Help! My Puppy Keeps Peeing In The House

Updated September 3, 2021

25 years ago, in my very first week as a vet, a lovely bouncy Cocker Spaniel puppy taught me a hard lesson. Innocently enough, I asked his owner “so, how’s everything going?”

Right in front of me, without another word, his owner burst into tears. Back then I really didn’t know what was going on. I sure do now.

Toilet training, house training or potty training. Call it what you will, but it’s the greatest challenge most puppy owners will face. As vets, we might consider ourselves masters of keeping puppies healthy, but we often look on helplessly at training problems.

Don’t despair. Over the years working with both other people’s puppies and my own I’ve come to see that toilet training is actually very simple. In a minute I’ll give you literally only three steps, but to use these, you need to understand why. So please stay with me for a little theory first.

Puppy Toilet Training Rules

Everything you do while potty training should be built around only three basic facts:

  1. A puppy’s only instinct is to not pee where they sleep
  2. Puppies learn better with rewards than punishment
  3. Puppies learn where to pee by where they went before

Point one we will use to establish crate training and similar strategies. Point two is obvious. Point three, however, is the one more owners fail to grasp.

Each time your puppy pees or poops in any place, they are less inhibited by it and more likely to do it there again.

Therefore, you need to think of toilet training as:

  • Making a tiny step forward every time your puppy goes in the right place
  • Making a tiny step backward every time your puppy goes in the wrong place

A puppy that can freely toilet in the house will always be slower and more difficult to train than a puppy who can’t. So let’s get onto those three steps.

Toilet Training Made Easy

Until a puppy can be trusted to not pass faeces or urine in the house, they should only be in one of three situations:

  • Supervised inside, but constantly watched
  • Free on a surface where toileting is allowed
  • Crated in a place where they don’t want to toilet

Now all that is left is to explain these three states better.

The Puppy Under Supervision

This is the most important step but also the most exhausting. You will be not taking your eyes off your puppy. As often as needed, you will also be taking them to your chosen place to pee.

It might be a training pad in an apartment, or newspaper in the corner, or grass outside. You might use all three to begin with, especially if it’s a long way to the grass.

Tip: use barriers and doors to keep them in sight.

One person is always on duty as the watcher, with shoes on, treat bag in hand, ready to jump up in a flash. If that person wants a break, they pass the responsibility to someone else. You can’t even watch television properly (hooray for podcasts!)

Your aim is to predict each wee or poo and take the puppy to the target before it happens. If instead a puppy starts to go in the house, your job is to smoothly transfer them to the target location without stress or shame. If they finish in the right place, reward and praise within 5 seconds. If they don’t, it’s your fault not theirs.

After a while your puppy will learn what you want and toilet quickly when taken to the right place. Then you can do it regularly enough that they won’t go in the house between times.

Read here why many puppies hang on outside and then pee as soon as they come back in!

The Free Roaming Puppy

Inevitably you also have to leave your puppy alone, for example, if you work all day. Therefore, you need to create a bigger place where toileting is allowed that also has food, water, bedding and toys.

This will be either:

  • A play pen or fenced enclosure
  • A small room with smooth flooring
  • A courtyard or balcony made free of danger

Tip: the surface must be something that it’s OK if your puppy pees on later, because that’s what they’re about to learn to do. If you don’t want that to be what’s always there, cover it with newspaper or training matts.

After a while a puppy gets used to going on the pads or paper. Then you might be able to slowly reduce the floor covering until it’s just in a corner.

The Crated Puppy

Now the tricky one. The crate uses a puppy’s reluctance to soil their bed but it only works well for short periods. Crates are ideal for when you are letting your puppy free roam, but you need to do things like:

  • Pick up the kids from school
  • Cook dinner
  • Go to the toilet
  • Drop down to the shops for milk
  • For reading or watching TV, putting your puppy on your lap works even better!

What you’re doing is ‘parking’ your puppy where you know they won’t go as long as they aren’t desperate. Then, when you get back, you take them to the toilet straight away.

Tip: take as much time as needed so that your puppy never feels stressed or fearful when left

Crating a puppy isn’t for everyone, or even every puppy but it’s a great strategy for most. But you can’t just do it without preparation. That’s why you’ll need to read our guide to crate training before you do it.

After a while a puppy may get comfortable and continent enough that you can leave them for longer periods. Eventually, most can even even be crated overnight as long as you wake up before they do.

Good luck! Remember, if urine or faeces are found in the house after the puppy has finished, there is nothing that can be done to teach the puppy about it. Just clean it up and think about why the puppy was able to do it without being observed or predicted.

Related: A Longer Guide To Toilet Training

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

15 Replies to “Help! My Puppy Keeps Peeing In The House”

  1. I have a 3-month-old rescue pup who refuses to use the bathroom outside. He pees only when excited or scared in the house or when he knows our attention is not fully on him. I have taken him for longer walks and have tried to leave him outside for longer periods of time but no matter what he is refusing to use the bathroom outdoors.

  2. I have a7 month old doxie and a 6 year old doxie. They have a doggy door . The puppy goes out to potty with our coaxing but if it’s raining or we don’t watch her she’ll co e in and pee. She also poops even if it’s nice out. She sees the 6 year old go outside which we thought would be a good trainer but she continues to go inside. What can we do to stop this behavior?

