Learning your dog to eliminate on a designated spot is usually one of the first skills you will teach them. Using the right methods during potty training is important for good results, but also to facilitate a strong dog-owner connection. So what is the best way to potty train your dog?
Before starting potty training
Before starting potty training, it’s important to have realistic expectations. Depending on the age of your dog they might physically not have enough bladder or bowel control yet to start effective training. Most pups will gain enough control of bladder and bowel around 12 to 16 weeks old, but as every pup develops at its own pace, for some this may be sooner or later. Full bladder capacity is reached around 12 months of age, so expect your dog to need frequent bathroom breaks until that time. Some breeds are also known to be harder to toilet train, like those belonging to the toy group. During the training period, especially when you just start, accidents are normal. Potty training might take days, but can also take months, so don’t get disheartened if you don’t see progress straight away.
Potty training is all about repetition, setting your dog up for success, and rewarding the behaviour you want to see. The training should not involve punishment as this could lead to other behaviour issues, like anxiety and your dog not wanting to eliminate near you, creating a whole new set of problems. Outdated training methods like rubbing a dog’s nose in their urine should never be used.
First you will need to decide where you would want your dog to do their business. Depending on your personal situation, this might be a yard, a grass patch on the balcony, a pee pad, or only on walks outside. Adjustments to this can be made later, but might be more time consuming to achieve as certain behaviours will need to be unlearned. Especially for pups, some people use pee pads as an in-between-step to work towards them pooping and peeing outside. Do keep in mind that for some pups unlearning the pad and going outside will take more time and effort to unlearn than learning to go outside from the get go. It all boils down to what you are able to provide your dog, and in some cases moving a dog outside so many times a day will be impossible. In this case pads can offer a solution until the dog is more physically matured and can hold longer. An important note is that pee pads should never be a replacement for taking your dog on walks. As walks offer a dog more than just a bathroom break, like exercise and mental enrichment.
When you get your pup, they will just potty on the spot when they need to. If you adopted an older dog, this will be the same if they were never potty trained, or if they for a prolonged time had to pee “inside”, like in a shelter. They will have no idea of where, or when you want them to go, so treat them with love and patience. When it comes to potty training, consistently and repetition is key. You will need to take your dog to the designated potty area on a set schedule. When you start potty training this will be after every meal and drinking, after every sleep/nap, after playing, if you are using a crate after getting them out of the crate, and additionally to that every 1 to 2 hours. These are the times that your dog is most likely to pee or poop, so in turn also the time you have the most chance of them doing it in the right spot if you take them there. Don’t forget that, especially pups, will also need to go to the bathroom (several times) at night. Once you notice your dog is able to hold for a short amount of time and understands the designated bathroom spot, you can slowly extend the intervals.
When your dog is not in/on the designated potty area, you need to keep a close eye on them. They have a special way of sniffing and walking just before going to the bathroom, and once you get to know your dog you will be able to recognize this wiggle. They will over time also develop their own ways to alert you when they need to pee or poop, but you will need to keep an eye on your dog to notice these. Once you see them getting ready to go potty (or when they already started), take them to the designated potty spot.
Once the dog pees or poops on the designated spot, mark the action with a word including their name and praise your dog loads. For example, Finn peepee, good boy!!!
Does this mean you will be watching your dog almost 24/7? At the start, yes! The more poop and pee you will be able to get into the designated potty area, the faster your dog will understand the idea.
Clean any accidents up without a fuss. There are specialised enzymatic cleaners available that fully break down the urine. While normal cleaners seem to do a good job to the eye, they tend to not fully break down the urine. And while we can’t smell these minor traces, our dogs can with their excellent sense of smell, making them more likely to urinate in the same spot again.
Tools to aid you in the potty training process
Depending on where you want your dog to go to the bathroom, several setups are possible to aid you in potty training. If you can closely monitor your dog and don’t want to use pee pads, a crate can help you in potty training your dog for those few moments where you can’t keep a close eye on them. Dogs don’t like to pee and poop on the same spot as they sleep and eat, so by making a crate the sleeping and eating spot of your dog, you can prevent them from wanting to do their business there. While in the crate they will do their best to hold and make you aware when they need to go out. Especially pups will only be able to hold for short amounts of time, so ensure to take them out according to schedule, else they will still soil the crate. If you wish to use a crate for potty training, the use of one will need to be learned in a positive manner, step by step. Never lock your dog in the crate if they are uncomfortable with this as these negative experience(s) wil make them dislike the crate. A crate should never be used for punishment or locking your dog up for long extended periods of time.
If you wish to use pee pads you can use a crate in combination with a puppy pen. By creating the sleeping and eating spot in the crate, and attaching a pen and covering the floor with pads, you will automatically invite your dog to go on the pads as they most likely will not soil their sleeping spot. For bigger dogs you can find higher pens or make use of baby gates.
These tools might not be effective for dogs that have been confined in small spaces having to soil their living space before, like pups from pet shops. This is because they have gotten used to soiling their eating and sleeping areas at that point. These are mere tools though, and potty training a dog or pup without them is totally doable by supervision and consistency.
Methods to avoid
Avoid any harsh methods that involve punishment or correcting your dog. They will create different behaviour issues, anxiety and will damage the owner-dog connection. Also avoid withholding food or water. Pups need several meals a day to keep their blood sugar level stable. Removing or limiting water can lead to behaviour issues, like overdrinking when water is available. It can also lead to physical issues like UTIs and kidney stones. If you believe your dog is drinking abnormally much and because of that peeing inside, consult with a veterinarian as there may be underlying health issues.
Potty training your dog can be an easy and fast process, or take longer and require more effort. By using the right methods, a good start can be made in creating that special dog-owner bond. If potty training problems are persistent, get a vet and force free trainer involved. If your potty trained dog suddenly starts eliminating inside a vet visit will be required.