POTTY 
TRAINING 
BASICS

  or, Pees and Poos happen!
 

It is an undeniable fact that puppies need to eliminate. The frustrating part is the communication barrier as well as the lack of understanding about where and when it is appropriate to eliminate. Puppies come to us with the simple motto: "If I have to, then I'll do it." This pertains to eating, sleeping (ever see a pup fall over asleep in mid-play?), activity, exploration AND elimination! Puppies do not understand anything more than that. It is up to us to establish a bridge of understanding if they are to live with us harmoniously. We are the ones with all the requirements, not them! They'd be just as happy to take care of their needs the way they already know.

The most successful potty training methods consist of four key elements:

1. Confinement
2. Training
3. Timing
4. Praise

This article will discuss them all and also answer common housebreaking questions and address some special cases.

Confinement

Puppies (or dogs who don't yet understand where it is appropriate to eliminate) need to be confined in order to facilitate the easiest potty training. The BEST and most effective place to confine is in a crate or cage (more about crates in an upcoming article). At this point (new introduction to potty training) don't leave anything on the bottom of the crate (blanket, newspaper, etc.). Puppy will make a project out of destroying it. Most dogs do NOT want to eliminate where they live, therefore the crate needs to be just large enough for puppy to turn around and lay down. Anything larger will encourage a puppy to eliminate at one end and sleep in the other. For those puppies who will grow quite a bit larger, use a crate that is sized for an adult and partition it to a smaller size using a homemade insert or a crate insert made by the crate company to fit your crate.

Training and Praise

When I teach a new dog (or puppy) where to eliminate, I ALWAYS use a leash. Leashes keep your dog close to you, where you can supervise and control everything that happens. Puppies, especially, are easily distracted. A blowing leaf, new flower, stick, another animal - all can take a puppy's mind off the matter at hand. If you are near the puppy (or dog) with the leash in hand, a gentle tug will redirect away from the curiosity. Leashes are also good to help teach an AREA to eliminate (behind the garage, etc.). With a leash, you just take the dog there every time.

I also teach words for elimination. This way, when the puppy understands what the words mean, he will understand WHAT I want as well as WHEN I want it to happen. My words are "go potty" for urination and "go poop" for defecation. Your choice can be ANY word or phrase you want to use consistently (such as, "hurry up", "do your business", "get busy", "let's go", "tinkles", etc.). Remember when you choose your word or phrase that you will be repeating it A LOT!

As I take my dog outside on a leash, I start to teach him the word "OUTSIDE". "Let's go OUTSIDE!". "Do you have to go "OUTSIDE"? "OUTSIDE! OUTSIDE!" In time, the dog will learn that the word OUTSIDE is associated with elimination. Eventually you will be able to ask the dog "do you have to go OUTSIDE?" and get a response like barking, running to the door or tail wagging.

Using the Leash & Words to Teach

A slip-type leash is quick and easy to slip on the puppy to take him outside. If the puppy isn't used to the leash yet, slip the leash on and carry the puppy from his crate to outside, saying the entire time "Do you want to go outside? Let's go outside! Outside! Outside! Yay! Outside!". Your emphasis should be on the word "OUTSIDE". Once outside, set puppy down and change your mantra to your word/phrase "Go Potty! Go Potty! Let's Go Potty!". Let puppy sniff and move around a little, but keep him in a general area. Each time he gets distracted (leaf, squirrel, etc.) give the leash a tug and repeat "Go Potty!". The command is generally not said in a firm or angry way and not in a soft or pleading way either - it is usually said in an encouraging tone. When elimination occurs, use a happy tone and repeat "GOOD Go Potty! Yay! Go Potty!". I prefer to use WORDS ONLY to reinforce elimination, because petting or treats can interrupt the act. Verbal praise needs to happen DURING the act, not after! Usually dogs will urinate first, then defecate. You need to become familiar with your dog's habits so you can wait for defecation and use a command for it (i.e.; "more potty", "go poop", etc.).

Did you know??

Contrary to popular belief, winter is usually the EASIEST time to potty train. Nobody wants to spend much time outside, especially puppy, and distractions are at a minimum.

More on word training and tone of voice
More about puppy's first collar and leash

Timing

Puppies (and dogs) earn freedom by eliminating appropriately. The best time for a puppy to be out of his crate is AFTER eliminating appropriately outside. This free time will still need to be strictly supervised, so any inclination toward inappropriate elimination can be immediately addressed. Baby gates are great for limiting a puppy's area of freedom. A short, inexpensive leash (4ft or so) attached to the puppy's collar (ALWAYS SUPERVISED, of course) works well and enables the owner to catch a quick puppy without grabbing for him (which, ultimately, can create a fearful dog). This works well when he needs to be corrected for inappropriate behaviors like chewing, eating things, digging or eliminating indoors.

