In honor of National Train Your Dog Month, I have decided to create a series of blog posts featuring…you guessed it…my favorite things! First up, since so many people purchase or adopt new puppies over the winter holidays, I’m going to cover potty training (the information works for adult dogs, too). Below are 10 tips to help potty training go smoothly, and a host of products to help you get it right!
1) Make a Puppy Hotel complete with a mini potty zone (a 36” 8-panel MidWest Metal Exercise Pen, lightweight 34” 8-panel IRIS Plastic Playpen or gated off kitchen/hallway/laundry room/bathroom – use a Evenflo Walk-Thru Clear Panel Gate, Safety 1st Perfect Fit Gate, or for larger puppies who can jump, but can’t squeeze through the bars, a Regalo Easy Step Extra Tall Walk Thru Gate). This is where you will keep your puppy any time you are not home or are otherwise unable to supervise him. The Puppy Hotel includes a crate, a no-tip water dish, durable chew toys (such as a Kong and a Nylabone, more info in my next blog!), and an indoor potty if you will be gone for more than an hour or so. I use the Spotty Indoor Dog Potty (which has the best drainage and odor control I’ve found) with Disposable Underpads inside the tray. I’m not a fan of potty pads as many dogs will shred them and/or learn to pee on area rugs and/or anything white on the floor! Another option is to use a shallow galvanized oil drip pan and then fill it with sod or whatever you intend for your dog to use as an adult. Overnight can be spent in a MidWest Life Stages Double Door Wire Crate or a PetMate Ultra Vari Kennel right next to your bed (you can move it out of your room, if desired, as the puppy matures).
2) Take your puppy to his potty zone frequently (and immediately after waking, eating, drinking, playing, training, and before & after any other exciting event such as guests coming over). Remember to pick up the food 4 hours before bed and water 2 hours before bed. Tiny or very young puppies may need to go as often as every 15 minutes during active hours, and larger or older puppies (over 4 months) may need to go every 1 to 2 hours. When confined during the day, your puppy can usually hold their bladder as many hours as they are months old, up to about 6 hours (so 4 months = 4 hours), but minus 1 for dogs who mature at less than 30lbs (so 4 months = 3 hours). Leash your puppy and help him walk to his potty zone and then either stand still holding his leash, or walk him into an exercise pen (or garden fencing) to keep him in the limited area where it is acceptable to “go.” Don’t let him wander and forget that he has to go.
3) Reward him immediately as he stands after “going,” either with a treat or a toy, and freedom/play time (it does not count if you treat him when he comes inside). The moment starts to go, tell him “go potty” and calmly praise him. The moment he stands, offer a toy or treat, and immediately set him free (open the gate/ pen, or remove the leash if you are in a safe, enclosed area). It’s play time! Be sure that you don’t punish him for going potty by ending your outdoor time as soon as goes (unless your puppy actually wants to go back inside).
4) Unless in a crate, an exercise pen, or other very small gated puppy-proofed area, your puppy should never be more that 5-10 ft away from you, and he should never be out of your sight! This is to ensure that you can interrupt any potentials accidents (potty or chewing). Don’t yell; just clap your hands and call your puppy’s name. Then try to incite a game of chase as you clap and run away. If he doesn’t follow, calmly move to step in the way or physically remove him and redirect him to the appropriate behavior (be that pottying outside, or chewing on an appropriate puppy toy of similar texture).
5) If you have a fast/agile puppy, keep a drag leash on your puppy (ideally 6-10 ft long with NO handle to get caught on things) any time he is “loose” (supervised) in your home so that you can more easily get hold of your puppy when necessary. For tiny puppies, try the 4′ Indoor Drag Line and for larger puppies, try the durable 4’ Biothane Drag Line or get the 6’ Biothane Leash and cut off the handle.
6) When in doubt, take him out! If you think he might have to go, take him out! There is no harm in taking him out “too often.” Signs he has to “go” may include: sniffing, circling, wandering off, being unable to pay attention, or suddenly barking/jumping/nipping when he had previously been calm. If he is squatting, it is too late and you missed the signs! In that case, see tip #7.
7) If you catch him in the act, clap or make a noise to get his attention, but do not scare him. Bring him to the correct spot and reward for finishing in the right spot (you may have to wait several minutes for him to remember that he has to go potty, so keep him there until he goes). If you did not catch him, it is too late to communicate with the puppy about it, so don’t attempt to correct the behavior. Either way, you need to follow the directions on an appropriate enzymatic pet “accident” cleaner (such as Nature’s Miracle Enzymatic Pet Stain & Odor Remover) and then evaluate why you weren’t aware of your dog’s need to “go” so that you can prevent any similar accident in the future. TIP: Stand on a clean, upside down potty pad or disposable underpad to absorb the accident, and move to a new spot until it comes up dry. Before you use the cleaner, you can collect a bit of the “accident” and place it where he is supposed to go – dogs will go where they smell they have been before so use that to your advantage, but make sure you clean accidents well so that he doesn’t return!
8) If there have been accidents when you weren’t present, get a black light flashlight and some sticky notes. Turn out the lights and put a sticky note everywhere it glows (all bodily fluid will glow under a black light, including urine, feces, vomit, and blood). When you turn the lights back on, you’ll know where to clean. Again, follow the instructions on the enzymatic cleaner that you purchased and clean an area twice as big as you saw glowing – urine spreads in the padding!
9) When he has had no accidents for 4 weeks, his bladder is fully formed (between 5-6 months), and you are in tune with your puppy’s schedule, you can begin to leave him “unattended” for 2-3 minutes in an area where you can spy on him after you leave the room. Make sure to potty him first! If he doesn’t “go” when you’ve left the room, you can gradually increase how long he can be left unattended (and be sure to give him toys/chews to keep him occupied). If he starts sniffing/circling like he has to “go” or attempting to chew something he shouldn’t, rush back into the room, clap your hands to get his attention, and redirect him to the correct behavior. Try again in another week or two (making sure to keep him in his pen any time you can’t watch him in the mean time).
10) If you need to transition from a portable potty zone (such as potty pads or the Spotty Indoor Dog Potty) to outside, take the potty zone outside to the area you want him to go, and wait (feel free to bring a cup of coffee and good book because it may take a while the first couple of times with all of the outside distractions). Again, keep him leashed or place him in a small fenced area/exercise pen, and let him run free (if in a safe, enclosed area) as soon as he “goes.” Toss a toy for him or otherwise engage in fun activities. This teaches him that he doesn’t get to play or continue the walk until he goes potty, and that you won’t “punish” him for going potty by bringing him inside right away and ending all the fun.
If you are still having trouble, call 714-696-1364 to sign up for a Potty Training Seminar at Calmer Canines (check the calendar for dates/times). Also, keep in mind that urinary tract infections, certain medications, digestive upset (including from changing their food), changing your own schedule, rearranging furniture, and moving can all cause issues with potty training. Finally, BE PATIENT! Most puppies will be fully potty trained by 6-9 months, and most human children take 3-5 years to be fully potty trained!