Puppy Potty Training: Housebreaking Time

Whether you are bringing home a new puppy or a full-grown rescue, you must be prepared for the fact that the dog will not know where you expect him or her to go to the bathroom unless you potty train your puppy. You should expect many accidents before your dog is reliably potty trained, meaning that you will probably restrict your dog to certain areas of the house until you are sure he or she has figured out what you want him or her to do.

Trained dog using a potty
While you may not get your dog to use a toilet, you can teach him where he should go.

Is the bathroom inside or outside?

The most fundamental decision you must make is whether you want your dog to have a place indoors where he or she can take care of business or if you want the bathroom to be strictly outdoors. Many factors go into this decision, including your work schedule or other activities that keep you away from your dog, the layout of your home and yard, and whether or not you will have a doggy door to allow your dog to come and go as he or she pleases.

The average puppy will need to make water every two to three hours, and most of us have work schedules that prevent us from walking a dog this often. For this reason, many people decide to paper train the dog or use an indoor dog potty to keep the dog from having to cross his or her legs for too long.

Adult dogs may be able to make it through an 8-hour work day, but smaller breeds with correspondingly smaller bladders may have a tough time with this. Geriatric dogs will begin to have trouble holding their waste for long periods and may cause you to go back to an indoor system if you have to be away from home for long periods of time, even if your dog had waited for you in the past.

Outdoor Potty Training

If your dog’s bathroom will be strictly outside, training will consist of two components: teaching your dog where the bathroom is, and teaching him not to relieve him/her-self elsewhere. The minute you bring your new dog of whatever age to your home, walk him or her around the area where you want him to use the restroom. Let the dog sniff the area and try to stay out there until the dog does his or her duty. If the area is scented from another dog, so much the better. Praise the dog as soon as the deed is done. Showing appreciation for his or her hard work and maybe giving a small treat will go a long way toward cementing the lesson in the dog’s brain.

Your dog wants nothing so much as to please you, so praise is an invaluable training tool. Consistency is also key. About every two hours, lead your dog back to the designated area. You may encourage the dog by saying, “let’s go potty” in an excited voice. The dog will come to associate the word “potty” with the desired behavior. The dog should also be taken to the potty spot about 20 minutes to a half hour after each meal. Don’t forget to continue the training overnight. Set your alarm if necessary, as your dog’s bladder doesn’t understand the difference between night and day.

After your dog eliminates outside, don’t clean it up right away unless you are worming the dog. Leaving some of the mess to “scent” the area will encourage the dog to go again next time.

To keep your dog from soiling inside the house, crate training is invaluable. A dog will typically not use the bathroom close to where he has to sleep. If you buy a crate that is large enough to allow your dog to turn around, but not so large that he or she can urinate at one end and sleep at the other, s/he will quickly learn that s/he doesn’t want to soil his or her living quarters in the crate. Be fair! Don’t expect the dog to gain bladder control just because he or she is stuck in a crate. You will still need to lead the dog to the designated bathroom spot every few hours day and night.

When your dog does have the inevitable accident indoors, you should show the dog the mess and tell him or her “no” very firmly, then lead the dog outside to the designated bathroom spot. If your yard is fenced, leave the dog outside until you get the mess cleaned up. There is no need to rub the dog’s nose in the mess or to spank the dog. Both of these methods are abusive and counter-productive. The only thing you should use a rolled-up newspaper for is to slap it against your hand if you need to get the dog’s attention.

Puppy beside a fire hydrant
One decision to make is whether he should go to the bathroom inside or outside.

Indoor Training

Training your dog to use the bathroom indoors is slightly easier, if only because your dog can get to his or her bathroom without your having to open the door. Again, training has two key components: teaching the dog where to go, and teaching the dog where NOT to go.

The simplest bathroom to set up inside your home is several layers of newspaper. When the dog goes to the bathroom, you simply remove the top layer, leaving behind the scent to attract your dog the next time the urge strikes.

Many companies make dog potties that involve some sort of fake grass and a pan to catch urine as it leaks through. The pan is emptied and the grass can be cleaned in a shower, bathtub or with the garden hose. The different manufacturers boast different designs which are meant to provide better protection for your home and / or attract the dog to the system more reliably.

The training process is analogous to that for outdoor potties. Lead your dog to the potty, keep him or her there until the deed is done, then praise the dog as if you’ve conquered Westminster! Repeat this process until your dog gets the idea and begins to go to the correct spot of his or her own accord.

Preserving your carpets during potty training

The best place to keep an untrained dog when he or she isn’t in a crate is a small, non-carpeted area. Baby gates can help restrict your dog to rooms that don’t have regular doors such as kitchens or laundry rooms. This arrangement allows your dog to have room to play (preferably with you), while still allowing your carpets to survive the experience. Place the dog’s food and water at one end of the room, toys in the middle, and newspapers or indoor potty at the other end. This allows the dog to have a designated eating spot, a play spot, and a potty spot. You may also place a bed near the toys or food and water dishes, if desired.

A dog bed or blanket should never be used in a crate, as it allows the dog to urinate, soak up the urine in the towel or bed, then scoot the mess to one end of the crate. He or she can then sleep in dry comfort, even though a mess has been made. You want the dog to associate bathroom accidents with having to be wet and uncomfortable to encourage proper bathroom use. This isn’t mean; it’s simply a way to provide natural consequences to help your dog learn what you want. Clean the bottom of the kennel each time you take the dog out, so he or she gets a fresh start each time the crate is used.

Good luck! With patience and consistency, even the most stubborn dog will eventually learn to go to the bathroom where you think it is appropriate rather than wherever the urge strikes.

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