Potty training takes time, patience, consistency, potty clean up sprays and a lot of paper towels. There are many approaches to potty training and throughout my years of working with countless families introducing puppies into their homes, I’ve taken the best of the best, as well as personal experiences, to make a full-proof potty routine. Keep in mind, mistakes will still happen, but this will help minimize the mistakes that don’t help us progress in our training.
This method is VERY strict and can be down-right gross so hopefully, you have a small breed or 2-month old puppy. Trust me, if you stick with this, your puppy will be able to hold its potty anywhere from 12 – 16 hours (if needed, but I don’t have them do that on a regular basis) once they are full-grown. If you have a stubborn puppy that is consistently having issues in the kennel or house if they were taught to go on potty pads and you want to wean them off, or perhaps you’ve adopted an older dog that wasn’t potty trained then this approach should help.
1. Remove Absorbent Surfaces
Remove all potty pads, rugs, and carpets in the home if possible. Don’t leave anything absorbent on the floor. Many people utilize potty pads in the beginning either for convenience or because they think the puppy will naturally use the pads which can be hit or miss. Either way, you don’t want them thinking they can go inside the home as that’s going against what we’re trying to teach them.
If you’ve been using pads, expect your puppy to have mistakes in that general area once you remove them as they already have an association with that area. Once you’ve taken pads out the equation I recommend placing something over the area and take up a bit more space than the pad so that the puppy cannot get to the spot. Be sure to keep an eye on your puppy and should you notice they are sniffing near the area, pick them up and take them out or do what I mention later in this article.
Also, puppies don’t differentiate between potty pads and rugs. As they explore the home all they notice is that part of the floor is absorbent, much like grass, so they think that’s where they’re supposed to go, but your rugs and carpets are also soft and absorbent…I’ve seen some homes cover their rugs or carpets with plastic to help protect them, this is fine and will help prevent them from being ruined. Ideally, you’d want to remove these things before you bring the puppy home as once they’ve designated a spot for potty, it can be a little bit of time before they learn otherwise.
2. Buy A Kennel
Next thing you’ll want to buy is a kennel. The kennel is key when potty training and not utilizing one will put you at a great disadvantage. Unfortunately, in some cases, we’ll get things like separation anxiety, but that’s not what this article is about. For kennel size, I suggest buying one that your puppy will grow into unless you don’t mind going through 3 – 4 sizes of kennels as your puppy grows.
If you bought a German Shepherd puppy then I would go with a 42inch kennel for example. We wouldn’t give the puppy the whole space in the kennel as they will potty in one section and be able to stay away from it due to the size of the cage. You want to condense the size down so that it’s just big enough for them to go in, turn around and lay down. Most large kennels come with a divider to help with this. If you do not have a divider then you can purchase one separately or use totes or boxes to help take up the extra space.
I also use totes and boxes to reinforce the separation gate as puppies can learn to knock them over. Keep in mind that your puppy will have potty mistakes so don’t put anything you don’t want to get messy and also be mindful of your pup’s chewing behaviors as they can tear up cardboard.
I play it by ear in regards to putting beds or blankets in the kennel to make it more comfortable for them to lie down. For those that want to do so, I suggest using a white or very light colored blanket/towel so that we can see if the puppy is having accidents in the kennel when you’re gone or overnight. Many people think that they’re puppy is holding it when they are actually going in the kennel, but the bedding absorbs and hides the mistakes.
Every time I remove the puppy, I’ll check the bedding for any yellow spots. If I see that there are spots each time I take them out or every time in the morning then I will remove the bedding as it is working against us. If it’s an occasional mistake here and there I’ll let it slide, but if it’s happening over the course of months, you’ll want to remove the bedding.
An important component to potty training (or any training really) is having an aversive. This is what will deter the dog from doing what we don’t want it to do. If there is a blanket in the cage, it absorbs the pee, which doesn’t deter the puppy from repeating the behavior. However, if there is nothing to absorb the pee then they have to sit next to the puddle until the next time you let them out which is very uncomfortable.
3. Establish A Schedule
A key factor to effective potty training is to set up a schedule, regardless of your dog’s age. Whether it is full-grown or just a pup, you have to start somewhere. You can’t expect your dog to take the initiative on training itself to go outside.
