Our expert answers your questions on getting your pup to do their business
By Robyn Wolf - A Certified PetSmart Trainer
So, you’ve brought a new four-legged friend home! Food? Check. Water Bowl? Check. Treats? Double check – after all, who doesn’t like treats? Now it’s time to train for what happens after all that eating and drinking. Your dog seems to have Sit perfected, and Shake is their new favorite thing in the world – they’ve even learned Drop It! Now, if only we could get this whole Potty thing to click.
We understand, potty training can be a major stressor and understandably so. You brought a dog into your life in hopes of lifting your spirits and are justifiably frustrated when Fido chooses to lift his leg instead. There are many factors that influence potty training, but the ones we must stress above all else are patience and consistency. All habits are formed through repetition and practice, and potty training is no different. As long as you are patient and consistent and willing to take the time to help your new friend understand what you want, potty training is possible! First, let’s decide on a few things:
While many people think they have to buy potty pads as soon as they bring home a puppy or a new dog, you should decide what your long-term potty habit goals are and work toward achieving them right from the start. If you eventually want your dog to go to the bathroom outside, it may confuse them to get used to peeing on a pad inside only to have the option taken away later. If you decide you would rather your dog use potty pads in the long run, you may want to try a few different brands (some will have a higher volume or more concentrated area of attractant pheromones to encourage your pup to pee) and ensure the pads are replaced often and set in a designated place, so your dog knows where to go.
Upon first consideration, most of us don’t think twice about potty locations beyond “anywhere outside” but deciding on a more specific location often helps you on your way to a potty-training breakthrough. Dogs are creatures of habit, just like people – we all have our regular restaurants with our usual orders and watch reruns of a favorite TV show from a comfortable couch spot we are oddly possessive of. Routines are familiar and comfortable and, more importantly, predictable – all good things to have during potty training! Pick one place in the yard as your pup’s “spot” to help them form a routine both of you can adhere to.
This is a question that has likely been asked since the dawn of domestication of our four-legged companions. Though most pet parents don’t struggle with potty training for more than a few weeks, the answer, to this day, remains the same – there is no concrete, magical time limit you reach and cross like a finish line, especially with the diversity of dogs today. Every dog, regardless of age, breed or personality is just as unique as you and I and cannot be expected to be held to a standard that is not their own. While this may be a daunting reality, fear not! Just as there are no time limits for how long it may take to potty train, there is also no reason potty training can’t be a rather quick and painless process. At the end of the day, there are several factors that determine when your potty woes are behind you and you can breathe a little easier.
First and foremost, human consistency is the biggest factor in potty training. Remember, we are teaching a dog how to behave in a human household – as the human in the relationship, it is our job to set our pups up for as much success as possible. This means keeping to schedules, giving our pup plenty of opportunities to make the correct choice and paying close attention so there aren’t accidental setbacks.
Secondly, age is a rather non-negotiable factor when potty training. The younger a dog is, the fewer waking hours he is able to hold his bladder. A general rule of thumb is that your puppy can hold his bladder for about as many hours as they are months in age (e.g., a two-month-old puppy can hold their bladder about two hours).
Finally, it is important to note what may be a frustrating roadblock on your path to success – accidents. While accidents are surely going to happen, each time your pup eliminates inside it has the potential to reinforce the habit we are trying so hard to negate. They may begin to develop attachments to their “forbidden” potty spot and form their own routine outside of our training. This is why vigilance is key, especially in the beginning stages of potty training. Potty training happens when we, as humans, can help our dogs understand that going potty outside is far more rewarding than going potty inside.
There can be many ups and downs when you are potty training. Luckily, there are many tools available at your local PetSmart to help you stay on top while your pup learns to potty:
The concept of crate training can be confusing, even conflicting for many pet parents, especially those potty training for the first time. Rest assured, using a crate for potty training is not, in any way, a bad thing. Think of your dog’s crate like your own room – it is not your prison, but a safe, comfortable space that is all your own.
Crate training helps with potty training by satisfying your pup’s natural denning instincts. Being denning animals, the first potty training instinct your pup has is an innate urge to avoid soiling the area where they sleep or eat. Below are a few factors to keep in mind when crate training:
A common problem many pet parents have actually comes after their dog is mostly potty trained. It has been weeks since their pup has had an accident indoors, but they still find themselves micromanaging their dog as they did in the beginning because they cannot figure out how to tell if their dog needs to go outside. Remember, your dog does not speak your language any more than you speak his, so we must pay closer attention to other it’s-potty-time signals:
Your dog’s signals may be more subtle, however. Many of us remember childhood dogs that barked loudly and scratched vigorously at the door for our attention. These signals are becoming much rarer now, however, as humans have more distractions taking up our time and attention as well as more demands on “polite” behaviors for our dogs. A dog that barks is instantly shushed so we can hear the TV or our phone call. A dog that scratches is quickly discouraged to prevent damage to our doors. Luckily, there is an answer for that in the increasingly common practice of teaching your dog to ring a bell to go outside.
