A dog who brings their affection, playfulness, and exuberance for life into your family quickly earns a place in everyone’s heart and becomes a beloved family member. Unfortunately though, dogs don’t come pre-programmed to only potty where you want them to.
Knowing how to potty train a dog is essential. All dogs need to be taught where the appropriate places to potty are, and you can teach your dog yourself in a few days to a few weeks. This article applies to potty training puppies, adults, and senior dogs with extra tips for adults and seniors at the end.
Praise vs. Punishment
All dogs respond well to positive reinforcement, like praise or treats when they do something right. Negative punishment such as yelling or spanking when they misbehave is usually a less effective training method.
Keep this in mind and try to focus on positive reinforcement whenever your dog does as it is supposed to. Keep small training treats handy at all times for this purpose, but if you ever need to praise your dog when you don’t have access to treats, talking in a high voice and petting him or her will get the point across that it has done what you wanted it to.
Small training treats are a better option than regular-sized treats as you will need to use them often and should be careful not to increase your dog’s calorie intake too much during the training process. Lots of health problems can arise from obesity as a result of overfeeding treats.
Choose the Best Potty Training Strategy for Your Home
Yards and Potty Pads
The yard–or anywhere outside of the house–is usually the best place for a dog to learn to potty. However, in some cases, dogs may need to get used to using potty pads the majority of the time. This may be the case if you live very high up in an apartment building or travel frequently.
You’ll need to decide based on your lifestyle whether your dog will need to only potty outside, learn on both potty pads and outside, or rely heavily on potty pads. You may also need to crate-train your dog so that it learns not to go potty in its kennel.
To do this, start with a very small cage that would force your dog to sit in its mess if it went potty in the kennel. Without room to get away from a mess, a dog will learn right away that it must not go potty in its kennel. Once it has learned this, it can be given a larger kennel. If your dog will spend more than eight hours at a time in the kennel, the kennel should be big enough to allow for a potty pad to be provided so that the dog is never in discomfort from going too long without relieving itself.
Supply a Communication Method
Before beginning potty training, you will need to choose a way for your dog to inform you when it needs to go outside (unless you will be using only potty pads). Dogs will often learn on their own to stand by the door when they need to potty, but if no one is near the door to see it, this sign won’t be effective.
Give your dog a better method of communication, such as a bell on a string hung from the doorknob or a mounted Potty Bell that it can ring to let you know it needs to go outside. To teach your dog how to use this device, lightly touch its nose to the bell so that it jingles whenever you are about to let it go outside, and then immediately open the door.
If you are primarily using potty pads and your dog doesn’t always have access to them, make something like this so that they can signal to you when they need to go potty.
Start the Day Right
You’ll need to plan on frequent potty trips at the beginning of training, especially with a puppy. Make sure that you always let your dog out first thing in the morning so that it can relieve itself after a long night. This will help prevent morning accidents. It will likely need to go again about thirty minutes after eating breakfast.
Continue to let your dog out every couple of hours throughout the day if possible. If not, refer to the section on crate training above. End the day with a final potty break before bed.
Praise and Punishment
Every time your dog goes potty outside or on the potty pads, praise it and give it a training treat immediately. Whenever it goes inside, you can try making an angry noise or spray the dog with water to surprise it if you catch it in the act. This kind of startling may be enough to teach your dog to stop pottying inside.
If you find a mess after the fact, you can bring the dog to the mess and put its face very close to it. It is unclear whether angry noises and spankings are more helpful or hurtful for dogs, but if you find that praises and treats for good behavior aren’t enough to discourage bad behavior, you may need to consider these alternatives. But never abuse your dog. A spanking should be a light pop to cause a small amount of discomfort. It should never be hard enough to bruise.
Control Potty Smells
Dogs mark their territory by where they leave their excrement. So if your dog can still smell where it messed inside last time, it is more likely to do so again because it sees that location as its territory. One additional way to prevent inside pottying is to completely remove the odor of the last indoor mess.
You can purchase scented sprays such as Not Here Spray or Fabreese to change the smell of the area after cleaning up the mess, or you can make a mixture of vinegar and water in a spray bottle on your own.
