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While each owner may have an idea of house training expectations in their mind, it may differ from the reality for many puppies. You may find yourself wondering if your dog isn’t potty trained well enough for their age, or if accidents are normal for a 4 or 5 or 6-month-old puppy.
Let’s look at the reasons puppies fail to be house trained, as well as where puppies are with their potty training skills on a month-by-month basis on average.
Potty Training Skills by Age
A dog’s bladder muscles and potty training skills develop over time as they age. In order to know what’s normal for an average puppy, we’ve broken down this information into a month-by-month schedule.
But before that, it’s good to understand your puppy’s pee frequency and toileting requirement, by age:
4-Month-Old Puppy Still Not Potty Trained
The average 4-month-old puppy will still be having occasional accidents, even with the best house training plan. The muscles that control the bladder are only just starting to become fully developed at this age. In addition, your puppy’s bladder is still relatively small.
5-Month-Old Puppy Still Not Potty Trained
At 5 months old you should be starting to see fewer accidents. Accidents are usually only associated with too much playtime without a potty break, or being left alone for too long. While bladder muscles are still not fully developed in many dogs, they are improving.
6-Month-Old Puppy Still Not Potty Trained
By 6 months old, the muscles that control the bladder are fully developed in most puppies. This means that accidents should be few and far between. While your puppy has the physical ability to control their bladder, their behavior and training skills may still be catching up.
7-Month-Old Puppy Still Not Potty Trained
When your puppy is 7 months old, they often have the training skills as well as the physical ability to hold their bladder for longer periods of time. When a puppy is still having regular accidents at 7 months, a health problem or potty training problem should be strongly considered.
1-Year-Old Puppy Still Not Potty Trained
If dogs have been learning appropriate potty training skills since they were a puppy, it’s uncommon for a 1-year-old dog to still be having accidents. You should consult with both your dog’s veterinarian and a professional trainer to determine the next steps.
In summary, dogs of varying ages will have different abilities to control their bladder, as well as different levels of training. It’s also important to know when your puppy’s bladder is fully developed, and to do this, be sure to read our post: When is your puppy’s bladder fully developed.
A dog following a good potty training plan, without any health or behavior concerns, should progress as shown on the table below.
If you find that your puppy’s ability to control their bladder is not aligning with this average schedule, it’s time to seek out answers from your puppy’s veterinarian as well as a professional trainer.
What not to do during house-training
I just want to quickly jump in here and say we’ve created a mobile-friendly speedy video course on dealing with unwanted puppy behaviors, and one of the modules is about puppies that are having issues house-training, so be sure to check it out here.
Avoid potty pads – These wee pads that owners layout will actually delay the house-training process. It teaches them it’s OK to wee and poo in the house. It might even become a lifelong potty location for your dog.
Punishing accidents – Your puppy will only begin to fear you if you punish them for their accidents. This isn’t just for accidents, though. Fear is the number one reason for unwanted behaviors, and so it becomes a self-destructive cycle.
Insufficient cleaning – Not using an Enzymatic cleaner to remove the odor completely
Not treating them – When they go outside be sure to give them treats and lots of praise when they do go.
Giving them free rein – You want to restrict your puppy’s movements at all times inside during house-training. Have a close eye on them. The more you catch them in the act, the better.
Not getting them checked – A vet checkup is essential to any puppy who is struggling with house-training as it can be a medical issue, as we cover next.
Marking inside your house
If your puppy is less than 6-months old, it’s unlikely any peeing in your house is marking. This is because it’s not until their hormones kick in that the marking will begin. However, neutering a dog will lessen their marking, and so if your dog is older than 6-months of age, then this could also be a reason for peeing inside your home.
In many cases, when you find yourself struggling to potty train a puppy, it’s due to one of these three things:
An unsuitable potty training plan
An early history that makes potty training particularly difficult
A medical concern
Most trainers will recommend a veterinary visit to rule out medical reasons for your dog’s accidents before progressing with a training plan.
It’s unfair to put a dog through several weeks of training only to find out later that they were having accidents because of a painful UTI.
While this list is not exhaustive and cannot diagnose your dog with a health concern related to potty training problems, it provides plenty of examples as to the importance of ruling out medical reasoning before contacting a dog trainer.
Urinary Tract Infection
A common problem that arises in dogs and affects their ability to be potty trained is a urinary tract infection.
A urinary tract infection should be suspected especially in cases where a dog reverts back in their training and starts having more frequent accidents.
This can happen to dogs of any age, and your vet will likely run a urinalysis to determine if there is any blood or bacteria in their urine that indicates a urinary tract infection.
In most cases, a urinary tract infection that is caught early can be treated with antibiotics.
Left untreated, your puppy is at risk for the infection spreading to other organs, or scarring their bladder tissue.
Several types of birth defects or structural problems can make it more difficult to potty train your puppy.
In a normal dog, the ureter would take urine from the kidneys to the bladder, where it is stored until a dog voids its bladder. In some cases, as in ectopic ureters, one or both ureters by-pass the bladder and connects to another part of your dog’s body, such as the urethra.
