Once you have brought your new puppy home you’ll want to get him potty trained or house trained as fast as possible!
This is a complete guide to every aspect of potty training, when to start, how to do it, and how to cope with problems. And I’ll be answering all your potty training questions.
- Why do puppies pee indoors?
- When can I start potty training?
- How long will it take to house train my puppy
- How to potty train your puppy: Method 1
- When will my puppy be house trained
- How to stop your puppy peeing or pooping in the house
- What if your puppy won’t pee outside?
- Teach your puppy to pee on command!
- Potty training a puppy at night
- How to potty train a puppy if you work full-time
- What is the fasted way to potty train your puppy
- Top tips for successful potty training
You can use the links in the green menu to skip to the parts that interest you most, or just read through from start to finish.
I’ll show you two different methods of training, one for Labrador puppy parents that are able to be at home for their puppies, and one for puppy parents that go out to work.
Let’s look first at what we are aiming for when we house train a puppy and how long it will take to get there.
What is house training?
House training simply means training your puppy to be clean and dry in the house, and to empty his bladder and bowels outdoors.
Nowadays, many people refer to house training as potty training and the two terms are completely interchangeable.
Occasionally you’ll hear the more old fashioned term ‘house breaking’, or the term ‘toilet training’ which again mean exactly the same thing.
Why do puppies pee indoors?
When puppies are very new, they have little control over their small bladders, and they have no idea that there is a right place and a wrong place to go to the toilet.
This means you are going to have to teach your puppy where he needs to be before he takes a pee. The same applies to pooping of course.
When can I start potty training (house training) my puppy
You can make a start with potty training right from the very first day you bring your puppy home. In fact, it is important that you do this and that you make an effort to avoid ‘accidents’ even in those very early day.
This is because puppies naturally like to pee where they have peed before. And so it is better not to build up any kind of history of peeing in your home if you can avoid it.
If you go out to work during the day and are planning to leave your puppy alone for more than an hour or two, you’ll need to let your puppy go to the bathroom indoors, and we’ll be looking at the best way to do that and still end up with a house trained dog.
How long will it take to house train my puppy?
If you use method one, and crate train your puppy, you will make rapid progress within three to four weeks.
If you use method two and train your puppy to pee on puppy pads or newspaper, he will need to learn to pee outside when he is older and can wait until you get home.
How to potty train your puppy – method 1
Method one is a great system for anyone that can take time to be with their new puppy for the first few weeks. The system is based on avoiding accidents from the start, as this makes the process faster and simpler. It is set out in three clear stages
- Stage 1- establish the toilet area (8-9 weeks)
- Stage 2 – learning self control (10-12 weeks)
- Stage 3 – extending the clean zone (3-6 months)
These Stages are also set out in detail in my Happy Puppy Handbook, let’s take each one in turn.
Potty training Stage 1 – establish the toilet area
This stage is all about teaching your puppy the right place to wee and poo. While at the same time, preventing him from emptying himself in any of the wrong places.
During this phase, restrict your puppy to a small area of your home and one that has washable floors.
- After waking
- After eating
- After playing
- Anytime his bladder is full
Your second job is to supervise or contain your puppy when his bladder is filling up.
You can do this by crating him for a few minutes, or by cuddling him in your arms. I recommend the cuddle option for the first few days, that way you can introduce the crate gradually once he has settled into his new home.
How are you supposed to know when your puppy’s bladder is full?
Well you won’t know for sure, but the clock will give you a good idea. If your puppy needs to wee every 30 minutes, then its a pretty good bet that his bladder is starting to get full if his last wee was more than twenty minutes ago.
As you can see, there is some guesswork involved, but not too much. And you will soon get to know your puppy’s natural rhythms.
What about crate training?
You can find out a lot more about crate training and the role it plays in rapid house training on this page: How to crate train your Labrador puppy
Remember, if you are going to use a crate to help you house train your puppy, it’s really important to use it properly
You will find instructions in the article I linked to above, to help you train your puppy to go happily into his crate and stay in there without whining until you let him out.
The crate training article will help you avoid separation anxiety, bedwetting and other potential crate training problems, and help you get the best out of crating your puppy without upsetting him.
Reward your puppy for peeing in the right place!
If you put plenty of effort in, and take your puppy out a great deal in those first few days, he will quickly learn that the place you have allocated to him for potty purposes is the place to pee.
And he’ll happily empty himself when he is taken there.
You can praise him and give him a little treat for doing so.
Using an alarm
In busy families I recommend setting an alarm on your watch or phone to remind you to take your puppy out 30 minutes or so after the last time.
It is easy to forget otherwise.
Most puppy parents do really well in Stage 1. It is in Stage 2 that some people find themselves struggling. But don’t worry, I’ll explain why, and how you can get back on track.
