My dog is no longer a puppy. He is two and a half years old, 63 pounds, and sassy as can be. I wish I had videotaped him when he was young and dumb and making a mess of my apartment, so I can show him now and be like, "Hey, you used to practically poop yourself, so let's just Netflix and chill on your strong sense of entitlement."
But as a puppy, he made mistakes and had accidents in the house, and I had to learn to not only be patient with him, but do my part as his owner, friend, and provider to help train him as quickly and effectively as possible so we could both move on with our happy, potty-trained lives.
If you just brought home a new puppy, congratulations! It is the best thing in the world. You are probably head over heels over your new addition and Instagramming, tweeting, Facebooking, and Snapchatting every move he makes and every breath he takes (while listening to The Police), and I am very excited for you.
But if this is your first dog, or first in a long time, you may be nervous about how to potty train your puppy. I had dogs growing up, but when you own one yourself, it's a totally different experience. When the dog is yours - one you buy and name and feed, clean, and love every day - you want to do best by her now and forever.
The best way to start your new life together is by housebreaking her so you can simultaneously show her who's boss and that pooping and peeing in the house simply cannot, should not, and will not happen forever.
There are three major things to keep in mind as you potty-train your pup: consistency, confinement, and training.
Make sure you take your puppy out at the same time every day. As she gets older and you see improvement in her bladder control, you can take her out less, but it is important to take her out as often as possible in her first few months of life. In fact, most dogs aren't fully housebroken until they are six months old as their bodies and bladders need time to develop.
An article on PetSmart suggests taking her out
- First thing in the morning
- After naps
- Before and after playing
- 10-20 minutes after a meal
- Before bedtime
Generally speaking, a puppy can control her bladder one hour for every month of age, so if she's two months old, make sure she's going out every two hours.
In addition to being consistent with timing, be consistent with the words you use and where you go. For example, say things like "let's go outside" or "let's go for a walk" when you are in the process of leashing her and getting ready to carry or walk her outside. It helps the dog connect those keywords to the action of eliminating (aka peeing and/or pooping) outside. And when you walk her, say "go potty" or "go to the bathroom" as you walk her in the same areas so she starts to become familiar with where she is outside and why she's there.
"Teach your puppy to relieve himself in the same location. The more often you take him outside when he has to go, the sooner he'll learn that he's always supposed to go outside. Once you become familiar with your puppy's routine, you'll start recognizing the signs (circling, sniffing at one spot) that he has to go," PetSmart suggests.
Do you live in a high rise apartment or a home with difficult outdoor access? Use a bathroom or pen for indoor training. For obvious reasons, potty-training on tile or hardwood floors are best; use a baby gate to cut off access to other rooms until she really starts to grasp the basics.
The best (and hardest) way to potty-train your dog is by crate-training him. (I say hardest because I fell in love with Henry the second I saw him at the shelter, and I knew he would be sleeping in my bed every day for the rest of his life.) However, crate-training your pup allows you to set the rules and expectations, and quite honestly, it expediates the potty-training process.
When you crate-train him, do not leave paper or a blanket down. He will destroy it or poop or pee on it, and you will find yourself cleaning the blanket and the crate instead of just the crate. Crates are very easy to clean - most of the floors in them are removable - and you will save yourself time and money by forgoing the idea of lining the crate.
When you are buying the crate or adjusting the one you have, keep in mind that the crate should be big, but not too big. Your dog should be able to walk in, turn around, and lie down, not run from one end to the next or put on a show. You want your dog to be comfortable, but not too comfortable where he can poop at one end and spread out and sleep at the other end. Most dogs do not like to eliminate where they sleep, but if your dog can poop and not be affected by it in his crate, he won't be annoyed by it, and it will be that much harder to teach him to stop.
You can be as consistent as you want, and your dog can be confined every night in his crate, but if you're not keeping up with the training, you're going to be cleaning up his mess for a long, long time.
When he eliminates outside, praise him. Cesar Millan, everyone's favorite dog whisperer, suggests, "Once your puppy has successfully gone outside, it is important to reward the good behavior. It doesn't have to be a big, loud celebration, but a simple quiet approval or a treat can get the message across of a job well done."
But, please, take my advice: be careful with the treats as he will come to expect them. After my dog's nightly walk, he RUNS expectantly to the kitchen with his tail wagging, regardless of whether he pooped, peed, or simply sniffed a tree outside. If you praise every time and provide treats sometimes, you and your dog will find a nice balance on this journey we call potty-training.
But no matter how much you walk him or how much he seems to be learning, he's bound to have accidents. When that happens, remember to not freak out or stress out or yell at your pup as that will only make things worse.
On its web site, The Humane Society of the United States suggests, "Don't punish your puppy for eliminating in the house. If you find a soiled area, it's too late to administer a correction. Just clean it up. Rubbing your puppy's nose in it, taking him to the spot and scolding him, or any punishment will only make him afraid of you or afraid to eliminate in your presence. In fact, punishment will often do more harm than good." With Henry, I found that if I ignored him when he peed in the house, that was the most effective way to really show him something was wrong. Since he is such a lovable, attention-seeking dog, being ignored drove him crazy, and once he started to correlate bad behavior with my pretending he was invisible, he did all he could to prevent that from happening.
A few more tips:
- Stock up on pet stain/odor removers. Puppies are cute and adorable, but they poop and pee and vomit and track things in from outside. If you're prepared with the cleaners, their accidents won't be as problematic. Dogs are notorious for eliminating at the same spots over and over so make sure you get the stain and smell out so they do not make a habit of peeing repeatedly on a specific spot on your carpet.
- Buy poop bags or save your grocery bags. My dog provides 3-4 large, heaping piles of poop every day, and my neighbors would hate me if I did not feel the need to clean up after him. What's more, most towns and cities have fines (upwards of $300!) that they can smack you with it if you don't scoop his poop.
- "Pick up your puppy's water dish about two and a half hours before bedtime to reduce the likelihood that she'll need to potty during the night," suggests The Humane Society. Since most puppies can sleep for approximately seven hours without having to go to the bathroom, removing her water dish will help keep that schedule on track.
- Unless otherwise directed by your vet, do not free-feed your dog (leave his bowl of food out all day). If you free-feed, his elimination schedule will be harder to track and monitor (aka more accidents in the house), and you will not be seen as the provider of food (aka leader of the pack). And, believe me, you want to be seen as the leader of the pack and gain his trust and respect. It's a beautiful thing.
If after weeks and months of proper consistency, confinement, and training, your pup still doesn't seem to be making progress, consider contacting your vet. You dog may be overly anxious or depressed, have a UTI or other medical condition, or be suffering from submissive or excitement urination. Fortunately, these conditions are treatable and receiving advice and/or medication on combatting them will put both you and your furbaby at ease.
Again, congratulations on your new addition, and good luck!
Photo credit: Jairo Alzate