If you’re a new pet parent and you’re working on training your pup, you probably have one big question: just how long does it take to potty train a puppy? If you’ve been knee-deep in the world of potty training for a few weeks now, you may be starting to feel just a little bit desperate.
The good news is, it gets better. Potty training is typically the first (and most challenging) thing you do as a new pet parent. For that reason, it can be hard not to second guess yourself.
And the not-so-good news is… it takes time. The truth is that the process can take several weeks and up to several months or longer. The exact length of time depends on your specific situation, technique, and dog.1 So be patient, but don’t lose faith.
One of the biggest factors in the length of time it takes to potty train a dog is you. The more you focus on being present and consistent, and letting your pup out (seemingly 100 times a day) whenever they may have to go, the quicker your dog will “get it.” Follow these potty training tips to make that happen sooner.
First, Understand Positive Reinforcement Training
Positive reinforcement is an effective and humane way to train your dog. It’s especially effective for puppy potty training.
Here’s how it works:
- You show your dog the behavior you want.
- Your dog does that behavior.
- You mark the specific behavior by saying “good dog!”, “yes!” or using a clicker.
- You reward them immediately with an affectionate pet, treat, or praise.
- Your dog learns which behaviors get rewarded and starts offering those behaviors more often.2
When you train your puppy, it’s up to you to show them exactly what good behavior looks like. With potty training, this means that you want to show them again and again that the bathroom is outside. Once they make that connection, they will start asking to go outside to potty.
When Should You Begin Potty Training Your Puppy?
If possible, try to take some time off of work when you pick up your new puppy. You want to start potty training – or at least start introducing the concept – on day one. The more present you can be, the faster they will learn.
While puppies don’t have full control over their bladders until 16-20 weeks, you want to start showing them where to go as soon as they come home with you.3 The earlier a puppy starts to learn where they should go to the potty, the less likely they are to develop bad habits.
If you’ve adopted an adult dog who was never potty trained, you can also start the process as soon as you bring them home. It’s never too late to train a dog.
For both young puppies and older dogs, you want to be realistic about how long they can hold their bladders.4
Start the process gently, helping them get used to the crate if you plan to use one. Don’t force your puppy into a crate on day one – or ever for that matter. Take the time to introduce the crate slowly, and let your dog form positive associations with it before you use it.
You want your puppy to feel at home and comfortable with you. So while you should start “training” by gently showing them where to go and rewarding them when they do, refrain from any punishment or scolding– especially in the first couple of weeks.5
How To Potty Train Your Dog
The actual process of potty training a puppy is simple – but it’s not necessarily easy. Accidents are part of the process. They will happen. Success relies on setting a predictable schedule, limiting your puppy’s freedom in your house, and staying consistent.
1. Create Your Dog Potty Training Schedule
Puppies thrive on regular schedules. A regular potty training schedule will teach them that there are specific times to eat, play, sleep, and do their business. The faster they learn this and get into a groove, the faster they will become potty trained.
- Take your puppy out as soon as they wake up.
- Feed your puppy at the same time every day.
- Pick up their food bowl after 15 minutes.
- Take your puppy out after every meal, drink of water, and playtime.
- Allow access to fresh water throughout the day, and pick up the water bowl 2 hours before bedtime.
- If you’re using one, have your pup wind down and sleep in the crate at night.
- If your pup wakes up in the middle of the night, take them directly to their potty spot and then back to the crate.6
2. Take Your Puppy Out Frequently
When in doubt, take your puppy out. Your puppy does not have strong bladder control at this age. They can’t physically hold it. If they are not given enough bathroom breaks, they will have an accident.
The general rule is that they can hold it for one hour for every month of age.
So if your puppy is 2 months old, they need to go out at least every 2 hours. Once your puppy reaches about 6 months of age, they will be able to hold it for most of the day.7
Some puppies can hold it through the night if they are sleeping. Many will have to go out once or twice in the night.
