Potty Training a Puppy

So. Potty training. I get asked the most questions about this topic.

That makes sense, considering that everyone has to potty train their dog to some extent. Even when adopting an older dog, there is normally some amount of training due to the new environment.

I’d like to quickly qualify my advice; both of my puppies were potty trained in about 3 weeks. What methods work? What won’t work? Let’s discuss.

No, don’t rub their nose in it.

This is a huge dog training myth that persists to this day. In fact, I recently had someone tell me to do this simply because I mentioned a puppy. Everyone seems to know for a fact that this is the fastest way, even when they’ve never had a dog, and they are happy to tell you right away.

Dogs are not as smart as human beings, and they don’t have the same set of emotions, so let’s get that out of the way. They don’t understand revenge, or spite, or other emotions people attribute to pottying inside. They are not doing it on purpose to make you mad.

They are also incredibly resistant to the word “no,” and do better with positive commands. Telling them no will not work unless they really understand the command, which they probably don’t if you’re in the phase of potty training. More on this in a moment.

Finally, dogs don’t like pottying where they hang out. In other words, they like to be clean and find a separate spot for doing their business. They learn what area is for pottying and go there over and over.

So, when you rub your dog’s nose in their mess, they don’t understand that you’re saying what they did is wrong, they don’t understand that you want them to feel guilty, and they don’t understand “no.” What are they learning from this experience?

They’re smelling their mess and going “oh, this is a potty spot!”

So, what many people think teaches dogs to potty outside, really teaches them to potty inside. It will likely increase how long it takes for them to get it by a lot.

Respond appropriately.

Don’t make a big deal if your dog has an accident. Calmly clean it up, and if you feel they still need to go, take them outside. By drawing attention to the pottying, your dog is likely to learn to hide from you to avoid punishment, or worse, think you are praising them and continue making your rug their potty area.

Also, make sure to use an enzymatic cleaner to fully get rid of the odor. This will help break the association of pottying in that spot. I have used Fizion, Nature’s Miracle, and even just 409 in a pinch. Find what works best for you!

Positive commands work better.

I mentioned earlier that dogs don’t always understand “no” right away. So, how do you teach them not to potty inside? You don’t. You teach them that they should potty outside (or using potty pads if that is your method).

In short, saying “go potty” instead of “don’t potty” will click faster.

I go more in depth about dominance theory in another post, and how positive reinforcement works best, but I’ll include a short overview here. Dogs do better when you reward good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior. They want to earn rewards like treats and praise, so they learn to offer desirable behaviors.

Every single time your dog potties outside, give them treats and lots of praise. As they go, add in a command word like “go pee.” At first, they may only offer this behavior to earn rewards. However, it will be reinforced by them smelling where they pottied before, so they’ll naturally learn that this is they potty area. After some time has passed, you won’t need treats any more.

Additionally, by using the command word, you can make them hurry up when it’s cold outside. “Go potty” becomes a command they want to listen to ASAP to earn rewards!

Look for signals, or follow a schedule.

Because dogs don’t like to potty in their living space, they will get to a point of signaling to you that they need to go to the potty area. Athena sits and stares at me with her mouth open. Nike whines and looks at the door. Some people teach dogs to ring a bell. Whatever the signals may be, keep an eye out!

Now, if you have a puppy, it is likely there won’t be any signals at first. Puppies seem to just stop and pee at any moment! If this sounds like your life, you will need to start on a schedule.

Don’t panic, this isn’t a strict minute-by-minute type of schedule. I mean be consistent taking your puppy out, even if they don’t ask. They will not know to ask to go out, and their bladders are small.

Firstly, take out your puppy as soon as they wake up. They will definitely have to pee. Even if you think they don’t, they do. Carry them outside because leading them takes too long, and they will pee by the door or on the rug on the way. Ask me how I know!

In addition to going out after a snooze, you will need to take potty breaks when they’re awake. If you just brought home a young puppy, take them outside every 15 minutes when they are awake. This sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that puppies sleep 18-20 hours a day.

As they get used to being around your home, gradually increase this time to 30 minutes, an hour, and so on. Keep in mind that if they drink water, they will have to go out just a few minutes later. I will also mention that every dog is different, so don’t worry if they are going more often than some online chart says.

As long as they are eating and drinking normally, and showing no other signs of illness, they are probably okay! If you feel it could be a UTI or other illness, contact your vet right away.

A word on nighttime.

If you have a puppy or small dog, it is extremely likely that they will not sleep through the night for a while. This is another factor that varies from dog to dog. Athena didn’t sleep through the night for two weeks; Nike did after a couple of days.

Set an alarm for about 4 hours, so you can give them a potty break until they learn to give you a signal! If your dog consistently seems like they don’t need a break, try sleeping through and see if they will. Either way, be quick to respond if they do signal to you that they need to go!

Outside is for pottying first.

Here’s one last tip for making sure your puppy understands to go potty outside: be boring. Use a short, non-retractable leash, stand completely still, and wait for them to potty. This way you’re not distracting your dog from the task at hand. After they go, then reward them with treats or a walk.

This is important in case your dog associates pottying with going back inside. By giving them good stuff before going inside, they’re more likely to want to hurry and earn the reward, rather than put off going inside.

That’s about it!

By being proactive, you can teach your dog that outside is where they potty using positive reinforcement. Make sure to watch for signals, reward good behavior, and respond appropriately to accidents inside.

Of course, every dog is different, so don’t be upset if your pup takes a little longer to get it. Some people struggle with potty training for a year! The important thing is to stay consistent and not give up.

Note: if you are crate training, you may have faster success with potty training, but it is not necessary to succeed.

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