Potty training is something that you want to happen as soon as possible. It can also feel like a daunting task. In this article, I will give you lots of information and training tips to help guide you through the potty training process.
In this article we will cover:
Is Potty Training Necessary
Before you start going through all the work of house training your puppy you may wonder if this even necessary? Won’t a puppy just figure this out on their own?
If you live in a very small house and the puppy has constant access to the outdoors, then she might figure it out. However, this is pretty rare. All your puppy knows is that she needs to go to the bathroom. Labradors don’t like relieving themselves near where they sleep, so your puppy will usually just walk away from her sleeping area and go. She doesn’t even care if this is in the house or out in the yard.
So, if you want your puppy to learn to relieve herself outside and not in the house then, yes, potty training is necessary. If you start this training right away, it will help to avoid future accidents and will help to keep your carpet clean.
What Supplies Are Needed for Potty Training?
There are several supplies that will aid you in your potty training. Some of these are must-haves, while others will depend on what methods you choose to use.
A Leash and Collar
Of course, a leash and a collar are obvious must-haves. You will eventually need to train your puppy on a leash. When your puppy is very little, she will probably do her business and be ready to go back inside. As she starts feeling more comfortable she will want to run around and investigate. You will want to have her on a leash so that you can lead her to her designated potty area quickly.
A crate is a must-have for so many reasons. It can be a great potty-training tool as well as a place where you can keep your puppy safe. Your puppy will think of this as her safe den area. If you have issues with crates, there are other options you can look at.
While not necessarily a must-have, any kind of barrier can be incredibly helpful. It really helps to confine your puppy to a specific space or room. Barriers and gates can create a safe place for your puppy where she can’t get into trouble. I discussed the benefits of these supplies in my article Essential Supplies for a New Labrador Puppy and also in my article about Preparing for Your Labrador Puppy.
Puppy Pee Pads or Newspaper
This offers a backup designated area where your puppy is allowed to relieve herself when she is unable to get outside. I personally prefer the pee pads so that I don’t get newsprint all over my hands, but newspapers are cheaper.
Dog Poop Bags
A quick and easy way to clean up after puppy when she poops. These are must-haves and required at many parks and dog-walking areas.
You can use these to reward your puppy when she relieves herself when and where she is supposed to.
You want a cleaner that removes the urine smell and cleans your carpet when the puppy has accidents. We use Nature’s Miracle and we really like it. Removing the urine smell from your floor and carpets is crucial. If your puppy can smell a trace of urine in your house she will think that she can relieve herself there again. You want to clean up accidents as best as you can. I have joked with my family that we should have bought stock in Nature’s Miracle and paper towels when we adopted our puppy.
A Tarpaulin Sheet (Tarp)
If at all possible you should create your puppy’s safe area in a room with tile or linoleum floors for easy cleanup. If you don’t have a place like that, you may find a tarpaulin sheet (or tarp) helpful. Place this under the puppy’s area to protect your floor or carpet.
The purpose of this is to find any missed urine in your house so you can make sure you clean it all up. I don’t personally have one of these but I can see why they could help, especially if your puppy keeps having accidents in the same place.
When Should You Start Potty Training?
You should start the minute you bring your puppy home. In fact, the very first thing you should do is to take your puppy to her elimination area and wait until she relieves herself. The more your puppy pees outside the quicker she will learn that this is where you want her to go. Your goal is to avoid as many accidents as possible. Puppy’s like to go where they have peed before, so the fewer accidents in the house, the less she will be enticed to pee where she shouldn’t.
How Often Should You Take Your Puppy Out?
The best answer to this is, often. Your puppy will need to relieve herself many times a day. The more often you take her out to pee, the quicker she will learn that outside is where she is supposed to go.
There are several times a day that you absolutely should take your puppy out. They are:
- Right after they wake up from any sleep time
- After she eats or drinks
- After she has play time
- Before she goes to sleep at night.
Depending on the age and bladder control of your puppy, you should take her outside every 30-60 minutes. Figuring out the intervals will take some close observation and some trial-and-error. If you waited 45 minutes and your puppy had an accident, then next time take her out after 30 minutes. Likewise, if you take her out every 30 minutes and sometimes she just wanders and doesn’t relieve herself, then you can probably wait 45 minutes.
Your puppy will often show signs that she needs to go potty, so keep an eye out for these. You may notice that she is sniffing the ground and/or walking in circles. Sometimes your puppy may whine or bark or show signs of restlessness. If you see her heading for the door or heading to a far corner, these can also be signs. If you see any of these signs take your puppy out to relieve herself. You may occasionally have some false alarms but it’s better to be safe than to have to clean up an accident.