When Does Your Puppy Need To Go Out?
It’s a great idea to start a log and record every time your pet pees, poops, eats, drinks, and sleeps. It may feel like overkill, but having this information will help you see patterns that can help you. Being able to predict when your pup has to potty will speed up the potty training process..
As a general rule, take your puppy outside directly after any of these activities:
- Waking up in the morning
- A play session
- A training session
- Waking up from a nap
- Excitement about anything (a visitor, a new toy, a bone)
- Being in the crate8
As you get more experience with dog potty training, you’ll also start to recognize some of the signs that your puppy needs to go to the bathroom.
If you see any of these signs, take your pup out immediately:
- Sniffing the ground
Deliberately walking away with no other clear purpose
- Whimpering or whining
- Pawing at the door (this happens later, once they have learned to potty outside)9
Pick A Designated Potty Spot
To make potty training go faster, you’ll want to pick a potty spot where your pup will always go to the bathroom. Pick a convenient spot.
When it’s time to take your pup out:
- Put them on a leash, and take them directly to the potty spot.
- While you’re waiting, don’t make eye contact or play with them. You want this to be a “business only” trip.
- When your puppy is going to the bathroom, say a cue like “go potty” or “time to pee.”
- Once they go, you can reward them with some playtime.10
Make sure you go to the potty spot with your dog rather than simply letting them outside. If your pup runs free, uses the bathroom wherever they want, and then gets a treat sometime later, it will take them longer to understand which behavior is being rewarded. This can slow down the process.
Reward Them For A Job Well Done
Once your pet goes to the bathroom, mark the behavior with an enthusiastic “yes!” or “good dog!” and give them a reward. Some dogs love treats, while others prefer affection or playtime. Pick the reward that is most motivating for your dog. You could even do all three. You really want to show your dog how happy you are, so don’t hold back.
Always Supervise Your Puppy Indoors
To avoid bad habits, you want to prevent accidents from ever happening in the first place. The best way to avoid accidents is to always keep an eye on your puppy. That means your puppy is on a leash or you have eyes directly on them. This allows you to act immediately if you see signs that they need to go.
If You Can’t Supervise, Confine Them in a Crate
For many, it’s just not realistic to always monitor your puppy. You may have other obligations, like going to work. This is where a dog crate comes in. Dog crates are a popular training tool that can help speed up the process.
What are the Benefits of Crate Training a Puppy?
- A crate will give your pup a safe, den-like space where they can relax.
- Dogs are naturally clean animals – few pups will soil their “den” or sleeping area if they can help it.
- Because they will not go in their den, you can easily predict when they will have to go.11
How Crate Training Works
- Pick a crate that is small enough to feel like a den and large enough for your pup to comfortably turn around in.
- Make positive associations with the crate by feeding them and giving them special treats only when they are in there (this is an important part of the process and should not be skipped).
- When you can’t directly supervise your pup, keep them in the crate.
- Only keep your dog in the crate for a few hours at a time. You may have to rely on friends or experienced dog walkers to let them out throughout the day.
- When you let your dog out of the crate, take them directly to the potty spot.
- If your pup doesn’t go potty immediately, put them back in the crate and try again in 10 minutes.
- When you know they have gone potty outside, they can have freedom from the crate – under your direct supervision.12
Many dog trainers swear by the crate as a potty training method. Used correctly, crate training can help the potty training process move quickly.
Potty Training Without A Crate
Some people don’t want to – or can’t – crate train their dog for whatever reason. The crate takes some getting used to for all puppies. But if your dog continues to have severe anxiety around the crate after a few weeks, you may want to train without it.13
Here are some crate-free training methods:
- Tethering a.k.a. “umbilical cord training”: Physically tie your pup’s leash around your waist so they are always nearby. This way, you’ll never miss a potty sign, and you can spring into action.14
- Creating a Puppy Zone: Create an enclosed area with an exercise pen, or designate a bathroom to be a “puppy zone.” Keep your puppy in this area when you can’t directly supervise. This area should be lined with newspapers and contain toys, water, and a potty pad.15
How Do Puppy Pee Pads And Potty Pads Work?
