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Potty Training Your Puppy When You Live In An Apartment

Author: Stacy Painter

Published: January 31, 2022

Updated: January 5, 2023

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puppy had a pee accident in the apartment

Potty training on the 28th floor

You’ve done your research to find the perfect puppy for your apartment life, and you bought the toys and training aids. The phone numbers for your veterinarian and animal poison control are on the fridge, puppy classes are booked, and your homemade first aid kit is at the ready.

Now the time has come to finally welcome home the new addition to your family, but there’s one problem: you’ve just entered the front door of your 28th-floor apartment, and your new puppy needs to go ... NOW!

Puppy potty training, when you live in an apartment building, is an entirely different game since you can’t simply pick up your puppy and run out the back door into the yard. But just because you live in an apartment doesn’t mean you can’t successfully train your puppy to ‘go’ where he’s supposed to.

The Keys to Puppy Potty Training Success in an Apartment

1. Get into a regular routine

Feed your dog at scheduled intervals and take potty breaks at the same time each day so your dog can start to develop habits and expectations. Younger puppies will need more frequent potty breaks since they cannot hold it as long. For the best chances of success, start by taking them out every hour or more frequently if your pup is very young. And immediately after waking or coming out of their crate and within about 5–10 minutes after eating, drinking, or playing for young puppies.

Use our downloadable Puppy Potty Log to track your puppy's elimination schedule and get a better idea of when they need to be taken outside.

2. Offer praise or rewards for desired behavior

Whether your dog responds best to verbal praise, a favorite toy, or a special treat, be sure to lavish him with a positive stimulus every time he successfully goes in the proper location. You can even teach your dog to go potty on cue by following these 4 easy steps.

3. Watch for signs that your puppy has to go

Certain behaviors will signify that your dog may have the urge to go, such as restlessness, sniffing, circling, or a sudden trot to the corner. If you notice these signs, it may be too late to make it all the way outside, but you can successfully snatch up your pup and place them on one of the “indoor potty options” listed below.

4. Have a backup plan

Outside may be several flights of stairs away or a few precious minutes riding in an elevator, which means a greater likelihood of an accident along the way. Before good outdoor potty habits are solidified, you may need to consider one of the following indoor potty options temporarily.

5. Carry your puppy

Carry your pup down the hall and in the elevator until you’ve reached your potty destination. As they get older and more reliable with their potty habits, you can start letting them get there using their own four paws.

corgi puppy sleeping on a pee pad

Should You Use Pee Pads for Your Puppy?

Pee pads typically contain scents that will attract your dog to eliminate on the pad. There are reusable, washable ones, too. You can help teach your dog to use the pad by praising when your pup successfully uses it or placing them on the pad when they show signs of needing to eliminate. Pee pads can sometimes make outdoor potty training more difficult for your puppy — read about the pros and cons of pee pad training.

What About Puppy Litter Boxes or Grass Patches?

The most common options you’ll find are boxes of synthetic grass above a tray of absorbent litter or real grass patches delivered as a monthly service. These can be kept in-home or out on a balcony as a convenient way for your dog to go potty without having to wait for an elevator.

Preventive Vet's certified dog trainer, Cathy Madson, prefers the real grass options because a) they're more ecologically friendly, b) the plastic kind can be disgustingly messy, and c) there's a benefit of real grass for future transition to outdoor-only potty training.

stop using potty pads

You can even make a DIY version of a porch potty, check out this video below to see how.


Pro Tip: If you're using potty pads or a porch potty, you'll want somewhere convenient to throw away any waste. Instead of making the trek to the dumpster every time you pick up your puppy's poo, invest in a small dog waste station with deodorizer, like this one from PetFusion. It has a locking lid and includes a charcoal filter that helps reduce odor, and it's lightweight and portable – making trips to toss the poo in the complex's garbage less frequent and easier!

puppy pee accident getting cleaned up-DP

Accidents happen — don't punish

Potty training a new dog is scarcely a perfect process. If your dog pees in your home, resist the urge to scold them or “rub their nose in it” as this will instill fear, and undermine your relationship with your dog. Plus, science shows that such punishments miss the mark anyway.

Be sure to clean accidents immediately with an enzymatic cleaner to remove all traces. Miss this odor-neutralizing step, and the lingering odor will keep your pup coming back for more! Read more on properly cleaning up potty accidents. Dogs are likely to continue to pee in the same place if it smells like urine.

Along with poo bags, equip yourself with an old rag, paper towels or spare napkins, and a small bottle of cleaner. Accidents can also happen in the hall or elevator on the way to your potty destination! And your neighbors will certainly appreciate it if you're armed and ready to deal with such mishaps promptly.

Extra Puppy Potty Training Tools

Crate Training: Dogs don’t want to soil their sleeping area, so contain them in their crate at bedtime to avoid late-night accidents. If the crate is significantly larger than your pup (room for growth) then be sure to block off part of the crate so your puppy can’t pee on one side and sleep on the other. Here are some tips on where to start with puppy crate training.

Long-Term Confinement Area: If you need to leave your puppy alone longer than they can be crated, set up a long-term puppy zone with an appropriate potty area using pee pads or a dog litter box. Learn how to set up your puppy's confinement area here.

Umbilical Cord Leash: Use a hands-free leash to keep your puppy attached to you so they can't wander off and have an accident. Keeping them close helps you notice when they are giving signals they need to go outside to potty.

Potty bell: Hang a bell by the door as an extra way for your dog to communicate that they need to go out. You can teach your dog to ring the bell by holding it close to your dog’s nose until your pup bumps it. When the bell jingles or buzzes, open the door and take them out. Practice this every time you take your dog out the door for a bathroom break, here's a good short video about the basics of "potty bell training." Watch to the end to see their tips to avoid problems such as this one below...

Dog potty bell social post
With plenty of patience and practice, your new dog will learn the appropriate places to go potty, even if it means patiently waiting for the elevator to reach the ground floor.

Related Resources

Download: Puppy Potty Log

Stop potty accidents and get help with house training in our Puppy Essentials: Potty Training Workshop
Includes unlimited access to self-paced lessons, downloadable resources, video demonstrations, and more — all for only $9.

puppy potty training virtual workshop $9

About the author

Profile picture for Stacy Painter

Stacy Painter

Stacy Painter has been blogging for the pet industry for over a decade and has owned rescue dogs her entire life, including one that was completely blind. She enjoys continued learning about dog training, behavior, and pet safety. In her free time, Stacy likes to experience dog-friendly adventures including hiking, local parks, and taking her puppy out on her stand-up paddleboard. Stacy shares her passions, talents, and unique voice as part of the collective Preventive Vet team.

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