Potty Training Problems for Puppies and How to Prevent Accidents

Author: Jason Nicholas, BVetMed

Published: October 9, 2017

Updated: July 19, 2021

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small black and tan chihuahua wrapped in toilet paperPotty training is certainly no walk in the park — though it may involve some! Every puppy is different, and everybody’s living situation and schedule is different, too. Just as there’s no “one size fits all” recipe for potty training puppies, there's also a whole range of potential reasons why your pup might not be picking up on this important life skill as quickly as you were expecting (and hoping).

Potty Problems Due to Human Problems

When a pup is peeing and pooping in the house, it’s time to re-evaluate their environment and your potty-training methods. Ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Are you taking your pup out often enough? Puppies often have to be brought out every 30 minutes to 3 hours, depending on their age. We know that potty training a puppy when you live in an apartment building can be especially challenging — see this article for additional help and tips to help you survive potty training in an apartment.

  • Are you taking them out soon enough after eating or drinking? Most young puppies need to go to the bathroom about 10–15 minutes after eating or drinking. Some puppies will hold it a bit longer, while others will need to go almost immediately.

  • Are you giving them a potty break soon enough after waking or taking them out of their crate? Sometimes, your puppy has to go right now. This means as soon as they wake up or come out of their crate. So don’t pour yourself a coffee first, don’t check your phone, don’t take your bathroom break. Wait until your puppy is done to start your own morning rituals.

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  • Are you putting “business” before pleasure? Every potty break outside should produce some pee or poo before playtime can begin. Give your pup about 5 minutes to do their business. If they don’t, bring them back inside and either put them in their crate or tether them to you with a leash. These are not punishments, but rather a way to help you try and control their environment and keep a close eye to catch any impending accidents before they happen. Five minutes later, bring them outside again.

  • Are you using positive reinforcement? This is crucial for puppies to “get the message” about what you want them to do. Right when they finish doing their business, click or say your marker word (“good dog,” “good potty,” etc.) to tell them that they did exactly what you wanted them to do and where you wanted them to do it. Then heap on the praise, treats, and play. Make it the biggest celebration in the world when they get it right, and they’ll be more inclined to get it right every time after that!

  • Are you being consistent? It really can help to go out the same door and go to the same spot in the yard each time you take your pup out to potty. And don’t forget to have others follow these patterns, too. The importance of consistency and repetition shouldn’t be underestimated!

  • Are you cleaning up in-house accidents quickly, correctly, and thoroughly? Enzymatic and bio-based cleaners are the best way to remove not only the stain from an accident but also the smell that could cause your puppy to return to the same spot. Whatever you do, don't steam clean first. You need to neutralize the odor with the enzymatic and bio-based cleaners first. Otherwise, the steam can "set" the stain and odor by permanently bonding the proteins contained in the urine (or poop) to the fibers of your carpet. That "set" stain and odor will now be a permanent reminder to your dog that they "were there," which will likely tempt them to "be there" again (and again, and again...). After you clean thoroughly and properly, steam cleaning can help to disinfect your floor surface, so it can be a great thing — especially if you’ve got young children or you spend lots of time laying on your floors. Just be sure to use an effective cleaner FIRST! Here's one enzymatic cleaner by Unique that works really well.

    If you want to unleash your inner CSI, you can always use a black light to check for residual pee stains so you can go over them again with your cleaner. It's amazing how, even when you think you've cleaned a spot well, there can be residual proteins and smells that your puppy will pick up on. Their noses are powerful! If you're interested in using black light, here are two flashlight options: This UV flashlight is less expensive, however, the wavelength from this UV Blacklight Torch (365-370nm) is better but it's pricey. The better the wavelength, the better visibility for fluorescing proteins in urine. Both will work, but the less expensive one should definitely be used in a dark room. 

Potty Problems Due to Puppy Problems

Potty training problems could actually have nothing to do with your ability to potty train your puppy. Unfortunately, some puppies are born with medical problems or acquire them at an early age, and these issues can undermine even the most seasoned trainer’s potty-training techniques! Watch Dr. J explain what possible medical issues can contribute to potty accidents in this video:

Here are a few of the medical problems that could complicate a pup’s potty training progress: 

If your puppy is peeing in the house:

  • Urinary tract infection
  • Bladder inflammation (“cystitis”)
  • Bladder or kidney stones
  • Patent urachus
  • Ectopic ureter
  • Liver disease (e.g., shunt) 

If your puppy is pooping in the house:

  • Intestinal parasites like worms, Coccidia, Giardia, or others
  • Inflamed stomach, pancreas, or intestines from food that may be too “rich” for them
  • Being fed too many meals or meals that are too large
  • A deficiency in pancreatic enzymes

Dog Peeing On Tree

At the end of the day, some puppies pick up on potty training faster than others. If your dog is one of the “others,” don’t fret too much. They’ll get it, but you might have to help them a bit more and work harder to be “on your game.” But also be careful to recognize that your pup could very well have a medical issue underlying their potty problems. 

When in doubt, ask for help. Your vet can rule out medical problems. And if you get the “all clear” and still don’t have a solution to your puppy’s potty problems, you may find that a good (positive, rewards-based) trainer can be worth their weight in gold! Remember, you’re not alone…  even if it feels that way at 3:00 a.m. when you’re standing in the rain in your PJs watching and waiting for your pup to finish their business.

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