Potty training Stage 2 – learning self control
During stage 2 your puppy will begin to develop some self control – to learn to wait a few minutes before emptying himself when his bladder starts to feel full.
Just like in Stage 1, your job will be to make sure your puppy gets to his toilet area frequently enough that he isn’t forced to wet himself indoors.
If your puppy is having potty training accidents..
At some point during this stage, many puppies will be able to last an hour or so between wees.
This is where puppy parents often relax their vigilance and where puppies start having accidents again in the house.
If this happens to you, don’t panic, simply go back to shorter gaps between trips to the yard for a few days, and then start to space out those trips again but more gradually this time.
Supervise puppies that might need a wee soon!
You will find that you don’t need to supervise your puppy so closely now in the first twenty minutes or so after his last wee.
But you will still need to supervise him when his bladder starts to get full, or when the time is approaching for his next trip outdoors.
If your puppy is now used to his crate, you can now use the crate to help stretch out the gaps between toilet trips.
Because provided you don’t make him wait too long, your puppy won’t wee in his own bed.
Potty training Stage 3 – extending the zone
This is where all your hard work starts to really pay off and you can start to really stretch out the gaps between toilet breaks, and to introduce your puppy to the rest of your home.
Remember to take it slowly, and if accidents occur, to go back to shorter gaps between trips outdoors for a few days.
When will my puppy be house trained?
A dog is not really fully house trained until he can comfortably wait several hours between wees, understands that the place to pee is always outside, and will try his best not to pee in the house if your are late home for some reason.
This point is usually reached for most puppies at around six months old.
Many people think that they have finished house training because their three month old puppy hasn’t had an accident for a few days, if at all.
This kind of success is great, but it is more a case of good management and a puppy with good bladder control, than a puppy that has learned the kind of conscious control that comes later.
By three months of age many three month old puppies will be clean in a restricted area with some help and supervision from their grown up.
How to stop your puppy peeing or pooping in the house
Of course mistakes will occasionally happen, it can’t be helped, but repeated mistakes will set back your training considerably because pups like to pee where they have peed before.
If you are not careful it can be a downward spiral, so take action right away
There are two important ways to stop your puppy messing in the house.
- Take him out more often
- Clean up more thoroughly
Remember, his bladder is small and his memory is short. Unless you remind him frequently, your pup will forget he needs a wee until it is too late and he can’t even make it to the door.
Every puppy is different
It is annoying if your friend’s puppy can last an hour between wees, and your puppy can’t, but your puppy is what he is.
And if he has an accident 25 minutes after peeing in your yard, he needs to go out again after 20 minutes next time.
Remember too that puppies can smell the tiniest trace of urine and that they think it is important to pee where they have peed before.
Clearing up accidents thoroughly
Once a puppy has had an accident on the floor you need to remove all trace of it. And this is difficult bearing in mind your puppy’s extraordinary sense of smell so you will need to be thorough and diligent in this.
You can buy special cleaners for this purpose which do not contain any substances which might attract a puppy to repeat the accident in the same place.
Why you should not punish your puppy for potty training accidents
In the ‘old days’ puppies were often punished for accidents in the house.
The puppy was shown the puddle or ‘parcel’ and smacked or had his nose rubbed in what he had done.
This was not just a horrible thing to do to a puppy, it was also completely ineffective and puppies did not get house trained any quicker than they do today with kind modern methods.
Punishment will slow down your potty training progress
In fact punishment can slow down house training as it a) encourages puppies to ‘hide’ when they wee – so that they won’t get into trouble.
And b) it makes the puppy afraid to pee in front of you.
What if your puppy won’t pee outside?
Puppies that don’t want to pee outside are a common problem and one we look at in more detail in this article. Keeping your puppy company is the key.
You need to go outside with your puppy and wait there with him until he has done a wee.
This may take longer than you would like.
You probably have better things to do than stand outside in your yard while your puppy chases butterflies or plays with your shoe laces. But stay outside you should, until he has done that wee.
If he doesn’t ‘go’ – supervise!
If you just can’t bear it any longer and must come indoors, and your puppy has not relieved himself, you need to supervise him very closely.
Hold him in your arms – or put him in a small crate for a few minutes before going back out to try again.
And if you teach your puppy to pee on command, it will pass even quicker!
How to teach your puppy to pee on command
Each time your puppy empties himself in your chosen spot you can use a special word or words (I use ‘hurry up’ said in a jolly and upbeat way)
After a few weeks you will find that when you say this word, your puppy will start to feel the urge to empty himself. This is because the word has become associated in his mind with the act of going to the toilet.
Potty training a puppy at night
Puppies vary in how long they can last at night without a wee. Many pups are nine or ten weeks old before they can last all night (say around midnight until 6 or 7 am) without a wee.
