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How To Potty Train A Puppy: The Complete Guide


how to potty train a puppy

One of the most dreaded tasks of puppy ownership is training.  Teaching a weeks-old puppy not to chew, how to play appropriately, how to sit nicely in a crate, and where the proper place to potty is enough to frustrate any new dog owner.  However, potty training does not have to result in unending frustration if approached properly.  Presented in the paragraphs below is an easy, straightforward, and effective guide on how to potty train a puppy.

The length of the process, and the experiences gained or lacked by your puppy are both dependent on your consistency in following the potty training steps. If you follow a strict routine, provide plenty of positive praise, and are consistent, house training will not take more than two weeks in most instances.  However, if you become lackadaisical, potty training may take a month or more. Before beginning any training process, new owners should read about the importance of being consistent during training.

Listed below is everything you need to know about how to potty train a dog.

Before you Begin
Before you start to learn how to house train a puppy there are a number of considerations you should first make.  Who in the house will take care of potty training?  Is everyone in the family willing to follow the necessary steps in order to make sure a routine is followed?  Will your puppy be taken outside to potty in the yard; or, will you potty-pad or litter box train your pet?  If you choose to take your pet outside to potty, where in the yard will your pet go?  Who will clean it up?  How will you reward your pet for good behavior?  If your dog will be alone during the day, who will come home at lunch to take your dog outside?  If you wait until you start potty training your dog to answer these questions, you risk confusing him or her as you troubleshoot the new routine.

Necessary Materials for Potty Training
The necessary materials that every pet owner needs as he or she learns how to house train a dog are the following:  high-value rewards (i.e. chicken or liver flavored treats), a four to six foot leash, a crate or child gate, an enzymatic cleaner designed for dog urine, pet waste bags, a positive attitude, and potty-pads or a litter box, if applicable.

At What Age can my Puppy be Housebroken?
The first rule in how to housebreak a puppy is to not start before your dog is ready.  If you start too early, before your puppy has gained full control of its bladder and bowels, your dog will have many accidents that cannot be prevented and both you and your dog will become frustrated.  In general, most dogs cannot begin potty training until 12 – 16 weeks of age.  Just as human children, each dog will have individual needs so this timeline may vary from dog to dog.  An owner should also keep in mind that a puppy can only hold its bladder for as many hours as it is months old.  For instance, a 3 month old puppy can only be expected to wait three hours before needing to potty again.

Special Considerations
The best way to potty train a puppy is to understand the needs of your dog.  You should be aware that certain breeds have different needs, and not all dogs can be expected to be potty trained in the same way.  For example, it is not uncommon for Shiba Inus to potty train themselves, as they are very clean dogs with a strong natural instinct not to soil their living area.  However, beagles can be stubborn during the potty training process and may require additional vigilance.  Other factors that affect potty training include whether a resident dog lives in the house who can “show the ropes” to the new puppy, and even whether it is winter or summer when you try and train your dog.  For instance, some puppies will stubbornly choose to use the bathroom indoors instead of going outside in the cold.

The Importance of Routine
One of the most important potty training tips for puppies is to maintain a consistent routine.  Without a doubt, this is the most crucial component of effective training.  Everything in your puppy’s life should follow a schedule.  For instance, food and water bowls should always be in the same spot in the house, as should toys and leashes.  Your dog should eat meals at the same time every day, and exercise, play time, and nap time should follow a similar pattern.  Following this type of routine is important as it is the most effective way for your puppy to learn how to be a well-behaved and well-adjusted member of the household.

Method 1: How to Potty Train A Puppy Outdoors

The most common method to potty train a puppy is to teach him or her to potty outdoors.

Choose Routine Times
Before you begin, you and your family should choose 5 – 6 times throughout the day that will always be potty times for your pet.  For instance, you may choose to take your dog outside first thing in the morning, after breakfast, at lunch time, in the mid-afternoon, after dinner, and before bedtime.  Make sure that you choose a schedule that can (and will) be followed daily.  Your dog’s digestive system will adapt to the schedule, making potty training easy.

Choose a Potty Spot
When you take your dog outside at the designated potty times, take your pet to the same spot in the yard each time.  This is an important part of potty training, as it helps your dog understand what is being expected of him or her when you go to the designated area.  Take your pet outside on a short leash to minimize your dog’s distractions.  If your puppy thinks it is playtime, he or she will not remember to go potty.  When you take your dog to the potty area, do not interact with your dog.  Simply stay outside and wait until it goes potty.

Use a Command
Once your puppy begins to potty appropriately, use a command such as “go potty” during the process.  This will help your dog associate the words with the action, which can be used later on in the potty training process to remind your pet what is expected when you are outside.

Provide Plenty of Positive Praise
As soon as your puppy is done pottying, provide plenty of positive praise and a reward, such as a treat.  Once your puppy has done his or her business, you can let your puppy play in the yard or explore as an additional reward.

Use a Bell
Many dog owners find value in teaching their pets a way to communicate that they need to go outside.  One way is to place a bell by the door and to teach your dog to “ring” it when it is time to go outside.  Bells that are situated on specially designed stands can be purchased from pet stores for this purpose.  Every time you take your puppy outside, stop and tap the bell with your puppy’s paw.  Over time, your dog will learn to use the bell to inform the owner it is time to potty.

