I recently worked with a client who could not get her two puppies potty trained. She did all the right things: taking them out often after naps, crate time, playing; rewarding them when they went; restricting their area to a small space. But still, the dogs went wherever and whenever.
Potty training is actually one of the hardest things we ask from a dog, and what’s more is that we usually ask it of new puppies who have never been trained before. It can be a really difficult and frustrating process for both the owner and the dog.
Potty training actually touches on a lot of the basics of general training. It’s often the first step you and your dog take in building a working relationship. From my experience with potty training cases and dog training, here are some tips.
1. Start RIGHT by starting SLOW
Once potty training goes south, it’s much more difficult getting back on the right track than other types of training. There’s a lot of other factors surrounding potty training, it’s not just you, your dog, and your treat. There’s the simple reward of relieving themselves, then there’s environment, the smells from old urine spots that dogs are naturally attracted to, the understanding that a certain environment is okay to potty in, and previous memories.
So it’s best to start right by starting slow. Take baby steps with potty training. Increase areas the dog is allowed to roam in by inches. Increase the time between potty breaks by minutes. And always, watch them like a hawk. Too often I deal with cases where the owner gave their puppy too much free roam, too quickly. By the time they’re seeking professional help, the puppy is two years old and there’s is so much ingrained and instinctive habits that we have to train against.
2. No relieving inside
With all training, you want to control the environment. With potty training, that’s difficult because you can’t control when the dog needs to potty and where he might choose to do so. Sometime there is no rhyme or reason to where they chose to relieve themselves.
The best solution is to restrict their area. If they have a “usual” spot, don’t let them have access to it. Make their free roam space small, until they are potty trained within that small space. Then increase, rinse and repeat.
If they do start to relieve themselves, pick them up immediately and carry them outside (or to the potty pad, whichever you are potty training with). Always interrupt them when they are relieving themselves. Don’t reprimand them, make the move as matter of fact as possible. If they do relieve themselves outside after the move, reward them. Soon they will realize that they can’t pee in peace inside.
3. Yes, you can ask to go outside
For many dogs, this lesson comes naturally. Once they learn that they can’t pee inside, they will seek out areas where they can pee when they have to go. Dogs adopt systems like scratching at the door, coming and looking at their owner, whining and barking. All of these are communications that the dog naturally developed, because he understands that he can’t potty inside.
I recommend teaching potty bells simultaneously to potty training. It helps speed the process along, because they can learn to ask to go outside the same time they are learning they can’t relieve themselves inside. (I recommend potty bells, but this is just a convenience for us owners. I personally find it easier than listening to my dog whine. The purpose of the bells is exactly the same as any of the natural signals your dog might adopt.)
The key with this system is that you have to take the dog outside. This is especially important in the early phases when the dog is testing it out. Responding to him quickly and consistently is the best reward for this step of potty training. Dogs can quickly learn to abuse the signal. Puppies will ring the bell, go outside, then immediately want to play or go on a walk, rather than potty. Though this may happen, it’s crucial to respond to each signal when you are first teaching potty training.
If you find that your dog will not ask to go outside, it’s likely that he has not yet learned that he cannot relieve himself inside. He will not seek out outside for potty, because he can just potty inside. It’s easier and more convenient to the dog.
4. Watch for signs
If you’re having trouble predicting when your dog will need to go, watch for these common signs:
- waking up from a nap
- after being removed from his crate
- sniffing around or walking to their usual spot
- after or during play time
- for puppies, 15-30 minutes after they drink water
- going out of the room, or otherwise seeking a more secluded spot
Don’t lose hope! Some dogs pick it up much faster than others, but it’s never too late or impossible. If you have been struggling with potty training issues for a while, and are about ready to give up, please reach out to your local professional trainer. Sit Stay and Beyond is located in St. Louis, MO and we would be happy to help. Don’t let potty training drive a wedge between you and your dog!