How Do You Discipline A Puppy When Potty Training?

A dog owner kneels in front of their puppy

A tan dog is laying on a white floor while their owner is kneeling in front of them.

The happiness and excitement bubble of welcoming home a new puppy is often burst by the realities of potty training and housebreaking. As frustrating and time-consuming as it can be, once completed, it is also one of the most rewarding aspects of puppy raising and training. The joy of finding poop exactly where it is supposed to be is unmatched! Every puppy parent would agree to this. However, the journey of getting there can stink, quite literally. This article focuses on dealing with those roadblocks along the way.  

Potty Training Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make 

Potty training is one of the most challenging aspects of raising a puppy. The puppy's bladder control ability, area preference, water intake, scheduling, preventing accidents, and cleaning out the mess are just a few of the many things that a puppy parent must deal with day in and day out. Mistakes are going to be an inherent part of the process, but knowing what mistakes to avoid can make potty training a lot easier. 

Setting Unrealistic Expectations 

House training essentially involves teaching a puppy to pee/ poop in a designated area, building bladder control, and not peeing in random spots of the house. In doing so, at times, we may be working against the puppy’s natural instincts. Getting a pup habituated to anything that doesn’t come naturally to them will take time. 

Setting unrealistic expectations of trying to potty train a pup within a few days may leave you disappointed and your puppy clueless and frustrated. Devote more than just a couple of weeks of consistency and training in order to see any results. 

Starting Potty Training Too Late 

Training a newly welcomed home puppy is like starting on a clean slate. What you teach is what they learn. For this reason, it is relatively easy to potty train a younger puppy as compared to an older one. 

Waiting a few weeks/ months would give them a chance to learn bad habits and behaviors. This means, at an older age, they would first have to spend time unlearning those behaviors and learning new behaviors in their place.  

Not Being Consistent

Consistency is the most important aspect of habit setting, be it good or bad. The more consistently we train and reinforce certain behaviors, the faster and better our dogs learn. When training a pup to reliably use a designated spot to relieve themselves, repetition is key. Over time, this will become muscle memory and the puppy will be potty trained effectively in no time. 

Not Having a Fixed Designated Spot

Having multiple pee pads and designated pee spots is a classic way to confuse a puppy, thereby enabling them to have several accidents around the house. Your puppy must be trained to use only one designated area in or outside the house to relieve themselves. Puppies are attracted to return to spots where they have peed or pooped previously. 

Not Reinforcing Enough

Puppies have associative memory, meaning, they remember most experiences because of the association they form with their outcomes. It would be easier for them to learn to pee in a designated area if the outcome of doing so is always positive and exciting. If good behavior is not reinforced enough, regardless of the number of times it is repeated, it will make it easier for the puppy to stray and have accidents elsewhere. Make sure to reward your puppy every single time they relieve themselves in the right spot and continue doing so for several weeks to ensure reliable training and habit building. 

Using Harsh Disciplining Techniques

Using harsh techniques to discipline a puppy is a classic way to ruin the trust that your puppy is slowly building towards you. Puppies are highly impressionable. How we deal with their mistakes and good behavior is an important deciding factor in the kind of dog they will grow up to be. Furthermore, positive reinforcement has been scientifically proven to do a better job in training dogs as compared to aversive methods. 

Consistency: the Heart and Soul of Potty Training 

You must have heard, read, and received this piece of advice over a thousand times while training your puppy – Be consistent! While it is definitely easier said than done, consistency is the thread that binds all loose ends of potty training together. Consistency does not just mean taking your puppy to the designated spot time and again; it also includes following a robust schedule day in and day out, planning meal and water times, constantly monitoring to prevent accidents and unwavering rewarding small and big wins. 

Dogs are creatures of habit. They quickly learn to mold their ways and days depending on the activities they consistently perform. They also learn to form patterns quickly. E.g., if you have been taking your dog out every single day after their meal times, they will start looking forward to it and adjust their body clock accordingly. 

A schnauzer is offered a treat by its owner

A woman in a blue tee shirt offers a treat to a short-haired gray terrier.

