Once you have brought your new puppy home you’ll want to get him potty trained or house trained as fast as possible! Here you will find puppy potty training tips that will make the whole process very simple.
I am going to cover two different methods one for Labrador puppy parents that are able to be at home with their puppies, and one for puppy parents that go out to work.
The modern approach
Every puppy instinctively wants to keep his home den clean, so you can use the crate to stretch out the gaps between bathroom breaks, and to avoid accidents. I will give you some examples of house training routines that do just this in a moment. Of course, in order for any animal to be able to control where it empties itself, it needs more than just an ability to learn. It also needs the capability to hold on to the contents of its bladder and bowels. We, therefore, need to be sensitive to the physical maturity of the puppy as we work through this process.
Puppies have very little control over their bladders at eight weeks old. When they need to go, they need to go now. Little by little your puppy's ability to hold on for a bit longer will grow. Whilst you cannot influence the speed with which he develops a greater bladder awareness and capacity. You can influence your puppy's desire to use the new toilet area, and reduce his desire to toilet indoors. This is where crates come in handy.
Puppies love to wee where they have wee'd before and hate to wee in their dens. The strategic and careful use of crate time in house training helps to prevent accidents indoors. Which in turn reduces your puppy's inclination to wee indoors in the future. He will try hard not to wee in his crate. So short periods of crate time encourage him to hold on. His bladder will gradually be able to hold more urine for longer periods of time. Let's see how this works in practice.
Stage one 8-9 weeks: establishing a toilet area
This initial stage in toilet training is to help your puppy to get to know the new toilet area and to recognize it as a good place to relieve himself. During this stage, you need to take full responsibility for making sure you place your puppy in his toilet area outdoors many times each day. It is a good idea to carry your puppy from his crate through the house and to put him down only when you reach the appropriate area. If you let him walk from his crate to the back door, at this point his control is so poor he is likely to have an accident on the way. Wait outside with the puppy for five minutes to give him plenty of chance to answer the call of nature.
In a busy family, it is quite a good idea to set an alarm to remind you to take him out half an hour after the last successful trip. Repeat throughout the day.
If the puppy fails to relieve himself on any of your outings to the garden, you need to crate him or supervise him extremely closely for ten to fifteen minutes and then try again. Supervise closely means literally not taking your eyes off the puppy for a second. Preferably holding him on your lap or in your arms.
Another great puppy potty training tip
If your puppy cries when you place him in his crate, wait until he stops crying before you open the door to let him out. If you feel that crying in the crate is increasing, work through the procedures described in The Noisy Puppy post.
When your puppy is outside the crate, confine him to a small area of the washable floor. A single room, such as your kitchen, is ideal. When you put the puppy to bed at night, set your alarm for four hours' time and take the puppy out into the garden for a wee. If all goes well, set your alarm a little later each night. Aim for six hours of sleep by the end of the week. But be prepared for it to take another week or two.
House training routine for stage one
At least once during the night, on waking, after eating, or running about:
- Carry the puppy outside to his toilet area.
- Stay outside with the puppy until he relieves himself, or for at least five minutes.
- If successful, praise the puppy and make a big fuss of him
- If unsuccessful, crate or cuddle the puppy for ten minutes, then repeat from step # 1.
- When successful, bring the puppy indoors and give him (with exception of night-time) the freedom of your kitchen.
- Set an alarm for thirty minutes' time.
- After ten minutes or so, watch the puppy quite closely.
- When the alarm goes off, repeat from step # 1.
The objective is to avoid any accidents whatsoever in the house. This takes a bit of practice though. The chances are that you will slip once or twice. Small puppies will sometimes wee again, just fifteen minutes or so after the last wee. Whatever you do, don't attempt to reprimand the puppy.
Why is a punishment not helpful?
I think this is the most important puppy potty training tip. You have to understand that punishment in potty training doesn't work. Acutually it doesn't work in any training.
Apart from the ethical considerations of punishing an animal for something it doesn't understand and has little control over. Punishment in house training is now known to have disadvantageous side effects.
Puppies cannot associate a punishment with their own behavior unless the two occur together. So there is no point in punishing a puppy once the deed is done. Punishing a puppy while he is in the process of emptying himself on your carpet may seem like a good idea. But rather than teaching him that carpets are not toilets, it usually simply teaches the puppy that weeing in your presence is a hazardous occupation.
Having decided that you have an unreasonable aversion to his natural bodily functions. Your puppy may well hold on as long as possible when you take him to his toilet area. This is not helpful development.
Punishment may also encourage him to hide when he wees indoors in the future. Generally speaking, it is easier to clean up a puddle in the middle of the floor than under the sofa. So forget any idea of punishment. Focus on getting the puppy to the right place at the right time. If, and probably when, he has an accident, make sure you clean up effectively.