If you have no foundation in place, then a good place to begin is by taking your puppy out every two hours. This schedule is only in effect when you are home, if you leave, you do not need to return to take the pup out. Your puppy will be in the kennel when you are gone and overnight. This will help teach them to hold it for extended periods of time. Once you return, you will take your puppy out and continue to take them out every 2 hours.
Each week I extend the schedule by 15 minutes so they gradually learn to hold it for longer each week:
Week 1 – Every 2 hours
Week 2 – Every 2 hours 15 minutes
Week 3 – Every 2 ½ hours
Week 4 – Every 2 hours 45 minutes
Week 5 – Every 3 hours etc
This 15-minute increase falls right in line with the puppy’s age if you are starting at exactly 2 months, but regardless of age, this gradual time extension will help ease them into controlling their bladder for extended periods of time. Many people will comment on how they’re puppy holds it overnight or in the kennel for longer than 6 hours, but the difference is that they are inactive and not awake overnight. Also, puppies don’t want to pee or poop where they eat and sleep. This aids in them holding it while you’re gone.
We have to eliminate accidents in the house and one way to do so is to recognize when mistakes will happen and being strict in when we allow our puppies to have freedom. Puppies generally have to use the bathroom after eating/drinking, after waking up from a nap, or if they have been playing for a while.
Technically, you can take out your puppy after you see they have woken up from a nap so that you can avoid the mistake. But, the issue with this is that this does not put them on a schedule and that’s what we want to do. By taking them out each time, you are teaching that when they have to go, they don’t need to hold it, which will hinder your training, and your puppy will continue to go whenever it wants as opposed to a schedule.
So, if I take my puppy out at 10 am and they take a 30-minute nap that would put us at 10:30 am. Which is a 1 ½ hour away from their next outing. So instead of taking them out, I will place them in their kennel until 12 pm and then let them out to potty. I do this each time the outing falls out of line with the schedule with the exception of after eating or drinking water. If I take out my puppy at 7:30 am, feed at 8 am then I will take them out 15 – 30 minutes later and start my 2-hour schedule at that point. Not all puppies have to go after eating so it’s dependent on their physiology.
4. Be Strict
Now for the hard part.
In order to teach a puppy to go outside consistently, we have to remove all other options. This is how I train pups that don’t want to go outside either due to being trained on pads for too long, don’t like the cold or inclement weather, or are too nervous/scared to go outside. This is also how I teach puppies to potty in very specific areas such as litter box or grass patches.
One of the biggest causes for potty mistakes is that most owners will think their puppy doesn’t have to go when they don’t go outside only to have them potty immediately when they walk in. Whenever you take your puppy out, whether it’s the first thing in the morning or later during a scheduled potty break just assume your puppy has to go. If they do not go outside then I will carry them inside and immediately place them in the kennel. I will not walk them to the kennel as they will most likely have a potty mistake on the way to it.
Once you’ve placed them in the kennel, they do not go out for a restroom break until their next scheduled outing. If this is first thing in the morning then expect to have a mistake happen in-between breaks. If you take your puppy out at 8 am and they do not go, you place them in the kennel. If at 8:30 am they have a mistake in the kennel DO NOT remove them and clean it up. Leave them in the kennel until the next outing. When you do so, then clean everything. If they do not go to the bathroom during this break, place them back in the kennel and repeat.
Puppies do not get freedom in the home unless I know that they are empty! At some point, the puppy will realize that they only get a small opportunity to go to the bathroom and it’s limited only to outside. Once you’ve seen them go potty outside then you may let them be free in the home for their allotted time, but remember, if they nap, eat/drink water, or play, place them in the kennel after for the remainder of the time so they don’t have an accident.
5. Reward Going Potty Outside
Last, but not least is rewarding your puppy for going outside. I personally use and recommend very high-value rewards like cheese, hot dog, turkey, sausage, etcetera. I will limit this treat only when the puppy potties outside. This helps motivate them to go outside again as this is the only time they get this level of reward.
Over time, you will see your puppy immediately potty and run to you to get their treat. This is good as we want to motivate them to go outside each time we take them.
These are the key fundamentals that I use when working with clients on potty training. I wasn’t potty trained in a day and neither will your puppy. Again, it will take time and consistency, but if you stick with it, your puppy will make incredible progress, quickly.
Until next time.