Let’s face it, one of your big priorities as a dog owner is for your pup to be reliably house-trained – that is, to go outdoors to eliminate (dump his doo-doo), and not to puddle inside your home. Ever.
While some new puppy owners find it a challenge to potty train a pup, but that is usually do to a busy household and lack of experience. House training doesn’t need to be a hard job. You shouldn’t have to buy a book or DVD or training program to do it, either. Common sense is what you need, above all – common sense, and a little patience.
For success in “housebreaking,” as we used to call it before “potty training” started to be used for animals as well as children – and what’s with that, anyway? – there are just a few basic principles for you to know and follow through on. My six tips for housetraining your puppy, right here, will go a long way to keeping your floors clean and dry!
1. Understand your dog’s potty needs
Every dog is different, depending on their age, breed, and individual physical condition.
For example, one of my dogs has a “nervous bladder” and she can’t go for more than a couple of hours of without feeling the urgent need to pee. To leave a dog like that all alone indoors for too long is just asking for trouble. When she’s “gotta go” then just like a little puppy, she’s “gotta go” – no two ways about it, and that door to the yard had better be open!
A young puppy just can’t hold it as long as an older dog. Some breeds of dogs have extra-tiny bladders, too. Talk to your veterinarian to find out what a reasonable expectation is for how long your own puppy can be expected to “hold it” – then you’ll be able to get her outdoors before she gets too urgent. We want to try to prevent those indoor accidents, not just for the sake of your carpets but also so the puppy doesn’t start to get the habit of “using the bathroom” wherever she is when the urge hits!
2. Get your puppy on a schedule
Getting the meals and bathroom breaks on a predictable routine will help your puppy develop the ability to “hold it” as she’ll know (and her body will know) when she’ll be going out.
Dogs need fresh water available at all times. That said, there are a few dogs out there who drink more water than they need to, simply because drinking is a pleasurable activity for them or it is a reaction to stress. If that’s the case with your puppy, you might want to limit the amount of water she gets just before bedtime – but do be careful to make sure that she getsall the water she needs throughout the day to stay healthy and well hydrated. Again, talk to your vet if you’re not sure what’s going on there.
As far as possible, try to keep to a routine the dog can learn to predict and count on. If you always come home from work at 6:00 and take your dog out to potty, for example, that’s the potty time that her mind and body will come to expect. You can certainly bend your routine, but not too far – a dog who is used to having her “bathroom break” at 6:00 may be fine until 7:00, but she may not be able to “hold it” until 8:00.
Again, every dog is different so you’ll need to learn over time what your own dog is able to handle.
3. Crate your puppy when you can’t supervise
Dogs do not soil their sleeping spaces if they have any choice about it, so the judicious use of a crate – once you’ve taken the proper steps to crate-train your dog so he welcomes the chance to go into it – can go a long way to help with your potty training efforts.
Just be sure not to leave your dog crated any longer than you need to, and to whisk him right outdoors to his potty spot when you open the kennel.
4. Pick a regular potty spot
Training your dog to “do his business” outdoors will be faster and easier if you start by taking him out on leash to one particular place every time. It’s all about the communication – going directly out to the potty spot means you want him to get down to the elimination needs; whereas, walking around your yard or around the block might be an exercise outing (for all your dog can tell), where he’s got all the time in the world to urinate and have a bowel movement.
Take him outdoors to the chosen spot. Stand still. Wait for him to do something. Praise him like crazy for being such a good puppy. (If you are a clicker trainer, yes, you can use clicker training for this – but hold off on your click to mark the good behavior until he’s just finishing up, so you don’t break his flow, so to speak!) Repeat, repeat, repeat. When he is doing this reliably, you can add a cue like “Go potty” or “Hurry up” so he comes to associate those words with the act of eliminating.
Using the same potty spot as much as possible will do wonders to speed up his learning, and it will also make it much faster to get the pee-and-poop routine on cue. And having it on cue (dog pees on command) is a wonderful thing!
When you’re running late for work and need to get the dog emptied out before you go, having him trained to use a potty spot – and, ideally, trained to go when you give a cue like “Go potty” for when you’re away from home – can help you make sure your dog is ready to be left indoors alone.
5. Be patient with your pup
Be patient while you’re potty training! Remember that little puppies have tiny immature bladders and will need to urinate more often than an adult dog. It takes a while for young dogs to tune into their bodies’ signals that they need to go potty.
But you’ll also need to be patient if you need to do a refresher course in housebreaking with an older dog. Adult dogs who have recently had a change of home or a difficult background, those who have a medical condition, and those who are under stress for other reasons will often need to go potty more often.
Dogs don’t automatically know how to tell you when they need to go potty, remember – communication is one of the things you’ll need to work on together while you’re training your dog.
6. Be prepared for little accidents while your dog learns
Dogs aren’t spiteful or stubborn, they just haven’t learned what to do or they they physically can’t do what you’re asking (like holding it for too long), it’s one or the other. So an “accident” is just that – an accident – and your dog shohuld never be punished for it.
That bears repeating! If your dog does make a mistake about where his potty spot is – or you let him down on the potty break schedule, and he has an accident in the house because he can’t hold it any longer – don’t scold or punish your dog.
Scolding or punishing your dog for a housetraining mistake will just teach your dog to hide from you if he happens to make another mess in the future. Punishment for piddling will damage the relationship between you and your dog, and it does nothing to help the potty training. Resist the urge!
Instead, simply lead your dog calmly out to his potty spot, and praise him for going there. (If he doesn’t have more to do, just wait a few minutes and bring him back in and try again later.) Clean up the mess with an enzyme-based cleaner that’s especially made for pet stains, so he won’t be tempted to return to the scene of the mistake next time he needs to potty.
It’s worth your time to potty train your dog right.
When you can count on your dog not to piddle on the floor, everyone is much more relaxed! A potty-trained dog can be trusted at home alone without fear of coming back to messes on the floor indoors, and when you’re pressed for time you can count on your dog to get down to business outside.
Remember: Consistency and gentle patience are the two main elements of successful potty training.
Take your dog on leash out to his potty spot on a regular schedule, prevent mistakes – crate him when you can’t keep a very close eye on him to look for signs of restlessness and discomfort – and gently praise or reward him when he “does his business” in the right place.
Before you know it, you’ll have a happy and confident potty-trained pup who can be trusted not to mess in the house!