Potty Training in an Apartment Troubleshooting

February 14, 2022

Housetraining Your Puppy

If you haven’t already checked out our general housebreaking and are seeking some extra help because you live in an apartment or townhome, we recommend first, heading over to our general housebreaking blog HERE. If you have already read that and you live in an apartment or townhome, we have a few extra tips for you. 

As a small recap, housebreaking is what we label an “automatically” maintained behavior. This means anytime your puppy uses the bathroom, it is immediately or “automatically” reinforcing to do so, and they are likely to continue doing it. This is why heavy supervision, positive reinforcement of using the bathroom in an appropriate spot, as well as food and water schedules are so important.

In an apartment, this can be a bit more tricky because the immediacy and timing can be harder to attain. Especially if you’re an elevator ride and a long hallway walk away from the closest grassy area.

It is important to remember the “age to duration” housebreaking ratio. If you are following our food and water schedule tips found on our main housebreaking blog: Most puppies can generally hold their bathroom for as many hours as they are old in months + 1 hour.

For example: A 3 month old golden retriever puppy should be able to hold their bathroom for 4 hours. 

Subtract 1 hour for a petite/small breed.

It is also important to note in general a puppy once 10 weeks in age should be able to hold their bathroom overnight for 6-8hours. This may only be 5-6 hours for a small breed. 

With this in mind, since your puppy has been in the kennel during the night, as soon as they wake up we anticipate they are going to have to GO. If your puppy is struggling to hold it before you can get outside for them to relieve themselves, here are the next steps.

If you have a balcony/patio:

We recommend the following option for puppies up to 16 weeks(4 months) of age

  1. You’ll need some type of a grass pad if you have a balcony/patio. There are companies which sell and deliver REAL grass pads to your home. As a secondary option, you can purchase a faux grass pad such as this one HERE. We would recommend getting 3-4 squares based on your puppies size so they have plenty of space to move around. 
  2. As soon as you wake up in the morning, come home and/or let your puppy out of the kennel at any point, immediately pick them up and take them to the grass area on your balcony/patio and allow them an opportunity to use the bathroom. It is crucial you pick them up if they tend to pee on the ground before you can get outside. 
  3. Use the same positive reinforcement with treats if the use the bathroom on the grass pad. If your puppy can hold it for #2, offer a little bit of water before you leave and go ahead and walk them downstairs and outside to finish using the bathroom. Reinforce with treats too.
  4. As your puppy is getting successful at this routine, we expect this to happen by 12 weeks, you can begin walking your puppy to the grass pad on your patio. If you can hit that goal earlier, even better.
  5. Once your puppy can hold it long enough to walk themselves, one way to encourage your puppy to start asking to go outside is to place their water bowl outside on the patio/balcony. They can then take a few sips of water BEFORE they go onto the grass pads. Do not allow any more water when coming back in unless you are going outside.
  6. Once they are successfully asking to go to the patio, shift their “water” bowl to the front door or the closest access to “the front”. For now, to maintain limiting access to water, the water bowl should be empty. If your puppy walks over to the empty bowl and asks for water, offer them water and allow them to take a few sips, then immediately take them outside to go to the bathroom.

Grass Pad Avoidance/Missing the Grass Pad

If you are finding that your puppy wants to walk anywhere on your patio or balcony EXCEPT the grass pads or is accidentally missing the pads, create a strict boundary around the grass pad so the dog cannot access any other surface. You can do this with an exercise pen, gate, or boxes. Leave your puppy inside the confined grass pad area until they have gone to the bathroom. When the dog does go on the grass pad, high praise and reinforce with a high value treat.

If you do NOT have a balcony/patio:

If you do not have an area that would be appropriate to place a grass pad in, you may have to carry your puppy downstairs each time you take them outside to prevent any accidents from happening on the way. We would recommend doing this only until the maximum age of 12 weeks. After that age, we anticipate your puppy should be able to walk themselves down and hold it on the way. 

We do NOT recommend using grass pads in the house, as this could cause housebreaking confusion. It can reinforce using the bathroom in the home, ultimately causing housebreaking to take longer. If you have an injury or another physical reason that you cannot carry your puppy down the stairs, as an exception, you could use the grass pads in a designated area such as a bathroom, however we recommend moving away from this as quickly as possible and reinforcing with treats and lots of praise HEAVILY outside of the home. As soon as your puppy can hold it, they should be walking outside.

Still have more questions or need help setting up a routine for your space?

Our team is here to help! You can contact our team here and we would be happy to send a behavior consultant and trainer directly to your home to assist in your housebreaking endeavors and more in private in-home training session.