This deformity means that urine is sent straight out of your dog, without being contained in the bladder, and often manifests as frequent dribbling of urine.
Breeds that are prone to ectopic ureters include:
West Highland White Terriers
Other structural problems may be present in some puppies and may either contribute directly to the potty training problems or to an increased risk of other health problems, such as urinary tract infections.
Bladder or Kidney Stones
Finally, your puppy may experience bladder or kidney stones, or other problems within the kidneys.
In the majority of cases, an x-ray can diagnose your dog with bladder stones.
Fortunately, stones are not commonly seen in young dogs, although there are some breeds that are more prone to development than others.
The moral of the story is: your puppy may not be giving you a hard time. Your puppy may be having a hard time.
A thorough veterinary visit is critical to ethically move forward with a plan for potty training your puppy.
Behavior Problems that Affect Potty Training
As with health-related problems, there are several experiences that your puppy may have gone through to affect their behavior related to potty training.
While many potty training problems related to behavior can be overcome with enough time and dedication, it can be extremely difficult in some cases. This will depend on your puppy’s history.
Poor puppy upbringing
Dogs have a natural instinct to keep the area they sleep clean and free from accidents. However, if they are raised in a situation where they are forced to sleep in their own feces and urine, or steps aren’t taken to actively preserve that instinct, your puppy may lose it.
This is one of the many reasons why dogs from a puppy mill or pet store situation can be extremely hard to potty train. Because these dogs live in small cages almost their entire young life, they are forced to urinate and defecate where they live.
Just as an aside, it’s also yet another reason why you shouldn’t purchase dogs from a puppy mill or pet store. Not only are you putting money into the hands of someone who isn’t taking care of their dogs, but you’re setting yourself up for a puppy with behavior concerns right from the start.
Many ethical and responsible breeders will even litter train their young puppies, and start crate and potty training at 5-6 weeks old, in order to set you up for success.
Speaking personally, I’ve raised several puppies, and often compare the one from an accidental litter to the one from a responsible breeder.
While the dog I owned that came from an accidental litter was raised in a home and their area was kept clean, extra efforts were not taken to progress potty training skills.
The puppy from the responsible breeder started potty training skills 5 weeks before coming home to me.
Both dogs were relatively easy to house train, but the puppy that had early potty training skills progressed significantly faster. We have relatively few accidents, and in almost all cases, my puppy was looking for a door or an appropriate place to potty and just didn’t make it in time.
What you should do for fast house-training
We’ve taken a look at what is normal and what isn’t for varying ages. Now it’s time to make a plan of action.
There are several important guidelines that must be followed if you want to ensure your puppy becomes adequately potty trained.
1. Clean the Area Properly
One component of potty training that is often lacking is the method by which you are cleaning up accidents.
Dogs have an incredibly strong sense of smell. If the area is not adequately cleaned, they will still be able to smell components of the urine and it may encourage them to continue using the bathroom in the spot.
Rather than using a regular household cleaner, or even a strong-smelling spray with vinegar, you should consider using an enzymatic cleaning product that will actually break down the components of urine.
When we smell something like chicken soup, dogs are capable of smelling the ingredients. Unless the enzymatic cleaner is used to break down the urine, other products may be masking the smell so that us humans can’t tell, but your dog may be able to smell over the other product.
Another common mistake associated with house training a puppy is allowing them too much freedom or unsupervised time.
Effective potty training means taking the puppy out on a regular schedule (be sure to use the table above to know the likelihood of when they will go).
It’s also important to catch your puppy in the act of an accident in order to deliver a positive interrupter and then run them outside. You can use a high-pitched sound, or clap your hands.
Be sure to watch for these signs of a puppy that’s about to go!
Without consistently getting them outside when they go, they may not learn the importance of ONLY going outside.
When your dog is a young puppy, management is your best friend. Baby gates, exercise pens, short fences that can be moved around the home, as well as kennels and crates are critical to setting your puppy up for success.
You may also find benefit in keeping your puppy on a leash inside the house, to keep them close by.
Restrict your puppy’s access to only the room you are in when you are capable of monitoring them, and crate or kennel them when you can’t.
As your puppy proves that they are getting the idea of house training down, they can gradually earn more freedom.
Know when it’s time
Your puppy will almost always go after these events:
Waking up in the morning
Waking up after a long nap
Within 30-minutes of eating
After vigorous playing
Use trigger phrases
Teach your puppy a word or phrase to incite a toileting response.
Just as your puppy will salivate whenever they hear the kibble bag opening up, they will get the urge to wee when you say a word or phrase.
Whenever they go, be sure to say the same word or phrase. This can be something as simple as, “Wees and poos!”
Keep at it!
If your puppy has been slower than expected to be house-trained, and you’ve ruled out a medical issue, then they will learn. As they get older, however, it’ll be more important than ever to stick to a consistent plan.
Make sure everyone in the house is on the same page, and work together at the above steps. Good luck!