The BEST rule of thumb is to ANTICIPATE the need!

As a general rule, the length of time a puppy can be left confined in his create without going outside is roughly equal to his age in months:
2 months old = 2 hours of confinement without a potty break
3 months old = 3 hours of confinement without a potty break
4 months old = 4 hours of confinement without a potty break
etc. - up to about 6 - 8 months of age.

ANY time there is a change in activity, such as after waking, playing, or eating, puppy MUST be taken outside!

Your puppy will also give certain indications each time he needs to eliminate: abrupt stop of play, circling, sniffing, running out of the room, a "look" on his face. You will eventually become familiar with these "warning signs".

Accidents

All is not lost if puppy eliminates in the house or in his crate! If you catch him in the act, make an abrupt noise (clap hands, say Angh Angh) and use a firm low voice to illustrate your displeasure. "Bad dog! Bad! Outside to do this!" (voice starts to get friendlier now) "Let's go OUTSIDE! Outside!" (now in normal command voice) "Go Potty. GOOD DOG go potty!" Use a lot of cheerful praise if he finishes outside.

Remember, you MUST catch puppy IN THE ACT of inappropriate elimination to facilitate an effective lesson. Rubbing his nose in "it" afterward (even by just a few moments) only teaches him that "doo doo" in the house gets him in trouble. "Oh no", you say, "my dog KNOWS!". Well, not really. A behaviorist once told me he illustrated this to a skeptical client by sending the client out of the house while he collected stool from the backyard and set it in the middle of the living room. The client was invited back into the house and the dog ran and hid! Here's another example of how dogs think: Puppy poops where he shouldn't and wanders into another room to quietly chew a bone. The owner finds the poop, locates the puppy and drags him to the mess and stuffs his nose in it. Puppy wonders, "I was off chewing my bone and now I'm getting my nose shoved into this mess! I just don't get it! I get punished for chewing my bone?"

TIMING...of catching the puppy in the act in order to correct and teach...of PRAISE for appropriate elimination...is everything and CONSISTENCY is the key! Proper behavior must be praised EVERY TIME you give a command and it is followed. I still do it for Bailey, and she is 9 years old!

One last thought to ponder while dealing with the frustrations of potty training:

a puppy that has NEVER eliminated in the house and been CAUGHT and CORRECTED has not yet learned that it is wrong. There MUST be "accidents" in order for REAL learning to take place!

Common Questions and Problems

"What about paper-training?"

The old method of paper training can still be effective, however it adds unnecessary time and mess to the whole picture. Owners will have MUCH more cleanup and mess and smell with papers and they will STILL have to use the papers to transition puppy to the outside.

"My puppy goes outside, then comes in and poops on the floor...!"

You, as the owner/trainer, are at fault here. You are missing the two BIG keys in successful potty training: 

  1. You MUST accompany your puppy outside WITH a leash on to supervise elimination and 

  2. Freedom in the house is only earned by appropriate elimination outside. No pees or poos - NO FREEDOM, and puppy goes back in his crate. Next, the owner checks again in a time frame of 20 minutes to an hour and takes puppy outside on the LEASH for another opportunity to eliminate appropriately and earn freedom.

"I stand at the door and watch while my puppy goes potty outside. When he is finished and comes back in, he gets a treat. Why do I have to go out with my puppy?"

Your puppy is getting his treat for coming back into the house, NOT for appropriate elimination. Praise MUST happen DURING elimination to make the connection in puppy's mind. Some dogs will run outside and run back in without eliminating because they know they'll get a treat. This can also encourage frequent demands to go out - just so they can get a treat when they come in!

"I leave my puppy outside to play for an hour or more, then I bring him in and he eliminates. Why couldn't he just do it while he was outside?"

Well, he probably DID eliminate when he first went out, but he didn't have to go later, and he certainly doesn't have the human capacity to think "Well, my owner is probably going to take me inside soon, so I'd better get my business done while I'm outside!" YOU need to remind a puppy who has been outside for a while to "Go Potty!".

"When will I know if my dog is housebroken?"

Appropriate elimination FIRST happens primarily because we, as owners, control it. We are working, when we potty train, to establish a HABIT, and that will usually take two to three months, depending on how consistent and persistent you are as the owner/trainer.

Here are some indications your dog/puppy understands the program:

  •  "Accidents" in the house and/or crate have decreased during the training period to none or almost none.

  •  When you use your commands for elimination, your puppy responds by eliminating.

  • Your puppy starts to "ask" to go outside by barking, running to the door, staring at you, or in some other way.

  • The freedom you give your puppy is mostly "accident" free.

"My puppy wakes me up at 3AM EVERY NIGHT! I take him out, he pees and then wants to play. I play with him for a while and put him back in his crate where he cries for some time before he settles down. How do I break him of this?"

