How To Potty Train A Puppy In An Apartment

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You have a new puppy. A new furry bundle of joy. But there’s one problem: you live in an apartment on the fifth floor. 

How will you house train Maltese puppy Bella in an apartment? 

Don’t despair. I’ll provide solutions to help you learn how to potty train her in an apartment. 

There are various options ranging from indoor potty areas or carrying her outside until her bladder control improves.

Puppy Potty Training Apartment - puppy lying on pee pad.

I’m a certified dog trainer who has helped many people learn to potty train a puppy while in an apartment. One example is a Pekingese named China. 

The pup was about 15 weeks old when I was called in to help. China was having numerous accidents throughout the owner’s apartment. Her owner was desperate to fix this smelly problem.

I helped the owner design an indoor potty area that solved the problem. Of course, she also had to deodorize all the areas where there were housetraining indiscretions.

In this article, I’ll provide various solutions to your problem. Depending on the size of your puppy and your ultimate goal of housetraining him, I’ll present options ranging from indoor potty areas to getting the puppy to his outdoor potty area.

After all, you want the best relationship with your puppy. Training–even house training–will help your bond with him and help you to communicate with him.

Routine and Scheduling

One of the most important things you can do is establish a schedule for your puppy. 

Puppies do better with a consistent routine. They should be fed at the same time each day, exercised regularly through walks or play, and go to bed at the same time each day. 

You can anticipate when they have to potty if there’s a regular schedule. 

House Training

Puppies have to go to the bathroom after they sleep, eat, play, chew, or have any excitement. 

I know it seems like they’re little potty machines. But things will get better when they have more control of their bladder and bowels.

An eight-week-old puppy has to potty about every two hours. A 16-week-old puppy has to go about every four hours. 

Smaller puppies have smaller bladders and often have to go even more frequently. But, amazingly, young puppies can sometimes hold it for more hours overnight.

When I’m training a puppy, I will even interrupt the play and take him to his potty area to help avoid an accident.

When house training a pup, it’s important not to give him any out-of-sight freedom. 

If given the run of the house or apartment, he may go to an area out of your and have an accident. 

It’s also dangerous when he has too much freedom because he may chew household items. They may be unsafe for him to chew. And he may even destroy things.

Watch Your Puppy for Potty Cues

It’s important to watch your pup and learn when he has to go to the bathroom. Puppies usually have a signal that they have to potty. 

Some start sniffing the floor. Some spin in a circle. Others whine, seem restless, or go to a corner or door in the room. Some puppies may even start to lift their leg or squat; then, it’s usually too late to stop the accident.

My Aussie mix rescue Millie would sniff the floor and start to circle. And I knew it was time to get her out to her potty area as soon as possible.

“Go Potty” Phrase Cue

In house training a puppy, it’s important to take them to the same area in the beginning. Their scent will be there and they get used to going in the same area and on the same footing.

When you get to his potty area, use a phrase such as “go potty” before he goes. It will actually become a cue for him to go and will encourage him to go faster.

I currently have five dogs, rescued golden retriever Riley, shelties Murphy and Gracie, Lhasa apso Ralphie, and Rescued Aussie mix Millie. 

I’ve trained all of them to go to the bathroom very quickly after I tell them to “go potty.” 

Of course, praise is part of their reinforcement. And I gave them small treats when I was first teaching them where to go and to potty quickly.

THE MORE YOU KNOW: At the guide dog school, they teach their puppies the cue “get busy” when it’s time to potty. At one of the service dog schools, they teach the cue “better go now”. It doesn’t matter what cue you use, just choose one that you think will work best for your puppy.

Accidents Happen

Most puppies will have an occasional accident. If you see him having a housetraining indiscretion, don’t harshly correct him. 

You can use an interrupter by calmly saying “eh-eh,” then take him to his potty area and praise and reward after he goes.

If he has an accident that you don’t see, just clean it up with an odor neutralizer such as Rocco & Roxie Stain and Odor Remover.

Always have your clean-up supplies ready because there will probably be a few accidents even when you’re diligent. 

Have poop bags, enzymatic cleaner, and paper towels ready. You may also want to have a special trash can and liner ready for any fecal matter or paper towels that have been used for clean-up. 

You shouldn’t punish him. He won’t understand after the fact. Just watch him more diligently next time.

Other House Training Aids

You can also have your puppy on a “hands-free” leash tied around your waist. 

You would have a special leash tied around you and have another about six feet long so that the puppy would follow along with you for a while. You can then determine when he has to go to the bathroom.

PRO TIP: It’s nice to have a specialized “hands-free” leash like the one in the link above. However, if you’re short on funds you can just as easily tie your leash to your belt buckle for a DIY “hands-free” leash.

If you decide to use this as one method in your house training toolbox, there are certain matters you should be aware of. 

Make sure that the puppy is used to being on a leash first so that he doesn’t panic. Also, use a harness so that he isn’t choked on a collar as he moves with you. 