    1. Hi Terry. You just have to make sure that in the short-term, you don’t give her the opportunity to go unsupervised in the house, as each time is a step backwards. Eventually, if she doesn’t go inside, it will just feel too weird to her to go anywhere except outside, even if it’s wet and raining. It takes time.

  3. My 6 year old Shih Tzu walks outside and marks. When I leave her for an hour, she wets inside. Even after a long walk with numerous wetting. How do I deal with this? She does show seperation anxiety. She also is from a puppy mill without proper care. Help please

    1. Hi Karen. There’s a link in the article above to another one that explains how a lot of these puppies are more anxious outside than inside, and how the anxiety blocks their awareness of needing to go to the toilet just like it does for us. It explain some of the things you can do to make them happy to go outside, but it’s very hard with these highly attached puppies. In other words, it’s a lot of time and work and you can’t just leave them to run loose in the house, or they will only reinforce the bad habit in the meantime.

  4. My 3 months old cockapoo potty inside and not outside. I’ve had him for 4 days and he is my first pet . I started off wrong by not crating him and giving him freedom inside, after two days of watching videos on how to train him I figured i was doing it all wrong. Now i take him outside after eating but he holds his pee or poo until he gets in and I have no ideas what to do. Also he potty’s in the same place everytime

  5. My 5 month old puppy keeps peeing in my house even though i take him outside and he still does his business outside. I checked for UTI and other problems but nothing is wrong. I just don’t understand why he goes to the bathroom inside even though he goes out and does his business too

    1. Hi Gianna. Like I go through in the article, your puppy has likely developed a habit of going in the bathroom as they initially felt (& maybe still feel!) safer and more relaxed there than outside. It’s very time consuming to undo existing habits but you will succeed with kindness and diligence.

  6. My 9 month female cocker spaniel will pee outside when I take her
    My problem is trying to get her to use her doggy door herself and wee outside
    She wees before she goes out the doggy door and I have no idea how to change the situation
    She is well adjusted and well behaved apart from this problem

    1. Hi Robynne. Sometimes the problem is hesitancy about using the doggie door itself. In these cases, it’s best to take the door off so there is just a hole or stick it up so it doesn’t flap. Once they get used to it, you can then let it swing as normal.

  7. Hi Andrew, i have a male and a female 6 month old british bulldog puppies and my little girl has always peed in her bed and seems to love sleeping in it. They tear up their puppy pads so i spent the first 4 months ive had them putting a puppy pad under a piece of fake turf so they equate it to outside where they have been trained to pee … and she will use it and often just lay on it! Every bed she has she pees on it and it seems to be almost a comfort thing. Her brother was toilet trained quite easily but as they pee where urine smells are he now pees on the beds too. I got them
    The trampoline beds but they rarely sleep on them and one of them wee’d on this too overnight.
    She has a few other health issues including a bone abnormality in her leg plus hip dysplacia and arthritis already plus she gets excited easily and pees. So i do think this plays a part in not wanting to get up while sleeping as she gets quite sore. But when i take them outside to do ‘toilet’ and he does it she will often Wait and come back inside and pee on the turf inside or the bed despite seeing her brother pee out there and get positive recognition. and she sometimes pees on command too or if she cant she goes and has a big drink so she seems to know what she’s meant to do but she’s already peed on her bed inside.
    My main conundrum is that the main premise of crate and toilet training is that dogs dont like to pee in their bed. Well she does. Every single time and loves to sleep in it. She literally never sleeps in a bed without peeing. Lucky i have polished concrete floors!

    1. Hi Zoe. I think you may be right that her mobility issues encouraged her to lose the natural inhibition that dogs have to peeing in their bed. Once it’s lost there’s no going back. Therefore, you probably have only two choices:

      1. Not use any form of bedding that she recognises as a toilet- perhaps just dog-sized single layer squares of polyester fleece from your local fabric store? There might be nothing suitable, however
      2. Give up and actually use bed-like surfaces as her toileting areas. Of course this means both dogs can’t have beds inside any more
      3. Either way, you still need to put maximum effort into taking her out as much as possible, and possibly using a crate without bedding for a few minutes when you can’t watch her inside. This is so unusual that it’s worth keeping on searching for someone else’s special tricks too.

  8. What can you suggest about a dog who goes outside to pee etc almost always but sometimes if it is wet or cold decides it is easier to pee indoors over night while I’m asleep?He has never pooped in the house. He also does marking type pees on the edge of my sofa and in my bedroom occasionally. I’ve put in a baby gate so he can’t get into the lounge area without supervision but he still manages to sneak one in on occasions when I’m home.

    1. Hi Judy. Thanks for bringing up a common problem. My elder dog does exactly the same thing if he’s inside overnight, and also uses the paved area outside if the grass is wet. I believe it’s because I didn’t toilet train him strongly enough, based on the fact that my younger dog who I trained using a crate would rather explode than pee inside. For these dogs I believe the only answer is to essentially ‘retrain’ them using a crate and use it as their nighttime bed until they are trustworthy, which may mean forever. Although it’s very slow and difficult to get an adult to accept being crated, it can be done with much patience. In my case I’ve just accepted that my elder dog needs to sleep outside at night (he’s double-coated) and I tolerate the use of our paving as the price I pay for my laziness.

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