FREE dog training advice from a pro!

How to potty train your dog or puppy

No more pooping on the carpet. No more peeing on the rug. Teach your dog to potty outside!

As a professional dog trainer, I talk to lots of folks about their dogs every day. One of the most common questions I hear is: How can I stop my dog from going potty in the house?!? Usually, an anguished description of smelly carpets, ruined furniture, and desperately complex strategies to stop the unwanted behavior follows.

Like most other difficult problems in life, there is no no one-size-fits-all solution to fixing potty problems. But, based on my experience, most dogs respond quickly to one or more of the following approaches:

  • Teach your dog to tell you when he needs to go potty so you can let him outside
  • Install a pet door so he can let himself outside
  • Crate train your dog

TIP #1: Teach your dog to tell you when he needs to go potty

Believe it or not, most dogs don't want to potty in the house. Instinctively, they want to relieve themselves away from the area in which they live and eat. But, dogs that spend too much of their early life confined in an area where they can't relieve themselves appropriately may learn to tolerate going potty indoors. This conditioning often occurs in the first few weeks of a puppy's life.

You're probably wondering, "What's my dog's problem, then? If he'd prefer to potty outdoors, why the heck doesn't he just ask me to open the door???"

Well, it's probably because he doesn't know how.

Some dogs are naturally very effective at communicating when they want to go outside — they'll pace back and forth or bark at the door without any training at all. But, these dogs are few and far between. Most owners must teach their dogs how to ask to go outside.

A very effective way to teach your dog this skill is what I call the "Bell Method." It's pretty simple:

  • Tie a small bell to a long piece of string. Tie the other end of the string to the handle of the door you use to let your dog outside. Or, you can purchase a Pet Doorbell.
  • Take your dog's paw in your hand and swipe the bell so that it rings.
  • The moment the bell rings, praise your dog (say "Good dog!" in a peppy voice) and open the door to let him outside.
  • Repeat steps 2 and 3 EVERY TIME you let your dog outside.

If you consistently follow these steps, within a week or so your dog will begin to ring the bell on his own to let you know when he wants to go outside. When this happens, you must respond immediately by praising him and letting him outside! Seriously, get your dog out the door as fast as you possibly can; the immediate positive reinforcement will make your dog more likely to repeat the good behavior.

TIP #2: Install a pet door so your dog can let himself outside to potty

If you've already tried unsuccessfully to teach your dog how to let you know when he needs to go outside or if you don't have the time to teach your dog a new skill, a pet door is probably your best solution. With a pet door, your dog can go in and out whenever he wants, even when you're not home. If you're worried about critters other than your dog using your pet door, choose an infrared or RFID-keyed pet door that opens and closes only for your pet.

Because installing a pet door is a detailed project that requires special tools, most folks rely on a professional rather than trying to install a pet door themselves. If you are unable to find a local professional who specializes in pet door installation, a handyman is probably your next best option. Whoever you choose, make sure your pet door is correctly installed, meaning:

  • The pet door fits snugly in the wall or door in which it is installed.
  • The pet door is installed at an appropriate height for all pets who use it.
  • The pet door looks good (is perfectly level, etc).

FYI: Many professional pet door installers will work with your pet to help him learn how to use his new door.

TIP #3: Use a crate to prevent potty accidents

Crating your dog is a very effective way to stop indoor potty accidents. After he is conditioned to accept his crate, you should crate crate your dog whenever you cannot directly supervise him. Remember to keep the length of time you crate your dog appropriate to his age; read my article on crate training for more information.

Recommended Product
PETCO 1-Door Crate

When your dog is out of his crate, you must watch him very closely so that you can immediately correct him when he begins to potty indoors. When you catch your dog starting to relieve himself, immediately give a loud verbal correction ("No!") and take him outside to potty. Then, every time he potties outdoors, praise him and give him a small food treat.

REMEMBER: In order for your verbal correction to be effective, you must catch your dog while he is eliminating. Correcting your dog even 3 seconds after he's made the mess will not teach him anything — nada, zip, zilch, a waste of your breath! So, pay attention! And if you find the mess even 3 seconds after your dog is done, scold yourself, but don't scold your dog!

Screaming, hitting, or rubbing your dog's nose in his potty will not solve the problem and may actually make it worse. Instead, just give your dog a sharp verbal correction when you catch him soiling indoors (one loud "No!" is plenty), and immediately take him outside.


  • When your dog soils in the house, make sure to clean the mess with an enzymatic cleaner like Nature's Miracle Stain & Odor Remover. If you use a non-enzymatic cleaner, the odor of your pet's urine will linger, tempting him to soil there again and again.
  • If part of your flooring is significantly damaged by urine, you should consider replacing it or blocking it with a large piece of furniture to help break your dog's habit of relieving himself in that area.
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