Well hello, current/future puppy parent! Let me be the first to say, welcome to the club!
My name is Taylor, and I have been a proud member of the puppy parent club for one whole month. So naturally, I am qualified to write a thesis-level report on how to potty train a puppy.
Before we dive into my first-hand experience, let’s get some background, shall we?
(Wo)Man Meets Best Friend
My husband Jon and I had been wanting a puppy for years, but for a million little reasons, the timing wasn’t right.
So when we got married in October of 2018, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer to find our first dog together.
Plus, a puppy seemed like a great way to get people to stop asking us when we were going to have a baby.
(*spoiler alert* apparently getting a puppy just makes people think you are training for your future baby, so our plan backfired)
Anyway, when we got back from our honeymoon in Greece (it is insanely beautiful, GO!) we began scouring the pet adoption sites.
Adopting was important to us because adoption is important.
However, we did have our heart set on a puppy, which can be harder to find in the adoption circle.
After about three weeks of daily checks on all the local shelter sites, we found… “Bark Twain”.
As if his perfect face wasn’t enough to hook us, his literary pun of a name most certainly was.
Before getting a dog of my own, I never fully understood the connection owners felt to their pets.
I have always loved animals of all kinds, but I would silently scoff at the pet parents who talked exclusively about their dog’s funny habits or how scared they were that one time their dog ate chocolate.
Now, I am proud to be the pet parent whose phone is composed solely of pictures of their dog. I can say with extreme certainty that if my dog ate chocolate, I would panic and run straight to an emergency room (for humans) and demand that my dog is treated immediately.
I find ways to bring up my dog in almost any conversation, anxious to get to the part where I can show off his adorable photos.
My husband and I talk about the bowel movements of our dog before we say hello to each other in the morning.
That is to say, the very moment I saw Bark Twain’s perfect face, I was a goner. I get it now.
Somebody get me a “Who rescued who?” bumper sticker for my car already!
Shoutout to Shelters
I would like to take this moment to thank our dog’s foster mom, Pixie Gray of Bastrop Animal Rescue. This woman has five dogs of her own, and still took on a new mother and her nine puppies.
So Pixie, thank you for taking such good care of our boy. Thank you for keeping him healthy after surgery (get your dog’s fixed!). We are so grateful you helped our dog, and countless others, find their forever home.
Here’s to the loving and devoted foster families, volunteers, and employees at animal shelters all over the country.
While the name “Bark Twain” is undoubtedly exquisite, we decided to go with the name “Radio”.
Since Radio is a rescue, his exact breed is a little unclear. We know his mother is a 28 pound Boston terrier, but he looks nothing like her.
Actually, his whole litter is quite eclectic. They are all different colors, patterns, and even look like different breeds.
Fun fact! Female dogs can actually be pregnant by way of more than one male dog at the same time.
We think Radio is either a blue heeler or some sort of Shepard. However, a recent trip to the vet left us thinking there is some Catahoula leopard dog in him.
(Don’t worry, I had never heard of that breed either.)
Translation: we thought he would be about 30 pounds when we got him, but now we may be in for a much bigger dog.
I made a point to my own mother that us not knowing how big Radio is going to get was like her not knowing what I would choose to do with my life as an adult.
That’s right, I am officially the puppy parent who is convinced raising a dog is like raising a child. #NoShameInMyPuppyGame
The Importance of Breed
Before you can train any puppy, you need to know everything you can about them.
While every dog is unique, there tend to be some consistent traits amongst certain breeds.
When you know your dog’s breed, you can learn about their temperament, habits, and specific personal needs.
The week before we could take Radio home, I spent hours reading everything I could about blue heelers.
I could have won a game of Jeopardy if the topic was blue heelers.
Alas, when our vet later told us she thought he was a Catahoula, it was back to the google machine I went!
Interestingly enough, blue heelers and Catahoula’s are quite similar.
They are protective of their owners, playful, and incredibly active, working dogs.
They can also climb trees.
(Ahh! That explains Radio’s talon-like nails. Seriously, the velociraptors in Jurassic Park ain’t got nothing on Radio.)
When you are lucky enough to start your pet parenting journey with a puppy, knowing these things about your dog will help exponentially in the training process.
How to Potty Train a Puppy
Now that you know a little more about my puppy, I can elaborate on my personal experience in potty training.
First and foremost, every single puppy is as unique as their owner.
What works for us, may not work for you.
I read countless articles and watched dozens of videos on potty training before we brought Radio home.
A lot of what I learned was helpful, but at the end of the day, we had to figure out our own rhythm.
