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When are puppies fully potty trained? A puppy's potty training timeline is somewhat similar to the potty training timeline of children.

Just like children, puppies go through distinct stages, but there will frequently be some ups and downs throughout the process until the pups finally start gaining more and more bladder and bowel control. 

Getting better acquainted with a puppy's potty training timeline is important so to better understand when puppies are fully potty trained and what is happening at each stage.

From Birth to Three Weeks 

A puppy is born. Born deaf and blind, as an altricial species, the puppy may seem quite helpless, but he has other senses to rely on. 

His sense of smell, taste, touch and temperature will help guide him to mother dog so that he can nurse and keep on gaining strength and growing. 

Because he can't yet regulate his temperature on his own, he will stay close to mom and littermates to stay warm.

Until three weeks of age, puppies depend on their moms to eliminate. Mother dog will lick their puppies behind to stimulate them to potty. Puppy will learn to naturally "belly up" and present their inguinal areas for clean up. 

This is a natural instinct which came handy in the past, when in the wild, a dog's ancestors raised pups in a den. 

Cleaning and ingesting the pup's waste was a good way to keep the den clean and avoid attracting predators.

Inguinal presentation in a puppy

Mother dog licks her puppy to encourage elimination and for proper cleaning. 

From Three Weeks to Five Weeks 

At this stage, the puppy becomes more mobile and his senses start to develop more. Now able to hear and see, and capable of regulating his temperature, the puppy will start exploring the world around him. 

Exposure to new sights and sounds helps the pup habituate and allow normal neurological development.

At this stage, puppies start being ready to ingest solid foods.

 In the wild, pups would lick the corners of mother dog's to elicit her to regurgitate for them. In a domestic setting, the breeder will start offering puppy mush to get the pups gradually used to solid foods.

At the end of this stage, puppies are capable of eliminating on their own and mother dog no longer ingests their stool. 

Puppies at this stage, also instinctively learn to leave their nest area to eliminate so that their outings are at a distance from their sleeping and eating areas. 

A good breeder will accommodate this instinct by providing a clear area for puppies to go potty on.

If this natural instinct is thwarted, as it happens in puppies grown in puppy mills or puppies stored in cages at pet stores, puppies become more difficult to potty train.

A litter of puppies learning to use a designated area for napping

Puppies learn to distinguish their sleeping area from their 'bathroom" area

From Six to Eight Weeks 

At six weeks, puppies continue to explore the world and refine their social skills. They continue to learn about appropriate play with their littermates, bite inhibition and valuable lessons from their mom. 

For this reason it's important to keep the pup with his mom and littermates until the pup is at least 8 to 12 weeks old.

Between the ages of 7 and a half and 8 and a half weeks, puppies should have developed what is known as their "substrate preference." 

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According to Karen Overall, by this time frame, most puppies will have fully developed senses and good physical coordination, which puts them into the position of learning to use a preferred substrate. 

The puppy therefore starts his journey in learning to "hold it" as he seeks this preferred substrate to go potty.

At this stage, it's therefore important for the breeder to provide guidance on which substrate to use, otherwise the puppy will develop a preference of his own and this may often not coincide with the future owner's wishes. 

Once the puppy is in his new home, he may feel confused if the substrate doesn't match what he was used to while at the breeders'.

To help puppies establish good habits, breeders may elect to place fake grass on top of puppy pads so to inculcate a natural tendency to seek grass. More and more breeders are straying away from fabric considering that it may cause pups to eliminate on area rugs once in their new homes.

Good breeders help inculcate a substrate preference in their pups. 

Good breeders help inculcate a substrate preference in their pups. 

From Eight Weeks to 12 Weeks 

This is the age when most puppies are sent to their new homes. Many reputable breeders give away their puppies at 8 weeks, but several breeders of small dogs are discovering that it's worth the wait to send them out at 12 weeks.

 For example, the American Maltese Association Code of Ethics states that Maltese puppies must remain in the breeder's possession until at least 12 weeks of age, due to them being much slower to develop.

During this stage ranging from 8 weeks to 12 weeks, puppies may have moments of progress and retrogression. These ups and downs are normal.

 New puppy owners must accept that even with careful monitoring and ample of opportunities to potty, accidents will happen.

Accidents can be reduced with close supervision, recognizing signs a puppy must go potty and using crates as short-term confinement areas. 

In order to work well, the crate needs to be snug enough so to cater to the pup's natural instinct to not want to soil te area where he sleeps.

A too large crate may cause a puppy to sleep comfortably in one corner and eliminate in the opposite corner which defeats the purpose of the crate.

Busy puppy owners working long hours in need of potty training their puppies may need to use long-term confinement areas until their puppies attain better bladder and bowel control.

 These areas allow puppies to eliminate on specific designated surfaces (newspapers, pads, litter box), but it may be challenging later on converting these pups to eliminate outdoors.

Maltese are slower to develop compared to other breeds of dogs. Recognizing early signs of needing to be taken out to potty is paramount.  

Maltese are slower to develop compared to other breeds of dogs. Recognizing early signs of needing to be taken out to potty is paramount.  

So When Are Puppies Fully Potty Trained?

At what age do puppies attain sufficient muscle tone to allow them to control things a bit more? Stanley Coren, in his book "Born to Bark: My Adventures with an Irrepressible and Unforgettable Dog" claims that full control isn't usually reached until the puppy is 5 to 6 months old.

However, not everything is cut and dry when it comes to living creatures and there may be variations based on individual cases. It's not unheard of for some puppies to still have accidents at 8 months or even up to a year.

Prior to these timelines, the good news though is that you'll see gradual signs of progress. As with human children, most puppies at one time or another will become potty trained. 

It's therefore worthless and counterproductive punishing the poor pups by scolding them or pushing their noses in their mess for accidents they can't control!

Harsh potty training methods may lead to puppies who fear their owners and because of this fear, things may progress much more slower in the potty training department. The reason for this is the fact that puppies will quickly learn to fear going potty in front of their owners for fear of being punished.

This means, that puppies will hide to potty by sneaking under the couch or bed to quickly do their business, when instead it's important for them to show signs they have to go potty so that the owners can quickly take them out and praise and reward them for successfully eliminating outside.

Formal Definition of  Fully Potty Trained

Experts seem to agree that a dog can be considered fully potty trained when they have not had any accidents for a at least a full 6 to 8 consecutive weeks. 

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