How To Potty Train a Puppy

Whether we like it or not, puppies need to eliminate. It can be frustrating for an owner, as puppies are not able to understand the boundaries yet, which means elimination happens in places it shouldn’t. When they need to go, they go, and you need to be aware of that as an owner. This is actually the approach that puppies take to everything, including eating, sleeping, and playing. They think of very little outside of those things. What that means is that it fall on you, the owner, to tech your puppy responsible behavior. You need to teach them what your requirements are, unless of course you just want them to keeping doing things the way you don’t like.


There are 4 elements to be found in every successful puppy potty training regimen:

1. Confinement
2. Training
3. Timing
4. Praise

What we are going to do here is break down each of those elements on an individual basis, as well as touching on what to do in special cases.


Confinement is one of the most crucial elements in potty training puppies and also potty training dogs who have yet to be fully acclimated. A good cage or crate is absolutely the most effective place to confine your dog. In the early stages of training, it’s important that you leave the bottom of the crate bare, which means not laying down a blanket or paper. All you will achieve by adding that is giving your pet something to destroy. Most puppies WILL NOT eliminate in their sleeping space, but it’s important that the cage or crate be just big enough for him to lie down and turn around in. If you go with a larger space, he may eliminate in the corner and then sleep at the other end. If you have a puppy that is going to grow into a much bigger dog, you can partition the crate and expand the space as he grows.

Using a Leash and Words

It’s always a good idea to use a leash when training your puppy or dog where to eliminate. This allows you to keep him close and in control of where he goes. The slightest little distraction will set a puppy off and running, all of which combines to take his mind off why he is out with you in the first place. If you see him get distracted, a gentle tug on the leash will get his attention right back to the task at hand. The leash also allows you to lead your dog to the exact area where you would like him to eliminate. Taking him there every time lets him learn where he is going and why.

You should also consider teaching words for elimination. You puppy will pick these up very quickly, and will soon become aware of what you want him to do, and when you want it to happen. You could use something like “go potty” for urination, or perhaps “go poop” when it’s a number two. It doesn’t really matter which words you use, as long as you keep them consistent and only use them for elimination. There will be a lot of repetition, but it does pay off.

For example, if OUTSIDE is the word you use for elimination, you can use it in different phrases, such as “Are you ready to go OUTSIDE?” “Let’s go OUTSIDE,” etc. As long as you have OUTSIDE in there every time, that word will resonate and make it clear what it is you expect from him. Over a period of time, you will start to get a response to the word, with barking and tail wagging common signs of comprehension.

Training and Praise

The easiest type of leash to get on and off your dog is a slip style leash. If your puppy is having a hard time adapting to the leash, slip it on anyways, but carry him outside, making sure to use the phrases that you have been teaching him for elimination. Always place the emphasis on the key word when you speak, which will generally be OUTSIDE. Once in the area you want him to go, change your tone and start using the phrases that you have decided upon for urination and defecation. Keep him focused by giving a gentle tug on the leash when he becomes distracted. Let him sniff around and explore a little as you tell him to “go potty,” making sure that the tone of voice you use is encouraging. Once he has eliminated, switch to a happy tone and use words of praise to show him you are pleased, “good go potty”. It is better to stick with words of praise as opposed to petting and treats, as those can often get in the way of the act itself. Most dogs pee first then poop later. If you give a pet or a treat after the pee, it will take his mind off the poop. Get used to your dog’s habits so you will know what to expect each time.

It would seem to go against common sense, but winter is actually the easiest time for potty training puppies. No-one likes being out in the cold, least of all your puppy. There are also fewer distractions.


Learning how to eliminate appropriately means that your puppy earns freedom. You puppy should only be free from the crate when he has learned how and when to eliminate outside. Once he is granted that freedom, it will still be up to you to supervise his movements, so that you can nip any inappropriate elimination behavior in the bud. There are plenty of ways to dictate where he goes when free, with baby gates and short leashes (supervised when in use) helping keep him in an area where you can get to him quickly if need be. If you don’t do this and end up grabbing him, it may make him fearful. These methods of restricting freedom areas also helps you catch and correct things like chewing, digging, eating the wrong things, and a host of others.

Your best chance of success comes if you can anticipate his needs!

Generally speaking, the amount of time that the puppy can be left in a crate without being allowed out is about the same as his age in months:

2 months old = 2 hours of confinement without a potty break
3 months old = 3 hours of confinement without a potty break
4 months old = 4 hours of confinement without a potty break
etc. – up to about 6 – 8 months of age.

When you have a change in what he does actively (walking, eating, playing, etc.), you need to take him outside ASAP!

Watch for the signs that he will give you that will show he is ready to eliminate. These include an abrupt stop in play, sniffing, circling, running out of the room, and giving you a specific look. You may not spot these in the early stages, but they will soon become familiar.


