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Housebreaking a small dog can be difficult; doing it in the winter is a heroic feat. 

No matter how cold it gets, and even if the snow is taller than your pup’s legs, you can teach them to stop having accidents in the house. You’re just going to have to get a little creative with your options. 

Decide If You Want To Use Potty Pads

Whether you should use potty pads is a matter of preference. Some people hate them and never use them, even on Day 1, while others find them invaluable. You will have to go through a phase of transitioning from potty pads to outside, which can make potty training more complicated, but I happen to think it’s good to start with pads. 

When you use pads, your dog will be able to use them on occasion when you can’t go out, for example, if your dog ever has surgery and she needs to stay on bed rest, or if you’re ever injured and unable to go for walks, if your fence breaks and your dog can’t go out, etc. etc. 

It makes sense to see how you do without potty pads, but if you’re not able to take your dog out frequently enough to avoid accidents (up to every 30 minutes), and your puppy is so young that they cannot hold it for very long, I’d rather clean up a soaked puppy pad than clean up an accident… and deal with the step backward in your training every time your puppy makes a mistake. 

You might want to try puppy pad alternatives if you dislike the environmental waste and odor of ordinary puppy pads.  

Take Advantage Of Warmer Times Of Day

The warmest part of the day is going to be between noon and 4PM. So, you may want to rearrange your routine to ensure that you are able to go outside with your puppy a lot during midday. That way, you can work on teaching skills that may be hard to get across when you’re freezing and just want to go inside. 

You will not be able to avoid going outside in the brisk early morning and evening air, however. For those times, make sure you’re bundled – it always seems as though, when you’re cold and impatient to go back inside, your puppy will take the longest to get their business done. I know, I’ve been there. 

You may want to feed your puppy earlier in the morning and just before the sun goes down. Since she will have to go potty right after she eats, you’ll get her in a habit of doing her business earlier, before it gets super cold at night. 

Dress Your Puppy In Layers

Those $5 dog sweaters from Walmart are cute, but they’re not nearly warm enough to keep your puppy comfortable so she can do her business. 

I like to layer my dogs’ clothes. You can put a cotton dress under a sweater under a waterproof coat to keep your puppy warm and dry. Puppies typically get excited to “get dressed” when you always do it right before going out – she will associate her winter gear with those fun outings.

You don’t need dog booties for quick potty trips. Booties will just make it take forever for you to get your puppy ready to go out, and you’ll want to take your time acclimating your puppy to wearing them – it’s just too much to worry about at once, so I’d suggest going without. Dog socks will just get wet and uncomfortable. 

Dogs have blood vessels in their paw-pads that keep their toes from freezing, though they can be affected by frostbite. Use a paw-friendly ice melt, and carry your dog over sidewalks and driveways if you’re not sure if the surface is safe.

If you suspect your puppy has walked over some ice melt, clean their paws as soon as you get indoors – don’t allow time for your puppy to lick their paws. Gentle soap or puppy shampoo and water will do the trick.

Make A Potty Spot

You have the option of teaching your puppy to go potty anywhere in your yard, or choosing a specific spot that she will always use. 

When potty training, especially in the winter, a designated potty spot is really helpful. You can shovel snow off the grass in this area to improve your pup’s pooping experience. 

The potty spot will carry the scent of your dog’s wastes so she will keep returning to it. Make sure it’s close to your front door as possible so a quick potty break will be as easy as possible. 

Play Outside… But Not During Potty Breaks

If you can, spend more time outside with your puppy, even when it’s cold. Like us, dogs acclimate to the weather. 

When you’re outside, keep moving. The more you move, the less you and your puppy will feel cold, and the more positive of an experience it will be.

For potty breaks, though, you’ll want to keep the outings short, yet frequent. It should be quick enough that you are able to keep your full attention on your puppy so you know when she has done her business.

Make It Easy To Get Ready

It’s such a hassle to take your puppy out when it’s cold. There are so many extra steps. You have to put your boots on, your own coat, hat, gloves, and get your puppy ready with their own winter gear. 

Set up a potty break station by your door to make this as a little easier. Maybe you can get some cheap slip-on boots to keep by the back door instead of lacing up your good boots each time. Leashes, harnesses and other gear should be hung or kept in a basket where they can dry off between uses if you go out in the snow.

Winter Housebreaking Isn’t Easy…

But it’s not impossible. Many adult small dogs still have accidents when it’s cold out, so if you put in the work now and get your puppy potty trained this winter, she’ll be way easier to keep accident-free every winter season, no matter how cold it is!

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You'll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.