Nighttime needs should diminish quickly as the puppy gets older. At first, you may need to get up 2-3 times nightly for a 7-week-old pup. That frequency should quickly reduce to once a night for a 9-week-old pup. When a puppy cries in the night, you DO have to check on him - it's the only way he has to tell you there is a problem. YOU will soon learn which cries are "fussing" and which indicate a real need. Remember when I said you are working to establish a HABIT when potty training? Well, if you get up during the night to take puppy out and then play with him, you are establishing a nighttime play routine habit! Any nighttime trips outside should be all "business only": outside then back in the crate - PERIOD! Temporarily removing access to water by 7 or 8 p.m. will also help.


Special problems...

Dogs or puppies purchased from a pet shop or other place where they were always kept in a small cage.

These dogs never had a choice and HAD to eliminate where they lived. Owners must devote extra time to take such dogs outside more frequently in order to get elimination outside rather than in the crate. Elaborate praise when they "go" is essential so they learn that life is better all around when they eliminate outside. Elimination in the crate should be ignored and just cleaned up at first - with no correction or harsh words. Later, as the dog starts to understand "going outside" a little better, the same corrections used when your dog has an accident on the floor (see "Accidents" above) can be used for crate soiling. Training these dogs takes a lot of patience and time.

About small breeds and "Sneaking"

Some people say that small breeds can be difficult, if not impossible to potty train. This is NOT because they are stupid - actually they are rather smart; smart enough to sneak to out of the way places to make their deposits instead of asking to go outside. This just requires MORE vigilance on the owner's part, and LESS freedom for the dog. If necessary, the owner needs to attach the other end of the leash the dog is dragging to their belt loop to keep closer track of the sneak!

Submissive Urination

"When I come home from work and let my dog out of her crate, she urinates all over when I'm greeting her. I yell at her and she pees more! Why does she DO that?"

What you dog is doing is called submissive urination. It is NOT a housebreaking problem. She is telling you that she recognizes that you are the leader. When you yell at her, she pees more to say "Yes, I KNOW that you are alpha!" Usually submissive urination resolved by 2 years of age, but Bailey, my Golden Retriever, sometimes still does it at 9 years.

Things you can do to deter submissive urination:

  1.  DO NOT bend over the top of the dog, especially when greeting. That is a dominant position.

  2. For some reason, sweet, happy talk makes dogs urinate - so happy greetings with a lot of conversation should be avoided.

  3. DO NOT pet your dog to greet her - the best thing to do when greeting a submissive urinator is to fold your arms across your chest, turn and ignore, but encourage your dog to go outside right away. Praise when she urinates outside, and then you should be able to greet.

  4. When visitors come over, have them greet your dog (on leash) outside on the porch or grass to avoid messes in the house.

  5. DO NOT yell at your dog for being "bad" - this isn't being "bad" at all! It is actually dog language affirming your leadership.

Spitefulness?

"When I leave the house, my dog frequently leaves me "presents" of stool and/or urine. I know he hates me to leave, and I'm sure he's doing it out of spite."

Dogs by nature are not spiteful animals. That is too much of a human emotion and too much reasoning: "If she leaves, then I'm going to poop on the floor because I know she HATES that! That'll teach her to leave me here alone!"

Usually, if there is an "accident" when the owner is gone these are usually the real reasons.

  • I forgot to do my business outside (this is where my own dogs fit in!)

  • I'm really not reliably potty trained and I don't completely understand the concept.

  • I waited by the door to go outside but I couldn't get out and I just couldn't wait any longer!

  • You left me all alone in this house! This is a BIG job, and we usually watch over the house together as a pack. This is too stressful for me. I'm so stressed I have to poop!

  • I have too much freedom - and too soon - without supervision.

If you come home to "accidents", you need to consider these steps:

  1. Backtrack on potty training - no matter what your dog's age. (We just had a brain glitch and need a refresher course)

  2. Reduce the space of freedom - either with a crate, baby gates or a room.

  3. Back to outside supervised potty breaks - with leash on so praise can be used at the right time.

  4. Make sure there is no physical cause for the problem (intestinal parasites, urinary tract infection, etc.)

Questions to ask yourself if you are having problems...

  • Am I taking the dog out enough?

  • Do I know every time he goes?

  • Does he have too much freedom in the house?

  • Am I watching him carefully when he is free in the house?

  • Is there any physical reason (intestinal parasites, urinary tract infection, etc.)?

  • Am I trying to move things along faster than this dog is able to learn - therefore skipping steps so the entire picture is unclear to my dog?

  • Am I consistently praising for appropriate behavior so he gets the idea?

 

Pam Young LVT
Dog Behavior Consultant & Trainer
pamlvt@aol.com