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How to potty train a puppy

A step-by-step guide to prevent accidents.

Graduating from potty training is a major milestone in any puppy's life. It's a good idea to teach your dog proper bathroom rituals when they're young, Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch's on-staff veterinarian, tells The Dig. She's sharing the dos and don'ts of potty training, so your best friend doesn't make a mess in the house. 

You should expect that there'll most likely be bumps in the road in the beginning. "Pet parents can start potty training early, but most puppies can't control their bladders before they're 14 to 16 weeks old," Dr. McCullough says. 

How long can puppies hold their pee?

There's a general formula when figuring out how often you should take your puppy to the bathroom. Dr. McCullough says that pet parents should add 1 hour plus your dog's age in months. "For example, a 2-month old puppy should be able to hold it for 3 hours," she adds. "This means young puppies will need to be taken out in the middle of the night as well."

Dr. McCullough explains that puppies usually poop between one to three times each day (typically 10 to 15 minutes after eating). It's normal for puppies to urinate a lot, too. However, smaller breeds usually need to go out more often because of tiny bladders. 

Knowing the physical signs of when a dog needs to go to the bathroom can when potty training, too. Dr. McCullough says that your pup's symptoms may be subtle, but you should look out for wandering off, sniffing an area of the floor and circling. 

Best way to potty train a puppy

Pet parents should never punish or use negative reinforcement while potty training a puppy, Dr. McCullough says. Instead, follow her tips for outdoor potty training your pup: 

  • Establish a regular schedule for your puppy for eating, playing, training and taking them outside to go to the bathroom. 
  • Take them out every 2 hours — especially after meals, play sessions, crate time and before they go to bed.
  • Use positive reinforcement (like treats or praise) when they go to the bathroom outside. 
  • If your pup has an accident inside, stop them by picking them up and taking them to their preferred potty spot. 
  • Use a crate or leash so they can’t wander off to have an accident. 
  • Be consistent with training and rewards. 
  • Understand the physical signs that your pup needs to go to the bathroom. 

When outdoor potty training, Dr. McCullough warns against letting your pup explore public areas before they’re fully vaccinated. 

Another tidbit: If a puppy smells that they’ve gone to the bathroom in a specific area, they’re likely to go there again, she says, so take your pup to the same spot to relieve themselves. 

According to Dr. McCullough, a crate is a safe space or den for dogs, and puppies generally won't want to go to the bathroom in their area. She recommends putting your pup in their crate if you can't watch them and regularly taking them out to the bathroom. 

RELATED: Here’s why there’s blood in your dog’s poop and pee and what to do about it

House training a puppy

Puppy pads are a great way to potty train a puppy — especially if you live in an apartment, have limited mobility or want to limit your puppy's interactions with other dogs until they’re fully vaccinated, Dr. McCullough explains. 

Follow the same steps as outdoor potty training, except replacing the outdoor areas with a puppy pad and keeping it in the same spot. 

How to use puppy pads and outdoor potty training together

If you want to start outdoor potty training after using puppy pads, Dr. McCullough has a tip for that, too. “If you want to transition your puppy’s potty spot outdoors, start placing the pad outside,” she says. “You can gradually reduce the size of the pad and then eventually remove it once they are going to the bathroom on the ground.”

How long does it take to potty train a puppy? 

The length of time it takes to potty train a dog depends on your pup and the training method you use. Dr. McCullough says that it typically takes a few weeks to a few months, but it could be longer or shorter depending on your dog. 

Puppy potty training regression

If your dog has difficulty potty training, Dr. McCullough recommends asking your veterinarian if your pup has an underlying medical condition, like a urinary tract infection (UTI). "Pet parents can also reach out to a reputable and experienced dog trainer for advice once the possibility of a medical condition has been ruled out," she adds.

Congratulations on welcoming your new best friend home. With Dr. McCullough’s tips, your puppy will most likely have a great start on their potty-training journey. 

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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