How to Use Positive Reinforcement to Effectively Potty Train a Puppy 

Positive reinforcement is not just a training technique, but a principle by which every species learns. Positive reinforcement, when done correctly, is a foolproof way to potty train a puppy.  

Reward Small Wins

The union of several small wins makes up big wins when it comes to potty training. Examples of small wins include your puppy walking up to the designated spot, giving signs that they need to pee, holding their bladder till they are taken to their designated spot, etc. Make sure to observe and praise your puppy when they make the slightest of progress in training. This will accelerate the process.

Make It Easy

Making it easier for your dog to repeatedly pee/ poop in the designated area is a part and parcel of setting them up for success. An example of making it easy for your puppy to pee on the pee pads is to restrict their access in the house to only one room that has all their resources and pee pads. Giving them access to the whole house will confuse them and they may end up having accidents in random spots. The more accidents they have, the slower the process will be.  

Keep the Outcome Positive

Puppies learn best through repetition and association. When used together correctly, it is a winning combination and will rarely fail. Have a jar of treats ready at your puppy’s designated spot and make sure to reward them every single time they successfully relieve themselves at the spot. Keep things upbeat by engaging in some kind of play or fun activity before and after your puppy does their business. Doing so will also make your puppy look forward to frequenting the designated spot more often. 

Verbal Praise Is Also Equally Important

Rewarding does not necessarily mean treats and toys all the time. Puppies respond to the human tone of voice and body language beautifully well. Use it to let your puppy know when they have done a good job. This is also crucial for relationship and trust building. Dog training is incomplete without verbal communication.

Effective Ways to Correct While Potty Training a Puppy

It may so happen that despite your best efforts, your puppy may take a while to pick things up or may have accidents around the house. This may not necessarily be due to your lack of training. It could be attributed to other things like the breed of the dog, habits formed in the past, a strong preference for the puppy to pee/ poop in a certain area, etc. Let’s take a look at how to best deal with these glitches:


Did you know your puppy would not remember what he is being scolded for even 2 minutes after the accident? That’s how short a pup’s memory span is when it comes to remembering what they did. The best time to correct a pup is to catch them WHILE the behavior is happening (when they squat to pee/ poop) or just when it is about to happen (when they are sniffing, wandering off looking for a space to pee). Once you catch them in the act, immediately lead them to the designated spot and encourage them to finish their business. 

Startling Techniques 

The main objective of startling techniques, as the name suggests, is to startle the puppy enough for them to stop a certain behavior instantly and give the human enough time to redirect them. A loud clap or shaking of metal cans filled with coins for a couple of seconds is enough to startle your pup. Once your pup stops peeing and looks at you, immediately lead them to their designated spot and encourage them to pee. 

It is important to remember that your pup only needs to be startled and not scared. A scared puppy will find it difficult to relieve themselves in your presence. Make sure to diffuse the situation immediately with play.  

Use the Leash  

A leash is so much more than a walking tool. If used correctly, it is an incredible communication tool that can be used in a variety of situations, including at home. When you catch your puppy in the act or just before they are about to have an accident, use the leash to lead them into the right spot. This is a better alternative to picking them up and placing them at the designated spot because, with the latter, your dog is not learning to track the spot. They are just being displaced.

Use the Crate to Your Advantage

Crate training and potty training go hand in hand. Crates, when used correctly, prevent accidents, and teach your puppy bladder control. Use the crate when you’re unable to supervise your dog and fear that they may have accidents around the house. Do not, however, use it to punish your dog for accidents. Doing so may be counterproductive and create negative associations with the crate in your puppy's mind. 

Focus on Rewarding the Positive Rather Than Punishing the Negative

Potty training glitches can be super frustrating to deal with. However, it is even more frustrating for your pup because they are having accidents out of cluelessness. In the midst of all the annoyance and chaos, remember that your puppy will only repeat behaviors that reward them in some way or the other. Focus on rewarding successes (however few they may be) than punishing the failures. 

A French bulldog is being told to stay by its owner

A French bulldog sits on the floor as its owner tells it to stay.

