Common Puppy Potty Training Mistakes


Puppy lying downHave you ever heard a puppy owner say something like, “She just doesn’t get it! I take her outside and she still pees in the house”?

Some puppies are harder to potty train than others, but a big factor is actually how consistent the owner is with the training. It’s about rewarding the good behavior, but it’s also about preventing the unwanted behavior.

Even with all the information out there about puppy potty training, new dog owners still seem to have problems. I asked three dog trainers to share some of the most common puppy potty training mistakes. Here’s what they said:

Avoid these puppy potty training mistakes

1. Giving the dog too much freedom.

The three words to live by when you are raising a puppy are “too much freedom,” said Brad Jaffe, owner of

“You wouldn’t leave a crawling baby alone to roam the house without supervision,” he said. “They don’t know the rules. They don’t know what’s dangerous or poisonous.”

It’s the same with puppies, he said. They don’t know what’s OK until we teach them, and one way to be proactive is to set up gates or to use a kennel when you can’t supervise.

This brings us to another common problem:

2. Feeling guilty about using a kennel or crate.

Some dog owners don’t like to confine their dogs or they think crates are mean, said dog trainer Colleen Demling of These owners then end up letting the pup run all over the kitchen or house.

“Puppies, being puppies, will have accidents and the more accidents they have, the more they will think it is OK to pee in the house,” she said.

Dog trainer Jill Morstad of also recommends puppy owners use kennels to limit a puppy’s freedom. Even when the puppy is not in a kennel, she said it helps to keep the puppy on a leash “tethered” to a responsible adult. That way the puppy can’t sneak off and have accidents.

Demling said another helpful tool is to put a cat collar with a bell on the puppy. That way you’ll have an easier time hearing her if she tries to wander off in the house.

3. Using puppy potty pads.

As a pet sitter, I can’t stand any type of indoor bathroom for dogs. I have seen way too many small dogs think it’s totally fine to pee next to the potty pads or to pee on small rugs that resemble the pads. Gross.

Morstad said she does not recommend puppy potty pads for the same reason.

“A dog learns by association, and if you allow him to do his duties in the house on paper you are in effect, teaching the dog to potty in the house,” she said.

Even if it’s very cold, a healthy puppy can still be taken outside to go to the bathroom, she said. “You take him out just long enough to do his duties and then you can both come right back in!”

Still, some trainers do recommend indoor potty pads for certain situations.

Jaffe said potty pads are appropriate if dog owners work long hours and are unable to get home to let the dogs out or unable to hire someone else to do it.

4. Taking the puppy out through all the different doors.

Puppy owners make the mistake of teaching the puppy that all doors lead outside, Demling said. The problem with this is that with so many exists, the puppy does not learn where he should go to signal he has to go potty.

While the puppy is learning, stick to one exit every time, she said.

5. Assuming the puppy knows what’s “right” and “wrong.”

Simply letting the puppy outside does not mean he knows what to do out there, Morstad said.

“The biggest problem between the dog and the owner is that the dog would love to get it right, but he doesn’t know how to communicate with you,” she said.

Likewise, people make the assumption that the puppy knows it’s not OK to go potty in the house, said Jaffe.

“They don’t know what we want from them until we teach them,” he said.

Have you raised a puppy recently? What are your potty training tips?

About Lindsay Stordahl

Lindsay Stordahl is a blogger for She has a black Lab mix named Ace and two naughty cats named Beamer and Scout. Lindsay owns a pet sitting business called Run That Mutt and also maintains the blog ... Add Lindsay to your Google+ circles at . You can follow Lindsay on Twitter @ThatMutt.

  1. We raised our now 5 year old Springer Spaniel with a crate. She still uses it for “home”.
    I enjoyed the article because we are about to get another Springer puppy this summer. We will use a crate but one of your hints will be so helpful, like using the same door to let puppy out. We started with the same door for our 5 year old dog and to this day if she wants to go out she will often go to the original door even though we don’t use that one anymore.

    • Good luck with your new puppy! That’s exciting! We would love to see a picture sometime once you bring the puppy home.

  2. I have a new labradoodle puppy and we started at one door but moved to another as he could not get down the steps of the first one. Now he can! SO, this makes me realize I need to pick one as I am even confused what he wants when he goes to either door. Thanks for this. I will go back to the original door that works all year round. I highly recommend the dog crate. They are den animals and are comfortable in there. Or my other dog was and this one was within a few days. I also need to tie the leash on me and the dog as our house is open and I can only put so many gates up to close him in. I had a dog 12 years ago and I thought it would all be familiar. It’s not! Slowly but surely we are getting there. How about Routine? What are your thoughts on that.

    • Congrats on your new puppy! I highly recommend a crate as well, at least for most puppies.

      Great point about having a routine. I’d say routine that is one of the most important factors while housetraining a puppy. For example, taking the dog out at the same times every day, rewarding the dog consistently, feeding the dog at specific times, etc.

      • Lindsay,
        I have a 7 week old Pug Jack Russell mix. A “Jug”. I have had her for 1 week. We got her a crate and are trying to teach her to stay in it at night as well as when my husband and I are at work. It is not going well! She cries and howls all night long with very few moments of quiet. Is this normal after consistently staying in the crate at the same times for a week? Also, I feed her in the morning and in the evening so that I can better control her potty times and have a schedule. My husband and I are wondering since she continues to throw such a fit in the crate, would it be better to put her confined to one room with a baby gate? Or should I stick with the crate?

        • Hey Callie. Sorry to hear your pup is crying in the crate. Since you’ve only had her for a week, I would suggest you sleep with ear plugs and just let her cry, as awful as that sounds! Almost all puppies will learn to adapt to sleeping in their crates with time. One thing I would do, though, is let her out once in the middle of the night for a potty break for the next week or two, just while she is so little and might not be able to easily hold it all night.

          Is she having any accidents in the crate? If not, that’s great.

          I’m not totally opposed to leaving her in a small room, but I’m guessing she will cry in there as well anyway, and she might start having accidents since there will be all sorts of room to move around.

          That’s just my opinion. Good luck with everything, and congrats on your new puppy! She sounds adorable!

  3. I wouldn’t recommend consistently partitioning off parts of your house with gates or other means.
    This often leads to dogs learning that they can’t potty in the living room, but once given access to the bedroom they think it’s fair game because they’ve never been told no for going there. No matter how good they’ve been, when you take away the gate they’ll have to be potty trained all over again for the new areas.
    After all, to them you are just dictating arbitrary areas where they aren’t allowed to pee – how are they supposed to intuit you mean the whole house if you don’t show them that’s the rule?
    Also, I know there are many differing opinions on this, but: unless you do it sparingly, you should feel guilty about crate/kennel training a dog. If you don’t have the time to own a dog, don’t get one. If you don’t have the home to own a dog, don’t get one. If you don’t have the ability to train a dog, don’t get one. If you do have all three of those things, you don’t need a crate or kennel.

    • I’ve never had these types of problems, mostly because of lots of supervision and setting the pup up for success. I use a crate when I can’t supervise and then the crate is no longer needed after a few months although lots of dogs like their crates.

      Feel free to share your potty training tips as there are multiple methods that work. I definitely prefer the crate training myself.


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