Updated: May 23
Potty training your new puppy can become a stressful activity for you if he/she doesn't pick up on it right away. This article will go over everything you should know to help you succeed!
Tip 1: Putting your pup on a consistent feeding schedule will be helpful for identifying your dog's potty patterns.
Tip 2: Take your pup out frequently and after any activity.
Your pup is still growing and learning how to hold it in. It is not normal dog behavior to have to hold in urine or feces. Wild and feral dogs go when they need to go. A general tip is that for each month of life, a dog can reasonably hold it for an hour. i.e. a one month old pup should be taken out every hour. Please take into consideration that this is a general tip and it will change with the size and breed of your dog. A small breed puppy has a smaller bladder than a large dog.
You will also want to take your dog out after every activity; after he wakes up from a nap, after eating, after drinking, after playing, after getting excited from any new stimulus such as greeting a new person to the house, finishing chewing on a bone, etc.
Tip 3: Consider keeping a potty record/notebook.
Information you want to record:
What time his meals were fed and if he finished his meal
If he drank any water and what time that happened
If he made any accidents in the house
If there was an accident, what type of accident it was (urination/defecation)
What time you took him out for potty breaks and if he was successful (urination/defecation/both/neither)
record EACH separate time you took him out to potty (so if he wasn't successful pottying and you brought him inside to wait in his crate for 15 minutes, record again the next time you take him out as a separate entry)
Record what behaviors you noticed him do before he made an accident or you took him out to potty successfully (was he sniffing, circling, pacing, whining, etc)
Record post elimination consequences - was he rewarded with treats, party, playtime, toys, walk, training session, and did the reward happen inside or outside? Or was he brought directly back inside due to time constraints? If he poo'd on a walk did the walk end? etc.
Tip 4: Use your crate as a helpful tool.
As you identify patterns on when to expect his need to pee and poo, you can use your crate as a helpful tool. If you know he should be needing to poo soon and he only pees when you take him out you will want bring him inside, let him hang out in his crate (not as a punishment, he can get a chew or toy in there) for about 15 minutes before trying again.
Tip 5: Potty time is not play time.
Put your dog on a leash when you take him out. He needs to understand he is not out there to play. Use your words and be very neutral/boring in your behavior. Let him sniff and find his spot and you can encourage him using words like "go potty". If he starts to want to play, gently remind him to "go potty" and do not engage in play behaviors. If he does not go in a reasonable amount of time (5-10 minutes) bring him back inside and put him in his crate. This is not a punishment and he may receive a chew or toy in there to keep him occupied so that he does not cry.
Tip 6: Time your reward
When he does finally go, watch carefully for that moment right as he is finishing. You don't want to interrupt him with praise in the middle of him going or he may get excited and forget to finish completely. Identify the exact moment as he is finishing and make a BIG DEAL of it. LOTS of praise. Make it a party! Treats are also helpful to drive the point home. Do not go back inside right away. Allowing him to sniff and play outside with you afterwards for 5 minutes can also be a huge reinforcer.
This brings us to...
Tip 7: Choose your reinforcement mindfully!
Do not go back inside right away unless he wants to! Allowing him to sniff and play outside with you afterwards can be a huge reinforcer. However, you should have a feel for what your dog prefers to do depending on their personality and situation.
Maybe it's super early in the morning and your dog likes to jump into bed with you for some snuggle time. Or perhaps it is rainy outside and he hates the feel of wet grass. Maybe he knows breakfast is waiting for him and he's anticipating that. Or maybe he LIVES for his daily walks! Knowing your dog well and what he/she wants most at that moment will be helpful in your training process!
Tip 8: Stack those reinforcers!
Really stack those reinforcers! You will definitely want to reinforce the moment he finishes his elimination behavior with treats and praise. But you can additionally play with him (fetch, tug of war, catch me if you can!, etc.) or do a fun training/engagement session that he loves. You can even take him on a sniff walk around the neighborhood to check his pee-mail! I love doing this as it means he will get in the habit of going number two BEFORE walks instead of during. This means I don't have to carry the smelly poop bag around for the rest of the walk or search for a rubbish bin that may not convenient. Using your walks as a reward is also the first step to being able to transfer that habit of pooping before starting an exciting walk to an antecedent behavior before a hike! I'm sure I don't need to tell you how having to carry a smelly poop bag during a beautiful hike makes my own experience less enjoyable.
