How To Potty Train Your Puppy
You just need a little patience 💖
So you just got a new puppy — you’ve bought her the comfiest bed ever and her 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: house 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.
The Dodo reached out to Shelby Semel, head trainer at Animal Haven rescue in New York City, and Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a veterinarian working with SpiritDog Training, for some tips on how to potty train a new puppy.
How long does it take to potty train a puppy?
Every puppy is different, but usually most puppies can be trained to use the bathroom outside in around one to two months.
Things you'll need to potty train your puppy
When you’re getting ready to potty train your new puppy, these are some things you’ll need to make it a success:
The key ingredient to success is patience! “This process takes time, and there will be a few accidents along the way,” Dr. Wigfall told The Dodo.
A vet visit
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 told The Dodo. “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.
Use high-value treats for this journey. “These are treats your puppy goes crazy for, so only use them for potty training so they know they have done something extra good,” Dr. Wigfall said.
A crate can be helpful to avoid accidents in the home overnight, so consider crate training your puppy as well to make potty training a bit easier on you.
Puppy pads can be helpful to clean up accidents, but make sure you don’t rely on them for training. “Puppy pads in the crate to soak up any accidents and puppy pads in the home if your puppy sits with you in a home office, for example, can be helpful for accidents,” Dr. Wigfall said.
“Do not rely on puppy pads! They are great for the occasional accident, but your puppy can accidentally be trained to just pee on puppy pads and think that going inside the house is OK,” Dr. Wigfall said.
When using puppy pads, some people choose to move the puppy pads gradually towards the door to wean the puppy off of them, but you’ll have a better chance of training her correctly by just repeatedly bringing your puppy outside every hour to allow for a toilet break.
So as a rule of thumb, try to only use the pads inside her crate or if she’s confined to a pen in your office.
Your puppy will most definitely have a few accidents inside, so make sure you neutralize any soiled areas with a pet odor neutralizer. This will also help make sure your dog doesn’t keep having accidents in the same spot over and over.
Potty training schedule for puppies
When you’re getting ready to start potty training your puppy, it’s a good idea to get familiar with, and committed to, a schedule. “Put your puppy outside every one to two hours for a potty break,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Stay out for at least 15 minutes to give a good opportunity for toilet time.”
These are some of the best times of day to take your puppy outside:
First thing in the morning and last thing at night
“Your puppy will want to go potty first thing in the morning and the last thing before bed,” Dr. Wigfall said. “Don’t put your puppy to bed without urination and defecation first.”
After a meal
Another good time to take your puppy outside is 20–30 minutes after a meal, once she’s had some time to digest.
After playtime and naps
“Puppies often need to wee straight after a busy play session, so if your puppy gets the zoomies or has a big play, pop them outside to avoid accidents,” Dr. Wigfall said.
And whenever your pup wakes up from a nap, you’ll want to take her outside ASAP since her bladder might be full.
Puppy potty training tips
Once you’re ready to start potty training your puppy, here are some tips to help make the process go smoothly:
#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.
So close supervision is essential any time your puppy isn’t crated indoors
“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.
While keeping an eye on your pup, watch for signs that she may need to go out — like sniffing the floor, circling, running out of sight or wandering away from a toy. This signals that she’ll need to go out soon.
#2: Confine your puppy when you’re not home (or when she’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 timeouts are fine.
According to Semel, you should be able to leave your puppy in her crate for as long as she can hold her bladder, under the assumption that you’ve given her plenty of exercise before going inside. You can start with keeping your puppy in her crate for two hours, and gradually work up to four.
#3: Praise and reward your puppy when she “goes” outside
If you take your puppy outside and she goes in the right spot, make sure you give her tons of praise — and a treat — immediately (rewarding immediately is important because delayed reinforcement doesn’t work).
Saying a trigger word (i.e., "potty," "get busy," etc.) a single time immediately before your puppy goes to the bathroom (you’ll start to learn the signs that she’s about to go) can help train your dog to eliminate on cue.
Avoid going home immediately after your puppy goes potty. This will teach your dog to delay using the bathroom while you’re out for a walk so that she doesn’t have to go back inside.
#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 she’s very thirsty or weather conditions are hotter than usual.
#6. Don’t discipline your puppy
“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 she 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.
Even after your puppy’s fully house trained, she might have submissive or excitement urination, which are completely involuntary — so never discipline your dog if she does 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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