Q&A: How can I potty train my puppy when she can’t go outside yet?

How can I potty train my puppy when she can't go outside yet?I’ve adopted an 11wk old puppy from shelter, but she hasn’t had her shots and is unable to go outside for 2 months (in hindsight, I probably took in too much as u live in an apt on 3rd floor and it’s summertime) have had little Sally 12 days and she’s doing good using pee pads, How can I potty train her for outside or command if she’s unable to eliminate outside? I carry her out for fresh air and change of scenery twice a day but, in 2mts time she’ll be nearly 4 months and will she have to be retrained?

Thanks, I’m a bit confused and just want to start her off on right notes!!

Appreciate it,

Hi Frances,
Congratulations on your new family member! Housetraining a puppy can be tricky in an apartment, but with some time and effort, most puppies tend to pick up the basics fairly quickly, and it sounds like you’re off to a great start with Sally.

First of all, I would make sure that you get Sally up to date on her vaccinations as soon as possible – not only for the purpose of potty training her outdoors, but because exposure to new people and environments is very important for a puppy’s social development in the first few months.

In the meantime, there are a few ways that you can make the transition from puppy pads to outdoor potty time easier on both of you. Many dog owners don’t realize that puppies develop what we call a ‘substrate preference’ for elimination very early in life. That means that a puppy who initially learns to pee on grass will tend to prefer pottying on grass in the future, whereas a puppy who’s been taught to ‘go’ on pads learns that eliminating indoors on soft surfaces is acceptable. You can probably see how this could end up making Sally’s potty training confusing for her in the long run, right?

My suggestions are:

• If possible, take Sally out the same area outdoors every time you want her to eliminate, even if that means onto a balcony. This teaches her that elimination is an act that’s always done outside, no matter what.

• Remember to reward her each time she goes in the ‘right’ place

• Instead of teaching her to use puppy pads, bring her to a litter box filled with gravel, or a patch of artificial ‘potty training’ turf to do her business. These substrates are much more similar to what would naturally be found on the ground outside, making for a far less confused pup when you actually start taking her out of the apartment to eliminate.

• Teach Sally to go pee on command – it will help her with the transition to new and different potty areas as she gets older. You can use ‘go pee’ or a ‘hurry up’ cue to teach this behavior, but make sure to use the same phrase each time! When she starts to urinate, say your cue word or phrase, wait until she’s completely finished, and then reward her immediately with praise and a tasty treat. For the first few weeks, ONLY say the phrase if she’s actually in the process of going potty. Once she’s eliminating regularly with this routine, start saying the cue earlier (when she’s showing signs of having to go, like circling or sniffing the ground, for example), only rewarding her if she actually urinates. She’ll soon connect the command with the act of going potty, and you’ll be able to use the cue with her anywhere you go. Dogs aren’t typically able to poop on command, however, but it’s always good to assume that they’ll need to have a bowel movement after a meal or playtime.

Sally sounds like a delightful little puppy, and you must be excited to watch her grow and learn! With time, patience, and a consistent routine set by you, she’ll be learning an outdoor potty routine in no time.

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Junior Watson

Junior is the DogTrainingBasics.com resident "Top Dog". He enjoys walks in the park, chasing invisible cats, and of course... bacon strips!

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Dear Frances,

    My puppy started with pee pads too. They are great to avoid accidents in the house! Every time I could see her in the house using the pee pads, I used to say “pee pee”. After she was done, I used to give her a treat & tell her good girl!

    When we started going outside for walks, I started to say the word pee pee. This helped her know what I wanted from her. When she started doing it outside, I was ready to give her a treat & to say good girl! The idea is just to teach her on command. My word was pee pee, but you can choose your own! Good luck!

    Note: I still let her use the pee pads at home if needed! No accidents & a happy puppy!


  • I recently acquired 8 week old Multi-poo who wants to chew anything 24 – 7. Well except when he is sleeping. When you say “NO” in a loud voice, he just goes from one thing to another as fast as he can. He likes to drive me crazy. He pounces at my feet, he’ll bite toes, shoe laces, pretty near trips you up when walking. He will chew his chew toys until he gets tired of them.

    • I don’t recommenced you use the word no or any negativity, however try to redirect the behaviour.. When he is chewing on you, give him a toy instead and play with him with that.

  • I have recently got an 8 week old pug puppy and he has started to use toilet pads but he doesn’t always use them as he keeps going on the carpet. He is fine with going for a poo on the pad but not wee’s. I can’t take him outside as he hasn’t had all of his injections so how can I get him to go for a wee on the toilet pads?

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