Learning how to potty train a puppy can be a challenge. And living on the fourth floor in a big city doesn’t make it any easier. I’ve written about potty training a puppy before, but today I’ll concentrate on potty training when you live in an apartment. These three easy indoor solutions also work if you and your puppy or dog have a hard time getting out as often as you need or want to for whatever reason.
In the following I’ll go over:
- The Importance of Strong Routines
- How to Keep an Eye on Your Puppy at All Times
- How to Set the Scene for Potty Training Success
- #1 Potty and Pee Pads
- #2 An Indoor Lawn with Artificial or Real Grass – How to Make Your Own
- # 3 How to Teach Your Dog to Ring a Bell
Good potty habits are the basis for creating a trusting, loving relationship between you and your new family member. If not, you’ll constantly worry if your puppy is going to have an accident and you’ll get frustrated and exhausted. What’s worse is that you’ll never fully commit to training anything else because there will always be a part of your brain that’s anxious about accidents.
Sadly, ignoring potty training is one of the major reasons people return, sell or even put their dogs down. Not being able to bring their dog when leaving home without worrying and never being fully able to trust their dog often becomes too much of a struggle.
As you can see, it’s important to understand how to get it right. And the moment you and your puppy master it, your life will be so much easier. Your puppy will be happy and confident, which will give your relationship a great start. It will also make everything you do with your puppy, and later, your grown dog much easier and joyful.
So, how do you potty train your puppy when you can’t just open your door into a yard or garden? To be honest, it’ll take work, ingenuity, and consistency, but it’s absolutely doable. There are some ground rules and it is important to know the basics of potty training.
So, before I get to the specific solutions for indoor potty training, I’ll cover the basics of potty training in general. This is to support your training program and to quickly set you and your puppy up for potty training success. If you already know the basics of potty training, go directly to this section: “A Back Up Plan for Potty Training in Apartments.”
Let me be absolutely clear: When at all possible you should take your puppy outside to pee and poop. Why? Well, first of all, this is her nature. She pees not only to empty her bladder, but also to send a signal to other dogs around. Also, she enjoys going outside and marking her territory. So don’t take this away from her.
Secondly, our homes are not made for dogs to relieve themselves indoors. No matter how well we try to disguise it, the smell of dog urine is easy to detect, even by humans. And a dog’s sense of smell is many times stronger than ours. So if your dog, or another dog, has been peeing inside your home, other dogs will smell this and want to pee the same place, as well. In the long run, trying to hide the smell of dog urine will seldom work out…
So when at all possible, bring your puppy outside to relieve herself. Always and when at all possible. If you always bring your puppy outside to do her business, she’ll form the strong habit of going outside. Soon, she’ll seek the door when it is time, giving you the opportunity to let her out whenever necessary. After a while, this will work 99 percent of the time.
However, until going outside starts working for your new puppy, you may need a backup plan, especially if you live on the seventh floor in the city. Or, perhaps you aren’t able to move as quickly as a young puppy needs you to. I’ll get back to these backup plans later, but for now, let’s assume you prefer your dog go outside to potty when she has learned to do this.
But first, she needs to learn. And no matter if you live in a house with a garden just outside your front door or you live in an apartment, some basics are the same. In the first, important days, be sure to keep a constant eye on your puppy. Also, it helps to follow some simple rules and a strict routine. Keep reading to find out why.
Your puppy will most likely have to go in these situations:
- First thing in the morning, before talking, playing or eating. Avoid getting her excited by greeting her gladly. This only makes it harder for her to keep it in. You might recognize this behavior from yourself 🙂
- Every time she wakes from a nap. Her first reaction will be to pee.
- During and after play. She’ll get so excited, she needs to go even if she doesn’t know that herself yet.
- Approximately five to 30 minutes after eating. You’ll soon know if it’s five or 30 minutes, but until then, start with bringing her outside five minutes after eating and be patient. Just wait for it. Remember she just has to go out to pee, not play.
- When she sniffs around and/or circles. If you see her doing this, you have to hurry. This is a clear sign that she has to go. In fact, she is “tramping the grass down” to have a poop to make sure she doesn’t get grass in the butt.
- Before your pup goes to bed. Remember to be patient here as well, even though you just want to go to bed yourself.
- In the middle of the night the first week or two. Remember to keep it silent and make it quick. She might think it’s time to play after relieving herself. But you must show her it’s not by staying silent and returning her to her bed immediately.
- On a regular basis. If none of the above happens, take her out every 45 to 60 minutes to give her the opportunity to relieve herself.
Remember these tips, and you’ll be halfway there. All you have to do is pay extremely close attention the first week or so, and your puppy will establish strong and regular potty habits.
