While there are a lot of things you should teach your dog, I’d put potty training at the very top of the list. When I grew up we had an applesauce Poodle that pooped on towels I left on the floor. After drying myself off with one of those towels, I could never quite forgive the little fellow, nor forget the experience. As a result I’m a bit obsessed with potty training my dogs.
Before you begin, you need to be aware of three things about your dog physically. First, a dog doesn’t have good bladder control until he’s approximately six months old. So, be patient with a puppy. Second, if it’s an older dog that can’t seem to hold it, check with your vet to see if he has a bladder infection. Third, get your dog spayed or neutered. A dog that hasn’t been fixed is more likely to mark territory by peeing in the house. In addition, you must purchase a plastic, size appropriate crate and a secure pen. Finally, you should work on crate training simultaneously, as it supports your efforts at potty training. (Don’t be overwhelmed! It’s a process!) Once all of this is in place, you can begin!
Potty training means bathroom breaks every thirty minutes. A bathroom break is going outside with your dog, walking together until your dog pees or poops, while you repeat a command. I use, “Business!” some people prefer, “Empty!” or “Hurry Up!” Whatever the phrase, if you use it consistently, your dog will learn to go on command. As soon as he squats, he gets an enthusiastic, “Good Dog!” The first few times you do this, your puppy will look at you in confusion, but he’ll come to expect the praise. Once business is done, pull out a tasty treat, feed him and tell him he’s brilliant. Positive reinforcement is key!
Back inside the house, you must catch and correct every accident. I realize consistency is a challenge, but it will decrease the length of time it takes to potty train your dog. To ensure success, your dog cannot run free about the house and urinate at will. He’s either on a six foot lead that’s attached to you, or he’s in a crate. (If he’s crate trained it will mean he’s quiet and content in the crate. If he’s not, it’ll mean lots of complaining.)
When your dog is on lead you will catch him when he squats to do his business in the house. Be loud and dramatic and shout, “NO!” in the middle of an accident. Then run outside and walk your dog until he does his business. Finally, reward him with praise and food. Remember, for every negative association with peeing and pooping, you must create three positive associations. Do not teach your dog that peeing and pooping is bad. He’ll end up sneaking off to do his business. Teach your dog that when he goes outside he earns food and praise.
Just to be clear, sending your dog out into the yard to do his business on his own is not effective. Potty training is a team effort, and you’re the coach! You must show up and cheer him on!
If you’re leaving your dog alone for four hours or less, put your dog in his crate. Longer? Leave him in his pen. If your dog is young, expect accidents. His bladder control isn’t very good. For the first month I had Sherlock I spent twenty minutes scrubbing down his pen every day after work. I had to get rid of the smell for my own sanity, but also because I didn’t want him to smell urine and think it would be acceptable to relieve himself in his pen. So, I got a bucket of soapy water, poured it over the urine and let it sit for a few minutes and then scrubbed it down with an old broom. Next, I filled a bowl with warm water and a bit of bleach and doused the cement a second time to get rid of the odor. Finally, I wiped it all down with an old towel so the cement was clean, sanitized, and ready for the next day.
They’re cute, aren’t they? But brace yourself! Puppies are a lot of work!
To prepare for bedtime, I feed my dogs dinner at five, and restrict water half an hour before I go to sleep. Sherlock has a crate in my room. For the first few weeks, there was an old towel inside to absorb any accidents. Now, since his bladder control is better, he has a comfy blanket. Right before bed, we walk in the yard for at least ten minutes for, “Final Business.”
For the first month, you will need to get up and take your dog out once or twice during the night. Even with careful planning, there will be accidents. Expect to be up at three o’clock in the morning hosing off your new dog and his crate at least once. That may be the moment when you wish you could send the little fellow back. Don’t worry. Feelings of uncertainty are normal, and temporary.
On the positive, if you’re consistent, potty training doesn’t take long. By four months of age, Sherlock rarely had an accident. Now, at six months, he hasn’t made a mistake in weeks. Plus, it’s worth the effort! A dog is part of your family for years. Who wants one that pees all over the house? Or poops on your towels? :/