Housebreaking: How To Potty Train a Dog or Puppy

Successfully potty training a dog takes much more than investing in a tall stack of old newspapers and having access to a grassy yard. Patience, consistency, good timing along with a dash of knowledge in canine psychology, are all fundamental ingredients required to attain results. The finished product is a dog who not only won’t soil in the home, but will also give advanced notice when nature calls so he can be promptly taken out. The following ten rules below should help dog owners attain the desired results.

Ten Rules for Potty Training a Dog

First and foremost, it’s important to realize that potty training a dog takes time. Programs advertising fast results are often misleading as all dogs are different and learn at different rates. Promising results in a week, as some programs do, will only make the process more frustrating. Dogs will be potty trained when they are ready.

  • Rule out Medical Problems

It’s important to point out that what may look like a potty training issue at times can be a medical one. Dogs affected by urinary tract infections, digestive issues and other medical conditions at times may be erroneously labeled as reluctant to being potty trained when they are really just sick. It’s not a bad idea to see a vet and obtain a clean bill of health before pointing the finger at Fido. The ASPCA lists several medical causes known to contribute to house soiling problems in dogs.

  • Rule Out Behavioral Problems

At times, what looks like poor potty training is actually a behavioral issue. For instance, dogs who eliminate when left alone could be suffering from separation anxiety. Other issues can be excitement and submissive urination. In excitement urination, puppies or dogs may urinate when they are over aroused upon seeing their owners or guests. In submissive urination, the puppy or dog may urinate when he is scolded or feels intimidated. Fortunately, most puppies and young dogs eventually outgrow both of these problems. On the other hand, senior dogs who start soiling out of the blue may be suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction, the canine form of Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Feed on a Schedule

Feeding a dog on a schedule will significantly aid the potty training process. Because what goes in at a certain time must come out at a certain time, dogs on a feeding schedule will likely go potty at predictable intervals. Soon the dog’s bowels will adhere to a schedule and Rover will produce bowel movements like clockwork.

  • Acknowledge Potty Signs

Dog owners must learn what signs the puppy or dog gives when he needs to go outside. Most dogs will start sniffing, pacing and may appear temporarily disinterested in their normal activities. They may be playing one moment, and the next, they’ll be wandering away and circling in search of a spot to eliminate. Vocalizations are a big plus as they grab the owner’s attention. It’s important for dog owners to reward all “pre-potty” signs promptly by heading towards the door and opening it. Saying something like “outside?” while heading towards the door is also helpful.

  • Reward Outdoor Elimination

Most dog owners potty train their dogs to go outside, but some may want to train their dogs to potty indoors on a specific area. Regardless of the surface used, it’s fundamental that the dog is rewarded for going potty in the desired place. This is a time where dog owners should not be shy on showing their approval. Enthusiastic praise followed by a cookie will make Rover more and more eager to repeat the action. This ultimately means dogs will potty in the desired area more and more.

  • Use Correct Products

When potty training a dog, it’s inevitable for accidents to happen. Cleaning up soiled areas correctly is almost an art and requires the correct products. Ammonia-based products are an absolute no-no; indeed, the residual smell of ammonia will only encourage dogs to soil the area over and over creating a vicious cycle. The best cleaning products contain enzymes that break down the smelly particles while neutralizing odors.

  • Avoid Outdated Methods

The old rolled up newspaper method used to hit the bratty puppy for soiling the carpet should have no place in modern potty training. Sticking the puppy’s face in the soiled area is as well an outdated method that ultimately will only instill fear and lack of trust. A dog who is fearful of soiling because of punishment-based methods will only learn to eliminate secretly out of the owner’s sight. This will only make potty training regress creating setbacks.

  • Implement Proper Management

Managing a dog’s environment can help prevent accidents around the house. This in particular applies to puppies who haven’t attained good bowel and bladder control yet. Puppies should always be either in a small room where dog owners can watch every single move or outdoors going potty. This will help minimize the chances for mishaps. When the puppy cannot be supervised, he should be in a small puppy proof area or a crate. Dog owners should refrain from giving puppies the full run of the house.

  • Choose the Right Crate

Why do crates work well for potty training purposes? For the simple fact that dogs instinctively dislike going potty in the areas where they sleep. In order for a crate to work well, it’s therefore important for dog owners to choose a crate of the correct size. A snug crate is the best option. A puppy or dog should have enough room to stand up, lie down and turn around, but not enough room to eliminate in one corner and sleep comfortably in the other. Dog trainer Jeff Millman offers tips on choosing the right crate in his video on house training puppies.

