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, 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 on 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 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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495 Comments

  1. My puppy will only pee/poop on puppy pads bc when i got him it was below 0 and then the snow hit. He’s now 3.5 months old and he has no concept of going to the bathroom outside. Help!!! (I’ve even taken the puppy pad outside). I live in the city so lots of distractions and not a lot of grass.

  2. A few years back when we adopted our Great Pyrenese/St. Bernard, we almost lost her to a chicken hawk circleing the back yard. He swooped down and fortunately I was close enough to scare it off so, the hint about keeping the puppy or small dog on a leash is a great idea. Thanks for all the info.

  3. My 11 week dobie mix hates going in the cold and most especially in the evening. I don’t think we’ve managed a single accident free evening in the two weeks we’ve had her.

    It usually goes like this
    -last feeding
    -out to pee/poop on leash in potty spot
    -I wait 15 min while she yelps and cries, shivering at my feet
    -enter house, she starts to squat
    -interrupt, and take her out again
    -I wait 15 min while she yelps and cries at my feet
    -repeat (literally have spent hours doing this)
    -resign to give up as I am usually cold and tired by now
    -walk her upstairs and in the time it takes to open my bedroom door she has pooped in the hallway. (Seriously the fastest pooper ever)
    -place her in crate while cleaning up poop and after it is clean I find she has peed in the crate.
    🤦🏼‍♀️

    I have tried
    -last meal earlier in the evening
    -copious praise during the day (when she has a lot of wins)
    -a jacket
    -an alternative potty spot on the covered porch out of the rain (which she uses just fine during the day)
    -“warm reward”: she could care less about treats or praise actually. The real reward is time on the heating pad. This was the method that worked in the middle of the night and early morning.
    -pretending to head up to bed and then turn around and go back out

    At this point I am really concerned because just the act of going outside is seen as a punishment now. She starts to cry on the way to the door and spends the potty break curled up at my feet or tugging on the leash to get back inside. I’m not sure she even understands what we want her to do. I don’t know if she can even relax enough to go when she is shivering.

    Random other quirk: she has an adorable routine that she does when she’s settling down to nap. She bites and paws at her bed playfully, sucks on the blanket, then flops dramatically down to curl up and fall asleep. We noticed that this little dance meant naptime right away and assumed it was nursing related. But, sometimes (only sometimes) the routine ends with peeing in her bed. Then I’m torn; do I take her out to potty and disturb her nap? We’ve changed the bedding, washed, used enzymes, tried no bedding. Eventually she will have one of these “accidents”. Is she marking? Does she pee because she’s more relaxed? Was this taught to her by her siblings (she was the runt)?

    Sorry this is so long, I’ve read all your posts and tried the strategies

  4. Questions…I have Midwest crate and exercise pen set up in our living area. Should I place puppy pads in the exercise area at night? Or should I detach the crate and bring it into my room at night? Our living area is tiled, bedroom carpeted. If I bring the crate into the bedroom do I use just bedding or a puppy pad in case of accidents? I obviously will take her out before bed and during the night if indicated…not sure what these puppy pads are for? Thanks

    1. It’s up to you how you want to potty train your puppy. We put our service dog puppies in the crate beside our bed at night. You do not want to put the puppy pads in the crate because you don’t want your puppy to pee or poop in the crate. Bedding in the crate is optional, but we sometimes remove it because some puppies like to pee/poop on it and other puppies end up shredding it.

      We usually don’t use puppy pads, but you can train your puppy to potty on them. However, most puppies won’t instinctively pee/poop on the potty pads, you will have to train them to go on the pads. FYI, when leaving a potty pad in the play area most of our puppies enjoy shredding them to pieces rather than using them for pee/poop.

      Good luck with your training!

  5. We just adopted a 12 week old lab mix puppy. I want to try crate training but advice is to have a crate in a quiet but not secluded area. So when puppy is in crate during day for naps etc the crate may be in an out of way are an dining room or family room but for night time we have our dog whining and howling. I’ve seen advice have crate in bedroom for night especially for very attached puppies. Should we have two crates or move the one crate between the two areas for day and night time

    1. We usually use just one crate and keep it in the bedroom. However, in the past we’ve used two crates or moved one crate around the house and we haven’t had any issues crate training our puppies.

  6. We have 2 pit terriers and they have a doggy door to go outside anytime they want. The problem is that they both stay in the same crated area, they are like twin brothers. They came from the same batch of puppies surrendered to the pound. My husband and I decided to adopt 2 of them. My problem is that one of them or both of them poop in their room. And we definitely take them outside to potty before they go to bed. When I get up at 6:00am every morning routine I let them go outside to potty only to find poop and pee on their blanket. Can you give us any suggestions the pups just turned 5 months on the 4 of December 2020.

  7. I have a new Black Lab pup, she is 3 months old and as many times as I take her out, to different places on our land, she will be in the house in no time and pees on the kitchen floor, which is the only room she has access to. I have not had any trouble with potty training before she came along and made a fool out of me. I do not get upset and use a reliable scent killer to clean up her messes. She knows she has done wrong because she goes under the chair after she does it. Our older pup, eight month old Lab was the easiest dog to train, but she is a hard nut to crack. Hopefully, after reading your tips on potty training, we will be successful. Thanks!!

  8. This was really helpful I have a two year old dog who pees and poops everywhere and I don’t know what to do to stop it thanks

  9. My 10 month old female teacup yorkie is peeing and pooping in cage ever since getting spayed beginning of August. Had to keep in cage for 10 days because she is low to ground so could not take out and also because she is an extremely active pup who likes to jump per vet keep in cage/crate so as not to get an infection in incision area or rip sutures, etc. Prior to spaying she was 95% trained. Have been trying methods I used before to get her 95% trained but to no avail. Seems she thinks it is ok to pee and poop in cage/crate now because of doing that for 10 days after surgery. HELP!!!

    1. Start over from the beginning with crate training. Thoroughly clean your crate with an enzymatic cleaner to remove all smells and odors. Keep crate training sessions short and make sure your puppy doesn’t have an accidents whether that’s 30 minutes, 5 minutes or 30 seconds, make sure she is successful. Slowly start to increase the amount of time she can stay in the crate without an accident until she understands she’s not to potty in the crate. Also, make sure you have the right size crate. It should only be large enough that your puppy can stand up and turn around. If it’s too large then your puppy may continue to potty on one side and sleep on the other. Good luck with your puppy.

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