Is there One Best Method of Potty Training for Small Dogs

Potty training a puppy can be a frustrating and time-consuming task. Instilling good potty habits from the start in your puppy requires consistency, positive reinforcement and patience.

The potty training process for small dog breeds takes more effort since their bladders are smaller, so they have to potty more frequently. Additionally, there are some breeds that are more challenging to potty train than others. Bassett hounds, Dachshunds, Pomeranians, Pugs and Yorkshire terriers all have a reputation for not being easy to train. Puppies kept in shelters, pet stores or puppy mills are much harder to house train since they were allowed to pee and poop in their cages from birth.

The secret to any potty training method is being able to recognize when your dog needs to go potty. Here are some of the signs:

  • Puppy wanders off
  • Puppy starts sniffing the floor
  • Puppy starts whining
  • Puppy starts circling areas of the floor
  • Or, if you’re our Duchess, you get a dazed and confused look on your face, like something is about to happen, but you’re not sure what…

After you have learned to recognize the signs that your dog needs to go potty, choose a method and stick to it. There are several methods you can use and we discuss the top 5 here. 


The reasoning behind using a crate to housetrain dogs is that they are clean creatures and don’t like urine or feces in their living spaces.  Choose the right size crate—just large enough for the dog to lie down, stand up, and turn around. Many crates come with partitions so you can adjust the size as your puppy grows. Plan on taking your puppy out of the crate and carrying him to the door to go out to potty every 2 hours. You want him to feel the grass under his feet before he goes potty. Pretty soon, the puppy will associate going outside with potty. When he/she feels an urge, the puppy will usually let you know by whining and scratching. That’s his/her signal that he/she has to go and wants out of the crate. Due to their size, small dog breeds tend to have difficulties considering an entire house as their living space. Crate training during the potty training period can help trigger the “clean living space” instinct.

PROS: The crate teaches the puppy that when the urge to pee or poop occurs, he can hold it.

CONS: The puppy can go to one corner of the cage and pee or poop and then track it all over his cage and then through the house. 




This method of potty training involves putting down pretreated pads, encouraging the puppy to use these areas for going to the bathroom. The pads are scented with a chemical that attracts the puppy to use them.

Whenever you see the puppy starting into his pre-potty habits such as walking around and sniffing the floor, you pick him up and carry him over to the pad and then praise him when he goes to the bathroom.

When he/she is using the pads consistently, the pads are moved closer to the door and another set is placed outside. The idea is to wean the dog off of the pads until, finally, the pads are eliminated.  Pee Pad training works well for many small dog breeds like Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers and Pugs which can be a little more difficult to house train.

PROS: Makes clean-ups easier.

CONS: For a while, this method encourages the puppy to go potty inside the home. Then he/she has to relearn to go potty outside.


This method is a “conditioned response” method. Tie a little bell to a long string, and attached it to the handle of your door, so that it is within easy reach of your pup’s nose. Closely watch your puppy for any signs that he is going to go. When you see your puppy doing this, rush him to the door, open the door and send him outside… of course this causes the bell to ring, which is important, as it starts to get the dog used to the fact that when the bell rings he goes outside. After the dog goes potty, give him a treat and lots of praise. This teaches the dog that he gets a treat for going potty outside.

After you spend a whole day doing this, change your strategy on the second day of training. Instead of just opening the door for your puppy when it looks like he has to go, when you take him to the door make him bump into the bell with his nose before opening the door for him. And after a full day of bumping into that bell with his nose he will learn that if he just bumps that bell with his nose, you’ll come open the door for him to go outside and go potty – and of course that earns him a treat!

For highly intelligent small dog breeds like Poodles, Papillons, Welsh Corgis and Schnauzers, this method of training can be learned fairly quickly.

PROS: You can be anywhere in the house and if your dog has to go to the bathroom, you‘ll hear the bell ring.

CONS: The dog may ring the bell every time he wants a treat not just every time he needs to go potty. 


Take your puppy out every 1-2 hours to toilet. To encourage your dog to toilet on command it doesn’t take much extra work to introduce a word while your dog is urinating or defecating. So when your dog starts toileting say ‘wee wee’ or whistle so that the behavior is paired with a command. Then, immediately reward the dog with a treat and praise.

PROS: Dog will be more motivated to toilet on command due to treats and praise. On cold wintery nights, or during toilet breaks on long road trips you have a way to quickly get your dog to urinate/defecate on command.

CONS: Requires constant repetition over a number or days/weeks without interruption. Thus, it is difficult for those who work outside the home.


Dog diapers are used on dogs just like on humans. There are 3 primary types of diapers for dogs:

  1. Belly bands
  2. Full diapers with a hold for the tail
  3. A Diaper that attaches to a harness. 

PROS: Convenient and easy to discard. Diapers are good for dogs with a medical reason that prevents them from going outside and female dogs in heat.

CONS: Most diapers are for urine, not feces, and your puppy will be able to successfully void their bowels and happily walk away while wearing a diaper. the biggest con for this, however, has everything to do with us humans… sometimes we are just tired of it – we want to set it and forget it, so to speak. Dog Diapers are not really a substitution for house training. Your dog should not be allowed to get used to the fact that a mess in their diaper is acceptable.

No matter what method you choose, the more consistent and positive you are, the faster your puppy will learn acceptable behavior.

The Exception to the Rule

In every pet pawrent life a little pee must fall! There may be some of you reading this post, having tried all of the above, desperate to figure out why in the world nothing that seems ‘normal’ is working for your dog. You can speak to your vet to see if there is possibly any physical issues which have to be attended to, but usually it just has to do with something we (yes, you and me!) are doing that is sending mixed signals or not communicating to your dog what he or she needs to understand for potty etiquette.

Looking to share a good chuckle (or an uncontrollable sob) with me? Read my post on When Potty Training Isn’t So Text Book. This was our story when all of the normal routines that all of the normal people who train their normal dogs with ‘no problem‘ (gosh, we despise those people… ok – not really ;o) didn’t work, lol.