Potty Training 101
Where should I go if I have to poop? It’s something we all have to learn. Potty training isn’t exactly easy, even when we are teaching human children to go. Add in a change of species, a language barrier and the fact that dogs haven’t evolved enough to use toilets, and things can get a little frustrating.
If we think of potty training like any other behavior (sit, down, come, put the dog toys in a basket), we can start to create a game plan for tackling this complex behavior. There are a million and one ways to train a dog to do anything, however, not all of them give us the results we want.
Do you have to walk your dog around the block 5 times before they potty? Potty training issue. Will you dog not poop on vacation because they aren’t used to going on the leash? Potty training issue. Will your dog ask to go outside just to chase squirrels or sunbathe? Potty training issue. Not going outside because its raining? Potty training issue.
So how do we get our dogs to stop having accidents inside, AND have good overall potty manners? Follow these simple instructions. We’ve used these steps to potty train some very difficult dogs with some ingrained and reinforced potty training behaviors with great success.
We think of potty training as three different tasks, but they all need to work together in order to really create a potty trained dog. These instructions are written for potty training puppies, but the same procedure can be done with adult dogs to fix potty training problems as well.
Part 1: Learning where to go
Leash walk your puppy outside to potty. Try to go through the same door to the same spot each time. Allow your puppy three minutes to relieve themselves. If they go within three minutes, celebrate their success with lavish praise and/or a food reward.
Puppies often have to go when they wake up, after they eat or drink, and after they have played intensely. Make sure to take the puppy outside on those occasions, and regular intervals in between.
Introduce potty cue words. For my own dogs I use the phrase “Do you need to go outside?” when we are inside, and “Go potty” when we are outside. You can pick any phrase, and you can use the same phrase in both locations. Just pick a cue word and stick to it.
What if they don’t go after three minutes?
If the puppy is not successful after three minutes, bring them back inside and confine them either to the crate, or by holding them on a short leash next to you. Wait for 10 minutes, and then take them back outside and repeat. 10 minutes is a guideline, not a rule. If you feel like the puppy can’t hold it that long, take them sooner.
I though you shouldn’t use the crate as punishment?
I don’t think of confining the puppy as punishment. We are setting them up for success – limiting options to help them make the correct choice.
What if they pee outside but don’t poop?
Keep a log of when the puppy went outside and what they did there. Sometimes figuring out how many times a day they will poop or at what times is a trial and error process. If you keep a log, you can start finding patterns in their bathroom activities. Typically, if they miss one “scheduled” poop, I will still allow them some freedom inside, under direct supervision. If they still don’t go on the next potty trip, I will start to contain them inside until they relieve themselves outside again. Having regular feeding times instead of free-feeding the puppy will also help make potty times more regular.
Part 2: Learning where NOT to go
If your puppy has an accident and we do not catch them, we cannot do anything about it. It is essential that the puppy is supervised at ALL times. Make sure they are in the same room as you, and within eyesight at all times. If you are busy or distracted, secure them in their crate. If you need to use the restroom, secure them in their crate. It only takes a second for them to have an accident.
What if they have an accident even though I’m watching them?
It happens. Interrupt them and take them outside as quickly as possible. If they finish using the bathroom outside, celebrate with them.
Part 3: Learning to ask
Typically, the first step sign of puppies “asking” to use the bathroom is going towards the door. This is why it is essential that you take the puppy out the same door to the same place. Once the puppy is going towards the door you have two options.
You can hang bells from the door the dog uses for potty breaks and teach the dog to ring them before they go outside. When you see the dog at the back door, prompt them with your potty command (do you need to go outside?), command them to ring the bells, and proceed to the potty area.
I prefer to have my dogs come to me. When I see them at the back door, I prompt them with the potty command (do you need to go outside?), call them to me (come), and then proceed to the potty area. At some point, the dogs will skip going to the door and will instead go straight to me when they need to use the bathroom. This is a much longer process than bells so is often the less popular choice.