And last, but not least, I don’t recommend doing this all the time. Although togetherness is great, having him right next to you all the time may make him anxious when he’s far away at the other end of the room–even potentially leading to separation anxiety. 

Another housetraining aid can be a bell which your puppy can learn to ring when the urge hits him to potty. There are various styles. Some hang down from a doorknob and others must be pushed to ring. 

To help train him, ring it on the way out to potty, whether you’re taking him to an indoor or outdoor potty area. Eventually, he should learn to target the bell and ring it if you’re consistent.

Leash Training

Another crucial part of house training is getting your puppy used to a collar or harness and leash. Many puppies at first buck against them. 

But you’ll need him to get used to them to take him to his potty areas. Even though you can place him on an indoor potty area (discussed below), it would be unsafe to have him off a leash outside.

If you live in an apartment or condo, It may not be possible to go immediately to a potty area outside. 

If you decide to take your puppy there, you may have to carry him outside to his potty area. 

This is possible when he’s small enough to carry. This works because puppies generally don’t want to go to the bathroom on themselves or on us. 

But if he urgently has to go such as first thing in the morning, you may have to use an indoor potty area in the beginning–especially the first thing in the morning if you live in an apartment or condo.

The problem with taking him out on a leash to potty is that he may have accidents along the way. And no one wants dog urine or feces in the hall or lobby or on an elevator. 

Of course, if you live on the first floor, you may be able to take him right outside to a potty area. 

Don’t worry. If you’re not able to carry him outside, there are other options until he can “hold it” for longer periods of time.

Confinement

In order to successfully house train a puppy, it’s important to use some type of confinement such as a crate, an exercise pen, or a safe room that’s gated in.

An appropriately-sized wire crate or exercise pen can really help you house train your pup. You can purchase a wire crate that has a divider you can move as the puppy grows. 

A wire crate or plastic kennel should be large enough for your puppy to stand up in, turn around in, and lie down in. 

You don’t want it to be too large or the puppy may go to the bathroom in one area and sleep in another. Crates work because puppies inherently want to keep themselves and their sleeping area clean.

If you decide to use a crate, you need to be sure that the puppy is taken out frequently when he needs to potty or he’ll have unavoidable accidents in his crate. 

If you can’t get him out to potty when needed, you may need to recruit a trusted friend or family member to get him to his potty area.  You can also hire a dog walker to help you potty him and to meet his other needs while you’re at work.

You can use an exercise pen to confine your puppy. Or you can confine him to a small room such as a bathroom or kitchen with a baby gate

If you use a room, be sure that there’s nothing that he can reach that’s unsafe. This includes anything that he can ingest such as towels or cleaning products.

The problem with using an exercise pen or safe room is that the puppy might tend to have accidents in one part and play and sleep in another part. 

So if you use these methods of confinement, you’ll need to have someone take your puppy to his potty place often so that he’ll understand where he should potty.

Another alternative is to have an inside potty area as discussed below. This can really help house train dogs who live in apartments or condos.

Indoor Potty Areas

An option for you is to have a designated indoor bathroom for your dog. You want to keep it in the same location so that he doesn’t think that he can go to the bathroom anywhere else in your home.

If you work full time, an indoor potty area may be a solution. But you may still need someone to make sure that he understands where to potty while he’s learning.

There are various options for indoor potty areas. There are dog litter boxes made with absorbent materials that you can change when they become soiled.

Some potty patches have real or artificial grass where your puppy can go to the bathroom.

And there are potty pads with holders. The pads are made with a soft absorbent material on top which is often scented with an attractant scent to lure the puppy to go to the bathroom there. 

Pads also have plastic bottoms so any urine doesn’t go through to your floor. You can also purchase a pad holder so that the pad stays in place. 

If you decide to use potty pads as part of your house training routine, make sure that you purchase the correct size for your puppy or he may unavoidable have accidents off the pad. 

The size for a Yorkie will differ from that for Beagle. It’s better to go a little too large than too small.

I have successfully trained numerous dogs to use such indoor potty areas. A Shih Tzu I was training for a client was having accidents all over her apartment. 

She lived on the third floor and the 13-week-old puppy just couldn’t hold it until her owner took her outside to the grass.

So I suggested using a potty pad in a room that the puppy had access to. I trained the puppy to use the potty pad just as you would house train to grass outside. 

I took the puppy to the pad and said my “go potty” phrase. I praised and gave a tiny tidbit of a treat immediately after the puppy defecated or urinated on the pad. 

Of course, the owner had to do the same routine every day, taking the puppy to the pad after she ate, slept, played, chewed, or had any excitement.

You can also place a puppy pad in an exercise pen. Part of the pen can contain the pad and the remainder can contain a sleep and a play area. 

You can even leave a crate in the exercise pen with the door off or secured back as the sleeping area.

If you decide to use a potty pad, take your puppy there every time he has to potty and praise and reward immediately after he defecates or urinates there. Consistency is important. 

