By Victoria Schade
Speedy, reliable potty training might be the most common request of every new puppy owner. Though potty training is a straightforward process at its core, it can be filled with confusion, misunderstanding and frustration. But never fear! You and your puppy can master the potty training process by following these steps and tips.
Methods for Potty Training
There is only one acceptable methodology for potty training a dog of any age: positive reinforcement. Traditional advice suggested swatting a dog or rubbing his face in his waste for mistakes in the house, but those techniques do nothing to make the potty training process more understandable for your dog and can actually damage your relationship with him. Keep in mind, dogs don’t view their waste the way we do – to them, pee and poo is pretty interesting! Punishing your dog for going in the house won’t help him understand what he should do instead and might make him afraid to go near you at all, inside or out. Successful potty training requires patience, kindness and remembering that your new puppy is just learning the rules.
Crate training is a great way to start your puppy off on the right paw. Dogs have a natural instinct to keep their den clean, so a properly sized crate, introduced gradually, will create a home base for your puppy and will keep him from having accidents when you can’t watch him. Use the crate when you’re unable to give your puppy your full attention during the day, as well as at nap time and bedtime. Selecting the right size crate is critical, and it should be big enough so that your puppy can comfortably stand up, turn around and lie down but not much bigger. If you opt for a crate that’s too large, your puppy will be able to potty in one corner and sleep comfortably in the other, defeating the purpose of crate training.
While indoor elimination solutions like potty pads and litter boxes have their place, using them can actually slow the process down if you plan to eventually have your dog eliminate exclusively outside. Teaching your puppy to potty inside sometimes and outside others can be confusing because you will eventually have to teach your dog that at some point the indoor option is no longer allowed. Potty pads work best for people who can’t get their puppy outside quickly, like those who live in high-rise apartments or have limited mobility.
Setting a Potty Training Schedule
Dogs thrive on a predictable schedule, and setting one up for your new puppy will make life easier for both of you. Feed your puppy at the same times each day to help you predict and schedule bathroom breaks. Schedule post-meal walks, as well as hourly trips outside during the initial stages of potty training. Always take your puppy out after crating, even if was only for a short time, and remember that vigorous play should always be interrupted for potty breaks.
One of the biggest mistakes new puppy owners make is expecting their puppy to hold it for longer than he is physically capable. The general guideline for puppy “hold times” is that each month of age equates to an hour of “hold time,” so a two-month-old puppy can hold it for roughly two hours. There are exceptions to the rule; your puppy should be able to hold it for slightly longer period of time at night as he gets older and you pup will need potty breaks more frequently when he’s playing.
Tools Needed for Potty Training
You’ll want to have the following items as you begin potty training your dog:
- A properly-sized crate: a crate will keep your puppy safe when you can’t watch him and help him learn to hold it because of his desire to keep his den clean.
- A leash: even if you have a fenced-in yard, take your puppy out on a leash so that he isn’t tempted to play instead of potty. A leash will also allow you to be close enough to your puppy to reward him immediately after elimination.
- Treats: giving your dog a small treat immediately after he potties will teach him that he gets rewarded for going in the proper spot.
- Baby gate: baby gates are a great way to keep your puppy from sneaking away to other parts of the house unsupervised.
- Stain and odor remover: using the right kind of cleaner will prevent your puppy from seeking out spots that he’s already soiled.
Taking Your Dog Outside
One of the easiest ways to prevent accidents is learning to recognize when your puppy needs to go out. Most puppies will sniff the ground when they’re getting ready to potty, but there are many other more signals that happen prior to sniffing. Puppies that pace, seem distracted and walk away from play are subtly signaling that they have to go out. If your puppy tries to sneak out of the room, take a potty break right away.
You should always accompany your puppy outside for potty breaks. You’re there not only to ensure that he actually goes, you’re also there to reward your puppy with a treat for going in the proper spot. Wait until your puppy finishes eliminating and immediately give him a tasty reward for a job well done. If you wait until you get back in the house, your puppy won’t make the connection between his elimination and the reward.
It also helps to teach your puppy a “potty phrase” when you take him outside for a bathroom break. A potty phrase is a way to gently remind your puppy what he needs to do when he’s outside. It’s a big help during the potty training phase of puppyhood and you can continue to use for the rest of his life. Pick a phrase like “hurry up” or “go ahead” and say it softly right as your puppy eliminates. In time your dog will associate the phrase with the act of elimination, so you can say it when your puppy gets distracted and forgets what he needs to do outside.
Sometimes, despite all of your hard work, your puppy might slip up and eliminate in the house. If you catch him in the act, make an abrupt noise to stop him then quickly bring him outside and give him a reward for finishing in the right spot (it’s okay if you take him out and he doesn’t go). Don’t punish your dog for the accident; simply clean it up with an appropriate odor eliminator and vow to watch him more diligently in the future.
How Long Does it Take to Potty Train a Puppy?
Unfortunately, there is no magic length of time or milestone age when a puppy can be considered fully housetrained and there are many factors that go into how quickly a puppy can be potty trained. Your puppy’s age plays a major role during the initial phase of potty training, as a very young puppy won’t have the muscle control necessary to hold it for long periods of time.
One of the biggest predictors of a speedy potty training process is owner diligence. If you’re on top of your puppy’s schedule and you stick to a strict prevention and supervision regiment, you should be well on your way to potty training success within a few months. You can consider your puppy almost fully housetrained when you’ve gone an entire month without a single accident, but keep in mind that potty training is an inexact science. It’s best to have several dry months before you can really trust that your puppy understands the rules.
Potty Training an Older Dog
Just because your new dog is old enough that he should know where to potty doesn’t mean that he actually does. An adult dog has the necessary muscle control to hold it for longer periods of time, but if no one ever taught him the potty training rules then he’s the equivalent of a brand new puppy. Age should not be equated with housetraining prowess, so it’s a good idea to treat any dog new to your home as if he’s still learning the potty training ropes.
The process is the exactly same for older dogs as it is for puppies; prevent accidents from happening by using baby gates and a crate if possible, create a predictable schedule, learn to recognize your dog’s potty signals, accompany your dog outside and immediately reward for all outdoor elimination, properly clean any accidents and supervise your dog until you’re sure that he understands the rules.
Image: Suzi Nelson / via Shutterstock