Besides sticking to the basic routines, you can make it even easier for your puppy to do her business and then get on with whatever she was doing. First, you need to keep an eye on your puppy all the time. That sounds easy, but it can be difficult because you probably have other things to do. But, you can prepare for the times you have to take your eyes off her.
Using a crate if you need to do something else will help your puppy keep it in until she gets out again. The reason for this is that she’ll see the crate as her den and her instincts will be not to soil the place where she rests. Of course, you need to get her used to the crate before just putting her inside one. So, it’s important that the crate becomes a place of rest and joy, and not a place she hates.
To make sure this happens, learn how on my blog post about crate training.
Even if you do your ultimate best, sometimes your puppy will slip away from your watchful eyes whenever possible. To avoid this, don’t allow your puppy to run all around your home. Restrict her area to where you are. You can do this by:
- Closing doors.
- Setting up a safety fence, gate or baby grid.
- You can even tie your puppy to your waist or leg. This may sound too simple, but often, it’s the simple things that work the best.
As in all dog training, it’s important that you are consistent. Your puppy will never know what to do unless you tell her. Remember, puppies and dogs understand the language of “consistency” the best.
So always let your puppy know how happy you are with her peeing or pooping at the right time and place. You do this by praising your puppy. Keep your voice down as you don’t want to interrupt her in the act. Be consistent by always making sure to praise her using the same phrases each time. This will encourage her to do her business.
Help your puppy by setting the best scene for potty training success. This means that you always should go to the same area. The scent there will make her want to go and she’ll create a strong habit. If it’s not possible to go to the same place, at least pick the same surface, whether it be grass, dirt, stone or road.
Make sure not to distract your puppy when she needs to go. Don’t play with her when she is supposed to do her business. And do not take her for a walk, even when you are outside. Wait until she has done her business. Instead walk around because movement will make it easier for her to pee or poop. However, be sure to stay in the same place. This way the new smells, things to see and noises to hear won’t distract her.
Also, make sure to control when and what your puppy eats and drinks. This is the best way to create a strong routine and set your puppy up for success. Your puppy will be more likely to hold it if she is not able to drink all night. And yes, she’ll survive. However, if you live in a hot, humid environment, you may want to leave a small dish of water so your dog won’t get thirsty.
Also, you must be patient. You may sometimes take her out and nothing happens. So, just take her back inside and then repeat after five minutes. This is much better than her having an accident and the exercise won’t hurt you. If your puppy has an accident inside, make a loud sound to startle her, but you don’t want to scare her.
Scaring her will make her want to hide from you every time she needs to go. So avoid yelling or punishing your puppy, because, honestly, it will be your fault if your puppy has an accident. Instead, interrupt her, then take her out to finish her business and remember to praise her. Afterward, clean up the mess and make a plan on how to avoid this scenario the next time. (Remember to use enzymatic cleanser rather than an ammonia-based cleaner to minimize odors!)
Enough with the guilt trip. Let’s talk about what to do if you can’t get out with your puppy as often as she needs to go. Let’s assume that you have tried all other solutions and understand that taking your puppy out is the best way. Perhaps you have had no luck getting a dog walker or can’t bring your puppy to doggy daycare.
And sometimes it’s just not possible to get your puppy out to do her business. This doesn’t mean you don’t have to look after her and help her do it right. It’s quite the opposite. Your puppy still needs to go, and if you don’t teach her what to do and where to go, she’ll let it go in the corner or right in the middle of the floor.
After all, she doesn’t know any better. So all of the above is still of the utmost importance to observe and react upon. But you may be wondering just how to react, where is it okay for your puppy to go to have a pee?
Potty or pee pads are an option. They are a way for your dog to relieve herself indoors. You can teach your puppy to use these in the same way you teach her to relieve herself outside. So, bring her to the potty pads and tell her to go potty. Keep her on the leash so she stays on the pads. When she pees on the potty pad, praise her in a low, calm voice.
However, there are some potty pad downsides. Potty pads are soft and plush and smell a bit like ammonia. Carpets and bathroom rugs are also soft and plush and to dogs smell a bit like potty pads. The clothes and towels you use and sweat on often smells like ammonia, too.
It is not always detectable by us, but your puppy’s nose is so much more powerful, and she loves to use it. To her, these things smell slightly the same, they feel the same and they are in the same rooms. So it’s no wonder when it sometimes goes wrong. Also, potty pads create a lot of waste and most brands are not biodegradable.
So be aware that when you use potty pads you’re not making it easier for your puppy. It’s easy for her to mistake a carpet for a potty pad and also if it becomes “normal” for your puppy to pee on these, she might not want to pee outside on the dirt or grass, even when this is possible. However, there is another option.
Of course, it’s not a big lawn, but nevertheless, it’s a lawn of sorts. You can get real or artificial grass mats in many variations. You can use some a couple of times and then replace them, while others you can just rinse and use repeatedly. Now, if this is only a backup plan, I’ll strongly recommend trying the ones you use a couple of times and then replace. They are less expensive, the grass is real and they will fulfill the purpose.
