How To Potty Train A Puppy

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Picking up your puppy is probably the most exciting part about puppy raising, but as soon as all the cuteness has worn off (actually some of the cuteness will wear off the first time he piddles in the house or perhaps a little poopie accident on the car ride home…YUCK!) one of the first things you will think about is how to potty train a puppy.

When we first started raising guide dog puppies over ten years ago we received a guide dog puppy manual on how to raise and train a puppy.

As guide dog puppy raisers we follow all the rules and puppy training guidelines outlined in our puppy manual and when it comes to potty training our puppy we simply turn to page 42 in our manual and follow the instructions on how to potty train a puppy.

How to potty train a puppy - puppy peeing on the grass
How to potty train a puppy – House training our most recent puppy, Charlie

So today we’re going to discuss how we go about…you guessed it…potty training a puppy!

QUICK TIP: You likely don’t have access to a Guide Dog Puppy Manual. Luckily we’ve read many books on puppy training and one of our favorites, Puppies for Dummies is an easy read that will give you a solid foundation for raising and training your puppy.

How To Potty Train A Puppy

Golden Retriever puppy down on carpet nose level.
Reggie A Golden Retriever Guide Dog Puppy In Training

QUICK ACCESS: If you’re having puppy training problems then you should join our Puppy Training Tips email list and get instant access to our New Puppy Owner Checklist PDF. To get started CLICK HERE.

Here are some of the basics we’ve learned over the years on how to potty train a puppy.

Potty training is obviously one of the first things you’ll want to teach your puppy. If done properly, potty training is not difficult. The key is to be consistent.

Never allow YOUR puppy to be unattended or out of YOUR sight. If you are unable to do this remember to use confinement as a means of prevention.

QUICK TIP: We highly recommend crate training your puppy as a primary means of confinement. We’ve been using the Midwest Life Stages Double Door Crate w/ Divider since we brought home our first puppy, Linus over 15 years ago.

Keep your puppy on a schedule. Feed him at regular times and always give him a chance to relieve himself right after being fed. (we feed our puppies Wellness Core Puppy Formula)

Using a designated area in your yard, let your pup have plenty of time (fifteen minutes) to relieve itself.

Encourage the puppy to go by using words such as “Get Busy”. This is the command used at Guide Dogs of America. We use the same command with all of our puppies in training.

When the puppy has done his business, praise him lavishly. A good rule of thumb to follow is to give your puppy a chance to relieve himself at a minimum of these times…

House training our puppy, Charlie. - Pooping outside
House training our puppy, Charlie

When Should I Take My Puppy Out To Potty

This is uber important. Anticipating when your puppy will potty should be something you know like the back of your hand.

Always take your puppy out to his potty spot:

  1. First thing in the morning.
  2. After each meal.
  3. After a nap.
  4. After playtime.
  5. Right before you and your pup retire for the night.

Remember your puppy should always relieve on a leash. It is important to train the puppies to relieve on leash in a variety of surfaces (grass, gravel, cement, etc…)”

Many of these potty training tips are from our guide dog puppy manual and don’t need to be followed to a “T” if you’re training your puppy as a family pet.

One thing I wish I would have known sooner is to train my puppies to relieve on different surfaces.

My rescue pup, Linus learned to pee and poop on the grass and was potty trained in less than two weeks. However, when he was nine months old we took him camping and he would not go potty on the dirt.

There was no grass and we were worried that we’d have to drive into town (about an hour away) to find grass for him to pee on.

After holding his pee for over 24 hours he finally relieved in the dirt and pee’d for about 2 minutes straight (think Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own).

The moral of the story?  It’s important to train your pup to pee on a variety of surfaces.

All of our guide dog puppies have learned to pee and poop on cement, grass, gravel, rocks, wood chips, dirt, and any other place you might imagine.

Yellow Lab puppy resting on tile floor.
As soon is Derby was up from his nap it was time for a potty break.