So without further adieu, here is my advice based on my personal puppy potty training journey.
First of all, in my particular situation, we got Radio about two months before we could take him outside.
Yep, you read that right, we cannot have his sweet puppy paw pads touch foreign grass until he is four months old.
In our case, our vet recommended that Radio not be exposed to unfamiliar grass because our area has a high volume of dogs, and consequently, the dreaded Parvovirus.
If you are unfamiliar, Canine Parvovirus is a highly contagious disease spread through infected fecal matter.
Hence, the lack of being able to go outside.
Parvovirus is more common and dangerous amongst puppies because their immune systems are still forming.
There are many varying opinions about how often/many vaccines and boosters a puppy should get before they are safe to go outside.
In the case of Radio, our vet recommended he get a booster every three weeks until he is four months old.
So how exactly do you potty train a puppy that cannot go outside? Well…
If you know anyone with a dog, you have likely encountered the flat version of a diaper that is a puppy pee pad.
These dog training pads are an essential part of potty training, no matter where you want your dog to pee in the long run.
Not only do properly used pee pads reduce the mess, but they help you encourage your dog to go to the bathroom on a specific area/surface.
If you notice your puppy doing the signature pre-pee-sniff-a-thon, simply pick them up and place them on a pad.
Once they pee on it once and smell the scent they leave behind, they will begin to get the idea.
Conversely, if (read: when) they have an accident, when you clean it up, allow them to smell the paper towel and then dab it on the pee pad. Have them sniff the pee again, now on the pad.
After Radio had a few understandable accidents around the house, I simply placed a few pee pads where he would usually go.
In our case, by the door! It is like he sensed he is supposed to eventually go outside.
Better still, if you can’t go outside, bring the grass to you!
Now, there are a number of companies that provide pre-made indoor “grass” patches for potty training.
Some of them are synthetic “turf” material, which is basically a dog’s version of a litter box.
For Radio, we preferred a natural grass option, so he could acclimate to the feeling and smell of the real deal.
That way, when he can go out into the world, he will transition easier to actual grass outside.
We chose the company Fresh Patch because they deliver straight to your door and offer different shapes and sizes based on your dog’s needs.
You can even opt-in for regular deliveries, so you always have fresh grass. Naturally, they tend to get a little stinky after a few weeks of use.
While you can most certainly place your grass patch inside, if you have the option to put it outside (in a safe, parvo-free zone) do so.
For example, we are lucky enough to have a balcony in our apartment, which is an absolutely ideal place for Radio’s grass patch.
Having the patch on the balcony further associated the idea of outside being where “good” potties happen.
Furthermore, if you are a particularly crafty pet parent, you can try your hand at a DIY grass patch!
Patience is Key
We brought Radio home when he was only eight weeks old.
While experts recommend you start potty training when they are 12-16 weeks old, we started right away.
At first, we thought Radio was a gift from the potty training Gods.
Our first week home he had almost zero accidents, and he peed on his pads like a champion.
(A fact I needlessly bragged about to strangers in grocery stores #ProudPuppyMom)
So when he started having “accidents” a few days later, we got even more frustrated.
At the end of the day, patience is your most effective tool in the puppy training process.
Without it, you will lose your mind and begin to loathe the site of your once perfect puppy.
I cannot tell you how many times I had to remind myself Radio is just a puppy. He is just a baby!
I am 100% positive that I was not wiping my own butt when I was two months old. In fact, it takes humans years to learn how to potty independently.
Dogs, on the other hand, only take about four to six months of training to become fully potty trained.
That is to say, dogs learn how to be independent much faster than humans. Give them verbal communication skills and opposable thumbs and they would take over the world!
So when you inevitably find yourself getting annoyed after stepping in pee for the fourth time, take a breathe and remember that they are just a puppy.
They do not know any better, and it is your job to teach them.
Potty training is a process, and it takes time.
Fortunately, the process will only make your bond stronger in the long run!
Make a Schedule, and Stick to It!
I have been really fortunate in the fact that my job and lifestyle gives me a lot of flexibility to be at home with Radio.
Bonus, my husband works close to home and can be on puppy duty if I have to step out.
Therefore, I understand that this next section may be harder for people with busy out-of-the-house work lives.
In my experience, I can tell you almost to the minute when Radio needs to go potty.
Because we made a schedule.
Eat, poop, sleep, repeat.
So all of your friends with babies can roll their eyes back to the front of their heads when you say having a puppy is like having a baby. (it is exactly the same, at least at first)
Especially in the early weeks, we would go out at least once an hour. Puppies have tiny bladders that correlate appropriately with their adorable tiny bodies.
