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  • Molly Weinfurter

How To Potty Train a Puppy (Or Adult Dog)

Updated: Jun 2

Potty training is one of the most tedious parts of getting a new puppy or dog. It requires lots of patience and consistency to help set the canine up for success. Luckily, breaking it down into small, manageable tasks can make house training seem less daunting. So, if you’re about to bring home a dog that isn't potty trained, keep reading for some tips on how to successfully teach them.

I've fostered lots of dogs before, and many of them needed some potty training as they adjusted to their new environment. Luckily, most of the got the hang of it within a few days, but I only foster adult dogs. I know that foster parents with puppies have a harder time with potty training.

Regardless of the dog's age, it's an important part of dog training. And I know first-hand how tricky it can be.

puppy lying in grass

Do New Dogs Always Need to Be Potty Trained?

No, not all dogs need potty training. If you adopt an adult rescue dog, they may already know where to do their business, especially if they’ve lived in a house before. However, even house trained dogs can have accidents in new environments, so you should be prepared to get your dog used to a routine even if they’re potty trained.

In many cases, potty training a rescue dog is easier than training a young puppy since rescue dogs have often been trained in past homes. However, there are still lots of dogs of all ages that need help with training, so adopting an adult dog isn’t a guarantee that they’re potty trained.

How to Potty Train a Puppy or Dog

Potty training tips can be different for every dog, but below are some methods that pet parents usually find successful. If you’re struggling to house train your dog even after trying the following, you may want to work with a professional dog trainer.

Stick to a Routine

Routine is crucial for every type of dog training. Even before you adopt a dog, come up with a bathroom schedule for the dog and make sure everyone in the home knows about the dog’s routine. 

For the first week or so, you should take your dog outside as much as possible to prevent accidents. I've had a few foster dogs that I've had to let out every hour or so just to prevent accidents, but it was worth it to help them pick up on potty training faster.

If you have a puppy, remember that they cannot hold their bladder as long as an adult dog can. A puppy can usually hold their bladder for about one hour for every month of age. So, if a puppy is only two months old, don’t let more than two hours pass between bathroom breaks. 6 to 8 hours is the maximum time any dog should have to hold their bladder.

There will likely be times when you’re out of the house longer than your puppy can hold it. If that’s the case, find someone you trust, such as a friend or family member to stop by and let the puppy out to keep them on their regular schedule. If you’re regularly gone from home and don’t have someone to stop by to let the puppy out, you may want to consider adopting an older puppy or adult dog as opposed to a young puppy.

Having a schedule for other events in your puppy's day, such as meals and sleep time, can also help your dog get used to a potty schedule.

puppy potty training

Choose a Bathroom Spot

While keeping your dog on a schedule, it’s a good idea to designate a “potty spot” too. When you take your dog outside to do their business, always take them to the same spot in the yard so they can associate that spot with doing their business. When they’re supposed to be relieving themselves, don’t play with them since that could distract them from peeing or pooping.

Some dog parents rely on potty pads to help train their dogs. If your dog has an accident in the house, they’ll be likely to pee in the same spot. So, after cleaning up the accident, put a potty pad in that spot so your dog will pee on the pad instead of damaging your floor.

If your dog starts peeing on a potty pad indoors, you can move the potty pad closer to the door and then eventually set a potty pad outside in the spot where your dog should be peeing. Doing so can help transition them from peeing on a pad inside to peeing outdoors.

Supervise and Confine

The best way to ensure your dog doesn’t have any accidents is to supervise them whenever possible. If you notice them acting like they need to go out, such as sniffing around excessively or preparing to squat or lift a leg, rush them outside to their potty spot.

It’s impossible to watch a dog 24/7, so whenever you need to leave your dog alone, make sure they’re confined. Confine them to an area with potty pads covering the floor, especially if you’re using potty pads to help you with training.

You can also use a crate to help with potty training when you’re not paying attention to your pup. Choose a crate that’s big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in without giving them much excess room. Dogs don’t like to do their business in the same place they sleep, so they will be more likely to hold it if they’re in an appropriately sized crate.

Some crates come with divider walls so you can adjust the size as a puppy grows. However, if your dog is not used to crates, you may need to work on crate training before you can leave them alone in a crate.

dog napping in crate

Verbal Cue and Rewards

As you go through your potty training routine, make sure you have a verbal cue and rewards ready for your puppy. When you take your dog outside to their designated bathroom spot, say something like “go potty” so they can associate the cue with peeing and pooping. Everyone in your household should always use the same cue to avoid confusing your dog.

When your dog does their business outside, especially after you’ve said the cue, reward them with a small training treat. During the potty training process, you should always have treats on you in your pocket or a treat pouch so you can give the treat immediately after your dog does what they’re supposed to. When you give them a treat, also say a praise word like “good” or “yes.” Stay consistent with your verbal marker so you can eventually replace treats with the word.

