start house training your newest family member, it’s important that your puppy heads over to the veterinarian and gets a full exam.

“A clean bill of health is a large factor in housebreaking for all dogs, and especially new puppies,” Semel said. “It is important to have a vet check within 48 hours of receiving your new puppy or adult dog. Often regressions in house training are caused by health issues.”

According to Semel, you should be aware of the symptoms of cystitis, bladder infections, UTIs and similar health issues that can cause potty training issues, and have a fecal check done in order to determine whether worms or parasites are present — all of which will affect when it’s the right time to start house training your puppy.

Tips for house training your puppy

Once your puppy is all cleared to start some rigorous potty training, you should have a few things ready to go:
1. A crate
2. Plenty of toys and treats
3. Patience

According to Semel, your puppy will probably need to be taken outside within 5 to 15 minutes of any of the following:

  • Eating or drinking
  • Waking up from a nap/sleep
  • Exciting activities like fetch and playtime, training, a playdate with another puppy or a case of zoomies

1. Closely supervise when your puppy’s free roaming

With any young puppy, one of the most important things to know is that they most definitely can’t be trusted — at least if you want to keep those rugs urine-free.

“If you cannot keep a close watch but would like your pup with you, put him on a leash and attach it to your belt loop!” Semel suggested.

  • Close supervision is essential anytime your puppy isn’t crated indoors
  • Watch for signs that your dog may need to go out — like sniffing the floor, circling, running out of sight or wandering away from a toy

2. Confine your puppy when you’re not home (or he’s unsupervised)

“Confinement, whether a crate or pen, is recommended for puppies and most adolescent dogs when left unsupervised or alone in the house,” Semel said.
  • When introduced and used correctly, crate training is a great way to prevent house training accidents and keep your puppy safe when unsupervised.
  • Know that the crate shouldn’t be used for an excessive period of time, and should never be used as punishment — although Semel said brief time-outs are fine.
  • According to Semel, you should be able to leave your puppy in their crate for as long as they can hold their bladder, under the assumption that you’ve given them plenty of exercise before going inside. You can start with keeping your puppy in his crate for two hours, and gradually work up to four.

3. Praise & reward your puppy when he “goes” outside

If you take your puppy outside and he goes in the right spot, make sure you give him tons of praise — and a super yummy treat — immediately.
  • Rewarding immediately is important because delayed reinforcement doesn’t work.
  • A trigger word (e.g.: "potty," "get busy," etc.) said a single time can be added immediately before your puppy goes to the bathroom (you’ll start to learn the signs that they’re about to go). This helps train your dog to eliminate on cue.
  • Avoid walking your puppy and then going home immediately after they go potty. This will teach your dog to delay using the bathroom so that they don’t have to go back inside.

4. Neutralize urine odors with enzyme-based deodorizer

Your puppy will most definitely have a few accidents inside, so make sure you neutralize any soiled areas with a pet odor neutralizer like Nature's Miracle. This will help make sure your dog doesn’t keep having accidents in the same spot over and over.

5. Cut off water two hours before bed

Semel recommends taking your puppy’s water bowl away about two hours before bedtime, unless there are special circumstances — like if he’s very thirsty or weather conditions are hotter than usual.

6. Don’t discipline after the fact

“Never discipline (verbally or otherwise) your puppy or dog for house soiling accidents, regardless of whether you witness them or not,” Semel said.

Punishment only teaches your puppy to hide from you when he needs to go, and punishing for an accident you didn’t see will show your pup that you’re unpredictable and kind of frightening — and nobody wants their sweet little puppy to see them that way.

7. Never discipline your puppy for submissive urination

Submissive and excitement urination are completely involuntary, so never discipline your dog if they do it. “Eye contact, verbal scolding, hovering over, reaching out to pet your dog's head, animated movements, talking in an exciting or loud voice, as well as strangers/visitors approaching your dog, may all potentially trigger your puppy to piddle,” Semel said. Disciplining your dog for involuntary piddling should always be avoided or the problem will only get worse.

If you need further help, reach out to your veterinarian for advice — some medical conditions can make it harder for a dog to be potty trained.

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