Be Vigilant
At all other times of the day, it is important to be vigilant and keep an eye on your dog during the potty training phase.  Look for signs that your dog is about to potty inside the house, which include sniffing the ground, circling, squatting, whining, pawing at the floor, “scooting” on the floor, or sniffing/licking at its genitals.  If you see any of these signs, take your puppy immediately outside to the designated potty area and wait until your dog does its business.  If you ever catch your dog in the act, immediately pick up your dog and take him or her outside to finish the job.

Crating as a Potty Training Tool

dog crateThe fastest way to potty train a puppy is to use a crate as a training aid.  For some owners, a misconception is that a crate is “cruel” or that a dog will feel isolated.  In reality, dogs are den animals that feel safest in small spaces.  Many owners find that their dogs voluntarily retreat to the crate during times of stress or chaos, as this becomes their safe and comfortable space.

Benefits of the Crate
There are many benefits to using a crate besides the fact that dogs often feel most comfortable in a small area.  Most notably, dogs have a naturally ingrained instinct not to go potty in enclosed areas.  Not only do dogs dislike soiling themselves, but from an evolutionary perspective, they know that pottying in their living area may attract predators.  Therefore, a crate is often most effective because it plays to the strengths of what a dog already knows.

How to Choose a Crate
In order to utilize the benefit of a crate, it is important that owners purchase one that is the proper size.  The crate should only be large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in.  If the crate is larger, your puppy may use one end of the crate to potty, and the other end of the crate to sleep.  If you plan to continue using the crate beyond potty training and your dog is still growing, look for a crate that can be partitioned to grow with your dog. Here are crates to choose from.

When to Use the Crate
After you have properly introduced your dog to the crate, it is important to know when it is, and is not, appropriate to crate your dog.  A puppy should not be crated for more than 3-4 hours at a time, and a kennel should not be used as a substitute for proper exercise and potty training.  You should only use the crate if you are going to be gone for a few hours during the day, or during times when you are unable to keep a close watch on your puppy.  It is important that if you choose to crate your puppy as a potty training aid, that you incorporate plenty of exercise and playtime during the rest of your dog’s day.

Method 2:  Pottying Indoors

The utilization of pee pad to aid potty training is a fantastic technique for a small breed, for those who live in tall buildings, and for owners who are physically disabled.   Some dogs can even be trained to make use of a little box once they have been trained with a pee pad.  However, owners should be aware that this is not the fastest way to potty train a puppy, and it may take time and little patience.

Items that are needed:

how to potty train a dog

Step 1
Before anything else, your dog should be confined to a small, non-carpeted room. Select a location for him, a permanent one, such as a laundry room or bathroom. Make sure you are set on the location you choose, as it will be quite difficult to train your puppy to use another location once you have begun.  The area you choose should be an entirely different spot in your house from your puppy is allowed to eat, sleep, and play.  However, since your puppy will be spending a lot of time in this space in the beginning, the area of confinement should be reasonably large.

Step 2
The entire floor in the confined area should be covered with potty pads. Take one pad away after three days, and leave the others on the floor.  Again, take away another pad after two days. The Humane Society of America recommends that you should keep removing a pad every other day until one pad remains.  If you realize that your dog pees or poops in another location, rather than the remaining pad(s), you will need to start from the scratch by covering the floor with potty pads again.  There is really no shortcut during this potty training process, and it takes hard work and consistency to achieve the desired result.

Potty Training Troubleshooting
No potty training experience is the same from dog to dog, so owners may report having difficulties throughout the process.  Some of the most common problems are listed below.

My dog potties in the same spot in the house
If your dog is mostly potty trained but continues to have accidents in the house, especially in the exact same spot regularly, the way to fix this problem is quite easy.  Dog urine contains a number of proteins and enzymes that only dogs can smell.  These scents serve as “calling cards” to your dog to let him or her know that this area is a designated “potty spot.”  Even if you clean the area, your dog will still be able to smell these proteins unless an enzymatic cleaner designed for dog urine is used.  After you appropriately clean the area, the problem should go away.

I can’t keep a solid routine
Potty training can be severely delayed if a proper routine is not kept.  For owners who work inconsistent hours or who are frequently gone, a good tool to aid in potty training is to hire a dog walker.  Many dog walkers also perform puppy services, which includes stopping by the house periodically throughout the day to aid in potty training.  Although this step adds an additional cost, it can greatly speed up the potty traiing process and reduce the number of accidents.

My dog potties outside, then immediately comes inside and has an accident in the house
This problem is common in dogs that are highly food motivated, such as Labrador retrievers.  For some dogs, receiving a treat every time they potty causes them to become so excited to receive a tasty reward, that they only eliminate their bowels or bladder a little bit in order to get the treat as soon as possible.  Afterwards the dog may then go inside and potty in the house because he or she can no longer hold it.  To combat this situation, provide verbal praise or play time instead of a food reward.

What not to do when potty training your dog

Besides not being consistent or not keeping a routine, the next most common thing an owner should not do is punish a dog for having an accident.  Some owners rub their dog’s nose in the accident or harshly scold them for going in the house.  This is a bad idea for many reasons, but most importantly it may cause your dog to be afraid of the entire potty training process, leading to submissive urination or for your dog to even eat his or her poop in order to hide the evidence.  In addition, if you scold your pet for having an accident, chances are your pet will have no idea why it is being punished, which will not only be ineffective but will also cause your pet to fear you for the seemingly unsolicited anger.  If your dog is continually having accidents, more vigilance or a crate is required.

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