Your main goal is to take your puppy out as often as you can. The more she relieves herself outside the more she will understand that this is where she is supposed to go. Be patient and don’t get frustrated. This stage won’t last forever. Eventually, she will be potty-trained and will also have better bladder control and will be able to go longer stretches between her outings.
Potty Training Basics
The main goal of potty training is to keep your house clean and to teach the puppy the proper place to relieve herself. Labradors don’t want their sleeping area dirty. Most Labs will move as far as they can from their resting area to relieve themselves. Unfortunately, your puppy also has a small bladder and hasn’t learned to control it very well yet.
Three basic things can help make this training period easier:
- A Specific Potty Area
- Confining Your Puppy
Designated Potty Areas
Your puppy should have a designated potty area – both outside and inside. Her primary potty area will be outside but you will need to prepare an inside spot as well. If you have to leave your puppy alone for more than a couple hours she will need a place where she can relieve herself indoors.
You may want to try to teach your puppy to relieve herself in the same area outside every time. This can help with cleaning up her feces easily as well as limiting any area that might have lawn burn – yellow-colored or bare patches in your lawn which are caused by the nitrogen in your puppy’s urine. If you are going to train your puppy to use one spot make sure it is away from any windows or doors as you don’t want the urine smell creeping into your house. You will also want to keep it away from any areas your children regularly play. The best way to train for this is to lead your puppy to the same spot every time you take her outside.
Training your puppy to only use one spot is not a must. We have three dogs so for us it’s easier to allow them to go anywhere in the backyard. The main thing is to make sure you clean up their messes afterward. If potty messes get too built up in one area, the puppy will no longer use that spot.
Most people need to plan for an indoor potty area as well. It is hard to be at home enough to only train your puppy for outdoors. If you have to run errands or be gone from the house for a few hours, an indoor potty spot will be necessary. Pick a room with a tile or linoleum floor as opposed to carpet for easy clean-up.
You have a few different options for indoor potty spots. You can use newspapers, pee pads, or even turf boxes. Newspaper is cheap so you can spread it over a larger area without it being a major cost. However, it’s not very absorbent, so urine can run off the edges and cause a mess. Your puppy can also chew or tear it up fairly easily. It will also tend to get newsprint all over your hands.
Puppy pee pads are made of more absorbent material. We actually bought a large cookie sheet to place the pad on to help keep it in place. But a similar issue with these is that your puppy can still chew or tear them up.
A turf box is exactly what it sounds like. These boxes have a lawn area on top of real or synthetic turf and usually have a box under them for pee to drain into. Turf boxes are quite expensive and are only a good choice if you live somewhere that doesn’t have easy access to an outdoor potty area.
Confining Your Puppy
As I stated in my article Preparing For Your Labrador Puppy, it is important to have a safe, secure place set up for your puppy. This can be a room that she is confined to with a gate or you can use a corral or exercise pen.
This is important for several reasons:
- It gives her a space that is just hers
- It can keep her out of trouble
- It can keep any accidents during potty training in one area.
It is unavoidable that there will be times you will have to leave your puppy unsupervised. You may have to go to work, run errands, or even just use the restroom. During these times you need a place to leave your puppy where she can be safe, can’t damage furniture, chew up clothes, and where accidents are confined and easy to clean up.
While you are potty training you shouldn’t let your puppy run free in the house. She doesn’t yet know where it’s ok to relieve herself and where it’s not. Many rooms may be far from where she sleeps, so she may see those parts of the house as potential potty areas. Keep her confined and teach her where she can go and where she can’t. This will help keep your carpets clean and will train her more quickly.
Schedules and Routines
Schedules and routines are very helpful when it comes to potty training. When you stick to a fairly regular schedule puppy will learn when it’s time to go outside to relieve herself.
This is the basic idea of the schedule we follow right now for our 12-week-old puppy. Every time she wakes up we take her outside to relieve herself. After that, we have dedicated play time (sometimes with me and sometimes on her own). After about 30 minutes, she usually starts getting restless. That’s when I know it’s time to take her outside again. After she relieves herself she usually starts getting tired and it’s time for another nap. From here we repeat the schedule, adding in feedings when it’s time for them. If she eats I usually take her out an additional time, as she usually needs to poop about 10 minutes or so after she eats.
Feeding on a regular schedule is important too. When she eats on a schedule she tends to relieve herself on schedule. How many times a day you feed your puppy depends on her age. It can range anywhere from 2 -4 times a day. You can ask your vet about the recommended times to feed your puppy.
You want to feed your puppy a nutritious food that has less filler in it. Fillers tend to pass through her system quickly and will prompt her to go more frequently. Puppy food that is high in nutrients will be more easily digested and absorbed into the puppy’s system. This will result in fewer bathroom breaks.
