Puppies don’t come knowing where the bathroom is. We need to show them and make it reinforcing to eliminate in the puppy potty, prevent the opportunity for making a mistake, and reinforce when they get it right.
While you are introducing potty manners your not-yet-housetrained puppies should be:
- outside eliminating
- inside in a place where they won’t eliminate such as a crate, a small playpen, or tethered to you by a leash on your belt. (If you choose the belt, make sure that it is loose when your puppy is by your side.)
- inside under your direct and active supervision. Simply being in the same room isn’t enough because puppies are fast!
Take your puppy out on a schedule, each hour at first, and immediately after:
- the “zoomies”
- having a special chew
- waking up
- breathing… (okay, this last one is a joke, but you get the point!)
Take your puppy to the spot where you’d like her to eliminate on-leash, and once there the sure the leash is relaxed so that she can explore her spot without leash pressure. As your puppy finishes up eliminating quietly say “yes” or “good”, and feed a tasty treat, every single time. This helps her be comfortable eliminating when on-leash and when close to you, as well as helping her understand that eliminating in her special spot is a behavior that will earn good things. Once she’s becoming consistent you can occasionally walk with her off-leash to her spot if you have a fenced yard.
Avoid waiting forever for your puppies to eliminate and immediately whisking them back inside, because this teaches them to hold it so as to extend their time outdoors. It also punishes them for eliminating outside, by taking the fun away right after they pee or poo.
Rather, take them out for five or so minutes. If they eliminate say “yes” or “good”, feed a wonderful treat such as real chicken, and stay outside for fun and games. If they don’t eliminate, go back inside, watch them like a hawk for 15 minutes, and go back outside again. Repeat this pattern until they eliminate, use your “yes” or “good”, feed a wonderful treat, and stay outside and play.
Pees and Cues:
Once your puppy is eliminating in her special spot regularly, add a “cue”—your special name for her potty behavior, and the word you use to ask her to eliminate. Some choices are:
- “Hurry up”
- “Go potty”
- …or whatever word you’d like to use
As your puppy is just beginning to finish eliminating, quietly say your cue, and as your puppy finishes say a quiet “yes” or “good”, and feed a tasty treat. Now when you go outside you’ll say your special potty word earlier and earlier in the potty process, until you are saying your word before your puppy eliminates, to cue her to eliminate.
Continue to follow the behavior with “yes” or “good” and a treat, even once you think she knows the behavior. Don’t stop rewarding potty manners … or any behavior for that matter … all at once. Occasionally offer an alternative reinforcement such as the opportunity to chase you, or a game with your puppy’s favorite toy instead, but continue to use food reinforcement frequently. Many behaviors suffer from reducing or eliminating the reinforcement too soon. Even once you’ve gradually moved on to alternative rewards, occasionally surprise your puppy with a treat, just to keep things interesting.
Alternatives in challenging settings:
Certain factors can add difficulty to the potty training regimen, such as living in a high-rise apartment without immediate access to the outdoors, or extremely inclement weather such as a blizzard or hurricane. For these situations, consider creating an indoor potty spot. If the spot is to be permanent, train it in the same way that you train your outdoor potty spot. I recommend using a substrate that mimics the outdoor potty such as astroturf, or actual sod. There are some products to consider listed after this article.
Many people choose to use pee pads, and have good success. That said, I’ve worked with puppies who seem to have difficulty discriminating between pee pads and similarly soft rugs, adding a challenge when it’s time to fade the pads.
If your indoor elimination location is intermittent or temporary you will need to be clear when it is no longer the potty, by removing the potty items, and preventing access except when you are present and actively supervising. You’ll maintain this for 4-5 weeks without error, and continue vigilance beyond that.
Some indoor elimination locations might be:
- a bathroom, laundry, or utility room that can be easily closed when you are not using it as a pooch potty
- a garage—useful for inclement weather challenges
- a balcony if you have one, and it is safely walled off
What if my puppy gets it wrong?
Never punish your puppy for having an “accident”. The days of the rolled-up newspaper to punish for a potty mistake are long gone. Punishment doesn’t teach our puppies anything other than the fact that it is not safe to eliminate near us. We want our puppies to always feel safe with us, and we also want them to be comfortable eliminating when out on leash with us. Also, punishing our puppies for an elimination error can cause them to seek hiding places in which to eliminate, such as a far corner of a little-used room, or behind that big chair.
Potty errors let us know that we need to adjust our management so that they don’t have the opportunity to eliminate indoors, and that we may need to take them outside more often.
After an “accident” remove any solid waste, and use an enzymatic cleaner to clean soiled surfaces and materials.
Keep in mind that dogs don’t know where the bathroom is in a new place. Aunt Maisy’s living room might be the bathroom. After all, it’s not the place that your dog knows is not the bathroom. Be sure to take your dog outside frequently when in a new location while they’re figuring things out.
Here are links to some helpful items:
Way to Go, This booklet by Patricia McConnell is a great resource if you need a bit more support in your potty training.
Hard to House Train, by Peggy Swager is intended as a reference for trainers, but is written in language that should be accessible to all.
Skout’s Honor professional strength stain and odor remover
Skout’s Honor urine destroyer
Nature’s Miracle stain and odor remover
Doggie Lawn: real grass
Fresh Patch: real grass
Dog Grass Pee Pad Potty: artificial grass
Giantex Dog Puppy Pet Potty: artificial grass
Porch Potty: real or artificial grass