Potty Training Adult Dogs
Ideally, all dogs would be well-trained by the time they reach adulthood. But dogs who’ve been adopted from the shelter or saved from questionable circumstances may have lived for months or years with no potty training. Dogs who’ve had so much time to get used to pottying wherever they want may prove to be more challenging to train than a new puppy.
On the plus side though, adult dogs are able to “hold it” for longer than puppies, which will help the process go smoother.
If you catch your adult dog pottying in the house moments after being outside, he or she is not trying to annoy you. They just may not have had enough time to potty outside. Dogs who’ve been inside for a while get excited about checking out the new environment outside, which may be so interesting that they forget to potty.
To prevent this annoyance, take your dog out on a leash so that you are there to see when they potty rather than just letting him or her out to run around in the yard while you are training. If he or she doesn’t potty outside, put him or her in the crate for ten or twenty minutes immediately after returning indoors so that he or she doesn’t have the opportunity to mess in the house. Then take him or her back out and give them another chance to potty outside.
Potty Training Seniors
In this section, we’re focusing on potty training and related issues for senior dogs who may be struggling with things like incontinence, arthritis, bladder stones, etc. If you’ve just adopted a healthy senior dog, then go by the above recommendations for training adults. The focus here is on age-related health problems that affect pottying routines rather than actual age.
As dogs get older, just like with people, some things don’t work as well as they used to. Dogs may develop incontinence, where they can’t control their bladder anymore and they pee inside without meaning to. In dogs with painful conditions such as untreated arthritis, there may be less discomfort for them in peeing where they are than in walking all the way to the door and outside, especially if they have to go up or down stairs.
If your dog has arthritis, a hip injury, or paralysis of the hind limbs, towel walking is a great way to help him or her potty outside with a little help. Take a towel and wrap it under your dog’s hips/inguinal area so that you can hold the towel ends above the dog’s back and lift its rear end with the towel.
This can be slightly more challenging with male dogs. If your towel is so thick that it covers too much and ends up soaked with urine, consider using a thinner towel or cutting your towel into strips so that there are fewer folds to get in the way. Just keep enough fabric present to cushion the skin and avoid causing irritation.
Acceptable Indoor Potty Places
If your dog can’t hold it throughout the night or the workday anymore, you may need to provide an appropriate area for potting inside. If your dog has never been exposed to potty pads before but is used to grass, consider getting an astroturf-like indoor potty area like what they have in airports. These look like grass put are made of plastic and are easy to clean.
Dogs can also learn to potty in a cat litter box. Usually, this works best for small dogs, but if your large breed dog is used to pottying in sand or dirt rather than grass, consider getting a large container (even a small child’s sandbox if necessary) and filling it with cat litter so that your dog can potty in that.
Feeding and Pottying Schedule
It’s the food and water your dog consumes that results in a need to potty, so consider changing your dog’s feeding schedule to better accommodate the pottying schedule. For example, if you free-feed your dog, start feeding once in the morning and once at night. Make sure to take him or her to potty about half an hour after eating. This could help eliminate midday messes from eating a midday snack. Your dog’s digestive tract will adjust and your dog won’t feel hungry in the afternoon anymore once they get used to morning and evening feeding.
If your dog tends to have a blowout soon after eating, consider offing smaller, more frequent meals accompanied by a potty break soon after so that the digestive tract doesn’t have to take on quite so much at a time. This method works best for owners who work from home. In this case, if diarrhea is frequent, the food itself could be the culprit. Dogs can develop sensitivities to food they’ve never had a problem with before, so consider consulting your vet about trying out a different type of food that might go easier on your dog’s digestive tract.
Whatever pottying issues your senior dog has developed, consult a vet as soon as possible just in case there is a bigger underlying problem that the tips here won’t be able to tackle on their own. Your dog could need medicine or surgery, and the sooner you find out and take action, the less stressful and expensive the treatment is likely to be
Wrapping Up How To Potty Train A Dog: Be Patient with Your Dog
Remember that your dog wants to please you. It doesn’t enjoy making you mad. It just needs some time to understand what you want it to do, or some help with a new potty method or schedule as age requires some change. Dogs are smart and will figure out what you want as soon as they can. Remember to be patient with yourself, too, as you learn how to train and get creative when you need to. You’ve got this!