You may be thinking to yourself, “What kind of weird Los Angeles dog trainer article is this… Potty Training Puppy?!?!” But to effectively housebreak or potty train your dog you must embrace the fact that you will have to analyze and put some consideration into your dog’s, uh, business…The reason being is that we must get to know our dog’s bathroom habits in order to create a consistent schedule and potty training puppy routine. I always tell my clients that any consistent effort or temporary sacrifices they put forth now, will pay great dividends in the future. In the case of housebreaking a puppy or adult dog, this effort is to pay close attention to the 1 & 2’s and create an at times more restricted indoor environment to help them learn how to “hold it” and only relieve themselves outdoors.
Why Wee Wee Pads are Unnecessary:
There are schools of thought who believe that giving a puppy pads or newspaper to go on then gradually bringing the pad or paper outside for them to make the association is the way to potty train a new puppy. The line of thinking behind this is that since a dog is most likely to find an isolated space to go on in an indoor environment, they will seek out the pad or paper (and they usually do) to go to the bathroom which will then eventually be brought outside when they get older to make the association. The reason puppies and dogs are more likely to have accidents on rugs and far away rooms such as basements is because a healthy dog does not want to soil its living space so it will find an off the beaten path place to do their business. To a dogs perception, even a wood floored room with a small rug can give them the impression that if they go to the bathroom on the rug, their constant wood floor living space will still allow them to keep their environment clean. The problem with all this, is that is gives them a mixed signal right from the start. It gives a dog two wrong impressions: 1) That going to the bathroom indoors is acceptable. Despite on an isolated surface or area. 2) Whenever you need to go potty, you are able to let it fly without any consciousness of being able to hold it for any duration of time. Although we aren’t expecting an 8 week old puppy to hold it for more than an hour or two for the first couple weeks. It is still better to take them outside to go to the bathroom on a schedule that demonstrates this outdoor time as their “window of opportunity” to do their business than to allow them to roam off and go to the bathroom whenever they feel indoors. When I first tell clients this, especially here in Los Angeles where many dogs live in high rises and owners lead very busy lives, many feel that this is being mean or punishing the dog or it is a major inconvenience to take them out frequently and a wee wee pad makes it much more convenient for them. Here’s the responses I give; As far as it being mean or punishment to expect a dog to hold it. Yes, if we did this to a person, it would get ugly real quick. However, dogs are able to develop both the ability to go on cue or command when brought to a designated potty area as well as learn how to, and pardon the following expression, make themselves empty to go for longer periods of time as they become older and develop their housebreaking abilities. In regards to the inconvenience of having to take their dog outside on a schedule more frequently than they wish and the use of a kennel, leash or small room I tell clients that it is a short term sacrifice that although inconveniencing initially, is still much easier than having to rush home to let your dog out because they cannot hold it for long periods of time or to be picking up poop in your home for the next 15-20 years.
Although it is an unreasonable argument, there are even some dog trainers who believe that the use of a kennel or crate training for housebreaking and general use is cruel or seen as punishment to a dog. This is one of the most clear ways people humanize dogs and out of deep care and compassion sometimes misinterpret things a dog enjoys as negative because we put our human priorities and point of view into their world and we get tricked into thinking they like/dislike everything we do in life.
Do not be mistaken though. If your dog is only placed in their crate when you leave or it is being used as punishment, they will of course make a negative association and begin to see it as aversive. Despite a dog’s natural denning instincts and tendencies to seek small spaces for physical and sensory security. This is why you must introduce your dog to their crate as early as possible and make it a happy, neutral type of place that they are placed in randomly for varying periods of time and are fed and given treats when they are inside of it from time to time. I tell dog owners if they are willing, they it is more than ok to bring the crate with you to various rooms you may be spending time in so they do not feel they are kept from their family while they are in their crate and you are able to enjoy having your dog around you while you create a more restricted space to develop their ability to stay clean indoors. With that said, let’s discuss how to use the crate or other small space such as a bathroom or leash confinement as a tool to teach our dogs how to hold it indoors and wait until the next time they are taken outside to go.
Leave No Options:
As I mentioned, for a dog or puppy to learn how to only go outdoors, they must see the time they are outside as their only chance until the next time. The amount of time that should elapse until the “next time” is approximately 1 hour of indoor time per month of age with a healthy adult dog being able to comfortably hold it for 8 hours without a problem if taught properly. For example, if your puppy is 3 months of age, they should be able to wait approximately 3-4 hours between bathroom breaks.
