The Stress-Free Guide to House Training
What’s the best way to potty train a puppy? How do you handle accidents? Here's everything you need to know to master potty training your dog.20 minute read
Potty training (a.k.a house training, often formerly known as housebreaking) is usually the highest priority on every dog parent’s mind when they bring home a new puppy. So many things go into teaching your dog not to use the bathroom inside: his age and size, how much he eats and drinks, your household’s schedule, how you handle accidents when they do happen.
It’s a lot to take in. That’s why we’ve put together this guide. Here’s everything you need to know about potty training your puppy. The three keys to house training success are:
- Predict when your puppy needs to go so you start building good bathroom habits right away.
- Follow a consistent routine and watch your dog at all times so he doesn’t have the chance to practice peeing or pooping indoors.
- Use praise and rewards to communicate that you want your puppy to go to the bathroom outside.
Want a little more detail than that? Ok let's get into it.
- House training depends on two separate processes. There's your puppy's learned behavior and their physical growth and development. They are related but separate.
- Be intentional about house training. Despite their incredible intuition, dogs can’t actually read our minds. Treat it like a project that requires intentional decisions and consistent follow-through.
- On average most dogs can become house trained within four to six months of age. That doesn't mean it happens just by reaching a certain age though. House training depends on your consistency, their environment, and your experience with dogs. Plus their breed, size, and past experiences also play a role.
- As a (very) general rule, puppies can hold their bladders and bowels one hour for every month of age and need to use the bathroom between five minutes to one hour after eating or drinking.
- To properly house train your puppy, you’ll need the right supplies. First, lots and lots of patience! Mistakes are going to happen. Second, an effective enzymatic cleaner to fully remove all traces of those accidents. Finally, a comfortable dog crate or other way to safely confine your puppy when you can’t keep an eye on him.
- It’s important to get your entire household on a consistent house training schedule. Keep a potty log and proactively set alarms so you don’t forget to take your puppy outside.
- If you catch your dog having an accident, quickly (but calmly) take him outside to his designated spot. Don't yell or otherwise punish him (that doesn't work). Thoroughly clean all accidents with an enzymatic cleaner, then think about how you might need to adjust your potty training process to be more successful moving forward.
- If your pup struggles with house training, make sure he’s healthy. Young dogs can develop urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal upset, or other medical problems that make it difficult to hold their bladders. A full veterinary check can identify any issues and get you back on the right track (your carpet will thank you).
What is potty training, anyway?
House training seems straightforward. It’s just teaching your dog not to use the bathroom inside! That simple result depends on two separate things working together though:
- A learned behavior, which you teach through positive reinforcement
- Your puppy’s physical ability to control his bladder and bowels, which grows over time
Potty training involves two different processes
Part of house training is teaching your puppy what you want from him. The foundation of most dog training is operant conditioning: Behaviors have consequences, and those consequences affect what we do in the future.
In potty training, we show our dogs that peeing outside gets them a reward. We interrupt—or ideally prevent—them from doing the wrong thing (soiling our floors).
Physical bladder and bowel growth
Even a dog who knows you want him to hold his bladder inside might still have an accident though. That’s because house training isn’t just about learned behavior. It also depends on your puppy’s growth. As he ages, his bladder and bowels increase in size. The surrounding muscles get stronger too.
Young dogs can only wait so long between peeing and pooping. Many potty training mishaps are issues of physical ability, not disobedience.
Potty training makes everything else you do with your puppy easier
It’s in everyone’s best interest if you and your puppy master house training as soon as possible. If you’re really pressed for time, this might mean delaying other foundational goals for the first few weeks. We promise, it’s worth it.
It’s hard to focus on growing your bond through a fun training or play session if you’re worried about your puppy peeing in the house. Before you can trust your dog to hold his bladder, it’s almost impossible to work on his ability to settle by himself without being contained in a crate or pen. And the sooner your pup can reliably tell you when he has to go, the more socialization opportunities (like patios and pet-friendly stores) you’ll be able to explore.