Make sure your puppy has water easily available to her throughout the day. Be sure she is kept hydrated. However, it is also a good idea to remove her water bowl from her sleeping area about 2 hours before goes to sleep for the night. Otherwise, she will have unlimited access to her water bowl and will need to pee all night.
I know it’s not possible to stick to an exact schedule every day. Life goes on and there will be things that interrupt it. Just do your best to keep the puppy on a fairly regular routine and it will help speed potty training along.
Four Possible Methods of Training
There are four possible approaches you can use to potty-train your puppy:
- Crate Training
- Constant Supervision
- Paper Training
You may find yourself combining two or more of these methods. This was the case for us. Find what works best for you and your puppy and stick to it.
1. Crate Training
Crates can be quite useful while training your puppy. Most puppies, and even adult dogs, like the security of the crate when they have to be left alone. I have provided a lot more information about the different types of crates in my article Essential Supplies For a New Puppy.
When you are using a crate to help potty-train you want one that is large enough for your puppy to stand up, turn around, and lay down in but not any larger. With a crate, you are using the Labrador’s natural instinct to keep her sleeping area clean as a potty-training method. Avoid a crate that is too large. If the crate is too large, she may simply move to the far end and relieve herself.
Using the basic schedule I mentioned earlier in this article – sleep, potty time, play time, outdoor time (adding feedings as needed), you will add crate time immediately after play time. In the beginning, you should only crate your puppy for about 10 minutes and then take her out for her potty time. Being in the crate will help her learn to control her bowels. You can increase the time she spends in the crate as she gets older and can hold her pee longer.
When you first put her in the crate make sure you stay in the same room with her but continue to go about your business. She will get used to this arrangement fairly quickly, as long as you don’t engage her too much or fuss over her.
Never leave the puppy in the crate too long as this may force her to soil it which will stress her out and cause a mess.
2. Constant Supervision
Constant supervision is fairly self-explanatory. It means you supervise the puppy at all times and every time you see any signs that she needs to pee you take her outside. If you follow a schedule as mentioned earlier, it will make this type of training a little easier because it will give you a general idea of when your puppy will need to go. Also, if you keep your puppy in a confined space, she will be easier to keep an eye on.
This method only works if you are home all the time. But it can be draining to be constantly on guard. Of course, supervision is a must with any potty training plan, but it usually works better if you combine other methods with it.
3. Paper Training
This is a very common method that many people use, especially if they have to work during the day. This method consists of keeping a large portion of your puppy’s area covered with newspaper or pee pads. You want to keep these separate from the sleeping and food areas. You then encourage your puppy to pee on the paper when she needs to go.
This can be quite messy and smelly but it can also be pretty effective. As your puppy learns to use the paper you can make the area smaller. If you use this method exclusively then you will need to retrain your puppy to relieve herself outdoors when she is about 6 months old and can control her bowels for the whole day.
However, most people combine this approach with other methods so that the puppy has somewhere she can relieve herself when you have to leave her alone for a few hours.
Tethering training is sometimes also called umbilical training. This method involves you tethering your puppy to you at all times. With her leash constantly connected to you, so she goes everywhere you go. This keeps her from wandering off and peeing somewhere in your home. It also helps you see every signal that she may need to go out and there will never be an accident you don’t know about.
This method is obviously time-consuming and will keep you literally tied down during the entire potty-training process. However, it can also be very effective as mistakes are caught quickly. And as most Labradors won’t enjoy this method, they may learn more quickly.
What Works Best?
I think a combination works the best. We use ideas from crate training, constant supervision and paper training. We don’t usually use the actual crate for confinement but we do use our puppy’s secure place. We supervise, but not constantly. We also use papers when we have to leave the puppy alone. If you keep the basics in mind, such as regular routines and not giving your puppy free run of the house, you will find the training that works best for you.
What to Do When Accidents Happen?
Accidents are inevitable. The most important thing to remember is that your puppy is not doing this to be bad, she is simply still learning what is acceptable. Don’t punish her or rub her nose in it. Neither of these will help.
When you catch your puppy having an accident you must let her know that this is unacceptable behavior and immediately direct her to the acceptable behavior. Tell her “no” in a stern voice and point to the area. Then immediately take her outside to where she is supposed to go. When you bring her back in you should put her in her crate or secure area while you clean up the mess.
You need to clean up all accidents thoroughly and with the proper cleaner. A puppy is drawn to pee in the same areas she has used before. She has a very keen sense of smell so you need to make sure you clean up any trace of urine. We use Nature’s Miracle and it has always worked well for us.
Take time to think about why the accident happened. Were you not watching her closely enough? Had it been too long since her last trip outside? Had she eaten recently? Are you letting her roam freely too much? If there is anything you need to tweak in your schedule or routine?
