5 Important Steps to Potty Train a Dog

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Accidents happen, but once you’ve worked to potty train your dog, the investment pays off for years of (mostly) mess-free living with your dog. 

While the process of how to potty train a dog can seem daunting, our team of dog lovers looked at many methods to see which steps are the most beneficial and how to potty train a dog quickly. It doesn’t take many dog owners very long with their new furry friend before they quickly search a combination of ‘potty train dog’ for the quickest method to end the accidents at home. All methods require a bit of patience and plenty of time to be observant, so try to choose days that you have extra free time. This will make the potty training faster for you and your soon-to-be housebroken companion. 

Before you start your dog potty training journey, spend a little time creating a successful environment, both inside and outside your home. Keeping your dog in a smaller area by blocking off a room with a baby/dog gate, using a crate, or closing doors will decrease the places they can have accidents indoors. It will also make it easier for you to keep an eye on your furry friend while they are learning. Outdoors can be filled with distractions for many dogs, so take a few moments and pick up any favorite toys that can easily distract your dog from the potty training task. Make sure everyone you live with is aware of the training and can help if needed to observe, offer outdoor breaks, and give rewards. 

The process to potty train dog can be similar to potty training a puppy, but there are a few things to keep in mind before you potty train an adult dog. While adult dogs can learn potty training faster and hold it in longer, they might also be used to or prefer an indoor option. If you are looking for resources specific to very young pups, the Humane Society has more about the process to housetrain puppies. 

With all dog training, the method a dog owner chooses to potty train a dog will be the most successful if it’s applied consistently and often. The dog needs to be given plenty of opportunities to take their business outside and be rewarded for their good deeds.

Ready to potty train your dog? Here are five steps to help guide you and your companion from beginning to end.

#1 Keep their space small
#2 Stick to a feeding schedule
#3 Use a leash when outdoors
#4 Learn the potty signs
#5 Rewards

Keep their space small

Keeping the area small helps you keep an eye on your potty training friend.

As mentioned above, it’s important to prepare your inside and outside areas for the most successful potty training experience. Confining their space will make it much easier for you to keep an eye on them, observe their pre-elimination behaviors, and limit the area to clean when accidents happen. Many dog owners will use their dog’s crate for part of the time or block off sections of their home with baby gates. Depending on the size of your home, simply closing doors might be an option as well.

Stick to a feeding schedule

Stick to a feeding schedule to help take some of the guesswork out of timing potty breaks.

Many owners find it easier to know when to expect bathroom breaks if they know when their dog is eating and drinking. If other people are living in the home, it is a good idea to post the feeding schedule so others can help stick with the potty training plan. The size and age of the dog will impact how long to wait after feeding before taking them out. Healthy older dogs are often able to hold it for a while and have better bladder control.

Use a leash when outdoors

Use a leash to help your dog focus on the task instead of playing.

If you find your dog is distracted by all the sights and smells outdoors, use a leash to help keep their attention focused on the task before letting them play. If keeping their elimination in a particular area of the yard is important to you, guiding them on a leash until they’ve gone can help encourage where they go in the future. 

Learn the potty signs

Be aware of any signs that your dog needs a potty break.

Many dogs will give you some clues when it’s your cue to open the door to let them out. Pacing, whining, or a purposeful walk out of the room are all actions to observe and be ready to give them an outdoor opportunity and reward. Some dogs will bark or scratch at the door, but don’t expect their signs to always be so clear and easy to understand. Being watchful and responsive will also help speed the potty training process along.


Rewards can make the training faster and a positive experience for both of you!

Rewarding your dog with favorite treats and praise is a big part of many dog training techniques, and rewards can make a big difference when it comes to how long it takes to teach your dog behavior. Most owners want to potty train their dog quickly, which is understandable, so an immediate and constant treat after each successful potty break can make a big difference! This is especially true during the beginning of the potty training. As the training continues, it’s fine to back off the treats and switch to kibble or praise until your dog understands the behavior. If your dog treat budget is at its limit, many dog owners suggest dividing the treats in half. 

When indoor accidents happen, don’t punish the dog. Some dogs need more training time, more opportunities to be taken outdoors, or have had an experience in the past that can cause anxiety during this process. Try to keep the potty training experiences positive, but it’s a good idea to have floor cleaner nearby just in case!

Oftentimes, potty training is one of the first behaviors owners work to teach their dog. Once you and your friend have mastered this milestone, you may decide it’s time to teach a few other behavior changes like how to stop excessive barking. We have also compiled a list of 4 common behavioral training methods to help you decide the best approach for training your dog. 

If you think your adult dog is struggling to potty train because of past trauma, reach out to your vet for advice or suggestions from dog trainers or animal behavioralists in your area.

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As a parent, dog owner, dog foster caregiver, and writer, I strive to create a loving home environment for all two and four-legged creatures. My background also includes research analysis and journalism. I work closely with animal behavior experts, trainers, and staff at Dog Training Boss to provide clear information that helps dog owners make the best decisions for their canine.