**note: If you are in the habit of taking your dog out for a walk in the morning to get him to poo and you end the walk shortly after a successful poo, he may learn to hold his poop in so that he can extend his walk time. Then there is the danger he will learn to hold his poop in and go once he gets back inside your home and there is nothing else to hold out for.
Tip 9: Interrupt accidents quickly and calmly.
If you happen to catch your pup going potty inside, quickly and CALMLY interrupt them and relocate them outside to finish their business. Reward them for finishing eliminating their bowels outside. It doesn't have to be a huge party every time but acknowledgement is helpful for giving your dog information on the behavior that you do approve of.
Tip 10: NO PUNISHMENTS
I know it can get stressful for you and it is tempting to punish our dogs when they make an accident in the house. But it is incredibly important not to punish your dog.
For one, your dog doesn't understand why you are upset, just that you ARE upset. This only creates the perception that you are an unstable, unsafe, erratic human being that your dog needs to tiptoe around since anything and everything can set you off. To a dog, being upset about going potty anywhere can appear very illogical. Remember that holding their bowel movements in until they can get to an appropriate area to eliminate is NOT a natural animal behavior. Puppies do not understand why the natural thing they did is against the rules. Humans are weird!
Secondly, punishing our dog can create a bigger problem behavior! If you dog makes an accident in the house and you get upset, your dog doesn't learn what it is that you WANT them to do. Instead, they may associate the act of elimination as the thing you are upset about. "Humans get upset if I go potty! So I need to hide my potty or do it only when they aren't looking so they don't know I went." You then have created a dog that will eliminate in hiding places; your closet, under the table, behind the couch, etc, or as soon as you aren't paying attention. It makes it that much harder to catch them in the act in order to interrupt that behavior and finish in the appropriate location. As they continue to hide it and you continue to miss the opportunity to interrupt them in the act, you allow them to build a stronger and stronger habit. It is your job to proactively manage their behaviors instead of reacting to them. This is why it is so important to be keeping a close eye on puppies every minute of every day just as you would an infant or small toddler.
For a more in-depth discussion explaining why telling your dog "NO" doesn't work, please read my article here.
Tip 11: Use multiple management tools to help you
Our lives are busy and we don't always have the time to keep an eye on our pups every minute of every single day. If you know you will not be able to actively supervise your dog, consider other methods of management. This can be limiting your pup to a play pen or crate. Or you may want to keep your pup tethered to you so you always know where they are and more like to be aware when they start to exhibit pre-elimination behaviors such as sniffing, circling, pacing, doing the potty walk, etc. If all else goes unnoticed, you'll have a higher chance of catching 'The Squat'.
It is our responsibility to teach our dogs what the rules of our respective homes are. And we can more easily do that humanely if we carefully manage their environment and keep a closer eye on them until they build good habits and learn how to make good choices. Our dogs should not be given the freedom to do whatever they want, whenever they want without first demonstrating to us that they understand what is expected of them and that they will make good choices in that regard. As our pups learn and grow into well-adjusted adults that can navigate our crazy human world, we are able to give them more and more freedoms. This is why training is so important. Good training allows our dogs to have MORE freedoms, not less!
Potty training doesn't have to be a struggle but it does require you to be on it. Taking the time out of your busy day to teach proper potty behaviors may be tedious and time consuming at first, but it is a worthy investment of your time and energy for a lifetime of good potty behaviors.
I also want to remind pet parents to be patient with their pup. Many times we view potty accidents made by a 1 year old dog to be unacceptable. But 1 year old dogs are physiologically and cognitively still PUPPIES! Most dog breeds aren't fully developed physiologically until 2-3 years of age. Remember, your dog has only been alive and have life experiences for a total of only [insert your dog's age here]. That's not a whole lot of life experience!
Accidents can happen every once in awhile and that's ok. Dogs living in our modern world have less freedoms now than they ever did before. Most canines companions don't have the ability to make the decision for themselves when they get to be let out to potty, when they get to eat, what they are allowed to eat, where they take their walks, how long their walks last, etc. Their whole life is dictated by humans and our rules. Everything is usually on our time, on our schedule, at our whim.
As a human, I feel fortunate to be able to go locate myself a restroom whenever I need to go. I sometimes may need to go multiple times in a short time span depending on my activity level and water intake; and I am a fully grown adult human!
Please be mindful of the patience our dogs have for us and our human rules.
Be kind and patient with them in return and you will get there! You got this!
If you found this information helpful and would like one-on-one coaching to produce real results, please reach out!