Having your dog go to the bathroom outside is ideal, but potty pad training can sometimes work too. Potty pads (also called pee pads or puppy pads) are layers of absorbent material with plastic on the underside. They are meant to soak up a dog’s pee and poop.
Using puppy pads can be useful for people who:
- Are elderly
- Have mobility issues
- Live in high rise apartments
- Can’t let their dog outside during the day or can’t find someone who can help16
Paper training with pee pads uses the same technique of timing, creating a consistent schedule, and staying diligent.
When it’s time to take your pup to their potty spot, take them to a pee pad. You can also set up a litter box with potty training pads and ask them to do their business there.
After your dog has learned to go to the bathroom on pee pads, you will need to start moving them closer and closer to the door and re-train them to go outside.
Do’s And Don’ts Of Potty Pads
- Restrict your puppy’s access to the entire house if you are leaving them alone.
- Set up an exercise pen, or a designated bathroom, where they can do their business.
- If they have an accident, clean it up with a paper towel and place this on the pee pad so it will smell like their pee.
- When you’re home, take them to the pee pad on a leash and reinforce good behavior.
- Celebrate every time they go on the potty pad – you want to make it clear that this is the place to go.
- Expect them to automatically know how to use the pee pads without any training. You’ll have to take them to the designated area and reward them when they go.
- Line your entire floor with pee pads. Just use one or two to start.
What To Do If You Have an Accident
When you potty train your puppy, accidents are inevitable. Perhaps your timing was off, or your puppy just couldn’t hold it any longer. If you have a mistake, here’s what to do:
If you catch your pup in the act…
- Run over, clap or say a word of interruption, and pick your dog up.
- Carry your dog out directly to the potty spot.
- Never yell or physically hit your dog. Dogs who are scared of their owners won’t learn faster. In fact, they may start doing their business where you can’t see them (like underneath a bed or behind a couch).17
If you catch your pup after the fact…
- Oops! Clean it up, and tell yourself that you’ll do a better job of watching your dog next time.
- Do not rub your dog’s nose in it, hit your dog, or scream. Your dog won’t understand what you are reacting to, and they may start to fear you.
In both cases….
- Thoroughly clean up the mess with an enzyme cleaner that removes the smell to prevent your dog from returning to that spot.
- Make sure you are restricting your pup’s freedom until they have earned it.
- Make sure you aren’t asking your dog to hold it for too long.18
Why Mistakes Set You Back
While it’s not the end of the world, you want to limit mistakes from ever happening in the first place. Dogs can easily develop bad habits if they are allowed to get away with something. In addition, soiling inside the house can act as a form of “marking” that a puppy will return to again and again.19
How Long Will This Take?
Aha… the golden question: how long will potty training take? As stated above, it depends. The toilet training process can take anywhere from several weeks to several months. Here are some factors that can determine the length of potty training time.
Reasons Why It Could Take Longer
- Certain medical issues could extend potty training time.20
- Puppies who live in unsanitary environments early on in life (like puppy mills) may not hold back from soiling their crate. If this is the case, a crate shouldn’t be used.
- Some small dog breeds may take longer to potty train.21
- Dogs who have anxiety may not do well with crates, which can lengthen potty training time.
- Older dogs who are in the habit of going inside may take longer to train.
Things That Can Shorten The Process
- Constant supervision
- The use of a crate when you can’t supervise
- Being diligent
- A strict, reliable schedule
- Getting everyone in the family on board22
You Got This
If you stay on top of your potty training, you will get there. If you can’t be home during the day, many people find it helpful to ask friends, family members, or professional dog sitters to help out. Sometimes, it takes a village to potty train a puppy.
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