The Best Way to Potty Train a Puppy
As every pet owner of a puppy knows, potty training can be…well, a messy subject.
The good news is that dogs are naturally clean animals and puppies will actually try very hard not to soil their eating or sleeping spaces. “As soon as they can crawl, they leave the whelping box and do their business in front of it,” says Steffi Trott, owner of and head trainer at SpiritDog Training in Albuquerque. “They have a solid understanding that there are areas for sleeping, eating, playing—and going potty.”
Keeping this in mind will help you during the housebreaking process—and hopefully make it happen as quickly as possible. Here are some tips on making it all work.
Make the Space Smaller
For a puppy, a home is a very large, confusing space. In his mind, inside his new big home, there are many different eating, sleeping, playing and bathroom places. “It’s difficult for him to understand that, even though our house is so vast, he is not allowed to potty anywhere within it,” Trott says.
This is why one of the easiest and most successful ways to potty-train a puppy is to “make the house smaller” for your pup—if he doesn’t have a complete run of the house, he won’t be able to randomly go off into another room when he needs to pee. “If you can, for example, have him in only your living room, kept in by baby gates. He will be much less likely to potty in this smaller space,” Trott says.
As he gets older and used to holding it or letting you know when it’s time to go, you can expand his access to the house one extra room at a time.
Dealing With Accidents
If you catch your puppy about to go potty inside (but before he actually does), Trott recommends picking him up and carrying him outside right away. “You can usually tell he is getting ready to go by seeing him sniff the ground intently, turning in circles and then squatting down,” Trott says.
If you catch your puppy after the act, it’s too late to fix the issue this time around. “Never punish him,” says Trott. “It is impossible for him to understand that you are punishing him for the choice of bathroom place. Instead, you will seem unpredictable and scary—not the way you want your puppy to think about you!”
Getting Into a Routine
The younger your puppy is, the shorter the time he can hold it before he really, really has to go. For example, Trott points out that most puppies have to poop about 5-30 minutes after eating. And if you are feeding kibble, your dog will get thirsty after eating and drink a bunch of water at once, making a pee accident also more likely. “As a general rule, puppies need to be taken outside: After every meal, after waking up, after playing, and other than that about every 20-30 minutes when they are very young (8-10 weeks of age),” according to Trott.
As they get older, you can take them out less frequently, but Trott suggests that ‘taking the dog out’ means more than just ‘opening the door and letting him out.’ “Many puppies get so excited by all the scents, squirrels to chase, grass to eat, that they actually do not potty right away,” says Trott. “If you don’t actually supervise your puppy and watch him do his business, don’t assume that he has gone potty.”
Praise, Praise, Praise
Reinforcement in house-training means that every time your pup gets it right (goes outside instead of inside), he should be rewarded. For example, every time your pup goes potty outside, tell him he’s a great dog and offer a treat, such as The Honest Kitchen’s Pecks training treats.
“We really want the dog to find the behavior of urinating outside to be the best thing ever, and reinforcement is the name of the game here,” says Kristi Benson, who holds a Certificate in Training and Counseling (CTC) from the Academy for Dog Trainers. “And since reinforcement must come immediately after the dog potties, this means that the owner must be outside with them…every time.”
Because reinforcement is such an important part of the training, Benson points out that it helps to plan ahead. “When I was potty training our puppy recently, it was mid-winter in frigid Manitoba,” Benson says. “I just kept a baggie of treats in our porch right next to my giant snow-suit—this allowed me to quickly suit up and head outside with our pup, and meant I was always prepared to reinforce good performance.”
Are Some Breeds Harder to Potty-Train?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes—some breeds are notorious for being very difficult to potty train. “These are mostly small breeds, such as for example Italian Greyhounds,” says Trott. “I have worked with some clients whose small dogs were not completely potty-trained until they were one year old!”
If you are struggling with potty-training your small dog, Trott recommends making sure that he is physically healthy. “Sometimes we think our dog has troubles grasping potty concepts when they actually have a UTI that prevents them from holding in their urine for any amount of time,” Trott says. As always, contact your veterinarian if you have any doubts.