Updated: Jul 4, 2022
House training your puppy seems like a simple task and some training websites claim to offer tips to potty train your puppy in as little as 5 days! So you may find yourself feeling frustrated when your puppy is still having accidents weeks later and/or just does not seem to be catching on to the concept.
One common complaint from new puppy owners is that they dutifully take their puppy outside every hour, only to have him run around and play… and then potty almost immediately upon coming back inside. What gives?!
We will explore this dilemma as well as several common potty training mistakes owners often make.
If you find your puppy goes potty inside right after he should have gone potty outside, you are actually closer to being on the right track than you might think. You have the appropriate timing down as far as taking your puppy outside when he needs to go, but he is likely simply too enthralled with the outdoor environment to focus on the task at hand.
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Young puppies are in full exploration mode almost all the time. They are playful and curious and trying to navigate the huge world around them. When you bring home your 8-week-old puppy home, he will likely be a bit overstimulated by the new environment for a few days, especially outside.
Being outside is full of new sights, sounds, and smells for a puppy. Puppies generally react to this huge new world with curiosity/excitement or fear/anxiety. Either of these reactions can result in not being able to settle down enough to actually go potty!
So you take your puppy out- he runs and sniffs around (curiosity!) or he simply stands there not doing much at all (anxiety!), so you assume he must not need to go potty, but as soon as you cross the threshold back inside, he pees all over your living room rug!
Your puppy clearly did need to go potty, but he was likely too overstimulated outside. He feels safe and relaxed indoors, which triggers him to release his bladder. The key is to make sure his outdoor time is safe, structured, and a little bit boring.
When it is time to take your puppy potty, always go to the same spot. Choose a corner of your yard and either take your puppy out on a leash or set up a small exercise pen/puppy play yard to keep the area smaller. He can certainly have more freedom when it is play time, but for potty breaks, try to keep him going in the same area.
This works for two reasons: one, puppies tend to form potty habits. You may have noticed your puppy often has accidents in the same general area of the house. They form powerful scent associations, so once they have gone potty in a certain area, they are more apt to do it again.
Secondly, limiting his outdoor potty area will make sure your puppy does not get too excited or overstimulated so he is better able to focus on the task at hand. You will want to make sure to not make it too small though. Your puppy needs to have enough room to walk in a circle in order to feel okay about relieving himself.
Puppies are hardwired to not soil their dens or sleeping areas so he needs to have enough space to walk around and find the “right spot” and feel that he can safely potty in one corner of his designated area without soiling himself.
Another helpful tip to solve this common potty problem is to make sure you give your puppy plenty of time during potty breaks. While a trained adult dog understands the concept and knows how to fully release his bladder and bowels on cue, a puppy is really still learning the very basics of bladder control. As a result, many puppies will actually pee and/or poop multiple times in the same outing.
So even after your puppy goes potty, give him a few extra minutes to sniff around just in case he’s not quite done. Also, the more time you allow him outside, the more relaxed and comfortable he will become. Your goal is to make sure going outside does not feel particularly novel.
Remember that first key of keeping potty time boring so he can focus! The longer time spent outside, the more your puppy will find the sights, sounds, and smells to be familiar and nothing to get excited or scared by.
If you are following these tips and giving your puppy plenty of outside time in a smaller space of your yard, and he still chooses to go potty inside, he has likely formed a strong association with his indoor potty spot that you will need to break.
The first step is to keep him away from whatever indoor area he has chosen. If he is going on a rug, you may need to temporarily remove the rug. Or at least attempt to block him from whatever room he has chosen as his spot. To get his little brain back on track, you may have to do some serious potty training boot camp. If you take your puppy out for a long potty break and he does not go, place him back in his kennel.
As mentioned previously, puppies do not like to soil themselves or their sleeping area, so he will make every attempt not have an accident in this space. Let him out to try again in 15 minutes. And repeat. It may take some time, but eventually your pup will go potty outside. And when he does—offer praise and treats!
However, on this note, be careful when you offer praise and treats! Another easy mistake to make is offering praise and treats too soon! While we recommend establishing a command/reward system, the timing of your reward is important. Sometimes owners get so excited that their puppy is actually peeing outside, that they immediately praise him, which can actually excite your pup and cause him to stop peeing before he was actually finished!
This of course can result in him having a potty accident as soon as you get back inside, resulting in the same vicious cycle all over again! When you bring your pup out to his designated potty area, choose a command to say: “Go potty!” “Do your business!” or whatever line you can come up with. When pup does potty, wait until he stops squatting before your reward. The second he appears to be done, offer an excited “good boy!” and a treat. He will quickly learn why you are rewarding him and be more apt to potty as soon as you take him out.
The timing is just as important when it comes to catching your puppy having accidents! Scolding your pup for an accident after the fact is generally ineffective as he will not connect the discipline to the moment of the accident. So keeping a close eye on your pup is very important so that you can “catch” them as soon as they start to squat or have an accident indoors. A quick “no” and then carrying them outside for a potty break will aid the potty training process.
On this same note, keeping your puppy’s indoor area limited at first can also help with potty training. Obviously, it makes it easier to keep an eye on your pup in a smaller space, but it also helps set your puppy up for potty training success. The smaller the area, the more likely your pup will be to alert you that he needs to potty rather than sneaking off to a corner where you can’t see him.
In fact, confining them to just a room or two of your house at first is often a good idea in general to make things less overwhelming for them. Having an area that is within direct eyeline to the outside door will really help your pup connect the dots on where to go when he needs to potty.
While we find it definitely takes most puppies more than a few days to totally grasp potty training, following these tips consistently will eventually get your pup going potty on command outdoors! By the time he is a 3-4 months old, he will likely be reliable with his potty habits and all the potty training frustrations will seem a distant memory!
Jenna and the JLDD Team