Helping Your Puppy Adjust to Apartment Life: Potty Training

June 28, 2022

Puppy potty training in an apartment

Do you live in an apartment and are currently in the process of potty training your puppy? Living in a smaller space, with limited access to grass, can make potty training your puppy more difficult. However, there are advantages to living in a smaller place! It allows you to keep a closer eye on your puppy without them sneaking off quite so easily. Utilizing tools, such as grass pads outside on patios, can also be beneficial until your puppy is old enough to reliably hold their bladder. Grass pads might be a temporary saving grace if your alternative is trying to make it down 3 flights of stairs or 15 floors on an elevator! A more-in depth potty training routine is discussed in our blog 4 Easy Steps to Potty Train Your Puppy. The four main steps to that routine are as follows:

  1. Watch and Confine
  2. Positive reinforcement
  3. Catching every Accident
  4. Food and Water Schedule

If you live in an apartment, we will still utilize the four main steps above, but a few more specific adjustments can be made to make potty training your puppy quick, easy, and stress free. 

Smaller Space = More Supervision

Apartments come in all shapes, sizes, and floor numbers. The benefit to living in an apartment is the smaller amount of square footage. Out of the four steps to the potty training routine, step one (Watch and Confine) and step three (Catching Every Accident) are actually easier in an apartment compared to a full-sized home. Throughout the potty training process, your puppy needs to be monitored at all times and kept in a smaller space so they can be supervised. We recommend having your puppy dragging a leash throughout this process, so it is easy to get a hold of them quickly. The smaller size of an apartment, and the ability to create a smaller space by closing bathroom and bedroom doors, allows you to keep a close eye on your puppy. This way it is much less likely they sneak off and successfully have an accident. A playpen can also be helpful in managing your puppy and the space you’d like them to be allowed.  Housebreaking your puppy can be difficult but the act of having accidents can easily be reinforced if your puppy is not supervised 24/7. Consistency is key!

Grass Pads

For the first few months of potty training your puppy, instead of rushing your puppy down the stairs or worrying about an accident in the elevator, purchase a small square of real grass from Lowe’s or Home Depot. You could also purchase a grass pad online (like this one!) that is easy to wash, or a piece of turf. We recommend that you purchase multiple squares, so as your puppy continues to grow they have a decent size area to go to the bathroom. If you do lean towards purchasing a real grass pad, your puppy will have an easier transition to going potty on real grass as they get older. The use of grass pads for potty training works well, but also requires maintenance. Keeping the grass as clean as possible with routine cleaning will help your puppy continue to reliably use the area. If it starts to smell, your puppy can potentially start avoiding the area and have accidents elsewhere. We recommend utilizing the grass pad until your puppy is 12-16 weeks of age and then discontinue use. At this age, your puppy can start holding their bladder and waiting until you reach the grassy areas outside to use the bathroom. You can use these steps to reinforce your puppy using the pads reliably:

  1. First thing in the morning or after your puppy eats or drinks are common times your puppy will need to eliminate. Walk them using their leash to the grass pad and gently coax them on.
  2. Wait 10-15 minutes, keeping your puppy on the pads by holding their leash and watching them out of the corner of your eye.
  3. When your puppy urinates or defecates, wait until they are completely finished and they take one step away or step off the grass pad before you begin praising them. 
  4. Feed them three, small, high-value treats, one at a time. 
  5. Wait the remainder of the time in case they need to go potty again.
  6. If they defecate, clean it up immediately. 
  7. If they are sniffing around the apartment or it’s been an hour or two since they last went potty, encourage them over and onto the grass pad.
  8. If they start to have an accident, are in the middle of an accident, or just finished and have not walked away yet, use a loud “NO!” to interrupt the accident. Grab their leash or pick them up and place them on the grass pad(s) as soon as possible. 
    1. If they finished on the grass pad, praise and reward them as listed above. 
    2. If they do not finish or have already finished, don’t reprimand or punish them. Clean up after them and try to interrupt and/or catch them earlier next time. 
  9. Your puppy will probably need to potty every 1-2 hours until they are 12-16 weeks of age. You can put them on a food and water schedule to help you predict when they might need to go and set both you and your puppy up for success! 

Grass pads are highly recommended to use when you live in an apartment, especially if you don’t have your own yard and until your puppy is up to date on all of their shots. Grassy areas accessible to the public can be harmful if your puppy is not vaccinated and exposed to contaminated feces. The most common transmittable disease in puppies is called Parvo. According to the AKC, “your puppy is exposed to the parvovirus every time he sniffs, licks, or consumes infected feces.” Parvo can also be transmitted indirectly through “contaminated objects, like a food or water bowl, collars and leashes, and the hands and clothing of people who handle infected dogs.” This being said, you can still take your puppy to these areas, but it is important to keep a close eye on them until they are fully vaccinated. Socialize your puppy with known, friendly, vaccinated dogs, use your own water bowl, and wash your hands regularly! It’s also very important, and polite, to clean up after your puppy or dog if they potty in a public space. If you want to inquire more about housebreaking your puppy in an apartment or need help transitioning them to apartment life, check out our Private In-Home puppy training sessions for more details!