If you find an accident in the house but did not catch the puppy doing it, there isn’t really anything you can do. If you try to correct her she won’t know what you are referring to since the correction will be too far after the behavior. Just clean it up thoroughly and watch her more closely.
Try not to startle or scare your puppy when you correct her. This may cause her to be too nervous to pee in front of you, which could make your outside trips take much longer.
How Do I Potty Train If I Work During the Day?
If you have to work part or full time and your puppy has to be alone for several hours you can still potty train. It will just take more effort.
First, you need to know that you cannot leave a puppy crated for that long of a period. She will eventually need to relieve herself and will do so in her crate. Also, she won’t have access to food or water.
You need to have a safe, secure area for your pet as we have mentioned before. This can be a blocked off room or a corral. This will keep her safe as well as keeping the rest of your house safe.
Half of this area should be her bed and food and water. The other half should be covered with papers or pads for her to relieve herself on. As she gets older and can control her bowels better, you will be able to remove some of the papers as she will be relieving herself less often.
When you are home, make sure you spend lots of time with her and take her out to go potty when needed so that she will start learning to go outside as well. You should also take her for a walk before you leave for work and as soon as you get home.
If you can, it is a really good idea to have someone stop by one or two times a day to feed her, take her outside, and play with her. This can be a friend or family member or you can hire a dog sitter.
How Do I Potty Train at Night?
This is an essential part of potty training. Even though you may be tempted to skip this step, don’t. Your puppy can’t hold her pee all night long. Her bladder just isn’t ready to do this yet. However, she usually needs to pee less during the night so you should only have to get up once.
Your puppy shouldn’t have any food for three hours before bedtime and no water for about two hours before. Make sure you take her out to relieve herself just before bedtime. Then set an alarm for around 4 hours later. For example, if you go to bed at 11:00 PM, set your alarm for 3:00 AM.
This middle-of-the-night potty time should be quiet and calm. Take her out and encourage her to go. Praise her when she does but use subdued tones. Bring her back in and put her right to bed. Don’t have play time or give her any treats. If you do, she will expect that every night.
If she has had an accident the first time you attempt this, then get up earlier the next night. Try getting up a half hour earlier and see if that works. As time progresses you can start setting your alarm for 15 minutes later until you reach the point where your puppy can sleep all night without any accidents. This time will vary with each puppy, but most puppies can sleep through the night without accidents by 16 weeks old.
If you keep your puppy crated at night it is especially important to avoid accidents, as once she starts soiling in her crate it can become a habit.
Peeing on Command
It’s not necessary to teach your puppy to pee on command but it can come in handy if you need her to go quickly.
Choose a command or short phrase that is not something commonly said in your house. Make sure everyone knows the phrase and is using it with your puppy. Our family uses the phrase, “Quick! Quick!” spoken rapidly and cheerfully.
In the beginning, wait until your puppy is in the process of peeing to say your chosen words. Continue doing this for a few weeks and she should start associating those words with her potty time.
Once she does this, you can use the phrase as a command for her to go. This can be helpful before bedtime or when you are getting ready to head out the door. Labradors love being outside and will be tempted to spend lots of time exploring and sniffing around. Using your command lets her know to do her business right away.
The reason that you don’t want to use something commonly said in your house is that hearing the words could trigger your puppy to pee and then you will have a mess to clean up.
Potty Training on a Leash
You may wonder what a leash has to do with potty training. When your puppy is young potty trips are fairly easy. All you have to do is take her out and she will go because she has very little bladder control. However, in just a few weeks she will start being able to wait longer to urinate and she will decide it’s time to start wandering around the yard. This can lead to long potty breaks and sometimes she will even forget to go. Also, some puppies get smart and purposefully hold their pee so they can stay outside longer. If you have her on a leash you can lead her to the potty spot and keep her from wandering around.
How Do I know When I’m Done?
The short answer is, you’ll know you’re done when your puppy hasn’t had any accidents in several weeks. Most puppies are fully potty-trained by about 6 months of age.
Be patient. Every puppy is different and some learn quicker than others. Also, don’t assume that your puppy is potty-trained just because she hasn’t had any accidents in a few weeks, especially if she is under 6 months old. It takes a while to be fully trained. Sometimes a puppy will revert or seem to forget her training. Be prepared for these times and go back to your potty training plan.
Remember this stage doesn’t last forever. The more effort you put into potty training in the beginning, the smoother it will go. Be vigilant and observant. The fewer accidents that your puppy has inside will help to speed up her learning process. Stick to your routines and pay attention to the signs your puppy shows you. Being consistent and patient will help the training to stick and soon enough you’ll have a fully potty-trained puppy!