How should I approach house training my puppy?
Potty training is an obvious goal for every dog who will spend time inside a home, and the right process makes a big difference. It’s important to be intentional about how we teach our puppies because, despite their incredible social intuition, canines can’t actually read human minds.
Our dogs can’t read our minds
This may seem obvious, but it’s important to remember that puppies aren’t born knowing that we don’t want them to use the bathroom inside. While even young dogs are excellent at interpreting human signals, they can’t read our minds.
There is no reliable puppy instinct that tells your dog that the voluminous space of your home is no place for pee. This seems arbitrary to him. The corner in your living room? Not all that different in their terms from the patch of grass next to the shed. (That’s not to say he won’t be picky about where he pees outside for reasons that, ironically, seem arbitrary to you.)
What does this mean? Puppies need time to learn your rules. And you need to teach them.
How long does house training usually take?
On average, many dogs can become fully house trained within four to six months. We define fully house trained as not having any accidents indoors for eight consecutive weeks, so long as they're routinely taken outside.
That does not mean they automatically become house trained just by reaching a certain age though!
The speed of your puppy’s house training progress depends on a few different variables. It might take a little longer if you’ve never owned a dog before (you have to get used to reading his signals), or live with multiple people (it’s harder to be perfectly consistent), or if you don't stay consistent with their schedule.
Your puppy’s breed, size, and past experiences can play a role too. Additionally, it can take a while for some pups to learn how to communicate reliably that they need to go outside.
How long can my puppy hold his bladder?
Remember, you can only house train your dog as quickly as his bladder and bowel strength grow!
During the day
As a (very) general rule, puppies can typically hold their pee one hour for every month of age, sometimes plus one, assuming you're using a crate. If you're not using a crate, you should expect to need more frequent breaks.
So if your pup is 16 weeks old, for example, he can only hold it for four to five hours. If he develops normally, your puppy should be able to hold his bladder about as well as an adult dog by the time he’s six to seven months old.
At first, that duration needs to be much shorter.
An eight-week-old puppy might need to start out by going outside every 20–30 minutes! Then you would shorten or lengthen the time intervals once you observe their tendencies. As they develop, they'll grow into that rough "months = hours" heuristic.
Your puppy’s ability to hold his bowels depends mostly on when he’s last eaten. Between meals he can likely go longer than one hour per month of age, but he’ll have to relieve himself shortly after a meal. The goal is always zero accidents rather than always pushing them to hold it longer.
It’s not uncommon for a puppy to be able to go longer between bathroom breaks overnight the same way humans can. When your dog’s system is in a relaxed, subconscious state, he won’t feel the same bladder and bowel urges as intensely as when he’s awake.
Note that it’s always better to take your dog out more often rather than less, though. And it's always better to be proactive instead of reactive. Start with consistent bathroom opportunities every few hours throughout the night and slowly increase the gaps as he shows signs of success. And if you hear your puppy fussing a lot or sounding restless overnight, it's wise to take them out then too.
Adult dogs still need frequent bathroom breaks
Grown dogs should still get the chance to relieve themselves every six to nine hours at minimum. Just because they can hold it doesn’t mean they should have to! We all know how uncomfortable it is when you really gotta go.
House training an adult dog whose bladder and bowels are already developed is similar in process to a brand-new puppy.
Most puppies are fully house trained within a few months
While it takes several months for your dog to have adult-level bladder and bowel control, most dog parents can fully eliminate accidents inside sooner than that! As long as you’re on top of your puppy’s bathroom needs (i.e. giving him regular opportunities to relieve himself) he should be able to quickly learn that good things happen when he pees outside. Clear communication and a consistent schedule can eliminate accidents by three to four months of age.
Remember that every dog is different
Some puppies might become potty trained fast, and some puppies might take close to a year. Every dog and situation is different. There’s no shame if your pup needs a little extra time to get the house training thing down. Here are a few factors that might affect your puppy’s potty training timeline:
- Your dog ownership experience. If you’ve never raised a puppy, it might take you a little longer than a professional trainer or dog breeder to learn how to read his signals. Don’t worry: You’ll catch on before you know it.
