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 mighty paw poop 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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Check out more of our favorites on our New Puppy Checklist.

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  1. Hello!

    After about 10 minutes or so having my puppy outside in a designated area to do her business without success, why does she go in the house after about a minute or so of coming in? So frustrating!
    Thank you, Cynthia

  2. Crazy me fell in love with 2 brothers and couldn’t separate them, so I’m house training 2 puppies at the same time and never know who did the poop when I find it. You offer the best suggestion “keep you eye on them”, which I have not done, and I think they know that. By chance do you have any recommendations for potty training 2 pups (3 months old)?

  3. Hi, your info is so helpful. You mentioned when your puppies are young you take them out every 10 minutes? So you mean take them out every 10 minutes, every day, all day. ??? How long do you stay out each time. Also how long does this 10 minute schedule last?

    Thank you so much

    1. Sorry for the confusion. You want to take your puppy out about every 10 minutes (sometimes more often) when they are playing. If they are quietly relaxing or chewing on a toy they usually won’t need to go out as often. I try to extend the amount of time between potty breaks in the first week, however, every puppy is different. Some will pee more often while others will be able to hold it longer earlier on. Keep an eye on your puppy and you’ll start to notice their pre-potty behaviors and that’s when you want to be sure to get them outside to their potty spot. Good luck with you training!

      1. You say to train them to go on a variety of surfaces but then later say to take them to same spot every time?

        1. I’ll go back through the article and try to clarify. Here’s what we do with our puppies: When we first get them home we get them into a routine of using the same door and take them to the same potty spot every time until they start getting the hang of potty training and understand that the outside spot is the place to go. Once they start to “get” that outside is the place to go potty we start introducing new surfaces. Our current puppy, Anna first learned to potty directly on the concrete in our side yard. We like starting with concrete as our first surface because puppies usually have a more difficult time going potty on concrete vs grass. After about 2 weeks we started taking her to the grass to potty then later we started taking her to a gravel area in our backyard. Since then we’ve also had her potty on the blacktop, mulch, and artificial grass surfaces. Thank you for bringing this up. I’ll go back through the article and make clarifications.

    2. This blog post is one of the best resources, other than buying a book, we have found for puppy owners to learn the basics of potty training a puppy. Taking your new puppy out every 10 min while they are actively playing is a great idea to start to build the habit for them to go potty outside. We will share the link to this blog post with new puppy owners.

  4. You want to watch your puppy constantly for accidents, but you also don’t want her to develop separation anxiety while you watch her all the time. How do you strike the right balance? She is becoming increasingly attached to me as I am trying to potty train her and I believe that I am giving her separation anxiety since I keep her with me all the time when I’m home.

    1. Congratulations on your new puppy! You’re right, you don’t want your puppy to get separation anxiety. We make sure our puppies get time away from us by using our crate. When they’re young every time they fall asleep I either move them into the crate so they can get used to being on their own. When we have to leave the house we’ll crate our puppy but not for more than 1-2 hours. If you’re not using a crate you can try using an ex-pen in the same manner. Good luck with your training!

  5. I have an 18wk old puppy and training was going very well and as soon as he received full vaccinations (and able to go on walks) I had a family emergency that required driving for 3 days, staying in hotels and now staying with my parents while they recover. So his schedule was messed up, his first experiences outdoors was on the road and a strange house. PLUS this house has a kitten about the same age. They get a long but all training has gone out the door! He constantly pees and poops in the house on the carpet, any carpet, any room. I clean the mess, stain remover, deterrents, oder eliminators, nothing works. I also made the mistake of grass training so I have to take him out back to the grass. He is okay with wearing his harness and patient with a leash but will not walk. If the grass is wet, forget it. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

  6. How do you walk the line of watching your puppy all the time and keeping her with you to watch for accidents but not having the puppy develop separation anxiety? My 4 month old has become increasingly attached to me while I’ve been trying to potty train her and I think she is developing separation anxiety because I keep her with me all the time when I’m home.

    1. When we work with our service dog puppies we have different people work with our pups so they don’t get overly attached. If you have others in your household you can ask them to help by supervising your puppy. Also, it’s helpful to have others puppy sit your pup from time to time. We mainly raise German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers. Usually the German Shepherds become most attached to their raisers. In our experience Labs seem to be the least attached which makes it much easier when we have to turn our puppies in for formal training.

  7. After watching our 12 week old pup circle, etc we take him outside for up to an hour then he comes on within minutes he poops.

    Now he has started coming in from a pee and peeing in the house

    I have raised 3 other dogs successfully but this guy has me stumped

    Any suggestions

    1. I would love to hear the outcome of this situation. Has it changed? What did you do? I’m having the same issue!

  8. I’m a first time brother and sister puppies adopter. She is just about trained, but he is another story. He will hold his poop for hours outside or in his create overnight and not poop, bring him in or let him out of the create and he will poop in the house. How can I get him to stop.

  9. This was interesting. Jacques is 15 months old. He goes outside now on his own and actually runs outside if it is urgent…. with the exception of when it is raining. He doesn’t like to get his feet wet. He has been so good except this week. The downpour was too much. We go out with him and try to entice him….. He strolled back in. He pooped on al old spot in the house. I picked it up and put it on a peepee pad as the rain was to continue 3 days. I threw out the pooped, put the smelly pad down in the spot. During the evening while we watched TV, he pooped on the paper. BTW…. he usually would ring the bell if the door is locked. What to do. Allow this habit when it rains? o

  10. Yeah , My pup is about 3 and half months now and he pees and poop inside the house , even on bed also sometimes , Plz I need to know how to train him well , is it compulsory to caged him ?

    1. It’s important to manage your puppy when he is young. We keep our young puppies on a leash and by our side at all times that we will notice when our puppy has to go potty because he’ll show pre-potty behaviors like circling, sniffing, or squatting. Also, it’s very important to get your puppy outside often. When our puppies our young we take them outside about every 10 minutes when they’re awake. Hopefully that helps. Good luck with your puppy.

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