Nothing sours the honeymoon period of new puppyhood like urine soaked carpets and puddles in the hallway. Fortunately these problems are usually short lived, and with the right advice you can even sail through this mucky stage without a mop bucket in sight. Today I’ll share how to potty train a puppy in easy stages and with straight forward, no nonsense advice. And realistic too. You won’t have a perfectly clean pup in 24 hours, but it will make the next few weeks go by fast and effectively.
The main things you need to remember are to keep small puppies off carpets where possible, and restrict them to washable floors. Ensure bathroom visits are very regularly, and wait with them whilst they pee. Watch them like a hawk if they haven’t had a potty break recently, praise successful trips outdoors and never punish their mistakes. But of course there is also a lot more we can say about how to properly potty train a puppy.
- The three stages of puppy potty training
- Going outdoors to the bathroom
- Indoor puppy potty training
- How to get dry nights
There are important ways you can tailor your strategy for potty training outdoors, indoors, or potty training puppies older than 8 weeks old. Deciding how you’re going to tackle potty training in advance is the key to potty training quickly, with as few accidents as possible and minimal frustration.
How to potty train a puppy
Once you have brought your new puppy home you’ll want to get them potty trained as fast as possible! This page is your ultimate ‘how to’ guide to that process. I’ll share my years of experience raising puppies, and let you know when to start, how to potty train a puppy to go outside or go on pads, and how to cope with setbacks. And teach you my important principles and techniques in easy to follow steps.
Getting started at 8 weeks old
Whether you call it potty training, house training or house breaking, you can make a start with teaching your puppy the right place to pee and poo from the moment you bring them home. In fact, it is important that you do this and that you make an effort to avoid ‘accidents’ even in those very early days.
If you can avoid accidents as much as possible from the start, you will make faster progress – this means the more effort you put in at the beginning, the better things will be. 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.
But whatever age you start your puppy potty training journey, you’ll find yourself navigating three key stages. And in this respect, how to house training an 8 week old puppy is exactly the same as how to potty train a 6 month old puppy.
The three stages of house training
- Learning where to potty – establishing a toilet area
- Starting to hold on – learning self control
- Independent toileting
We’ll be looking at each stage in turn. The same stages apply whether you’re toilet training in an apartment or a yard. But the way you approach them differs slightly. Which is why it’s important to decide which one you’re doing early on.
Puppy potty training methods
There are two different methods of house training. One is better suited to puppy parents who are able to be at home for their puppies all the time. And the other one is adapted for puppy parents that have to go out during the day.
Method 1: How to potty train a puppy to go outside
Method 1 is a great system for anyone that can take time to be with their new 8 or 9 week old puppy all day for the first few weeks. The system is based on teaching your puppy to toilet outside from the start, as this makes the process faster and simpler. It is set out in three clear stages:
- Establish the toilet area (8-9 weeks)
- Learning self control (10-12 weeks)
- Extending the clean zone (3-6 months)
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. Your first job is to get your puppy to his outdoor toilet area many times each day, especially on the following occasions:
- on waking
- after eating
- after playing
- any time his bladder is full.
Supervise Your Puppy
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.
Recognising when your puppy’s bladder is filling up
The most reliable way to predict this at first is to go by the clock. Either spend your first day together in the yard getting a feel for how frequently they pee. Or if that isn’t possible, start on the assumption they need to wee every 30 minutes, and adjust that up – or down! – depending on your puppy’s progress.
If your puppy pees every 30 minutes, then it’s a pretty good bet that his bladder is filling up if his last wee was more than twenty minutes ago.
As you can see, there is some guesswork involved in house training a puppy, but not too much. And you will soon get to know your puppy’s natural rhythms.
The secrets of successful outdoor toilet trips
Not wanting to pee outside is a common toilet training puppy 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, and you probably have better things to do than stand in your yard while your puppy chases butterflies or plays with your shoe laces. But stay outside you must, until he has done that wee.
Coming Indoors Early
If you must come indoors before your puppy has 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.
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. Have your treat on hand (keep them next to your poop bags so you remember to grab both on the way out), and deliver it right after your puppy has completed their business. Rewarding his successes and ignoring his accidents is the quickest way of successfully communicating what you want, and quickly potty training your puppy.
Stage 2 – Learning self control
During stage 2 your puppy begins to develop some self control. This means he can wait a few minutes before emptying himself when his bladder starts to feel full. And you’ll find that you don’t need to supervise him so closely in the first twenty minutes or so after his last wee.