- How many people are in your household. The more family members involved in potty training your puppy, the easier it is for something to slip through the cracks. Good news, though: A thoughtful puppy-raising schedule can solve this problem!
- Size. Smaller dogs have smaller bladders. They also generally have higher metabolisms — together, these things mean pint-sized puppies require more frequent trips outside.
- Previous living conditions. It can be difficult to break bad habits. If your puppy’s sleeping area wasn’t kept clean at his breeder (or if he was found as a rescue in unknown or unsanitary conditions) you might have a harder time keeping him from using the bathroom inside.
- Breed. Some breeds are also thought to be more difficult to potty train than others. Thankfully, reputable breeding—and a consistent house training process—should minimize this risk regardless of the type of dog you bring home.
You can read more about addressing specific potty training struggles in our troubleshooting section
How do I potty train my puppy?
The perfect house training process involves a few key steps. First, make sure you have all the potty training supplies you need—like enzymatic cleaner to remove inevitable accidents and a comfortable dog crate to contain your puppy when you can’t watch him. Then, spend some time learning about how food and water intake will affect your puppy’s bathroom needs. Finally, get your entire household on a set house training schedule! Follow it closely and be prepared to adjust as needed.
Get some supplies to make house training easier
When you expect mistakes, they’re a lot less frustrating. Keep in mind that house training can take multiple months! It isn’t fair to you or your puppy to set an impossible standard too soon.
Accidents are less stressful when you’re prepared to handle them quickly. Canines have a natural instinct to relieve themselves where they’ve previously gone. You might notice this if you watch an adult dog consistently pee in the same corner of his yard. It’s imperative that you fully clean all indoor accidents with an enzymatic cleaner.
Enzymatic cleaners contain enzymes that actually break down the proteins found in urine and stool. Since these organic materials can have particularly powerful scents to our dogs’ noses, regular soap and water won’t get the job done.
Dog crate or other pen
If you can’t watch your dog, it’s a good idea to put him in a crate or small pen so he doesn’t get into trouble.
Don’t worry. If you introduce it positively and train it well, the crate isn't cruel. In fact, crate training can be a great way to set your puppy up for potty training success! This is because most dogs are clean animals—they don’t like to use the bathroom where they sleep or eat. By confining your puppy to his bed when you can’t keep an eye on him, you reduce the chance that he pees or poops during that time. This helps him grow more aware of his ability to hold his bladder and bowels.
To get the maximum benefits of a crate in your house training process, it needs to be appropriately sized. Here are a few good rules of thumb:
- Your puppy’s crate should be big enough that he can stand up, turn around, and lie down inside it.
- His kennel should not be so large that he can pee or poop in a corner and still settle somewhere else to sleep.
- The key is to give him enough room to comfortably adjust position without space to designate separate “bathroom” and “bed” areas.
It’s important to note that crate training won’t enable your dog to hold his bladder longer than he’s physically able.
You still need to be fair about how often you take him on potty breaks and provide him with fulfillment outside of his kennel! What crate training will do is make it easier for him to build healthy bathroom habits.
Maybe: Fresh Patch
If possible, it’s best to teach your dog that it’s only okay to eliminate outdoors. Sometimes dog parents find themselves in a pinch though. We get it. If you have a hectic schedule, live in an unforgiving climate (winter can be a particularly tough time to potty train a small puppy), or have an upper-floor apartment in your building, you might consider investing in an indoor real-grass solution like a Fresh Patch.
Puppy pads, something people often turn to in this situation, can seem too similar to rugs, carpets, or blankets to puppies. That can really slow down potty training.
Since options like Fresh Patch are real grass, it's easier for pups to clearly differentiate it from the rest of your home’s surfaces. That means fewer accidents and faster house training.
When in doubt, consult your veterinarian or professional dog trainer for personalized guidance.
