Successfully training a canine to potty at the appropriate locations serves as a major step in integrating them into our homes. Dogs are capable of being toilet trained at the age of 12 weeks old and above, as their urinary and anal sphincter muscles are capable of temporarily holding their excretions. In some rare cases, dogs that have been toilet trained may urinate or defecate in inappropriate locations, which can be due to a wide variety of factors such as health, fearful associations or domination. The age of the dog is not a significant factor in toilet training, but rather the owner’s consistency and use of positive reinforcement. 

Click here to view the pros and cons of each potty-training option before starting the training process, allowing your training efforts to achieve maximum results.

There are a number of ways to achieve the goal of your pooch eliminating at the right place at the right time. The training methods are centered around understanding how the canine body functions and through the use of positive reinforcement such that the training will be a success, enhancing the precious dog-owner bond. With the right persistence and training, your pooch should be fully indoor potty-trained by the end of two weeks.

Successful indoor potty training

1.   Choose an ideal location.

This step is crucial as you may prefer to have a suitable non-porous flooring (tiles instead of carpet for example) to allow room for mistakes. Also, choosing an area that has moderate human traffic allows your dog to be observed by family members whenever your dog urinates/defecates but does not result in a lack of relaxation or possibly excitement. Most dogs have instinctual clean habits, preferring to potty a distance from where they eat and sleep. Dogs housed in confined spaces such as those at puppy mills are an exception due to space constraints, carrying out waste elimination, feeding and sleeping in the same area. Avoid changing the location of the potty area drastically once the training starts. It is thus important to carefully choose a suitable location from the commencement of training.

2.   Set up the desired substrate on the ground.

If you are using newspapers, line the base of the potty area with either a waterproof plastic sheet or pee tray before laying the newspapers over. If you are using pee pads, you may place the pee tray beneath. Some owners may use a fenced area to potty-train their dog. In that case, line the entire base with several pee pads or newspaper.

3.   Make sure that the puppy is comfortable walking across the pee pad.

Using a training leash, guide your dog to walk across the pee pad. The leash allows quick control using a looping action. This step is important as there should not be any fear or uncertainty of stepping on a foreign object as dogs fail to eliminate when uncertain. If so, continue practice walking over the pee pad till little or no attention is paid to the pee pad. Avoid rewarding with treats as there is a possible association of pee pad with food, which results in the habit of ingesting faecal matter. Once your dog is comfortable walking over the pee pad, you may proceed to the next step.

4.   Bring your dog to the potty area during waste elimination.

Always catch a pattern of your dog’s potty habits as that can provide a hint on when he is going to eliminate. Potty habits vary between individuals but common timings to eliminate include immediately after meals, after walking/running and during or after an exciting/stressful event. If you don’t seem to catch a pattern in potty habits, have a scheduled time and amount for feeding, and avoid leaving uneaten food lying around. You can either carry your dog (to abruptly stop any urination/defecation) or slip a training leash around the neck (if early stages of urination/defecation are observed) and quickly guide him to the potty area. The latter is preferred, as that guides your dog towards the ideal potty location, making approaching the potty area familiar.

5.   Reward your dog after he eliminates.

Creating a positive association with the action of eliminating on the newspaper/pee pad conditions the mind to replicate that behaviour as that action pleases you – after all, dogs are man’s best friend. This can be done immediately by several forms of reward such as letting your dog out from the fenced area (allowing him to roam about) with initiated play (a highly anticipated activity for most puppies), giving treats (for food-motivated dogs) or giving belly rubs/scratches (some dogs love being massaged). The optimal form of reward varies between dogs and finding which motivates your dog best is crucial in the potty-training process. Having the opportunity to be out from the fenced area and enjoying the rewards serve as a powerful motivation. If eliminating on the newspaper/pee pad results in a positive reward which is highly looked forward to, why not do it again and even quicker?

6.   Slowly remove more sheets when your dog gets the idea of eliminating on the newspaper/pee pad.

You may start to notice a specific area or corner that your dog prefers to eliminate on. Give your dog a chance. This is when you can remove all the sheets except those covering your dog’s preferred area of eliminating. If he gets it right after reducing the newspaper/pee pad area, immediately reward him heavily. If he makes a mistake, go back to cover the area that your dog had success with. Try again from there till your dog learns to potty on the area of a sheet of newspaper/pee pad.