It’s not the end of the world if your puppy eliminates in the home or the crate. If you catch him red-handed, make an abrupt clapping noise and say “uh uh” in a firm voice to let him know you are unhappy. Let him know that he is behaving badly and that he should be doing this outside. You then soften your voice and tell him it’s time to go OUTSIDE. This is repeated in an even friendlier tone until he follows the command (“go potty”). Be sure to praise him when he finishes the job outside (“good dog, go potty!”).

The important thing to remember here is that this only works if you catch your puppy in the act of elimination. Chastising him after the fact, even just a few seconds later, only let’s him know he will be in trouble for the act. It doesn’t teach him what he should be doing. Dog behaviorists show how this works by running a little test. They will take a piece of poop from the yard and place it in the middle of the floor in the house. Once the owner comes back in the house, the dog immediately runs and hides. He will find a space that he believes to be safe, usually where a toy or bone is located. If the owner then gets the dog, drags him back, and rubs his face in the mess, the puppy simply believes that he is being punished for playing with his toy or bone.

Timing is a major part of proper potty training. This means catching him the act and correcting, followed by praising him for appropriate behavior. When he does things right, you must always be consistent with your praise. This is still the case even after they are trained, as accidents can still happen.

Here is a little something that you need to remember when potty training your dog:

If you puppy has NEVER eliminated in the house, he has never been caught and corrected so that he can understand it is wrong. You can’t effectively train your dog without accidents ever happening.


Tools of the Trade:

stain remover
Nature's Miracle Stain and Odor Remover
Nature's Miracle is an excellent stain and odor neutralizer - great for cleaning up accidents!
crate dog training
Wire Crate with Wood Frame
This crate is the perfect option for those who want an attractive crate. It's very easy to keep clean and there is a wire bottom covering the finished wood frame.
dog shampoo
Fresh'n Clean Shampoo
This shampoo has a great aroma and seems to last longer than other brands - it's the BEST I've found!!
One-Handed Scoop
A very sturdy one-handed scoop which is a great choice for taking on walks.
dog pen potty
Exercise Pen w/ Walk-Through Gate
This exercise pen can be adjusted to different heights and configurations, and it has a walk-through gate and can be used as a room divider or joined to another pen to create a larger area.
cage dog
Midwest Life Stages Crate
This is a great all-purpose crate which is adjustable and can grow with your puppy.


Answers to common questions:

“Does paper training work?”

There are still many owners who have success using this training method, but it adds unnecessary mess and time to the training process. Using paper can be a messy, smelly business, and those papers will also have to be used outside when transitioning the pup.

“What do I do when he goes outside and then comes in and poops right on the floor?”

This is something that is very much on you as the trainer. It is usually a sign that you are missing one or two MAJOR keys for successfully house training a puppy:

When your puppy goes outside you eliminate, you need to be there to supervise.

You may have granted too much freedom. As mentioned earlier, freedom is earned and is only granted when the appropriate elimination takes place outside. If there is no elimination, then it’s back to the crate for puppy before trying again in 20-60 minutes.

“Can’t I just observe my puppy doing his business from the door? I can then treat him when he comes back. Why do I need to go?”

The problem here is that your puppy believes he is being treated for coming back in the house, NOT for eliminating. Proper praise has to happen during elimination, so that he knows why he is being praised. Some dogs will quickly run out and back in, just so they can get that treat quicker. They will also make it appear that they need to go out more often than they really do.

“My puppy will play outside for an hour, but as soon as he comes back in, he goes in the floor. Why is that happening?”

Chances are he did eliminate the moment he went outside. He may not have had to go again before you let him back in, and he certainly doesn’t have the capacity to know when you are going to take him out next. Before you bring him back into the house, go through the motions and use the words that let him know it’s time to potty again.

“When will I know my dog is fully potty trained?”

When the owner is in control, potty training a puppy can be accomplished quite quickly. From that point on, though, you need to establish a habit that could take upwards of two to three months to build. Consistency will move things along faster.

Here are some signs that your puppy is understanding what is going in:

Accident in the crate or the house have either greatly decreased or stopped altogether during the training period.

Your puppy starts to eliminate when you give the command to do so.

Your puppy starts to let you know that he needs to go outside by barking, heading to the front door, or staring at you in that special way.

The freedom your puppy gets comes with mostly no accidents.

“My puppy wakes me up in the early hours of the morning by whining in his crate. I get up, take him out, and then play with him a while before crating him again. He will whine some more before settling down again. How do I get him out of this habit?”