Handling Mistakes

Mistakes can happen, even if a dog is normally potty trained. The way you handle mistakes can affect your dog’s training progress. While it may be tempting to yell at your dog or shove their face in the accident, most trainers have found that this does more harm than good. When you scold your dog, it usually scares them, and they might not understand why you’re upset. Thus, using punishment-based methods can hurt the bond between you and your dog.

Thus, it’s crucial to keep an eye on your dog during the potty training process. If you notice them about to do their business inside, quickly take them outside before they can finish. Then, if they finish doing their business outside, reward them.

If your dog has an accident indoors, clean the area as thoroughly as possible. Make sure the urine or feces scent is completely gone so your dog won’t mistake that spot for a bathroom spot.

tiny puppy on rug

Overnight Potty Training

A big challenge for dog parents with young puppies is getting the puppy to hold their bladder all night. Since young puppies can’t hold their bladders for more than a few hours, you’ll need to expect to get up at least once during the night to let the puppy out. However, if you’re using pee pads to help with training, you can leave your pup in a confined space with access to pee pads overnight.

To reduce the risk of overnight accidents, take away your dog’s water dish about two and a half hours before their scheduled bedtime. Always take them outside right before bed to give them a chance to relieve themselves.

Letting You Know They Have to Go

Once your dog understands that they’re supposed to go outside, you will likely want to teach them how to let you know when they have to go. A common way to do this is to buy large bells to put near the door. Whenever you let your dog outside to do their business, ring the bells. It can also help to grab your dog’s paw and ring the bell with their paw.

With enough consistency, your dog will likely ring the bell when they need to pee or poop. This method can help ensure that your dog is never forced to hold it.

However, if your dog rings the bell and ends up just playing outside, bring them back in to help them understand that the bell is for doing their business, not for playtime.

Special Situations for Dog Potty Training

Potty training can be more challenging for some dogs than it can be for others. For example, adult dogs with trauma, such as dogs rescued from puppy mills, may take longer to become fully potty trained. Sadly, puppy mill dogs are often forced to do their business in their cages, so it can take them a while to get used to going outside. If you’re interested in adopting a puppy mill survivor, ask the rescue or shelter about their potty training progress.

Senior dogs can also be trickier to potty train than younger dogs. Sadly, many old dogs can’t hold their bladders as long as they used to, so you may need to let them outside as frequently as you would with a puppy.

Potty training puppy mill survivor
This was one of the foster dogs that I had to potty train

Frequently Asked Questions

When Should I Start Potty Training a Puppy?

You can start potty training your puppy as early as eight weeks old, which is the soonest they can leave their mom and littermates. However, keep in mind that they won’t be able to hold their bladder for more than an hour or two at that point.

How Long Does it Take to Potty Train a Puppy?

With a young puppy, it can take four to six months for them to be fully potty trained. However, some dogs may pick up on it much faster or take much longer to figure it out. So, be prepared to set aside lots of time for potty training when you get a new dog, especially a puppy.

At What Age Can Puppies Go Outside?

It’s best to avoid taking your puppy outside, especially in areas with other dogs and humans, until they’ve gotten all their necessary vaccinations. Thus, wait to take them for walks and outdoor adventures until they’re about 12 to 16 weeks old.

How Often Should I Take My Puppy Outside to Go Potty?

When you first bring a puppy home, you should take them outside every two hours. This can prevent accidents and help them understand where they’re supposed to do their business.

Why is My Potty Trained Dog Having Accidents?

If your dog never has accidents but is suddenly peeing in the house, it could be due to stress, changes in routine, or medical conditions like urinary tract infections. Talk to your vet to determine the root of the problem.

Why is Potty Training a Puppy So Hard?

If potty training your puppy seems hard, you may not be keeping a close enough eye on your puppy. Every time your dog has an accident without being stopped and taken outside, it regresses their progress. Working with a dog trainer can also help you tackle puppy potty training issues.

When Should I Stop Giving My Dog Treats During Potty Training?

Once your dog is consistently going outside without accidents, you can wean them off of treats. Only give them treats once in a while during potty breaks, but continue using a praise word like “good” or “yes” when they do their business outside. Gradually use the treats less and less until you’re only using the verbal marker.

puppy resting in open crate

Be Patient with Your New Dog

Potty training comes easily for some dogs while it may take a while for others to get the hang of it. Either way, you’ll need to be patient with your dog and follow a consistent routine to help them succeed. Any dog can have accidents as they enter a new environment, so keep that in mind if you’re planning to bring a new dog into your life.

If you have specific questions about potty training dogs or need help with the potty training process, reaching out to a professional trainer is the best way to help your pup succeed.


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