Understand how food and water intake affect your puppy’s bathroom needs
As a general rule, puppies need to use the bathroom between five minutes and one hour after eating or drinking. Sometimes that should happen even sooner if they're playing or moving around a lot after eating or drinking.
How often should you feed your puppy?
Make sure to choose a food specifically designed for puppies until your dog is around six months to a year old. Once you pick a complete and balanced brand, the label should include feeding guidelines, but remember they’re just rules of thumb. Adjust up or down based on what you know about your individual puppy’s activity level.
Keep in mind that labels will often give recommendations in amount per day. This means you’ll have to do the math yourself of how much to feed at each meal. Most puppies do well with frequent small feedings three to four times throughout the day. Your young dog will need to use the bathroom soon after eating, so you’ll want to plan your schedule accordingly (avoid giving him a meal right before you leave the house).
As your puppy gets older, you can settle into a more traditional breakfast and dinner routine and worry less about taking him outside immediately after.
Should your puppy have access to water at all times?
As a general rule, growing dogs need a half to one ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. This means a puppy weighing ten pounds needs between five to ten ounces of water per day (a little more than one half to one and a fourth cups). A puppy weighing 20 pounds needs one and a fourth to two and a half, and so on.
We recommend giving your puppy free access to water whenever you can. Dogs are generally good at regulating intake on their own. He should drink when he’s thirsty and stop when satisfied. It's also the case that sometimes restricting water can lead to the puppy chugging it when it's available again, making potty training harder.
Align your entire household on a potty training schedule
When should you expect to take your dog outside to use the bathroom?
Beyond the general rule that your puppy can hold his bladder and bowels one hour for each month of his age, you should also expect to take him out:
- First thing in the morning
- Last thing at night
- After playing or chewing a toy
- After spending time in the crate
- Upon waking up from a nap
- Shortly after eating and drinking
Phew. We know that sounds like a lot! Thankfully puppies develop quickly. Remember that after the first few months of consistency, your dog will be able to hold his bladder just as well as an adult.
What should you do when you take your puppy for a potty break?
- Take them out on a leash or even carry them. Even if you have a fenced yard, it's a good idea to take them out on a leash to minimize distractions. Sometimes it can also be a good idea to carry them (if possible) to and from the potty spot to avoid accidents on the way, especially if they didn't potty and you're bringing them back in the house. By carrying them to their crate or pen you avoid them squatting on the door mat when you come back inside.
- Go to the same area. Take your puppy to pee and poop in the same area each time. This helps set a predictable pattern to build a strong habit.
- Use a verbal cue. When you bring your dog outside to potty, give him a verbal cue. This can be anything you want — go potty, do your business, look sharp — so long as you’re consistent. Over time, he’ll learn to associate your words with the action of using the bathroom, and you’ll be able to tell him to go before long car trips or other outings.
- Potty then play. Limit your puppy’s access to the environment until he goes. This way he isn’t prematurely rewarded with interesting smells or playtime! Many puppies are easily distracted, and he otherwise might forget he has to use the bathroom until he’s back inside.
- Give lots of praise. When your dog relieves himself, praise and reward! Let him know that he just did the right thing with plenty of positive reinforcement. One word of caution, though: Give him time to fully eliminate before you start throwing a party. You don’t want to accidentally interrupt him from properly emptying his bladder or bowels.
- Keep trying. If he doesn’t pee or poop, take him back inside after a few minutes of waiting in one spot. Since this is when accidents are most common, it’s a good idea to put him back into his crate for just a short while until you try again. After a couple of repetitions, he should figure out what you’re looking for.
What if you have a yard?
Even if you have a yard, it’s still a good idea to take your puppy for potty breaks on a leash. You’ll be able to walk him to the designated bathroom spot. Once he goes, you can let him run free as an exciting reward. And he’ll get used to peeing and pooping while tethered. Many adult dogs who have grown up with yards end up feeling uncomfortable using the bathroom on a leash. That makes it more difficult to travel and hang out in public spaces.
Call in your support network if needed
If you work during the day but your puppy still needs to go out every two to three hours, here are some ideas for keeping up with his house training.
