How to Potty Train Your Puppy or Dog

Potty training is not difficult, it is just a matter of establishing a routine and teaching the puppy or dog where you prefer she take care of business.  Potty training is basically the same whether you are working with a puppy or an adult dog, so for purposes of this article I use puppy and dog interchangeably.  Once you have established and kept a routine your dog should understand what is expected and stop having accidents in the house.

The first thing to do is to select a command that everyone in the household will be comfortable using.  We say “outside” to get the dogs to go with us into the yard and “go pee” to have them eliminate.  My neighbors may not appreciate hearing “go pee” when they are in their backyard, so you may want to use something different, perhaps “party time.”  It is extremely helpful to have your dog trained to eliminate on command.  When Orson was confined for a few weeks after his knee surgery, accompanying him to the backyard and having him eliminate on command after just a few steps onto the grass was so helpful.  Xuma prefers privacy.  On a camping trip, we followed her as she circled and walked and circled, knowing she needed to go, but she couldn’t seem to find the right spot, she finally did, but it impressed on me that potty training, is not just house training, but also for those occasions, when you need the dog to know it is okay to eliminate and to do so in a timely manner.

The other issue to keep in mind when you are potty training, is there may be a time when you need your puppy to go on a surface they are not used too.  I focus on training them to go outside, and you can direct them to a particular spot in your yard, but I would never discourage them from using a surface that is outside, such as a sidewalk, grass, sand, or dirt as there may be a time when you need them to do just that. A friend had the good fortunate of moving to a beach house, but her dog hated going in the sand.  They actually planted a small plot of grass to accommodate him.

Potty training is easier when there is a housetrained dog, because dogs, especially puppies, will copy other dogs.  If you say “outside” and you and your dogs go outside and then say “go pee” and your trained dog eliminates and you praise that dog, the dog-in-training will see that, and think “Ah-ha, so that is what “go pee” means, I get it now.”

I get it now!

With the dog-in- training, the first thing you will do in the morning and the last thing you do before bed is to take the dog outside.  When you take him outside, walk out with him, state your command and stand there uninterested, look at the sky, with one eye on the dog, do not say anything else.  If the puppy comes to you, ignore her.  When the puppy is peeing and/or pooping, repeat the command so they learn to associate the command with the behavior, and when he is done, praise him lavishly and now it is play time.  By the way, recently expert trainers have found play just as effective a reward, if not more so, than treats.  If you are like me and tend to overdo the treat giving, play instead as the reward.  However, it is especially important to not engage in play until after they have eliminated, because they will think the routine is go outside to play, and then when I get around to it, eliminate.  So the routine should be say “outside” and go outside, say your command, look at the sky, ignore their entreaties for attention, quietly repeat the command when you see they are actually taking care of business.  When they are done praise and play.   The Humane Society recommends taking a puppy outside every hour during the day and to take up their water dish a couple of hours before bedtime.  Puppies can go up to seven hours without needing to go out.  Dogs can go longer, but I wouldn’t recommend more than nine hours.

If you notice your puppy is circling, sniffing, or scratching, say “outside” and immediately take the puppy outside.  Likewise, if your puppy has already started to pee or poop in the house, say “outside” in a firm voice that will make her cut off the flow, but not scare her.  Then immediately take her outside and praise her mightily when she finishes the job outside.  Be careful how you act if you catch them having an accident.  A friend unintentionally scared his poodle so much when he caught her in the act that it was several weeks before she would eliminate while he was watching, even on a walk.  A firm “outside” and movement in that direction should be enough.  Never punish the dog for an accident.  Yelling, hitting, or rubbing their nose in it isn’t going to make any sense to the dog and be counter-productive.

Something to chew on - stain remover

Welcome Home Stain Remover works well.

Leave them outside or in another room while you clean up after them, as they may mistake the cleaning up as something you enjoy.  Keep in mind the dog’s perspective.  My dogs will eat cat poop — they simple don’t find pee and poop as yucky as we do.

When you are not home, put the dog-in-training in a confined area of your house, such as the kitchen, laundry room, or bathroom, preferably one with easy to clean floors, not carpet.  Consider leaving a pad for the pet to use while you are gone.  When you arrive home you will immediately take the puppy outside.  If they had an accident, simply clean it up, but don’t make an issue of it; they will not understand. We have a doggie door; however, even then accidents happen while they are being trained.  Don’t be discouraged, the behavior will change.

I am not fond of crate training, I think it is difficult to do correctly and not the best option.  However, crating may have a purpose in limited circumstances.  My sister’s dog, as an adult after years of no accidents, suddenly started having accidents in the house intentionally right in front of her.  If an adult dog starts having accidents, you should always have the dog checked out at the veterinarian to make sure it is not a health issue. After getting a clean bill of health from the veterinarian, my sister started crating the dog, which she only did when they were home and the crate was in the same room with her.  After a few weeks the crate door remained open and the dog could use the crate when he wanted, but the accidents ceased.  She never really figured out what caused the dog’s behavior, but she was able to change it with a crate.  Should you feel a crate may be a good option for you, first check with an expert trainer who can meet your dog and make recommendations and teach you the proper use.

My sister-in-law’s dog also started having accidents as an adult. Again, it was not a health problem and they resolved the issue when they started the dog on a daily walk routine, twice a day, shorts walks around the neighborhood.  Puppies and dogs respond well to routine, their minds and bodies adapt — time to eat, time to eliminate, time to sleep, and that makes our jobs so much easier.  Again, keep in mind the dog’s perspective and if problems arise after they have been trained and be sure to take your pet to the veterinarian.

A problem many experience is excited peeing.  If your dog trickles here and there when you arrive home, don’t greet the dog until you get her outside.  The minute you walk in the door, say “outside” and walk outside with the dog, and give your “go pee” command, wait until the dog has eliminated and then stay outside to give your dog the enthusiastic greeting they have been waiting for.  I suggest you stay outside, in case their bladder is not completely emptied.  This behavior takes a bit longer to break, but the behavior will change.

Whether you have adopted a puppy or an adult dog, some form of potty training may be necessary.  Know that accidents in the house are inevitable but once you establish a routine and the dog understands what you want, you will all be happier.  I welcome any tips anyone has regarding their own experience with potty training a dog or puppy.

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