But with potty training puppy, how do we teach a dog to wait until the next time they are outside if they are willing to go to bathroom indoors whenever they feel? This is where the kennel or small space comes in handy as a tool to teach them how to exist inside in between bathroom visits while not allowing the opportunity to go indoors in a way that makes sense to their natural instincts. This does not mean that a dog has live in the crate when not outside to go potty. As I mentioned, it should be used as a tool whenever you feel your dog may have an accident at some point, but it is too soon to just take them back outside and make it too easy for them to learn any ability to eventually hold it indoors on their own without the need for a crate or confinement.
Food and Water Counts:
For many puppies, it is of benefit to give them their food and even water on a schedule so you may know when they have fully relieved themselves and are more likely to stay clean indoors without needing to put them in a small space to promote them to hold whatever may be remaining in their system.
When potty training puppy, treats and physical/verbal praise is important to inform your puppy they are going in the right space outdoors and you are proud of their efforts. Just make sure you time your reward while they are relieving themselves or immediately after if it causes a distraction.
Bells and Whistles:
There are many devices I have seen over the years besides wee wee pads that have been developed to accommodate a human interpretation of how we should potty training puppy versus what is actually far more easier and makes most sense to them based on their instincts and abilities as a species. One gimmicky product I am not particularly fond of is the little jingle bells they sell. The idea behind these is so a dog may signal its owner when it has to go by pawing at the bell. Hopefully if you have taken anything from this article you can clearly see how this does not teach a dog how to hold it in for any length of time. From a dog training and behavior perspective, by a dog feeling they have to command or tell a human any action they must perform, even for something as seemingly helpful as having to go potty. It can make certain dogs anxious by feeling they have to assume what other requests they may need to make to get what they need in life. Dogs should feel 100% satisfied that we can decide and provide everything they need in life small and large. I have seen countless dogs in my practice who suffer from debilitating anxiety or aggression that developed from simple and seemingly innocent actions that gave the dog the impression they were responsible for human actions.
Caught in the Act:
What do I do if I catch my dog going in the house or they have already had an accident?
If you have not established a consistent housebreaking routine when potty training puppy that is based in preventing the accidents by creating a structured indoor environment, then you should do nothing. By reacting, you could give your dog that it is a way to get attention (positive or negative is still attention). Furthermore, it is a good practice to remove your dog from the area the mess was made while cleaning it up so they cannot see you so they do not feel it creates any type of change of routine or dictation of your actions in any way.
Once you feel you have been preventing the majority of accidents by a good housebreaking process and your dog has developed a greater ability to hold it and go on cue when taken outdoors, you may then respond to a random accident by bring the actual mess outside on a paper towel to a spot they like to go and show them while telling them “good potty” or whatever praise you have established for going in the proper place. Many years ago I learned a harsher method that was more corrective in its response to accidents in the house by another dog trainer who was very knowledgeable but very old school. Short of rubbing their nose in it, he believed you should correct the dog before bringing them outside to show them the proper spot. The reality is most people are pretty irritated when they discover their dog has gone in the house and I have found that something as simple as putting them away for a few minutes before addressing the issue puts both of you in a better learning space than the older punishment based methods of motivating dogs to do what we want them to do.
The End Game:
What should we expect from our dog once we have taught them proper housebreaking skills? As your pup or adult dog continues to develop the ability to hold it longer and remain indoors clean without the use of a kennel, you should be able to leave them in any indoor space for up to 8 hours without a problem. They will actually begin to see your house or apartment as one giant kennel that they associate with never going potty inside while outdoors has become the consistent norm. This can happen in a matter of weeks for most puppies, or could take months for an adult dog who has learned an improper housebreaking regiment and needs to re-learn a completely new foundation to replace their initial, faulty associations. As with humans, there is a learning curve even for dogs. The key is remain consistent and neutral every single day! Do not veer of course because your dog has. By taking the exact same actions and preventative approach to housebreaking, your dog will learn only one way will work and by choosing that way they will be rewarded and feel better by keeping their indoor living environment clean.
Brett Endes, The Dog Savant is a professional dog trainer, an expert in potty training puppy and author with over 20 years experience specializing in problem behavior and puppy development counseling. The Dog Savant hosts a weekly podcast and is currently developing a web-based show to promote his message of canine behavior awareness. Brett takes a unique approach to dog behavior like no other trainer. His methods are based on psychology and principals of meditation along with a dog’s natural way of communication. Brett has been affectionately called, “The man with a dog’s brain”. He is available for private consulting of individual clients and speaking engagements in the greater Los Angeles area and worldwide. To learn more about Brett or for contact info please visit his website: dogtrainingLA.com and follow his twitter @thedogsavant