Potty Training Tips For Your Puppy

One of the great things about being a guide dog puppy raiser is the incredible network of knowledgeable puppy raisers and guide dog trainers we have at our disposal.

Some of the members in our Orange County Group have been guide dog puppy raisers for 20+ years and have raised a dozen or more puppies!

I guess we’re relative neophytes as Dublin is only our third puppy in training and this is only our fifth year as guide dog puppy raisers.

UPDATE: as of today we are entering year 13 as puppy raisers and we’ve raised 11 puppies for multiple service dog organizations.

As guide dog puppy raisers we are required to enroll our puppies in a minimum of one puppy kindergarten and one basic dog obedience class.

One of the first questions we are asked at puppy kindergarten is how are you doing with potty training your puppy?

Even our most experienced puppy raisers will still sometimes have questions on how to potty train a puppy.

QUICK RECOMMENDATION: We recently started training our puppies to alert us when they have to go potty by using a potty training doorbell called the Smart Bell. It requires a little bit of training, but it’s a good alternative to your dog scratching up the backdoor.

Yellow Lab puppy taking a potty break
Derby taking a “break”

Here are some of the puppy training tips and hints I’ve learned over the years when working on potty training with my own puppies:

1. Keep an eye on your puppy

We learned pretty fast that it’s important to keep a constant eye on your puppy. Use puppy gates (same as baby gates), tie-downs, and leashes to make sure you can always see your puppy.

If you see him start to sniff around, circle, whimper, or squat then quickly scoop him up and take him out to his designated potty place in the yard.

Give him a ton of praise when he potty’s in his spot. It’s important to keep your puppy under constant supervision not only for potty training purposes but to keep him out of trouble in general.

We’ve found many a chewed-up shoe, cell phone, or remote control because we didn’t keep a close eye on our puppies. This can be both costly and dangerous for your puppy.

2. Keep a puppy potty schedule

If you keep a puppy potty schedule you’ll notice your pup can be fairly predictable with his potty times.

We just use a sheet of paper and write it down every time our puppy goes pee or poop (you’ll start to notice trends in your puppy’s potty schedule). Here are a few potty times that should automatically be on your schedule.

  • Your puppy will always need to go potty shortly before and after eating or drinking water. We feed our pups twice a day (our young puppies eat three times a day) at specific times which helps control the times they go poop.
  • As soon as your puppy wakes up. Puppies almost always go potty right after waking up.
  • As Linus’s dog trainer used to say: “Play makes pee!” It seems as though every 10 minutes or so your puppy will pee when playing.

3. Be Consistent

stay free from variation. Stay consistent so your puppy knows what you want him to do. Be consistent by taking him out the same door to the same potty spot.

Be consistent with your puppy potty schedule.

Be consistent with your puppy’s feeding schedule.

Be consistent and make sure everyone in your household abides by the same puppy potty training rules. If you do not stay consistent then it will take longer to potty train your puppy.

4. Be Persistent

continue firmly with your potty training your puppy in spite of any difficulty. At times it may seem like your puppy just does not get it, but don’t waver and be persistent.

It took our Aussie mix, Linus less than 2 weeks before he was potty trained. It took about 6 months to fully trust Stetson with his potty training. Stay persistent!

5. Be Patient

defined as the ability to suppress annoyance…puppies are adorable, but they will also test your patience.

Try to remain calm and don’t get upset with your puppy. It takes time to potty train a puppy.

Be patient and you will be rewarded. If you feel yourself losing your patience step away for a while and let your puppy have some alone time in his crate with his favorite KONG or chew toy.

6. Praise Your Puppy

The most important thing when we raise our guide dog puppies is to give your pup tons of praise every time they do something right.

Don’t forget to give your puppy a ton of praise every time he goes potty in his designated potty area. This will help reinforce the behavior with your puppy.

Puppy Charlie taking a pee pee brake.
Puppy Charlie taking a pee pee brake.