Cleaning up accidents
Dogs are renowned for their amazing sense of smell. This ability can work against you when you are trying to house train your puppy. If you leave the slightest trace of urine on your floor, he will detect it. He will be tempted to wee there in the future. Unfortunately, some household cleaners contain chemicals that are found in urine. So they can make things even worse.
You can buy special sprays and cleaning fluids, designed for house training, from most pet shops. Otherwise, use plenty of hot soapy water and ammonia-free cleaning fluids.
By the end of the first week, you might be able to move on to stage two. Move only if your puppy is relieving himself on most of his trips to the garden, and you have no accidents for a couple of days.
Stage two 9-12 weeks: developing self-control
What we aim to help the puppy achieve in stage two is some better awareness of his bladder and bowels. And some motivation to get to his toilet area when they need emptying. By the end of stage two, if you leave the back door open, in good weather, many puppies will be able and willing to take themselves outside to the toilet. If you leave the door shut, the puppy may wait by it for a moment before weeing on the floor. Your job is to continue to supervise closely when he is out the crate. Help him to get to his toilet area at regular intervals.
Early in stage two, many puppies will be able to last a six-hour stretch at night, say from midnight to 6 a.m. You can continue to stretch out the gap by setting your alarm fifteen minutes later each night until you have seven-hour gap. If the puppy wets his bed, put it in the washing machine on a hot wash and clean the crate thoroughly. Then go back to setting your alarm half an hour earlier and increase the gaps with more caution.
Some puppies will last even longer
Provided there are no accidents, you can also stretch out the gaps between toilet trips during the day. Work your way from thirty minutes to forty-five minutes and so on. Some puppies may be able to last an hour or more between trips at three months old. You have to be guided by your puppy. If he is having accidents, shorten the gaps between toilet breaks.
During this stage, you can introduce a cue word. Your puppy will associate it with doing a wee or a poo. Pick a word or short phrase (we use 'do your business') and say it quietly as your puppy is emptying himself. Later on, you will be able to use the word to encourage him to empty himself at a time that is convenient for you. But do not attempt to do this just yet. If you use the word and he does not oblige, you will have taught him that the word has no meaning.
Any ability to hold on is still relatively fragile. A puppy under three months old is easily distracted. He won't remember that he needed to go out for a wee when there is anything interesting going on around him. And accidents are highly likely unless he is closely supervised. However, for fifteen to twenty minutes after your puppy has emptied himself, you can relax a little as he will become increasingly unlikely to have an accident in this timeframe. When twenty minutes have passed after his last wee, you need to begin to keep an eye on the puppy for signs that he needs to go out. If you cannot do this, pop him in his crate for a few minutes, until it is time to go out again.
Key points for stage two
- Increase the night's sleep by 15 minutes every few nights up to a seven-hour stretch.
- Continue to take the puppy out after waking, eating, playing and when there has been a gap since the last toilet break.
- Increase the length of the gap between breaks up to an hour.
If the puppy has been outside unsupervised and you don't know how long it is since he last did a wee, pop him in his crate for twenty minutes. Then take him outside and supervise him. Repeat until he wees. Then you can relax around him indoors for a while.
House training routine for stage two
On waking, after eating, or running about:
- Walk with the puppy outside to his toilet area. He should be able to make it without an accident by now.
- Preferably stay with the puppy until he relieves himself, or for at least five minutes.
- If successful, praise the puppy and make a big fuss of him.
- If unsuccessful in the toilet area, crate the puppy for twenty minutes then repeat from step # 1.
- As the puppy relieves himself, say 'do your business' (or choose another phrase or word) in a soft and friendly way.
- Bring him indoors and give him the freedom of your kitchen.
- Set an alarm for forty-five minutes' time.
- After the first twenty minutes, watch the puppy more closely or crate him for a few minutes.
- When the alarm goes off, repeat from step # 1.
Once your puppy can last about an hour between toilet breaks during the day and has had no accidents for a few days, you are ready to begin to extend the clean zone in your house.
Stage three 3-6 months: extending the clean zone
By the time they are three months old, many puppies are able to be clean and dry in a restricted area of your house. Extending this area is a gradual process, and it is important to remember that your puppy's memory and attention span are still very immature. If your puppy gets too far from the back door, he will relieve himself in the house.
Carpets are much more attractive to a puppy with a full bladder than a washable floor. Extend the clean zone to other rooms with washable floors before you include rooms with carpets. Introduce the puppy to carpets with caution and a lot of supervision. Initially, it is best to allow access to carpets only when the puppy has just emptied himself outdoors. And for no more than twenty minutes after that time. After twenty minutes, it is best to return him to the kitchen. Try not to rush this. The more often the puppy plays on your carpets without an accident, the less likely he will have an accident in the future. You are building good habits here and it is worth taking it slowly.
During stage three, you will also be able to extend the gaps between toilet breaks and by about six months of age, many puppies can last two to three hours without a wee.