How do we start? How long should it take? Is my puppy peeing behind the sofa just to spite me?
Puppy potty training… we’ve all been there (or, if you’re reading this as you prepare for a puppy you’ll be there soon!). It’s not always easy, and how to start can be confusing. In today’s blog post we’ll give you the scoop on potty training and offer some things to do (and avoid) to make the training a bit easier.
Instinct Is Your Friend
Dogs are wired to avoid eliminating in their dens. It makes sense—you wouldn’t want to eat and sleep in a dirty nest! We use this instinct to our advantage when teaching appropriate spots to go potty. While there is an instinct to avoid soiling their living area, when a puppy’s gotta go it’s gotta go! We need to support and encourage age-appropriate potty habits. By 12 weeks of age, a puppy still doesn’t have great control over their bladder and bowels. They might not know they have to go, so our job is to predict their needs and help them get to an appropriate spot.
Signs and Schedules
Developing a potty schedule is an important part of speeding along puppy potty training. The scheduling of potty behaviors is something that we focus on in [HARMONY SCHOOL]. The schedule helps avoid accidents by predicting when pottying will need to happen, and proactively placing the puppy in a potty area.
Typically, a puppy will need to potty:
- 15 minutes after eating.
- For younger puppies, immediately after drinking. As they get closer to 12 weeks, about 15 minutes after drinking.
- 10 minutes after play begins.
- Immediately after waking up.
When you have your puppy in your house or in its penned living area, be on the lookout for signs that a potty might be on its way:
- The puppy stops what they’re doing and looks like it might be “thinking”.
- The puppy starts sniffing around the floor.
- The puppy goes to a door, barrier, or edge of their pen and lingers.
A puppy naturally wants to eliminate as far away from where they live/play, and will tend to start looking for fringes of the area to potty in.
Set up for Success
When potty training, it’s all about setting puppies up to succeed at the thing they want to do naturally. To begin, put them where they can’t make a mistake. A crate is a great way to avoid accidents, but is only effective once the puppy can control their bladder/bowels, and even then is only effective when used for reasonable timeframes. If you keep a puppy in a crate but do not make sure its needs are taken care of ahead of time, they may begin to soil the crate and accept it as their only option. For initial puppy training, you might find it beneficial to attach a crate to an exercise pen area with potty pads. Leave the crate open, giving the puppy the option to leave it to do their business on the potty pads. This will reinforce the concept of a clean den being important, and will help you avoid accidents that will set your training back.
Transitioning to the Great Outdoors
If your breeder used an indoor potty area or you’re enrolled in one of our programs that utilize an indoor potty station, you might be wondering how to make the jump from pottying in an indoor space to pottying outside. It’s important to be clear on what the indoor potty training is and what it isn’t. The indoor potty area gives puppies an opportunity to be correct in where they potty. It reinforces keeping their living area (their pen or your home) clean, and it also reinforces that pottying in front of you (in the appropriate place) can be totally awesome. These things all set you up for success in the training work you need to do at home. It is not a substitute for good scheduling, management, and clear indicators of where your potty area will be.
Once you’ve Set up for Success, commit to a schedule as outlined above. If your puppy has just woken up, take them to your appropriate potty area and wait with them until they potty. It might take seconds or you might need to bring a book! At this point, patience is key. You know the potty will be coming, and you just need to wait it out. Once they’ve done their business, reward them, praise them, and have a potty party! You can add a modifier cue to this behavior so that it begins to have a name. A “good potty!” can turn into a cue for them going if they need to as they grow and have better control of their eliminations.
This process is the same regardless of if you’re potty training for a turf area on your apartment deck or a backyard. Consistently get the puppy to the spot it needs to do its business, reward, and repeat.
The puppy will try to keep its area clean, but accidents can, will, and do happen! When one occurs, be sure to avoid scolding them. You might think it’s obvious that you’re scolding them for pottying on the rug, but from the puppy’s point of view you’re angry at them for going potty… or even worse, for pottying in front of you. If your puppy makes this association early, it will make potty training very difficult because even when you get them outside before they need to go, they’ll be reluctant to potty in front of you. As puppies are rarely left outside unsupervised, they might not have an opportunity to “go” somewhere that is out of sight when outdoors. As a result, they may be let back in the house and quickly hide behind a piece of furniture to potty. They aren’t doing it to be spiteful, they’re doing it because they learned quickly that if you catch them pottying you might be unhappy. If an accident happens, take the puppy to an appropriate area to finish up, clean up the mess, and be on watch for the next Schedule or Sign that a potty is on its way.