7. Crate Training Puppies

we crate train all of our guide dog puppies in training. (if you’re looking for a crate we recommend the Midwest Life Stages Double Door Crate w/ Divider).

Many people feel like crate training is like imprisoning your puppy. However, crate-trained puppies enjoy the safety and security they feel when in their crate as they will find it much like their den had they lived in the wild.

In fact, many of our puppies in training have grown so accustomed to their crates that they will often go to their crates and sleep any time they are tired.

Crate training is great for potty training as it’s your puppy’s natural instinct not to potty where he sleeps. For more information on crate training check out our page on crate training puppies. For starters here are a few basics on crate training:

  • Place the crate in your bedroom where the puppy can still see and hear what is going on.
  • Put a blanket or towels in the crate for bedding. A pup will rarely soil the crate, however, if he does, try removing the bedding.
  • A crate should not be too big, but large enough for the puppy to stand, stretch and turn around.
  • When placing the puppy in the crate, use the word “kennel” or “kennel up”.
  • If he should happen to fall asleep somewhere else, pick him up and place him inside, and quietly shut the door.
  • Don’t use the crate for punishment.
  • Take your puppy outside to potty before putting him in the crate.
  • Take your puppy outside to potty as soon as you take him out of the crate.

Puppy In Training TV Episode 2 reviewed several puppy training basics including a short clip on taking your puppy to his potty spot (approximate 2:15 in the clip below).

Check out our other Puppy In Training TV episodes.  If you’re interested in sponsoring an episode please let us know by sending us an email through our contact form.

Do Not Rub Your Puppy’s Nose In His Accidents!

We need to reiterate…Do not Rub Your Puppy’s Nose In His Accidents! Do not hit your puppy after an accident! Do not punish your puppy if you find an accident!

Never punish your puppy after the fact. Your puppy will think you are punishing him for whatever is happening at the time of the correction.

Your puppy will not make the connection that this is an area that he previously soiled and that is why you are punishing.

Full Disclosure: When I was in college (Holy Crap! Over 25 years ago!) my roommate had a dog and instructed me to…rub his puppy’s nose in his accidents to teach him not to potty in the house.

Guess what, his puppy never connected the dots and continued to have accidents in the house every day the 1+ year I lived with this poor little puppy.

Puppy Clean Up

If your puppy pees or poops on the floor or carpet make sure you clean it up immediately (I’m sure I really didn’t have to say that).

Your puppy’s nose is thousands of times stronger than your nose.

If your puppy smells the pee or poop on the floor then he will return to this spot to pee again.

In order to remove all the stain and odor we like to use an enzyme-based odor remover. Our favorite is the Rocco & Roxie Stain and Odor Remover.

Rocco & Roxie claims to “ELIMINATE STAINS, ODORS, AND RESIDUE If it’s gross, it’s gone. Not just the stain, but the stink…”

Remember your puppy’s nose is thousands of times more powerful than yours make. If he smells a trace of urine then he’ll feel compelled to potty in that spot again so make sure you find a good stain and odor remover.

One final note: If your designated potty spot is in a public area (or even at home) make sure you bring potty bags (we like these earth rated bags made from recycled materials) or a pooper scooper to clean up your mess.

One of our biggest pet peeves is the person who does not pick up after their puppy.

It’s bad for the environment and for some reason the bottom of my shoe seems to always find the dog poop that was left behind.

I hope this little guide helps you with your puppy potty training basics.

Quick Recap

If there are 3 things I’d like you to remember when potty training your puppy:

  1. Puppy Management – Keep an eye on your puppy 100% of the time and when you can’t let your puppy have some quiet time in his crate (Midwest Wire Crates are our favorite for crate training puppies). – the fewer accidents your puppy has in the house the sooner he will be potty trained.
  2. Clean Messes – Any time your puppy does have an accident clean thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner like Rocco & Roxie’s Stain and Odor Remover.
  3. Puppy Potty Schedule – Get out a piece of paper and start writing down when your puppy sleeps, eats, drinks, plays, and goes pee/poop. Keep your puppy on a schedule and you’ll start to notice a pattern.