But your job is still to make sure your puppy reaches his toilet area frequently enough that he doesn’t run out of capacity to hold it in. Keep an eye on your puppy for the tell tale signs that he needs to use the toilet:
- whimpering, whining or barking
- sniffing about, especially sniffing in circles!
Using Your Crate
If your puppy is now used to his crate, you can start using it 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.
Accidents during stage 2
At some point during stage 2, many puppies will be able to last an hour or so between wees. This is when puppy parents often relax their vigilance, and their puppies start having accidents in the house again. If this happens to you, don’t panic.
Simply go back to shorter gaps between trips to the yard for a few days. Then start to space out those trips again, but more gradually this time. Remember that a puppy who lasts an hour between one wee and the next won’t necessarily manage another hour before the third.
Stage 3 – Extending the clean zone
This is where all your hard work starts to really pay off. Once your puppy is confidently and consistently toileting outdoors, and you can further stretch out the gaps between toilet breaks, and start to introduce your puppy to the rest of your home.
Take it slowly, and if accidents occur, to go back to shorter gaps between trips outdoors for a few days. Bear in mind that your puppy may be used to peeing in the yard and not in the kitchen by now, but they might not automatically understand which rule applies to the lounge.
Method 2: How to potty train a puppy indoors
This section has a lot in common with how to potty train a puppy when you work. Puppy parents who can’t consistently be around to take their puppy out frequently in the first few weeks need to give their puppy a suitable place to pee indoors when they’re not around.
You can still take them out whenever you’re at home, but while you’re out they’ll use sheets of newspaper or pee pads indoors. Likewise if you live in an apartment without a yard, you’ll need to potty train indoors until your puppy’s vaccination schedule is complete.
So follow method 2 if you need to know how to potty train a puppy in an apartment as well. And that means using pads.
How to potty train a puppy on 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, with their bed in one corner. 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.
How do you train a puppy to pee on a pad?
With this arrangement in place, as long as your puppy leaves his bed to pee (which his mom will have encouraged him to do), he will pee onto the pads.
Puppies instinctively pee where they’ve peed before. So 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.
How to potty train a puppy fast using pads – 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. You’ll know that your puppy is capable of waiting when he is clean and dry most times he is left, even with the puppy pads there.
How to crate potty train a puppy
Using a crate whilst you potty train isn’t a third method for house training a puppy. But if you choose to crate train your puppy LINK alongside potty training him, the crate can be a useful aid for potty training too. Once your puppy thinks of the crate as their bed, they will be reluctant to soil in it.
If you’re potty training outdoors using our first method, you can use the crate briefly after unproductive toilet trips during stage one, and to very gradually to extend the time between toilet trips in stage two. Indoors, a crate can be a useful way to mark out a sleeping area vs a toileting area inside your puppy’s pen.
You Still Need To Watch Your Puppy
Always watch puppies closely in their crate during potty training, and whisk them out to the right spot at the first sign they might need to relieve themselves.
It’s important to remember that using a crate won’t give your puppy more control over their toileting than their body will allow.
So even though they don’t want to, they will soil their bed if their body can’t hold on any longer.
You can find out a lot more about crate training and the role it plays in rapid house training on this page.
Potty training a puppy when you work
It’s one thing to use puppy pads and the indoor potty training method because you need to do the school run or buy groceries.
It’s another to rely on them while you leave your puppy for extended periods to go to work.
As well opportunities to use the toilet, Labrador puppies need company and socialisation while they are small.
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.
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.
Here are some articles which will be of interest if you are thinking of getting a puppy and work full time:
How to potty train a puppy at night
Puppies vary in how long they can last at night without a wee.
Some pups are even older, and a few pups can last six or seven hours from around eight weeks old.
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 to his toilet area during the night and very early in the morning, if that is what he needs.
Puppy potty training at night – night waking and nocturnal bathroom breaks
To be on the safe side with an 8 week old puppy, have them sleep in a crate or deep sided box near your bed. Or set up a camp bed for yourself close to the room they’re sleeping in.
When he stirs in the night, carry him outside to his 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 bed.
He may protest a little in the hopes of some more interesting company, but should soon settle back down to sleep.
Getting more sleep
Within a few days, you’ll have a reliable idea of how far through the night he can get before he needs to pee.
Now if you’d like to move him to a new bedroom, or return to your usual one, you can set an alarm for just before he’ll need to go, and take him out.
Over the coming days, you can gradually move that alarm closer and closer to morning.