- Hire a dog walker. You give them money and they provide a service that you need. It’s a simple exchange, although a potentially expensive one.
- Ask a friend, neighbor, or family member. This option is likely to be done more as a favor. That can be tricky depending on each individual relationship, but let’s face it: raising a puppy takes a village.
- Pee pads, papers, or an indoor dog bathroom. As mentioned above, it’s possible to designate an area of your house as an acceptable puppy potty spot. While this should generally be a last resort option, it’s still better than your dog learning he can eliminate wherever he feels like it!
Keep a potty training log
It’s a good idea to log when your puppy goes outside and whether he pees or poops. You should also record when you fed and watered him to get a better idea of his individual patterns. This will help you better personalize your puppy schedule.
You don’t want to be asking yourself if you took him out and then trying to remember if he actually did anything. And if you’re raising your puppy with fellow family members, it’s even more important you all stay on the same page.
In short, don’t trust your memory. Trust your log. Tracking small details up front can have a big impact over time!
Be proactive instead of reactive
Efficient potty training doesn’t happen by chance. A lot of work goes into the first few months of house training your puppy, but it’s worth it in the long run.
- Spend time thinking about your individual dog’s bathroom habits and signals that he might need to go.
- Watch your dog at all times inside the house. If you’re not able to give him your full attention, put him safely inside his crate.
- Set alarms so you don’t forget to take your puppy outside regularly.
- Keep up your potty log.
- Clearly communicate with other family members.
- Remember the end is in sight!
Limit your puppy’s freedom if he’s struggling with house training
If your puppy is having frequent potty accidents, take a few steps back in your training process. It’s tempting to rush things (especially when you’re tired of those overnight alarms) but slow and steady progress wins in the long run.
Your dog’s freedom should be dynamic. Adjust to the information he gives you over time! An accident warrants adding increased boundaries (even if that just means keeping a closer eye on him for a while) while a week of accident-free days are a sign to trust him a little more.
Remember: The most effective way to house train your puppy is to prevent him from practicing the behavior of going to the bathroom inside at all.
What if my puppy has an accident inside the house?
If you catch your puppy in the middle of peeing or pooping on your carpet, quickly (but calmly) take him outside to his designated bathroom spot. Do not yell or otherwise punish him. That doesn't help. Thoroughly clean all accidents with an enzymatic cleaner, then think about how you might need to adjust your potty training process to be more successful moving forward.
How to handle a potty training accident
Get your puppy outside
Maybe you let your guard down for just a minute. Maybe you were watching him closely but he didn’t give any signals before starting to pee. Whatever the case, if you catch your puppy in the act, you should quickly get him outside to his designated bathroom spot.
A few things to keep in mind:
- You simply want to interrupt your puppy. YOu don't want to scare him. Move calmly and confidently. Be gentle when you pick him up.
- Carrying your dog on his back might help stop the flow of urine so you can avoid spreading it even farther inside your house.
If you find your puppy’s accident after the fact, simply take him outside for another bathroom opportunity and move on.
Thoroughly wash your puppy’s accident with an enzymatic cleaner
Carefully clean every accident with an enzymatic cleaner to prevent your puppy from building a habit of peeing or pooping in the same spot of your house.
Revisit your potty training plan to prevent future accidents
Think about what might have caused this accident. Was it just a fluke? Maybe you slept through your overnight bathroom break alarm or there was a miscommunication between family members. Or was it the result of increasing your house training criteria too soon? If your dog is having regular accidents, you should shorten the intervals between his potty breaks and supervise him more closely when he’s not in his crate.
What not to do if your puppy uses the bathroom inside
Don't yell or punish your puppy for having an accident
Dogs have an associative rather than episodic memory. They learn patterns and develop “pictures” of certain situations as opposed to recalling specific events. What does that mean for potty training? Yelling at your puppy for something he did even just two minutes ago won’t do either of you any good, for two reasons:
- He doesn't remember it the same way you do
- It's always more useful to focus on what you want your pup to do instead of what not to do
Additionally, punishing a puppy can cause them to avoid you and potty behind your back so they don't get caught. This obviously makes house training even harder.