Radio eats three times a day, at the same time as I do. Within 15 minutes of a meal, without a doubt, I know that poop is afoot.
This is part of why knowing your dog’s breed and size is important.
Some dogs may only need to eat once a day, and will therefore only usually poop once, maybe twice a day.
It is important to note these things because regular bowel movements are essential to a healthy dog.
If your dog is pooping too much, or not enough, you may need to check with your vet about how you can help regulate them.
Treat Yo’ Pup
Arguably the most tried and true method of dog training of any kind is with treats.
Rewarding your dog for good behavior will quickly and effectively encourage your dog to repeat said good behavior.
When your puppy pees on his pad or grass, give him or her a treat immediately!
It is important to give them the treat asap, so they associate the reward with what just happened.
I got a little over-zealous about this myself. I would give Radio a treat while he was peeing, and he would stop peeing right then. Inevitably, he would come inside and finish peeing because I, quite literally, interrupted his flow.
A helpful tip here is to always have treats handy.
Funny enough, I often find treats in various jacket and pants pockets because I was just that prepared.
Now, I keep his treats right by the door to the balcony, so they are always quick to get to.
In my research preparing for my own puppy, I read tons of varying opinions about what to do when your dog does a “bad” potty.
I’m sure you have heard people rubbing their dog’s noses in pee and scolding them for peeing on the carpet or some such.
Personally, I opted for the “get-over-it Taylor, clean up the pee, this is all a part of the process” approach.
Let me tell you why.
You are fully responsible for how your puppy views the world around him.
If you swat at or scold your puppy for peeing on the carpet, they may think they are not allowed to pee at all.
This can lead to bladder issues and infections.
Instead, opt for positive reinforcement when they do the right thing.
In Radio’s case, that means treats on treats when he pees on his grass patch or pads.
As we get closer to being able to go outside, I only give him treats for peeing outside on his patch, not inside on the pads.
It is important to note this advice does not apply if your puppy is chewing on a live wire or trying to eat something poisonous.
By all means, say “no!” or clap loudly when they are doing something dangerous. You don’t ever want them thinking chewing on electricity is okay.
Most dogs are smarter than we give them credit for.
Radio is only three months old and he already knows if he pees on his grass outside he gets a yummy treat.
So that little stinker started to work the system.
Meaning, he would go outside, pee just enough on his patch to get a treat, come inside and pee on the floor two minutes later.
This is when the frustration started to bubble over in me. I started thinking “he is doing so well! why is he messing up now?!”
As a reminder, he is a puppy/baby/infant/tiny little living being who is still learning the ropes of life.
So I took my own advice, was patient, and only gave him treats for doing a good long I-just-slept-all-night-and-my-tiny-puppy-bladder-is-full pee outside.
While the subject of this article is potty training, I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about crate training. For me, choosing to crate train Radio has been an integral part of the potty training process.
You want their crate to be a cozy little home for them.
It is essential that their crate does not act as a place for “time-out” when they do wrong. As previously mentioned, dogs respond well to praise and positive reinforcement.
If you associate their crate with negativity, they will whine like crazy or act up more when placed inside.
They should feel safe and comfortable in their crates.
Treats can prove especially helpful in crafting this positive association!
Furthermore, it is ideal to get a crate they can fit in full grown but has dividers for when they are still small.
Their crate should be a safe haven for sleeping during the night, or when you are away.
More often than not, dog’s do not like to pee where they sleep.
At first, you are likely going to have to wake up once or twice during the night to let your puppy pee. Remember, they have teeny tiny bladders.
Furthermore, be sure to take them out immediately when you wake up in the morning or return home.
That habit will help encourage them to “hold it” because they know you will take them out soon. However, bladder control can be tricky for puppies.
Generally speaking, a puppy can hold their bladder as long as they are old. For example, if your puppy is two months old, they can go about two hours without peeing, and so on.
How to Potty Train a Puppy: In Summary
Having a puppy is a tornado of adorable photo opp’s, sleepy snuggles, pee, and poop.
Being a puppy owner requires a skillful and constant balance of sheer joy and downright frustration.
Let me tell you from experience, it is all worth it, I promise!
Remember that patience is paramount, and that potty training a puppy is a process.
I sincerely hope the tips I have outlined in this article help you on your journey.
At the end of the day, you and your puppy will find your own unique pattern.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go give Radio the biggest snuggle for being my muse!
RADIO. My inspiration and real-life puppy experience coach.