As mentioned earlier, some dogs and pet parents struggle when it comes to communication during Potty Training. Many dogs don’t scratch at the door or bark since both behaviors are often discouraged right away in an effort to prevent other problem behaviors like destructiveness or excessive barking. By teaching your pup to ring potty bells as a way to ask to go outside, you are giving your dog a consistent and easy way to tell you what they need.
There are many forms of bell training with the practice continuing to gain popularity, ranging from the original sash of sleigh bells hanging from the doorknob to targets installed next to the door to the quaint doggie version of a butler’s bell. Despite the variety of options available to you, much of the base training remains the same: You need to help your dog understand the concept and cause-and-effect of this new device.
A few things you can do to ensure success are:
A doggie door is a potentially convenient potty aid that many pet parents choose to install in their homes, especially if they are gone for long periods of time or are unable to take their dog out as often as they’d like. Some dogs take to doggie doors right away; others are more unsure, even scared of it. Keep in mind, to your dog it is the equivalent of asking you to walk through a wall—there is a certain level of trust and coaxing that needs to happen.
The process of training your dog to use a doggie door is relatively simple, requiring mostly the patience to break it down into as many small steps as your dog needs to be comfortable. After you install the door, you will help your dog to investigate it by holding the flap open for them and tossing treats through the hole. If your dog is reluctant, it can help to have a second family member outside calling the dog or luring them through with a treat rather than tossing it. Eventually, you will decrease the help you give the dog, such as, putting the treat through the flap but letting your dog put his head through himself (requiring him to push the flap on his own) or calling him back in from the backyard and only rewarding him once he has successfully gone through the door. In the end, the key to training to use a doggie door is to be patient and keep your dog comfortable; avoid pushing him beyond his comfort zone, which could cause him to reject the concept entirely.
An important safety note about doggie doors: Using it means your dog can have unscheduled and unsupervised time outside, which could provide an opportunity for your dog to encounter an animal, eat something they shouldn’t or even escape your yard. No matter how well-trained your dog may be, there should always be a certain level of caution to keep in your mind when you provide access to a doggie door.
A fun and helpful fact about your new canine companion is that he has a much shorter digestive tract than you, which means “what goes in must come out” is often a rather speedy process for most dogs. To help ensure success, stick to these helpful timing tips and training tricks:
Sometimes the reality of life is that our schedules may not be lining up well—if at all—with our dog’s potty schedule. If possible, ensure your schedule is as flexible and accommodating as possible until your dog can get the basics of potty training down or until you have a clearer understanding of how long they are capable of holding it. While it is our job as the pet parent to set our pups up for success as well as we can through training, there are some things we simply cannot prevent or change. However, that does not mean that all is lost!
It’s okay if your pup has an accident, it’s bound to happen. Be sure to treat the area with proper cleaning products. And consider went wrong and how you learn from it:
It is NEVER OKAY to punish a dog for doing what comes naturally to them. Many pet parents tend to mistakenly believe that a dog’s behavior can only be deterred by punishing it, such as, rubbing their dog’s nose in their mess when they have an accident. This is not only not true but has been proven to delay their ability to learn proper potty habits, often causing dogs to become sneaky and eliminate away from the view of their pet parents.
This happens because the dog understands you are unhappy with them eliminating but doesn’t understand that it is the location and not the action that they are in trouble for. If you happen upon an accident, the best thing you can do is simply clean the area thoroughly and keep a closer eye on them in the future. If you happen to catch your dog in the process of having an accident, you should calmly interrupt them by lightly clapping your hands or calling them to follow you to the door. Then, take them to the proper area, and give them time to “get in the mood” again. When they eventually do go potty in the right area, praise and reward heavily. The goal is not to yell at or scare your dog, but for your dog to see the difference in your reaction. “If I go potty here, you are upset – if I go potty here, I get lots of love and treats!”
It is not unheard of for a dog to take a backward step in potty habits, even after they’ve been successfully potty trained. We call this Potty-Training Regression, and it can be brought on by stressful changes in routine, new locations or travel. Even adverse weather can cause a setback or two in your potty training. Don’t dismay if this happens – often times, a few days of extra vigilance and going back to the basics can get you back on track, but there are things you can do to help prevent these setbacks.
Always remember: Consistency and patience are the keys to teaching your dog any successful behavior, especially Potty Training. Be patient, be understanding – take responsibility for setting your dog up for success, and, above all, BE POSITIVE!
And reach out to your local PetSmart Trainer for additional assistance with Potty Training, preventing unwanted behaviors and strengthening your bond with your new best friend!