You can place the potty pad or other bathroom area in the same location in a room or even on a covered balcony that’s safe for the puppy to walk in. (Make sure that the railing or other enclosure to the balcony or terrace is safe and that the puppy can’t get through or over it.)

Unless you intend to just use potty pads for the dog’s life, it’s important to also teach him to use the grass in the great outdoors too. 

Until a puppy has had enough vaccines, he shouldn’t be taken to areas where other dogs have pottied.

As he gets more bladder control so that he can hold it until he reaches the grass outside, you can start to phase out the potty pad. 

Dogs get used to going to the bathroom on a certain type of footing. I helped a client transition her puppy from indoor potty pads to going on grass in the outside.  

The puppy would “hold it” when taken outside because he was so accustomed to using the potty pads. 

First thing in the morning, the puppy had to go immediately, so the owner took him outside immediately and encouraged Rufus the beagle puppy to go to the bathroom. 

She praised the pup and gave him a small treat tidbit immediately after he went. As his bladder control became better, he made the transition to going to the bathroom only in the great outdoors.

When phasing out the potty pad and transitioning to the great outdoors only, I don’t recommend moving the potty pad towards the door. Doing so can make some puppies be drawn back to potty at all the areas the pad had been. 

Once your pup has the bladder and bowel control to walk outside to potty, you can walk him out to go there. Then, you can confidently walk him down the hallway and into an elevator to reach the great outdoors. 

And eventually, you can take him out only to the outside to potty.

Once you’ve phased out the potty pad, it’s important to be diligent that your puppy’s not drawn back to the area where the pad used to be. 

You can block that area off but must also make sure that he doesn’t continue to potty where the pad was. It takes patience and consistency but can be done.

Another problem that can occur with potty pads with some puppies is they may want to play with them and chew them. Puppies often like playing with things that crackle or are like paper. 

And if they ingest part of the pad, they may become ill or have a blockage. If you have a puppy that tends to do this, I’d advise against using the pads.

You can even use old newspapers to housetrain a puppy. I did this many years ago with a Shih Tzu, Cuddles, I had. I placed the papers on a tray so that any urine didn’t reach the linoleum in the kitchen. (At the time, I got unprinted newspaper.)  

Then, I proceeded to take her to the papers just as I would to an outside area. I also trained her to go outside. With consistency and positive reinforcement, she caught on quickly to both areas. 

This was before potty pads were popular. If you choose to have your pup go to the bathroom inside, I would probably use potty pads instead of newspaper. The ink from the paper can transfer onto the dog, making a mess.

There are also other types of indoor potty areas you can use. There are canine litter boxes. You want to purchase the correct size for your puppy. You can also buy the absorbent litter material which you can change, similar as you would for a cat.

Another type of indoor bathroom area uses artificial or even real grass. I would advise using the artificial type that can be cleaned or replaced because real grass will die after a dog’s repeatedly urinated on it.

They even make these indoor potty areas with high sides in case you have a male dog who lifts his leg.

What NOT To Do

Don’t punish your puppy for having any accidents. Years ago, people used to rub a puppy’s nose in an accident or tap him on the nose with a newspaper–or even yell at him after the accident was discovered. 

Not only are these methods cruel, but they can ruin the bond with your puppy and his trust in you. And he won’t understand what was expected. 

Dogs generally only understand what happens immediately before they’re corrected or praised. 

So it’s up to you to just be more diligent in watching him and not giving him any out-of-sight freedom until he’s able to handle it.

FAQs

Is using potty pads a good idea?

It depends on your situation. If you can’t get your puppy out to an outside area to potty in time, you may need to use an indoor potty area until he has more bladder or bowel control. 

Some people with small or toy breeds even choose to use them for the life of the dog.

How long will it take to house train a puppy in an apartment?

Young puppies have very little bladder and bowel control. Usually, they can hold urine for about one hour longer than their age. So a four-month-old puppy can hold it for about five hours. By six months or so, a puppy can hold it for about seven or eight hours. Smaller breeds have smaller bladders and will have to go more often. 

With consistency and training, puppies can be house-trained in an apartment. It also depends on the consistency followed by the owner in-house training the puppy. And as the puppy gets older, he has better control over his bladder and bowels.

Can you train a puppy to use indoor potty pads and to go outside?

Yes! You can train a puppy to potty both on inside potty pads and to go to the bathroom outside. Consistency and patience are key. 

Take him to either the indoor or outdoor potty area when he has to go to the bathroom. Use your “go potty” phrase and praise and reward with a small tidbit of a treat immediately after he goes to the bathroom.

Final Thoughts

Although housetraining a puppy while you live in an apartment may be difficult, it can be done. 

You may have to add an intermediate step of an indoor potty area until your puppy has more control of his bladder or bowels. But, with diligence and patience, your puppy can be totally housetrained. And he’ll be the joy that you imagined he’d be.

Have you ever lived in a condo or apartment and had to housetrain a puppy?

Did you use an indoor potty area? Please tell us about it in the comment section below.

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How To Potty Train A Puppy In An Apartment - Corgi puppy sleeping on a pee pad

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