7.   Be on your toes to catch your dog when he may need to go potty.

If you observe sniffing, squatting or circling, immediately take him to the potty area and patiently wait for about a minute. By doing so, the location for desired elimination is reinforced. A fence can be used as a barrier to restrict the movements temporarily, allowing your dog to be on the pee pad. Using a leash to direct the puppy on the newspaper/pee pad can circumvent the need for a fence.

8.   Keeping a general watch on your puppy.

You may allow your dog to roam around the house while under your supervision. Alternatively, you may consider placing your puppy in a fenced area. Training your puppy to be calm in a fenced area allows an unsupervised puppy to be restricted to an area, reducing the risks of any potty accidents. This method associates the fenced area with a resting place where no playing and urination/defecation is allowed. It can be seen as a human’s bedroom – meant only for rest. Click here to view the article on crate training.

9.   Follow up by monitoring and reinforcing.

As mentioned previously, the fence is a mere object used to restrict the movement of your dog to aid in potty-training when unsupervised. By this stage, your dog should be familiar with the concept and location that he needs to go potty. Hence, you will not need the fence from this stage. The timing of elimination should be fairly regular as well. This final stage consists of reinforcing the desired behaviour, which includes frequent supervision (monitoring) and rewarding (reinforcing).

Troubleshooting Guide

What if my puppy accidentally eliminates on an undesirable location?

In this unfortunate situation, avoid correcting your puppy by means of hitting, scolding, timeout or pushing the puppy’s nose as these methods strain the trust and relationship between the puppy and you. Furthermore, this promotes hiding from you when your dog needs to potty in the future. Instead, you should use an enzyme-based cleaner (follow label instructions carefully) or vinegar to remove any scent of waste that may encourage urination at the same spot in the future. After which, take note of the time or recent activity and in doing so, allows you to better anticipate the timing for future elimination and guide your dog during that time.

Is talking to my dog going to help?

Talking to dogs with the intent to change behavioural issues may backfire, as attention is given when a dog stands on the pee tray. Hesitation without waste elimination on the pee pad is being reinforced. Commonly, owners tell their dogs to “pee and poo here”. It is always best to lead by actions instead of complicating the training process and introduce sentences that your dog may never figure out.

Should I carry my dog after potty?

You should avoid carrying your dog after he finishes eliminating, especially for medium to large dogs. Larger sized dogs dislike being carried and the association of that with eliminating on a pee tray spells disaster. Dogs may refuse to eliminate on the pee tray if they are carried immediately after, as some owners are afraid of their dog stepping on the unabsorbed urine and walking around the house.

How do I reward using treats?

Using treats only after eliminating is crucial. Using treats to guide a dog towards the pee tray may set the dog to associate feeding with eliminating, which can lead to ingestion of faeces (coprophagia). When rewarding a puppy eliminating at the desired location, treats should always be given a distance away from the pee tray. Ideally, you may stand 5 meters or more away from the pee tray and call your puppy to you once he is done eliminating, giving him the treat without asking for any commands and without hesitation.

How should I respond when my dog nearly misses the pee pad?

Guide your puppy towards success. If your puppy squats to poo nearby the pee tray, you may guide the pee tray directly below his anus. However, do make sure to point your finger at the poo once your dog has finished eliminating. Then make sure he sees the poo on the pee pad and immediately reward your dog once he glances at the poo on the pee pad.

Additional notes

  • If your puppy used to have accidents a distance away from the pee tray and recently makes an effort to eliminate near the pee tray, you may lightly reward that behaviour to let your puppy know he is on the right track. When the elimination is done accurately on the pee pad, reward with high enthusiasm to indicate the desired outcome.

  • To speed up the training process, you may significantly increase the water intake by adding water to your dog's food. This allows more opportunities for urination which allows you to have more opportunities to potty-train your puppy. Regularly bring your puppy to the pee tray every hour when awake, and wait for him to go. Reward him if he eliminates at the desired location.

  • Most puppies may wake up during the night, giving rise to a potty accident in the crate. To address this, stick to a feeding schedule, ideally having the last meal and water intake two to three hours before bedtime. Bringing your puppy to potty before sleeping also prevents your puppy from holding any urine or faeces for the extended duration throughout the night.