When it comes to potty training your dog, the absolute key factor in the process is maintaining a good routine. If you do this, then it’s usually a relatively simple process. Having said that, it will still take time, energy and patience. But believe us, it’s worth it! No-one wants to be the person with a house that’s forever stinking of dog urine. Put the effort in now and the rewards will be with you for the rest of your dog’s natural life.
Here in this article, we look at why potty training your dog is important. We also give an overview of the methods, offer some handy hints and tips and suggest some tools that will make the whole procedure a lot easier on you and your pet.
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Why Potty Train My Dog?
The answer to this seems obvious, but it’s worth looking at the dangers of neglecting this vital step in your dog’s development. While the urge to urinate and defecate are entirely instinctive, where and when that happens is important, and is something that can be taught.
If you allow your dog to poop or pee in your home, it can rapidly become a bad habit that’s even harder to break in future. Animals left to toilet at will quickly develop particular preferences for places, types of surface and scents they have left in the past and will continue to pee or poop in those places, despite your subsequent best efforts.
You may see the term ‘substrate preference’ if you’re looking for guidance on training your puppy in pottying. This refers to the surface which becomes familiar and comfortable to your pooch when he’s looking for somewhere to do his business. So if he’s lived in a shelter, he may well be used to ‘going’ on hard floors, for instance. If he’s been allowed to roam unchecked for any length of time, he may not have a preference, but will do his business anywhere.
In either case, it’s up to you as his owner and leader of his pack to demonstrate to him which type of surface you’d prefer him to use.
When Should I Start Potty Training My Puppy?
Consult your vet before starting, but the general consensus is that dogs can begin potty training between three and four months of age. By this point in his growth and development, he should be able to control his bowel and bladder movements independently and learn when he needs to hold the urge in.
How Long Does Potty Training a Puppy Take?
The usual estimate for timescales in house training a puppy is between four and six months. That’s with a lot of patience and determination too, as well as praise and encouragement. Some breeds can take up to a year. It’s not a job for the faint hearted! A few factors can affect the speed with which you’ll get your dog properly potty trained and these include:
- The breed of dog. Generally, the smaller the breed, the longer it may take. That’s because littler dogs have faster metabolisms and smaller bladders, and so will need to go more frequently. That can lead to more accidents which can in turn confuse the process.
- Your dog’s history. If you own a rescue dog, for instance, or your puppy is older than four months when he comes home with you, he may have gotten into bad habits in his previous environment. It may then take longer to ‘cure’ him of those and establish healthy new ones.
- Your dog’s overall health. Some health problems may need treating before you can expect your puppy to become toilet trained. These include psychological problems such as stress and separation anxiety, for instance.
How to Get Started on Potty Training Your Dog
The good news is that most dogs are naturally motivated to keep their living areas clean and so will welcome the opportunity to learn to toilet in an appropriate spot. Still, it will take time to reinforce positive habits, so be prepared to be patient and for accidents to happen from time to time. Always remember that a dog is not defecating or urinating out of spite, but either to satisfy a natural urge or in some cases as a response to stress. It’s up to you to set the pattern for correct behavior and stick to it.
While the aim is to have your puppy able to hold his bladder or bowels until he’s in the right place to go, initially you’ll have to be guided by his instincts. In brief, a small puppy will need to go at least once every hour or two. Other prompts include:
- The need to pee as soon as he wakes up;
- The urge to pee and poop within around half an hour of having eaten; and
- Urinating unexpectedly whenever he becomes excited.
Keeping a record of times he goes can help you recognize the signs and patterns of when he needs toileting, so you can build your training plan around them. Also, using a crate to contain him at times in the early stages will give you a better chance of identifying when he needs to go and prevent him finding his own spots to relieve himself while he’s out of your sight.
So what are the signs that he might need to go? Well, whining, sniffing, barking or circling the same spot are all indications; as is scratching at the door if he’s not in his crate. As soon as you see any of these signals, drop everything and take him outside!
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Remember that the times and signals when your dog needs to go apply 24/7! While he won’t need to go ask often as during the daytime, that means you’ll be getting up throughout the night with him for quite a while… Before your own bedtime, give him one last bathroom break, then set your alarm for around five hours later and take him out then again. In the meantime, barking or whimpering at night could be indications he needs a quick trip outside. Then take him out first thing in the morning too.
What To Do and Not to Do When Potty Training
- Don’t ever punish your dog for having an accident. He may become nervous or paranoid about going in front of you. If you find an accident in the home after the event, don’t punish him for this either. He won’t understand the connection between the puddle and the punishment!