At around ten weeks old many puppies will be able to last for seven hours overnight. Some pups will need another two or three weeks to get to this point, which is fine.
Many young dogs will not be able to last more than seven hours until they are six months or so.
How long does it take to potty train a puppy?
Puppy potty training is complete when he reliably does all of his toileting outside, and can hold on with a full bladder between toilet trips.
If you can take your Labrador puppy outside to use the toilet from day one, you’ll find that you can predict his toileting rhythms and avoid accidents within a few short weeks.
But 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 you’re late home.
Potty training a puppy in 7 days – is it possible?
Potty training isn’t most pet parents’ favorite job. So it’s no surprise that people are attracted to titles like “how to quickly potty train a puppy” and “how to potty train your puppy easily”
But is potty training a puppy in 7 days really achievable?
Many people think that they have finished house breaking a puppy because their three month old puppy hasn’t had an accident for a few days, if at all.
The conscious control stage
This kind of success is great, but it is more a case of good management than a puppy who has learned precocious bladder control.
So while you can certainly learn to avoid accidents and manage your puppy’s toileting behavior in a week or two, he isn’t truly potty trained at this point.
How to stop your puppy peeing or pooping in the house
Of course mistakes will occasionally happen. Your puppy’s bladder is small and his memory is short.
But repeated mistakes can set you back considerably, because puppies can smell the tiniest trace of urine and they think it is important to pee where they have peed before.
In this way one or two accidents can start a downward spiral, so take action right away.
There are two important ways to stop your potty training puppy having further accidents:
- Take him out more often
- Clean up more thoroughly
Take him out more often
It is annoying if your friend’s puppy house training is going better than yours.
If their puppy can last an hour between wees, and your puppy can’t.
But your puppy is what he is. And when you are learning how to potty train, you need to consider the dog in front of you, rather than the national average.
After all, there is no single right answer to “how long should it take to potty train a puppy?”
So if he has an accident 25 minutes after peeing in your yard, he needs to go out again after 20 minutes next time.
Clear up accidents thoroughly
Once a puppy has had an accident in the home you need to remove all trace of it.
You can buy special cleaners for this purpose which destroy the proteins in puppy wee.
This will stop him recognizing the scent of somewhere he’s peed before.
Don’t use cleaners containing bleach, because puppies frequently mistake the ammonia smell of bleach for traces of past wees.
Why you should not punish your puppy for potty training accidents
In the ‘old days’ people had very different views on how to house train a puppy.
Accidents were considered to be the dog’s fault, and puppies were often punished for accidents in the house.
The puppy was shown the pee or poop and smacked or had his nose rubbed in what he had done.
This was not only a horrible thing to do to a puppy, it was also completely ineffective.
Puppies were not house trained any quicker than they are with kind modern methods today.
Quite the opposite in fact.
Punishment will slow down your potty training progress
In fact punishment can slow down puppy toilet training as it –
- Encourages puppies to ‘hide’ when they wee, so that they won’t get into trouble.
- Makes the puppy afraid to pee in front of you.
This means you will have to wait even longer when you take your puppy outside to his allocated ‘bathroom’ area.
Teach your puppy to pee on command
Each time your puppy empties himself in your chosen spot, use a special phrase to mark the occasion.
For example “hurry up!” or “be quick!” said in a jolly and upbeat way.
After a few weeks you will find that when you say this phrase, your puppy starts to feel the urge to empty himself.
This is because the phrase has become associated in his mind with the act of going to the toilet.
In a couple of months or so, many puppies learn to wee on command through this simple technique.
Solutions to common puppy potty training problems
If potty training isn’t going as you hoped, and peeing on command seems like an impossible dream, don’t despair.
You are not alone. Little setbacks and hiccups in the potty training process are common to many new puppy owners.
I have written an in-depth article that covers all the common puppy training problems that puppy parents experience.
Do check it out if you run into problems, you may find it helpful to read it when you have finished this one.
Join the Forum!
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.
- Menteith, Toilet Training Puppies, Veterinary Nursing Journal, 2015.
- Browne et al, Examination of the Accuracy and Applicability of Information in Popular Books on Dog Training, Society & Animals, 2017.
- Rooney & Cowan, Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behavior and learning ability, Applied Animal Behavior Science, 2011.
- Taylor & Mills, A placebo-controlled study to investigate the effect of Dog Appeasing Pheromone and other environmental and management factors on the reports of disturbance and house soiling during the night in recently adopted puppies, Applied Animal Behavior Science, 2007.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website