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:
This article will discuss them all and
also answer common housebreaking questions and address some special
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
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.).
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
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
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!
Questions and Problems
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
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
Here are some indications your dog/puppy understands the program:
1. "Accidents" in the house and/or crate have decreased during
the training period to none or almost none.
2. When you use your commands for elimination, your puppy responds by
3. Your puppy starts to "ask" to go outside by barking,
running to the door, staring at you, or in some other way.
4. 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.
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
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!
"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
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
"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
- 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
2. Reduce the space of freedom - either with a crate, baby gates or a
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
- 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