That’s a wrap!

What questions do you have about potty training a puppy?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

How To Potty Train A Puppy - Golden Retriever puppy
How To Potty Train A Puppy – Golden Retriever Puppy, Charlie

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  1. My 8 month old dachshund learned VERY quickly how to use dog door, thanks to a senior dog who also lives here. Now, however, puppy is having “accidents” in the house! Is he “marking territory”? How do I get him to stop? (Fortunately senior dog is not following suit!)

    1. You may have given your puppy too much freedom too soon. I’d recommend take a step back with his potty training and try to make him successful again. We limit our puppies freedom by keeping them on leash and by our side when they are in our house. That way if I see any pre-potty activity I can get them outside before any accidents. Good luck with your puppy!

  2. I am struggling getting my puppy (8 mos old) to ASK to go out. She is well aware of what to do when I take her out, but does not take the initiative to let me know she has to go. If I keep track of her and take her out, she has no mistakes, but if I get busy she has no problem going on the floor. I have the bell by the door and ring it every time we go out, but she still doesnt use it herself. HOW DO I GET HER TO LET ME KNOW SHE HAS TO GO OUT??????

    1. I don’t have an article that teaches how to get your dog to ring the bell to go outside, but I’ll add it to my to-do list. When teaching our puppies to ring the bells to go potty we first teach them to target the bells with a cue like “touch”. After our puppy knows how to target the bells we then teach our pup to target the bells only when they have to go potty. As I said I’ll try to get a more detailed step-by-step post together.

  3. I have a 4 month old Golden Retriever and he does good about letting us know he needs to go out, he will go sit by the door or sniff around by it. The problem is that he is still letting us know he needs to go out about every hour (if he’s not napping). How do I teach him to hold it for longer? I know that he can because he sleeps through the night and has been in his crate for a few hours on multiple occasions with no accidents. I’ve tried to distract him by playing with him but he either just continues to signal or has an accident.

    1. Congratulations on your new puppy! Being able to hold it for a good solid hour while awake at 4 months old is good. You have to remember your puppy is sleeping most of the time at night and when he’s in the crate during the day and therefore will need to pee less often. When he is playing and awake during the day he will have to pee more often. It similar to people. Most people will sleep through the night without having to pee. However, during the day most people have to pee regularly depending on how active they are, how much water/liquids they are drinking, etc.

  4. Hi there! We have just adopted a 4 month old black lab. She’s pretty great so far. We’ll go about 3/4 days without an accident but the last few days have been maybe 3/4 in a row with accidents. I’m getting a little impatient because today we had her out for 30+ minutes while we worked on the yard. We came back inside and left to go down the street to air up a tire. We were gone for maybe 10 minutes. When we came back, low and behold! There was a pee spot by the door. This isn’t the first tome she’s gone in the house after being let out on a normal schedule that she’s used to. We’re feeling a bit discouraged. We reward her with treats and praise her when going potty outside, and have been using an enzyme cleaner like suggested. However we have not been extremely strict on crate training, maybe that’s the issue?

    1. Congratulations on your new black lab! We just brought home an 8 week old black lab puppy.

      I think a lot of people make the mistake of having their puppy play outside and consider that a potty break. Here are a few things I’ve notice with my puppies. Yes, they will sometimes pee when they are outside, but when a puppy is playing they will often pee much more often then when they are more sedentary. Also, if you don’t observe them going pee then they may not have pee’d during that time outside. If this were my puppy after she played for 30 minute I would have taken her to her potty spot and made sure she pee’d before leaving her alone in the house. If she didn’t pee when taking her to the potty spot I would put her in the crate for 10 minutes while I went down the street to air up a tire.

      A pee spot at the front door is actually a good sign because it probably means she went to the door to be let out, but there was no one home to open the door.

