As a full-time dog trainer who has worked in the industry for many years, the one issue I get called for most often is a puppy or dog who is not going potty in the desirable place. It is a particularly disgusting problem that frustrates owners to no end. And the problem isn’t relegated just to puppies. Many people who adopt an adult rescue have trouble with this, and some dogs have never gotten the hang of it since puppyhood.
In my experience, the problem lies with the dog owner, not the dog, and a severe lack of clear messaging. This is why you should never punish the dog. I’ll get into this later.
So let’s start with the proper way to potty train a puppy or dog. There are four basic components:
- Get your canine outside in the yard as often as possible so that they never have the opportunity to go inside the house. For puppies younger than 16 weeks, this might be every half-hour to an hour because they have poor sphincter control and physically can’t hold it that long. For adolescent dogs or adults, this might be every 1-3 hours.
- Always bring a Ziploc bag of treats outside with you and, the very second your dog finishes doing her business, treat like crazy with 5-10 little pieces of treats. Praise alone will not do it. Also, don’t ever let your dog into the backyard alone because you want the opportunity to reward her.
- Ignore and clean up all accidents inside the house. Don’t look at the dog or say anything. Just clean it up. Even catching your puppy in the act and rushing them outside is fruitless and teaches the dog nothing.
- When you can’t take your dog outside regularly or watch them, they should be in a confinement space like a crate or a playpen where they either won’t potty or where cleaning up messes will be easier. This also applies to overnights.
That is potty training in a nutshell. Remember that it is a process, and the dog is figuring it out on his own. “If I go here, I get big rewards. If I go inside the house, I get nothing, not even my owner’s attention.” Dogs are always attracted to what is the most rewarding and want to keep the rewards coming.
Things That Will Tank Your Potty Training Protocol:
- Yelling, hitting, rubbing their nose in it, or any kind of punishment will backfire. Instead, in case of an accident, roll up a magazine really tightly and hit yourself over the head because it was your fault. Punishment might also teach your dog to go in a secret place in your home. When I see a client who has punished their dog over the course of many months or years, potty training outside becomes challenging because the dog has paired pottying with punishment and won’t go in front of the owner. If you follow all four of the components above, over time, you will have success. Be patient, and it will happen.
- Potty pads teach the dog to go inside the house. Many dogs can’t differentiate a pad with a small throw rug. Still others miss the pad altogether. If you live in Alaska, where you get many months of below-zero weather, then you have a case to use pads. There is no excuse in a place like Lake Nona, and pads are the bane of my existence as a trainer.
- Never reward your dog when they come inside the house after pottying. You aren’t rewarding for a pee or poop; you are actually rewarding them for, you guessed it, coming in the house. You must treat your dog within 2-3 seconds of them doing their business.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What if my dog has an accident during the protocol?
A: Accidents are necessary in a sense because what the dog is doing is seeing for themselves that going inside the house gets them nothing, but going outside gets them everything.
Q: What happens if my dog goes in the crate?
A: Your crate is likely too big for the dog. If the dog can go to the bathroom in one corner and sleep in the other corner far away from their poop or pee, then using a crate is almost pointless. The idea behind an appropriately-sized crate is that it will teach the dog to hold it.
Q: What if my dog doesn’t like the crate?
A: Use a different kind of confinement space – an X-pen, which is a playpen for dogs, or a small room with a baby gate. Accidents could still occur, but at least they are confined to a small location.
Q: What if I live in a high-rise apartment?
A: If you have a balcony, you could buy a grassy pad for that purpose. The dog would still get the simulation of going potty outside. No balcony? Possibly a bathroom with a grassy pad, but it isn’t ideal.
With some patience and planning and having the right know-how, you can have a dog that can hold it until you come home from work or a day out-and-about. Don’t hesitate to call a certified, positive, force-free trainer to help you get through this issue with flying colors.