What you need to accept is that this is not something you can control.
The puppy has the bladder he has, and you cannot influence that. What you can do is make it easy for him to be clean, by taking him outside to his toilet area very early in the morning, and even in the middle of the night , if that is what he needs.
Night waking and nocturnal bathroom breaks
To be on the safe side with a new eight week old pup, I recommend you set your alarm for 2am or 3am (depending on when you go to bed) and take your puppy to his outdoor toilet area.
Don’t make a fuss of him, be very boring. Just wait for him to do a wee, tell him what a clever boy he is, and pop him back into the crate.
He may protest a little in the hopes of some more interesting company, but should soon settle back down to sleep.
Getting more sleep
Repeat this for the first few nights, but gradually push forward your trips in the small hours until he is going six hours or so without a wee.
Once he get to around ten weeks old you may be able to stretch this out to seven hours, though some pups will need another two or three weeks to get to this point.
How to potty train your puppy if you work full time – method 2
You can’t leave a small puppy in a crate for very long. He needs to be able to empty his bladder at regular intervals, and he needs company.
Here are some articles which will be of interest if you are thinking of getting a puppy and work full time:
So, if you are going to go back to work you need to arrange someone to look after him, or to come in at intervals throughout the day to play with him and take him out.
Because you won’t be able at first to coincide the visits from his carer with when he needs a wee, you’ll need to teach him to wee on puppy pads or newspaper.
Teaching your puppy to pee on the puppy pads
The simplest way to do this is to restrict the puppy to a smallish room with washable floors
Cover the floor with puppy pads to begin with.
If you don’t have a small room with a washable floor, you’ll need to put up a sturdy puppy play pen to contain him.
Now over the next few days, reduce the area of the floor that is covered with puppy pads by half.
You should find he begins to make an effort to pee and poop on the part of the floor that is covered – but it needs to be a sizeable part to get this good habit established.
If he is in a puppy pen, put his bed at one end and the pads at the other.
Reducing the toilet area
By the end of the first week, you can begin to reduce the part of the floor that is covered with puppy pads right down to a small area, preferably near the back door.
By the time that the puppy is capable of waiting until someone comes to let him out – you’ll be able to move the pads outside.
It is usually best to do this when you have some time booked off work – or during a long weekend when the weather is fine.
What is the fastest way to potty train a puppy
Method 1 – is the quickest way to potty train your puppy. With method 2, you have to train him twice, once to use the pads indoors, and again when it comes to learning to pee outside.
I recommend you only use method 2 if you know you will have to leave your puppy for more than an hour or so in the first three months of his life, on a regular basis.
Don’t forget, the time between bringing your puppy home and him reaching 3 months of age is only 4 or 5 weeks. If you can possibly arrange for you or other members of the family to take a few weeks off work at this point, you will have an easier time of it.
Labrador puppies need company and socialisation
I should also at this point mention how important it is for Labrador puppies to have company when they are small and to be taken out for socialisation purposes.
You really can’t leave a puppy alone all day, every day, he needs to be cared for by someone, even if that someone isn’t you.
Combining full-time work with a puppy
If you work full time do read my article on combining a puppy with full time work before committing yourself to a puppy.
Top tips for successful potty training
Let’s sum up the above information with a few helpful tips
- Do take your puppy to his toilet area very frequently to begin with
- Do wait with him there until he has done a wee
- Do supervise your puppy closely when he has not had a wee for a while, or crate him for a short period
- Don’t leave your puppy in a crate for too long (see the chart)
- Don’t punish your puppy if he has an accident
- Do clear up accidents quickly and thoroughly
- Do keep small puppies off carpets and restrict them to washable floors
How to get help with potty training problems
I have written an in-depth article that covers all the common puppy training problems that new puppy owners experience.
Do check it out if you run into problems, you may find it helpful to read it when you have finished this one.
Do also join the forum where we have lots of other puppy parents and many experienced labrador owners who provide help and support to you and others with new pups.
You don’t have to do this alone, and we’d love to meet you
The key to successfully housetraining a puppy
The key to successfully and swiftly housetraining your Labrador puppy is avoiding mistakes. Labradors are creatures of habit, and if a place is an unfamiliar place to wee, then the dog will not want to wee there.
If your dog has never pooped on your carpet by the time he is three months old, the chances are he never will.
Remember that pups have very small bladders and very little control over them. When they need to go, they need to go now! This is why your best line of attack is to pre-empt them with plenty of trips outside.
Good luck with potty training your puppy and do let us know how you get on!
More information on puppies
Published in April 2014, the Happy Puppy covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.
The book will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, crate training, socialisation and early obedience.
The Happy Puppy Handbook is available worldwide.
This article was originally published in 2011 and has been extensively revised and updated for 2015