If you plan on using your indoor lawn often, it could be too expensive because you’ll need to buy a new mat when your dog uses the grass a couple of times. However, if you only plan to use it as a backup plan, it’s the best option. If you have access to dirt and real grass, you can even make one yourself, I’ll get back to this in a second. But do you want to buy, you can find grass puppy mats online. This is just one example, there are many more to choose from.
As mentioned, you can make one yourself as one of my students, Pia, has done. She bought a bed roller at IKEA and put hydro grains in the bottom. Then she put dirt on top of it and planted grass. In only three weeks, she had a beautiful lawn for her new puppy.
She lives on the third floor and was worried if she could get her puppy out in time in the morning. In fact, she didn’t have to worry. Her puppy has lived with her for a little more than a month and she has only used the balcony lawn twice. And, she had to use it both times because she didn’t pay attention – and this is in her own words.
Actually, she made two of these “lawns” but after three weeks, she decided to keep one and replaced the other. She removed the grass and soil and instead filled it with sand, which is easier to clean and replace. She is very happy with the backup plans that have spared her two accidents so far.
Also, the “real” lawn has had an unexpected advantage. This summer has been very hot indeed and Pia has found that when she waters the lawn in the evening, the water will evaporate during the next day leaving the lawn a nice cool place for her puppy to rest and play.
Her backup plan has made it easier for her puppy to succeed. Better yet, it has brought her tranquillity and it gives her room to enjoy her little puppy, Ninja, even more.
A word of advice fra Pia, though… Remember you must mow the lawn! Even if it is a small lawn, it still needs care for the grass to keep on growing.
A Full-Time Indoor Solution
However, if you aren’t looking for a backup plan, but you must leave your puppy alone every day for too long for her to hold it, you need an indoor solution. Other reasons for not getting your puppy outdoors to do her business include bad weather, poor health or having an old dog who can’t climb the stairs.
If this is the case, you need an indoor solution. Both of the above-mentioned solutions will work here, as well. However, if you need a full-time solution, I would suggest using another sort of indoor lawn. These are the ones with artificial grass, which provides the possibility to rinse and reuse it.
Of course, you can use potty or pee pads, as well. However, there are still a lot of downsides. The biggest downside is that if you, later on, get the opportunity to bring your dog outside to potty, it takes much more time and requires more patience to teach her. And some dogs never succeeds. Remember, the habits your puppy learns in the first months are the strongest.
So even if it was only for this reason, I would recommend using inside lawns when you need an indoor solution. Because I haven’t used the different lawns, I can’t give you a recommendation on which to buy. But I will recommend this solution as the best backup or full-time plan. This is because you can still, quite easily teach your puppy to go outside to do her business without confusing her. That way, you won’t use these “lawns” when your puppy is older and she can hold it long enough for you to bring her out.
Whether you have a balcony or the lawn/mat has to be in the bathroom, you’ll smell it once in a while. And you’ll have to clean it often. So even if it seems easier to let your puppy pee inside, this solution will also give you a lot of work. So, using a lawn mat or tray is what you do only when you’ve tried the other solutions. And if this then is the price you have to pay to have a dog, I completely understand – but don’t let it be your first choice.
Especially living on the fifth floor, you’ll really appreciate it if you get a warning that your puppy needs to go. This way you can make it all the way down the stairs before your puppy lets it go. Most of us rely on our puppy or dog to go to the door to signal she needs to go outside. So even when your dog gets older, you still need to keep an eye on her or else you might not see that she needs to go out.
Instead, you can teach your puppy to ring a bell when she needs to go. This is a trick everyone can teach their dog, but it comes in especially handy when you need a headstart. Also, it is helpful when your dog tells you to hurry in opposition to your dog just standing at the door waiting for you to notice her. And a bell sounds much more subtle than barking, which is the only other way your dog can tell you what you do not see – that she need to go.
To teach your puppy to ring a bell, you need first to teach her to touch the bell and then to connect it to going outside. Teaching your puppy to touch the bell is roughly the same as teaching your puppy hand targeting. I have an example of teaching hand targeting to a dog in my first blog post – “How to Get Your Puppy’s Attention.” You’ll notice that the trainer teaching hand target is using a clicker. This is one way to do it, I use praise and it works brilliantly, too.
Instead of holding your hand in front of your puppy, hold the bell and reward her for touching it. The first couple of times, your puppy will just sniff to the bell, but reward nevertheless and she’ll soon touch to get the bell to ring and to get the cookie. When she learns to touch the bell, teach her to touch it in various locations, including at the door.
To make her ring the bell to get outside, just replace the cookie with another reward, which is to go outside. So, when she rings the bell at the door, praise her and then open the door and make it fun for her to go outside. Soon, she’ll get the connection.