If you don’t catch your puppy in the act or aren’t able to interrupt him before he finishes eliminating, you just need to accept that a mistake was made. It happens to the best of us! Don’t rub his nose in it or otherwise show any signs of anger. Instead, take a deep breath, go get your cleaner, and be more prepared next time around.
How to troubleshoot potty training problems
If your puppy still struggles with using the bathroom indoors, it’s important to take a close look at your potty training process.
If you’re confident that your expectations and schedule are fair, make sure he’s healthy. Some dogs struggle with urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal upset, or other medical problems that make it difficult to hold their bladders. A full vet check can identify any issues and get you back on the right track.
Common reasons your puppy might struggle with house training
- You’re asking too much of them. Remember that he’s still growing! Make sure you take him out as often as his body needs. Increase your criteria slowly.
- Your household isn’t following a consistent schedule. It can be tough to get everyone on the same page, but miscommunications aren’t your dog’s fault.
- You aren’t watching your puppy closely enough. We know it’s hard! Even a few seconds of divided attention can result in your dog using the bathroom indoors. While some mistakes are inevitable, proper use of your puppy’s crate can make a world of difference.
- You haven’t fully cleaned up previous accidents. Pee and poop scents can linger behind for a long time if not properly washed with an enzymatic cleaner. If you don’t find a mess until it’s already dry, you might need to clean it a few separate times.
- Your puppy is experiencing a medical issue. Dogs can get urinary tract infections and suffer from gastrointestinal upset just like us. Even if you’ve done everything right, your puppy might have accidents because he’s not feeling well.
How can I tell if my puppy’s bathroom habits are normal?
What healthy puppy pee looks like
- Amount: Your dog’s urine volume should roughly correlate with how much he’s had to drink. If he just chugged water after a play session, expect a larger puddle. If he hasn’t had anything in a few hours, you might only see a few drips.
- Color: Normal dog urine is yellow. Depending on your puppy’s recent food and water consumption, the shade might range from pale to straw colored or even amber. (Anything dark than that merits some concern.) Orange tones might be a sign of a liver or pancreas problem, pink pee indicates blood, and black urine suggests significant muscle damage or toxicity.
- Frequency: Young puppies pee several times a day, but they should continually be able to go longer between bathroom breaks until six or seven months of age. If your dog’s ability to hold his bladder suddenly decreases—say he used to be able to wait three hours but now wants to go outside every 30 minutes—he might have a urinary tract infection or other health issue that needs immediate veterinary care.
What healthy puppy stool looks like
- Color: Healthy dog poop is chocolate brown. Occasional food changes might affect this (if your puppy has recently had pumpkin or carrots, his stool might take on an orange hue, for example) but significant color variations can indicate liver problems, food intolerances, or even intestinal bleeding.
- Shape: Your puppy’s poop should be shaped like a log. Formless puddles indicate an upset stomach, while small pieces might be a sign of dehydration.
- Size: Your dog’s stool should be roughly the same volume as, or a little less than, the amount of food he’s eaten. If he suddenly starts producing significantly less waste than normal, he might have a blockage in his digestive system.
- Consistency: Your puppy’s poop should hold its shape when you pick it up but be soft to the touch. If it’s too hard, he might be dehydrated.
- Other contents: Generally speaking, your puppy’s stool shouldn’t contain anything other than, well, poop. An occasional piece of grass or clump of hair isn’t a big deal — but you should be on the lookout for any foreign objects like partially digested food, toys, or intestinal worms.
When to get in touch with your vet
Most puppies adjust to their new homes, food, and routines quickly. A slight change in your dog’s bathroom habits or the occasional soft stool isn’t cause for immediate concern!
If subtle problems persist though , or if you notice something dramatic like blood or an intense change of color in your puppy’s waste, you should call your vet right away. They’ll be able to determine how serious the issue is and walk you through next steps. Always better safe than sorry.