  • Use the Crate Correctly

Dogs and puppies should always be given an opportunity to potty before being closed in a crate or small puppy proof area. Puppies who are less than 12-weeks old haven’t attained much bladder or bowel control yet so they should be crated for very brief periods of time. As they gain better control, they can be left for gradually longer periods of time. A crate should always be perceived as a happy place to be and should never be used for punishment.

Troubleshooting Problems

At times, dog owners really work hard in potty training their dog, but get frustrated when they don’t attain results. The following tips are helpful for troubleshooting some common problems.

  • Is the puppy properly emptying his bladder?

Some dog owners at times are baffled by their dogs’ behaviors. They may see their puppy go potty outside one minute and then go potty on the carpet the next. What may look like a dog behaving out of spite in reality may just be the consequence of a puppy who has failed to completely empty his bladder. When outdoors, he may just tinkle a bit because he is very excited or gets distracted, with the end result of forgettin to empty the tank. It’s not a bad idea to keep the puppy out a bit longer to see if he needs another opportunity to relieve himself before coming back inside.

  • What breed is the dog?

Some dog breeds are notorious for being difficult to potty train. Very small dogs such as toy and teacup breeds have very tiny bladders and this means many more trips outside. Hounds have a superior sense of smell, so if dog owners fail to properly clean soiled areas, they may feel compelled to soil the same areas over and over again. Hunting breeds may easily get distracted and follow trails of scent instead of focusing on going potty. Also, some other breeds known for being slow to mature may take a bit longer to get potty trained.

  • Does the puppy come from a pet store?

Puppies coming from pet stores or puppy mills are also notoriously difficult to potty train. The reason behind this is that they are often allowed to soil in their cages because they have no other choice. Upon being crated, these puppies may therefore care less about soiling the areas where they sleep because they are used to it and it has become a way of life. Extra patience, consistency and persistence are fundamental qualities required with these fellows.

  • Is the dog or puppy stressed?

Setbacks in the potty training process are not unusual. At times, changes in the dog’s environment may trigger bouts of inappropriate elimination. Moving to a new place, adding another dog to the household or having a new baby or guests coming over may cause a dog to eliminate in the home because of stress. The dog may forget to eliminate outdoors as usual or may decide to purposely mark certain areas of the home with urine. Generally, this is only a temporary problem that will subside once the source of stress is removed or the dog has adapted to it.

Training a puppy or dog to eliminate on cue may turn out very helpful in stressful situations. In order to train this, dog owners must say “go potty” when the dog is taken outdoors and positions himself to eliminate and must then reward right after the act. Repetition after repetition, dogs will learn to associate the words ” go potty” with the act of eliminating. The “go potty” command is very helpful for when the dog needs to eliminate in unfamiliar surroundings.

  • Is the dog being trained to potty indoors?

Training a dog to initially eliminate indoors on newspaper, puppy pads or in a litter box may get a bit confusing. The puppy or dog may not hit the “target” area as desired. The dog or puppy may not recognize the difference between going potty on the pad or on the tiles right next to the pad. If the area is crowded or noisy, the puppy or dog may not like it. More challenges are encountered then when the puppy finally learns to potty indoors and then must be trained to go outdoors. Often, it’s much easier to simply skip the newspapers and train the puppy to potty directly outdoors.

  • Is the dog reluctant to potty when it rains?

Many dogs dislike to potty when it is windy, raining or snowing. This can be quite frustrating especially when dog owners are freezing in the cold with them. It’s not a bad idea to get the dog gradually used to wind, rain and snow and accept them as normal elements. Often dog owners unknowingly instill in their dogs a dislike or fear of rain by making a big deal of it and rushing their dogs inside with a sense of urgency. Playing in the rain, feeding treats under the rain and taking a dog on a walk when it rains will help desensitize the dog to rain. For severe cases, providing a covered structure such as a carport may be helpful.

The Bottom Line

Dog owners desperate for solutions should contact a dog trainer or a dog behavior consultant. At times, consulting with a professional goes a long way as he or she may point out an issue that may have not been otherwise identified.

As seen, potty training a dog takes loads of work. It’s not a coincidence that many dogs are surrendered in shelters because of some house training issue. According to a list of factors leading to the relinquishment of pets compiled by the Humane Society of St. Joseph, a good 21 percent of dogs were surrendered because of house training accidents. It’s often easy for some dog owners to get frustrated and give up. Yet, the time spent on potty training a dog is ultimately a precious investment that most likely will last a lifetime.

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