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For all the joy and excitement of bringing home a new puppy, potty training can be enough to make you wonder what you were thinking. In fact, one of the most popular questions on The AKC GoodDog! Helpline is how to potty train a puppy. The goal of potty training is simple, but the details can be confusing, like whether to use puppy pads or even an indoor doggy potty spot.

Having your dog go outside is the ideal solution, but training pads can sometimes play a role in successful potty training. For example, with very young puppies, it’s necessary to make frequent trips outside. That might be too challenging for elderly owners or apartment dwellers. Or, if you don’t have a backyard and your dog’s toilet area is a public place, you might want to limit your puppy’s exposure until they’re fully vaccinated.

If you want to include potty pads or indoor potties in your puppy’s housetraining routine, read on for tips on how to potty train a puppy on pads.

Be Patient

It’s easy to get frustrated with your new puppy when potty training takes longer than expected. But it’s essential to be patient during this process. Remember, potty training takes time. Don’t expect more from your puppy than they’re able to deliver. The following points will help you keep your cool:

  • Decide if you’ll be using disposable or washable puppy pads
  • Consider an indoor “litterbox-type” dog potty station
  • A puppy can’t control their bladder until they’re 16 weeks old. So, as much as you might like them to wait, they simply can’t.
  • A puppy can typically only hold their bladder as long as their age in months plus one hour. So, a 4-month-old puppy can only hold it for five hours. That includes during the night as well.
  • Every breed is different. For example, a toy breed might need more frequent potty breaks due to a fast metabolism and tiny bladder.
  • Every puppy is different, even within breeds. Your first puppy might’ve been potty trained in a few weeks, but your next one might need months.
Labrador Retriever puppy laying down at home outside its kennel.
©Evgeniya -

Supervise at All Times

It’s important to watch your puppy at all times for safety, but this is also the key to successful potty training. You can’t prevent accidents if you don’t have your eyes on the dog. Here are some tips to help with supervision:

  • Take your puppy to the potty pad or indoor bathroom frequently. How often will depend on their age and bladder strength. For very young puppies, it could be as often as every 15 minutes. Better a wasted trip than an accident.
  • Set a timer if you’re having trouble remembering when to take your puppy to their pad.
  • Watch your puppy for telltale signs they have to go, such as sniffing the ground, circling, or whining. When you see those signs, take them straight to the potty pad.
  • Use a leash if you have trouble keeping your puppy in sight. Clip the leash to your waist to limit your puppy’s movements.
  • Put your puppy in a crate or a safe area whenever you can’t supervise them.

Use a Crate

A crate is an important potty training tool because dogs don’t like to soil where they sleep. Plus, a strong denning instinct means that if you introduce a crate properly, your puppy will see it as their safe space rather than a punishment. Keep the following in mind when introducing a crate to your puppy:

  • Choose an appropriately sized crate. Your puppy should be able to lie down and turn around but with no extra room. If the crate is too large, your puppy can use one end as a toilet, which will delay potty training.
  • Use dividers with a larger crate. If you buy a crate for your dog’s adult size, dividers can help the crate “grow” with your puppy.
  • Associate the crate with wonderful things. If you put treats in the crate, feed your puppy at the back of the crate, and leave food-stuffed chew toys in the crate, your puppy will learn to love it.
  • Reward your puppy for going in their crate. They’ll be happy to go inside if it’s a rewarding place to be. Although a crate is great for a quiet time out, don’t use it for punishment.
  • Take your puppy straight to their potty pad whenever you let them out of the crate.
©Parilov -

Be Consistent

When thinking about how to potty train a puppy, don’t underestimate routine and consistency. Setting a schedule and sticking to it will help prevent accidents. Plus, it will ensure you give your puppy every chance to go in the correct location. These tips will help you stay consistent:

  • Know when your puppy has to go. Most puppies need the bathroom when they wake up in the morning, after eating, playing, and napping. So, take your puppy to the potty pad every time one of these events occurs.
  • Take your puppy to the potty pad anytime they haven’t been for an hour or two.
  • Bring your puppy to the potty pad whenever you suspect it’s time. But if they don’t go, don’t let them run around and play. Instead, put them back in their crate for 10-15 minutes, then immediately try again. Repeat until they do their business.
  • Feed your puppy on a schedule. If you control when your puppy eats, you can better predict when they’ll have to go to the bathroom. Don’t free feed.
  • Choose an appropriate place for the potty pad. Try not to move it while your puppy is still learning. If you confuse your puppy, they’ll likely have more accidents and take longer to train.

Reward With Praise and Treats

Dogs repeat behaviors that are rewarding, and doing their business in the right spot is no different. If you reward your puppy with praise and treats whenever they use their potty pad, they’ll be more likely to use it again. Keep the following in mind when rewarding your puppy:

  • Reward your puppy immediately after they do their business. Don’t wait to get the treats out of the cupboard. Have them ready to go in the moment. You can keep a bowl or bag of treats beside the potty area so you’re always prepared.
  • Use a leash if your puppy is easily distracted. Walk them to the potty pad on a leash and only unclip them after they’ve done their business. The freedom to play will be a bonus reward.
Shiba Inu sitting watching a heart-shaped treat held in a person's fingers.
A8-dct via Getty Images

Switch From Pads to the Outdoors

When it’s time to transition your puppy from potty pads to the outdoors, you can apply many of the tips above in a similar way. Simply take your puppy outside rather than to their pad. This advice can help along the way:

  • Teach your puppy a potty cue like “hurry up” or “go potty.” Start using the cue whenever your puppy is about to go, then reward them as soon as they finish. With enough repetition, you’ll be able to ask your puppy to go where and when it’s convenient for you, including in the outdoor toilet area.
  • Move the potty pad outside. Only move it a small distance each day so you don’t confuse your puppy. First, work toward the door to the outside, then to just outside that door, and then slowly to the final outdoor location.
  • Decrease the size of the potty pad once it’s outside. Some puppies will catch on quickly, particularly with the help of potty cues. But if your puppy is struggling, cut the potty pad into smaller and smaller sizes until they’re using the ground instead.

Handle Accidents Calmly

It’s human nature to look for what’s wrong and take what’s right for granted. But we need to do the complete opposite with our puppies. Always reward and praise good behavior and ignore the things that go wrong. This is especially true with potty training accidents. Here are some tips for handling potty accidents:

  • Interrupt your puppy if you catch them in the act of having an accident. Don’t scare or startle them. Instead, marking the behavior with a quiet hand clap or the words “oh-oh” should be enough to stop them mid-stream. Punishing them in the act will only teach them not to go in front of you, leading to a dog that sneaks behind the couch to go in private.
  • Take your puppy to their potty pad as soon as you catch them. If they stop when you interrupt them, they might finish on the pad. If they don’t finish on the pad, at least you’ve shown them where they should’ve gone.
  • Don’t react if you learn of an accident after it happened. Lecturing your puppy afterward won’t teach them anything about potty training.
  • Clean all accidents with an odor-destroying cleaner. Dogs are attracted to the smell of previous business, so thorough and proper cleaning is essential.
Related article: The Best Materials to use for Puppy Housetraining
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