Your puppy will get out of this habit as he ages. In the first few week, you may find yourself getting up 2-3 times per night. By the time he is 9 weeks old, that should have gone down to about once per night. It is important that you check on the puppy when he cries during the night. This is his way of letting you know that something is wrong. It won’t take long for you to figure out which cries are genuine and which are him just being fussy. This all goes back to establishing a habit. If you are up every night to play with him, this will become a habit that is hard to break. If you do have to get up, your only job should be to take him out to do his business, nothing more. You can help cut back on the need for nighttime eliminations by cutting out access to water by 7 or 8 P.M.

How to House Train a Puppy From a Pet Shop

Puppies that were bought from a pet shop were forced to be in a crate, which was where they eliminated. These puppies had no choice but to eliminate where they lived. These dogs are going to need a lot more effort from you in order to get out of the crate and into an appropriate elimination habit. You need to be much more elaborate with your praise when he goes outside, as this lets him know that things are better when he eliminates outdoors. The first few times that the puppy eliminates in the crate should be cleaned and ignored, with no correction methods used. Once the dog gets a clearer idea of what going outside means, you can use some of the corrections that we touched on a little earlier in this piece. Training these dogs will take longer and will require a lot of patience.

About small breeds and “sneaking”

W hen it comes to potty training dogs, there is a general belief that small breeds are incredibly difficult to work with. This has nothing to do with a lack of intelligence, and is in fact the opposite, as they are smart enough to sneak off and find a spot to go that saves them from going outside. This will require you to be more vigilant, whilst giving less freedom to the dog. In extreme cases, it might be an idea to put the leash on the dog and attach the other end to your belt.

Submissive Urination

“When I get home from work and uncrate my dog, he goes crazy and starts peeing on the floor. The more I tell him to stop, the more he goes. Why is that?”

What is going on here has nothing to do with dog potty training. This is known as submissive urination, and it is his way of letting you know that you are the boss. When you yell at him, he will just pee more to re-affirm that you are the alpha leader of the pack. This usually passes by the time dogs are 2 years old.

Ways to deter submissive urination:

AVOID bending over the dog when you see him, as this is considered a dominant position.

Oddly enough, happy talk brings on the urination, so keep the chatter to a minimum.

DO NOT great your dog when you get home. Open the crate, fold your arms over your chest, and turn your back. Whilst this is happening, encourage your dog to go outside to potty. Once he goes, then you can praise him and give him a proper greeting.

If company is coming, out a leash on your dog and do all the greetings before people set foot inside the house.

DO NOT chastise your dog and call him bad, as this is not bad behavior. This is just his way of letting you know that you are the boss.

Spiteful behavior?

“Whenever I go out, I often come home and find little stool and urine “presents” waiting for me. He hates when I go and I’m sure he is doing this to spite me”

Dogs just don’t have it in their nature to be spiteful. That is an emotion that is entirely human, and which is beyond the comprehension of a dog. A dog almost always has a legitimate reason for leaving those accidents….

He forgot to do his business outside.

He is not yet properly trained, and is therefore unaware that he needs to go outside.

He sat at the door waiting to be let out, but simply couldn’t wait any longer.

He felt vulnerable because he was left at home alone. Dogs are pack animals by nature and they view you as part of the pack. Being separated is stressful.

He has too much freedom and still needs supervision.

Here are some steps to consider if accidents are an issue:

Take a few steps back in the potty training process. It may be that some of the things you thought he knew may need to be refreshed.

Use gates or a crate to reduce the amount of freedom he gets while you are gone.

Go back to supervised potty breaks with your dog on a leash so that you can control the situation.

Pay a visit to the vet to ensure that there are no health issues that might be the root of the problem.

Questions to ask if problems persist:

Am I taking my dog out often enough?

Am I aware of every time he goes?

Am I giving him too much freedom in the house?

Am I properly supervising him when he has his freedom?

Is there a physical issue (urinary tract infection, intestinal parasites, etc.) that I need to be aware of?

Am I moving the potty training along at a pace that he is not able to handle?

Am I praising him enough and making him aware that he is doing a god job?

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Great information! I’m ready to tackle potty training!

  • I have a new puppy 5 months old any tips for getting her to go on puppy pads I have them but put down and she shreds them? Thanks

  • I rescued my dog. Don’t know how old she is but think maybe 2 and she’s not potty trained. Can I still crate her? She cries when in there.

  • Enjoyed the article above and felt it was helpful. I will try of the suggestions . I am very frustrated with the potty training. If she would just sleep at night things would be a lot easier. I am getting worn out. How long can a 3 month old put learn that she has to hold it. And how long are then capable of holding it? At night nay pup whines, barks and howls for hours. Had to put her in the basement so we can get some sleep. Help!! Not happy about the ask a dog trainingr now that is blocking my ability to see what i have typed and the article above. Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.