If you only want her to ring the bell to go outside in relation to potty training, you have to connect the two behaviors: touching the bell with her nose and going outside to potty. To do this, simply make your puppy touch the bell every time you think it’s potty time and before you take your puppy outside to potty.
Do it as soon as you can after she has learned to ring it, making her connect the sound with the feeling of having to go outside. Remember to be consistent, but if she is about to have an accident, of course, you can skip it. But consistency also means that you have to let your puppy out every time she rings the bell.
So what if your puppy rings the bell all the time just to go out to play or to get your attention? Well, then I would suggest making it “not fun” to go outside. Keep her on the leash and do not play with her or take her for a walk. Stay in the same area and wait for her to pee. If she does not, take her inside again. If she does – hooray for her ringing the bell 🙂 Also you could remove the bell and only let it hang by the door when you know it’ll soon be potty time. Do this until she knows the difference and only rings the bell to go pee or poop.
I still strongly recommend you take your dog out to do her business. It’s her natural way, and it won’t be a major obstacle when your puppy is grown up and can hold it for a longer time. At 10, my old girl can manage to stay inside for the whole day but gets up after dinner to go outside. But if it is pouring rain, I’ll have to force her out in the evening. (And actually, I think she’ll be able to hold it until the next morning, but I do not want her to)
Walking your puppy will also provide you both with beneficial exercise. And it’s a chance to spend time with your best friend. However, I understand that there can be times when you need a back-up and these are my ideas on how to do it.
I’m sure some of you have ingenious ideas, so please share your suggestions and comments below. If you have found value in this blog post, feel free to share this post with others. If you answered no, help improve this guide by sharing your best potty training trick.
Please help me improve this blog post.
How to Potty Train a Puppy Fast: Common FAQs
At what age is it optimal to do house training? It starts with the breeder. As soon as the puppies start eating solid food, their mom will stop cleaning their den and they’ll be ready to start learning. So, if you start between seven and eight weeks, your puppy will learn everything faster than in seven days, if you follow this guide. The older your puppy is before potty training starts, the longer it will take because your puppy will have to change their habits, and that takes a little longer.
Why choose crate training? Crate training uses a dog’s natural instincts as a den animal. A wild dog’s den is his home. It is a place to sleep, hide from danger and raise a family. The crate becomes an ideal spot to snooze or take refuge. Puppies prefer their own den where they can relax and get away from other dogs or people. Make it a happy place, reward your dog for choosing the crate and it’ll love it. Here’s some inspiration on how to crate train your puppy the best way.
How often do I have to go outside with my puppy? It depends on the size of the breed. With a young puppy from a small breed, start with every 15 minutes and watch your pup. If there are still accidents, you have to go outside more often. And if not, you can try to increase to 45 minutes and so on, but you won’t be able to avoid accidents altogether. You’ll learn from your puppy, and you’ll grow together.
How often do I have to take my puppy out at night? Most puppies can wait six to seven hours before they have to relieve themselves, but again, the breed matters. You need to take your puppy out as the last thing you do before bedtime. Unless it is extremely hot and humid, it is wise to remove the water bowl two hours before bedtime.
How can I tell if my puppy needs to go? The sure signs it’s time to go outside is when your puppy acts restless and is sniffing and/or circling around. If you see these signs, you have missed out on taking them out often enough. You need to go outside with your puppy every time they wake up from a nap, after they eat and when they are playing or just done playing.
How do I potty train my new dog when they are older? Make sure you know as much as possible about how they trained your new dog before you got it. This is important, as it will let you know what to expect. For example, if they trained her on a potty pad, you can’t expect your new dog to suddenly start going out to pee.
If you don’t know about their history, try crate training, but be patient. You are changing a habit, which can be hard, but not impossible. It will just take more time, observation, rewards, praise and patience on your part.
My dog doesn’t poop in the house when I am home of when I go on short trips. However, when I am gone all day at work she poops in the house. She is 2.5 years old how do I fix this. I hate crating her all day.
I totally understand you don’t want to crate her all day – and you shouldn’t. I’m sure you have thought about getting someone to take her for a walk in the middle of the day if at all possible? It is hard for such a young dog to keep it in for a whole day… To find a solution I think you can
A) Change her routine. When you are at home, how long after eating does she normally poop? Notice and try changing the feeding time accordingly.
B) Give her a spot to poop and pee. I’ve seen children’s plastic sandboxes made into a spot of grass inside the home, giving a dog the opportunity to do it “right” even though it cannot be outside.
Can you teach a dog that has been potty trained on potty pads to pee outside?
Yes. You do this by gradually bringing the potty pads outside. Be really patient and consistent. This is a big change for any dog, so you need to know that it will take time and there will be accidents. But it is doable.