There are many different ways to potty train a puppy/dog. However, no matter what method you choose, having your puppy on a schedule, feeding your puppy a nutritious food and supervising your puppy are three very important aspects of successful potty training.
Dogs thrive on schedules! Your puppy/dog will need to go potty after sleeping, after meals and for young puppies, after play as well. What goes in on a schedule, will come out on a schedule, so keep meal times consistent. Dogs should eat 2x per day, and puppies under 6 month or small breed dogs can eat 3x per day. For a dog new to potty training, the water dish should be put away an hour or so before the last potty break before bed.
- 7am: take puppy out
- 7-7:30am: puppy hangs out with you while you get ready for the day
- 7:30am: puppy gets breakfast then taken out for #2
- Play, train, brain games
- Put puppy in crate/pen while you leave for work/school/errands
- Get home, let puppy out, feed lunch
- Go back to work/school errands
- Get home, let puppy out
- Play time, train, brain games, outing perhaps
- Puppy nap
- Walk (with potty break)
- Puppy nap
- Potty break
- cycle through the play, training, brain games and training again
- 7:30pm: dinner
- Potty break
- Last potty break
Pretty monotonous, but dogs that are new to potty training need frequent opportunities to go out. How long can your puppy hold it? The rule of thumb is months old=hours able to hold it (double that number for at night [up to 8 hours]). Puppy is 8 weeks old? Then he can only “hold it” for about 2 hours tops during the day and 4 hours during the night.
If your dog is on a nutritious food without fillers and extra fiber, he should have a bowel movement about 2x per day. A dog on a mediocre food full of fiber and indigestible fillers will poop up to 4x per day! This makes potty training a lot more difficult. There are many foods to choose from at any pet store (Avoderm, Merrick, Pinnacle. Nature's Variety, Wellness). Be sure to measure your food carefully as to not over-feed your dog. Follow the feeding guidelines on the bag plus/minus a little depending on your dog’s energy needs.
Puppies need constant supervision (up till about a year depending on breed and destructiveness). Adult dogs that are not potty trained also need supervision to ensure they don’t have an accident. To keep your dog within view you can utilize baby gates, close off doors or use the “umbilical cord” method and use a leash clipped to the dog clipped to your belt loop or wrapped around furniture and eventually just drug around by the dog. When you can’t supervise your dog, he should be in a crate, pen or dog proofed yard/garage. I personally recommend crate training and utilizing pens. Most garages are not insulated and have hazardous chemicals in them. Leaving a dog unattended in a yard can lead to nuisance barking, hole digging, deck eating and sometimes even tragic endings when dogs escape or when malicious neighbors poison dogs.
Use the “rule of thumb” for how long your puppy can hold it to gage how long to leave him in the crate. Any time over that threshold means puppy goes in the pen with a *potty pad, toy, chew and crate attached to the pen.
If your dog has an accident it is important to clean it up with an enzyme based cleaner. Never punish a dog for having an accident in the house. This can lead to submissive urination, hiding their elimination, such as pottying behind furniture, and other fear problems. If you catch your dog in the act having an accident, you may clap loudly to startle him and scoop him up (if applicable) and rush outside so he can finish his business. In order to make going outside a positive experience you can couple pottying with treats or just use praise and a key potty word.
*A note about potty pads: while these are great if you need your puppy to be penned while at work, do not use these as a primary potty training area when you are home. Dogs that always use a potty pad do not learn to “hold it” or how to “tell” their owner they need to go as the pad is always accessible. The pad can also confuse a dog that going on discarded towels and clothes and even rugs is the same thing as a potty pad. As soon as my dog can "hold it" for the time period I am gone, or starts to eat the potty pads, I stop using them.
Q: "Can I just use a dog door?" A: No, because dog doors do not train your dog to use your yard as a potty space. Perhaps later when the dog is trained, you can use a dog door for convenience, but most situations where a dog door was used as a potty training method have failed miserably. The puppy/dog goes to the bathroom in and outside and is not getting proper praise for going outside. The other complication of a dog door is having your dog bring in foliage, trash and tracking in mud without you being there to clean him up before coming in.
Q: "Can I use a litter box?" A: Yes, you can successfully train a dog to use a litter box, but you will still need to employ all of the above recommendations and literally pen the dog with the litter box until she is successfully using it 100% of the time before allowing the dog more access to the home to ensure she will make the trek back to the litter box when she has to go.
Q: "When can my puppy have free access to my house?" A: Depends on your puppy. For most, around 6-7 months your puppy will no longer have accidents (if he is potty trained!) and be allowed to be supervised less while you are home. However, we can't forget about other things puppies do when unattended, such as chewing and destroying things. Even small non-destructive dogs can find a bit of floss or string and play with it/swallow it and need vet care. Most successful dog owners find that a year of age marks when their dog no longer has to be crated at night nor watched when the owner's are home and two years of age marks when the dog can be left alone uncrated while no one is home. Of course, this is just a guideline and not every dog will develop at the same rate.
Q: "How can I lengthen the period of time that my dog "holds it" when I am home?" A: If you have an adult dog that should be able to hold it, but is not because she was never potty trained (usually a rescue scenario), you first need to assess what your current max time your dog can hold it when you are home. If you know that you take your dog out every two hours (and no accidents occur at home) then you need to stretch it via interaction with your dog. This means if your dog will literally just hang out and then at the two hour mark will have an accident or indicate need to go, you will need to engage with your dog right before that two hour mark. Play fetch for 15 minutes, then do some training/proofing of basic commands for 10 minutes, followed by a rousing game of laser pointer, bite the bubbles, find the treat in the crate, find the tossed treat or the shell game for 5-10 minutes. You basically just stretched that time for 30 minutes! Gradually, you do this at the 2.5 hour mark and so on.
Do you have specific questions pertaining to your situation? Comment or contact me. I do provide e-mail consults for a fee of $60 an hour if you don't need a private in home session for something like potty training troubles.
Check out my post on Crate Training for information on how to implement that.