Puppy potty training (or even training an adult dog you’ve rescued) is rarely easy peasy. If you’ve been trying for weeks yet still never know what might be waiting for you when you wake up in the morning, it may be time for a fresh approach—or several! We went to dog training experts to find out their secrets for house training a dog. They all agreed on one thing—house training a dog, any dog, takes consistency and patience. Beyond that, here are eight ideas to consider.
Find your dog’s motivation. Understanding what drives and motivates your dog is important when it comes to puppy potty training, says Mike Ritland, a dog trainer based in Cooper, Texas, who’s worked with the U.S. military and celebrities for 18 years. “If you have a dog who’s ball driven—who nearly loses it every time you go to grab a ball—use that as a reward [for going to the bathroom outside],” explains Ritland. “If it’s food, then bring a small treat. Affection? Treat her to a good scratching session.”
Consider crate training. Andrew Horan, owner of Citizen K9 in Gainesville, Virginia, recommends it to all his new clients that are house training a dog, especially those with rescue dogs. “Rescue dogs come from different backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common. They were caged or crated, most likely without any training,” says Horan. “A lot of rescue dogs are averse to a crate because they don’t understand what its purpose really is.” The key is to get your dog to willingly enter it on his terms. Dogs follow food, so feeding your dog only in the crate is a simple way to get him used to it. Never force your dog into a crate. The Frisco Fold & Carry Dog Crate is a great option because it includes a divider panel that expands the crate area as your puppy grows.
Or, at least limit roaming space. If you’d prefer not to use a crate for puppy potty training, you should keep in mind that “the more space an untrained dog has, the more potty spots he has! Dogs do not normally potty where they eat or sleep, so confining them to one of those areas may help with accidents,” suggests Alyona DelaCoeur, an animal behaviorist, veterinary assistant, and AKC evaluator in Seattle.
Leverage the leash. Whether he’s been in a crate, or confined elsewhere overnight, when morning comes, lead him outside with his leash. “If you don’t use the leash to get to the door, she will start playing ‘catch me’ or just run off somewhere,” says Jamie Thomas, Executive Director of Motley Crew Animal Rescue in Redmond, Washington. “And don’t do anything else first. Just like a person, the first thing your dog has to do when he wakes up is go to the bathroom, so don’t expect him to just kick it while you brew coffee.”
Help them find the right spot. It’s a little gross, but Thomas says this trick can turn things around when you’re house training a dog who’s having a hard time catching on. Clean up any accident—liquid or solid—with a paper towel. Put the paper towel in a zip-top bag. Next time you take your dog out, bring the bag. Open it up and put it on the ground where you want your dog to go. “Let him sniff the paper towel and don’t let him move too far away from it,” adds Thomas. Can’t quite come around to this? You can always look into Simple Solution Puppy Aid Training Spray, which can be used outdoors, or Simple Solution Pee Post.
Just tell him to go potty. David Wright of iWorkDogs dog training in Los Angeles says it’s not only possible, but relatively easy to teach your dog to poop on command. Let’s say it’s pouring rain and you’re late for your big meeting. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just tell him to “go potty” rather than being tempted to bring him back in too soon? Here’s what to do. Pick a place where you want your dog to go (stick with it while he’s learning to go on command). Once there, give him the command. It really doesn’t matter which words you use, as long as you’re consistent, says Wright. While waiting for the main event, don’t say anything else, or give him any attention. As soon as he starts to go, calmly say “Good.” After your pup relieves himself, then you can kiss, hug and play with him. If after five minutes of saying the command, you’ve had no results, go back in and try again in 10 minutes or so. The amount of time it takes for your dog to follow through on the command consistently mostly depends on your dog, but Wright says repeating the routine every time you go out will yield results sooner than you may think.
Keep expectations realistic. House training a puppy can take longer than trying to train an adult dog. “A puppy does not biologically or anatomically have the ability to withhold defecating or urinating as long as an adult dog,” notes Ritland. Figuring out where you want him to go, not so much when, is the trick at first for puppy potty training. (The same is often true of senior dogs.) Potty pads, such as Frisco Premium Potty Pads are especially made to attract dogs, so that question of “where?” becomes a non-issue. Reusable indoor potties, such as Wee-Wee Patch Indoor Potty, can be an environmentally friendly option. As any new puppy parent can tell you, though, a few accidents are virtually unavoidable in the early days when house training a puppy. Be prepared to save your rug or couch by picking up a stain remover made specifically for this purpose, such as Nature’s Miracle No More Marking Pet Stain & Odor Remover.
Be predictable. Timing is key when house training a puppy, though not necessarily clock time. What’s important is keeping the steps in your dog’s routine in the same order every day. And don’t feed her before you take her out to potty, no matter how big those puppy eyes get. “If you feed her first, she will have much less motivation to go out,” notes Thomas. “But once she knows what to expect, you will have a dog who will do what you need her to, without much effort.”