      If she’s still having accidents in the house then you need to be more diligent about monitoring her when she’s in the house. I use constant supervision or confinement with my puppy. If I can’t watch her 100% of the time then I put her in her crate.

      Hopefully that helps. Good luck with your puppy!

  5. I have a 15 week old puppy that has been with me for two weeks. I normally bring her outside downstairs during the mornings and evenings before bed to go potty and she does so outside no problem. But during the afternoons, whenever, I bring her outside to go potty so doesn’t go, even if I have to wait more than 5 minutes, and I bring her inside she immediately goes potty within a minute. This has been going on for several days already. Any tips?

  6. Hi,

    I have an 11 week old lab mix puppy. He is very good in his crate (never had an accident) and in his pen. He goes in the pen when I am at work (I work in a barn) and goes out probably every 2 hours or so. In the house he will have random pee accidents. Usually in the middle of playing. He will give no warning and just sit down-not normal squatting that he does outside. He is always in my sight or sometimes even directly
    Next to me and doesn’t seem to connect that peeing in the house is bad. He does pee basically as soon as he gets to the grass outside every single time so clearly knows his potty spot. I take him out every hour he is awake and always watch him. What else can I do?

    1. Your puppy is still very young and probably needs a few more weeks to make the connection. Peeing in the middle of playing is totally normal. If your puppy is playing in the house I’d recommend taking him out every 5 minutes while playing. One of the trainers I used to work with used to always tell me “Play Makes Pee!”

  7. Hi! I have an adorable 2 month old lab husky mix. It took us about a week to go potty outside, and even since then he’ll go hours playing outside without peeing, and waiting until we get inside. Part of the issue I think is that I live in an apartment and by the time I harness him, take him downstairs, and out, he’s forgotten why we went down there. I got one of the puppy grass pads for our balcony, and was wondering if it would be counter productive to teach him to go on that? That way if I catch him needing to go, I can quickly put him in that pad so he can go right then and there. Do you think I should persist with taking him downstairs, or do you think the patio is good until he’s house trained or on a better schedule?

    1. I prefer taking my puppies outside to their regular potty spot when training. However, we’ve had several friends use the grass potty pad and it has worked well for them.

  8. Hello, we have a 9 week old puppy we’ve had him a week now. No accidents for a whole week then the last two days weeing in random places in the house even after being out or the door being open.

    We have a designated pen area outside (it does have a gate so we shut the gate whilst he does his business) we take him to it hourly and he does wee/poo when put in there and he gets a lot of praise and a treat. He wont go in on his own, to be honest it seems he tries to go anywhere but in there. Any advice please?

  9. Hi. We just got 2 american bullies. They are amazing. One is female, she is a year and 4 months and the other is male, he 6 months…they are both from the same home and have the same mom. So far the older dog is doing good with the house training, very few accidents, she goes to the back door to let us know she needs out…except for overnight. We are still working with the puppy. My question is on crating them at night. I know where they came from, the owners used the crates as a form of punishment…they would make them go in the crate for a “time out” if they did something wrong…how do I overcome this?

    1. Congratulations on your new dog and puppy! If these were my dogs I’d start from the beginning with crate training and make as positive experiences as possible with the crate and obviously never use it as a form of punishment. Our friends at Labrador Training HQ have a great post on how to crate train a puppy that takes everything slowly and step by step. I think you’d find this article very helpful. Hopefully that helps. Good luck with your training!

  10. Hi we just got a 4 month old puppy and she is doing great potty training however when we took her over to our friends apt even though we took her outside to pee she didn’t and then pee’d inside his apartment. How do we get her to pee in other places besides our backyard? Thanks!

    1. Congratulations on your new puppy! Yep, it’s very important that your puppy learns to potty in different places and surfaces. The best way to do this is by practicing. When it’s time to potty at new places make sure you get her outside to a potty spot and wait until she does her business. Patience is key. You may have to wait a little longer than normal. After she goes give lots of praise.

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