- Don’t rush him back into the house as soon as he’s done his business. If he’s pee’d, he may still need to poop and vice versa.
- Don’t leave your puppy alone too long in the house. If he’s forced to use an emergency toilet inside, it could set a precedent. Make sure you take your puppy out to toilet before you leave him, to prevent accidents while you’re away.
- Don’t expect ‘dry nights’ while your dog is still young. His bladder is too small for this to be realistic at this stage.
- Don’t use ammonia-based cleaning substances to clean up any indoor messes. The smell may encourage them to use the spot in future.
- Do have a consistent feeding routine. You’ll soon notice the link between when he eats and when he needs toileting afterwards, which can help avoid accidents.
- Do praise good behavior and reward your dog with treats and even a brief period of play. He’ll come to associate the two events.
- Do find your puppy a safe spot to toilet from the outset. If there is too much noise or distraction, he may be put off using it. Try and use the same spot in the garden every time. The remaining scent will help him associate the location with the urge to poop or pee.
- Until he’s fully house trained, do stay with him while he’s in the garden so you’re on hand to dish out praise for eliminating outside. This helps reinforce good habits.
If you catch your dog in the act while in the house, it’s worth repeating that it’s counterproductive to shout at him or punish him. Instead, clap your hands firmly and lead him outside to carry on in the right place. Then, when he’s done his business, reward him with praise and a small treat to let him know he’s done well.
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What Are Pee Pads?
Often used in potty training a dog, these are small square or rectangular sheets of layered material which are absorbent enough to soak up your dog’s urine. They have a plastic layer on the bottom to prevent urine soaking through to carpets and other floor surfaces. Some of the attractive features of brands on the market include:
- Adhesive tabs, like nappies, but which enable them to be affixed to a hard floor;
- Attractants – scents that will encourage you puppy to do his or her business on the pee pad rather than elsewhere in your home. These include the scent of fresh grass; ammonia; or synthetics pheromones.
- Treatment with odor eliminating chemicals or scents to reduce the smell factor in your home. These neutralize and eliminate odors.
These can be useful for owners whose dogs don’t have fast access to an outside space to toilet; for smaller breeds that need toileting more frequently or have a dislike of the great outdoors; for sick or convalescing dogs; or for dogs that have to be left alone for longer periods of time than is desirable.
If you’re planning on using pee pads, place them in a quiet location but not too far away that the dog has to hunt them down. Avoid putting them close to the dog’s food or water – few dogs appreciate soiling where they eat.
However, it is best to position them on a hard surface (tile, laminate or linoleum, for example) rather than carpet, as your dog may ‘miss’. Try and use the same location every time so your dog knows where to find the pad when he needs it.
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What Is an Indoor Dog Potty?
The indoor dog potty is an advance on puppy pee pads. As well as being a good tool in the potty training experience, they have other uses for dogs that:
- Haven’t got easy access to a safe space outdoors to do their business;
- Live in areas where the climate makes it undesirable for them to be out from time to time;
- Live with their owners in apartments with no garden; or with only a patio or balcony as an outdoor space;
- Have bladder issues due to age or illness; and/ or
- Are very tiny
So what types are available? You’ll find they come in different designs and sizes and also different materials forming the substrate layer. For example, some incorporate artificial turf or real grass; others use litter or other absorbent materials. Make your decision by considering which is most similar to the surface you want your dog to learn to use for future once potty training is complete.
What to Do If Your Dog Appears to Be Resisting Potty Training
We’ve already noted that for some dogs, toilet training can take a long time, especially if they’ve come to your home with bad habits. The important thing to remember about the whole process is patience and consistency will usually pay off. Don’t let one or two accidents put you off your stride: immediately return to your training routine.
If potty training doesn’t appear to be going well, then unfortunately, more often than not it’s the owner’s fault rather than the dog’s. Before you panic, examine the routine you’ve put in place and whether there are any changes you could make that will work better. If your puppy roams the house freely, for instance, then it may be time to invest in a crate. If your dog isn’t using the pee pads you’re providing consistently, then maybe they’re positioned in the wrong place or he doesn’t like the scent of this brand. Try tweaks to your schedule and methods if accidents are routinely happening.
But if your dog continues to resist all attempts to develop good habits, then a trip to the vet’s surgery is essential. There could well be a medical reason why it’s just not working for your pup and this needs to be ruled out. Your vet may also have more tips on training especially stubborn dogs in the most desirable ways to toilet.
- Mara Bovsun, How To Potty Train Puppies: A Comprehensive Guide for Success, The American Kennel Club
- How to House-Tain Your Dog or Puppy, The Humane Society of The United States