What NOT to Do While Potty Training a Puppy

There may be several right ways to potty train a puppy, just like there are several wrong ways to do so. Certain things should never be done while potty training a pup, regardless of the reason. Some of them are unethical while some are just pointless. Let’s take a look:

Do Not Punish

Peeing or pooping is a natural bodily function. A puppy having accidents in random spots around the house does not have any idea about the inconvenience they are causing. Neither are they doing so out of spite. They are peeing in the wrong spot because they still don’t know which is the “right spot.” Punishing your puppy for peeing on the carpet will not teach them not to pee on the carpet. It will only teach them not to pee in front of you. The next time around, you may come home to an accident. 

Do Not Physically Harm Your Puppy

Potty training is a combination of consistently training and leading to the designated spot, robust scheduling, constant rewarding, building bladder control, and setting the puppy up for success. When these factors do not work together smoothly, it will result in accidents.

The next time around, when your puppy has an accident, pick up the newspaper, roll it and hit yourself on the head so that you do a better job the next time. 

Do Not Scare Your Puppy While They Are Relieving Themselves

A puppy is at their most defenseless when they are relieving themselves. Did you know that several puppies look to their owners while peeing/ pooping because it is a sign of trust and dependency for protection? Now imagine what would you be doing to that trust if you end up scaring them while they are in the process of doing their business (even if it was in the wrong spot). 

Do Not Scold Your Puppy Several Minutes After the Accident Has Happened

If you come across an accident and start scolding your puppy for it, your puppy has no clue about what is happening. If you do not catch your puppy just before or during the accident, there is absolutely no point in scolding them after. Puppies do not remember things like humans do and do not associate outcomes with experiences that happened much before. If it is not immediate, save it for the next time. 

How to Effectively Use Verbal Cues and Communication While Potty Training a Puppy

Assign a Cue for Potty

Training a puppy to pee on cue is not the same as training them to sit because peeing and pooping are not behaviors that they can do multiple times on command. The right way to teach a puppy to relieve on cue would be to add the word while the puppy is performing the behavior. Add the cue in hushed and positive tones and do so every single time the puppy is peeing. 

Slowly, over several days, the puppy will start associating the cue with the behavior. You can put it to  test after a few weeks by saying the cue first and then waiting to see if your puppy pees immediately after. If they do, you have successfully taught them to pee on cue. 

Use Verbal Praise As Positive Reinforcement

Praising for something as mundane as peeing and pooping may sound unnecessary to a lot of pet parents. However, it goes a long way in ensuring your puppy feels safe to relieve themselves in a particular spot. It is also a huge differentiator in peeing in the right spot vs the wrong spot. Puppies are sensitive to human emotions and can make out when we are happy or sad or angry. They mirror our emotions and hence verbal communication works incredibly well during dog training. 

Train Your Dog to Use the Potty-Training Bell 

Supervision is key, but wouldn't it be perfect if our puppies could just let us know when they need to go? This is highly possible if your puppy is trained to go outside to relieve themselves and is taught to ring the bell. To begin, just install the potty-training bell by the door in a way that is accessible to your pup. Encourage them to paw it every time before stepping outside. Once this becomes a habit, they will ring it every time they need to step outside.  

Are time-outs effective when potty training a puppy?

The short answer to this question is No. Time-outs work wonderfully well for hyperactive puppies and give them time to calm down before resuming play. However, when it comes to potty training, time outs serve no purpose because the puppies have no recollection of the accident and would have no idea why they’ve been given a time out. Moreover, even if they are given a time-out immediately after the accident, the time-out would do nothing to ensure that the accident doesn’t happen again. 

Final Thoughts

Every pet parent’s journey towards successfully potty training their puppy is different and is bound to be filled with adventures and misadventures. Remember that you are not alone and that it will get better. This is just a phase. Do not give up on your poopy monster! 

Siddhika Bhat Dog Trainer

Siddhika Bhat: Certified dog trainer and behaviorist and founder of Wag A Bond. Siddhika helps dog parents develop deeper connections with their furbabies by helping them understand and respectfully work with their dog's innate behaviors.

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