Puppy Potty-Training Basics

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By Marilyn Peterson, CPDT-KA, Behavior and Training Manager

Puppies are fluffy and adorable, but they don’t arrive at our doors housetrained. Potty training may seem daunting, but the steps to housetraining success are simple.

  1. Take your puppy out frequently. If your puppy is awake and moving, take them out every 20 to 30 minutes. Setting a timer is a good reminder.
  1. Pick an area. Choose a spot to visit first every time you take your puppy outside. With your puppy on a leash and high-value treats in your pocket, go to your designated area and stand quietly, allowing your puppy to sniff and circle you until they eliminate. Reward your puppy for this heroic behavior, immediately giving treats and effusive praise. Allow time in the yard for exploration or play after the potty break.
  1. Try again. If your puppy doesn’t eliminate, take them back inside without a playtime, and confine them in a crate or exercise pen, or keep them on their leash with you. Watch for signals that they need to eliminate, and take them outside again until the deed is done. Reward with treats, praise, and allow for play outside or play in the house. And set your timer for the next potty break.
  1. Watch for issues. If you catch your puppy beginning to squat to eliminate, calmly interrupt, and relocate your puppy to the designated pottying area.
  1. Aim for prevention. If you find your puppy has had an accident, clean it up, and review your routine for possible changes.

It all seems simple, right? But it can take time to teach your puppy. Follow these tips for potty-training success:

  • Develop a regular, frequent schedule. If you take your puppy out often to potty in the grass, their bladder will be empty when they are in the house.
  • Your puppy is likely to need potty breaks after meals, sleeping, or a play or exercise session, and before going to bed for the night.
  • Avoid extending the time between potty breaks too soon. Try adding 10 or 15 minutes if your puppy has a week without accidents. If accidents begin to occur, drop back to 30 minutes again, until your puppy is ready for a longer duration between outings.   
  • Puppies that eliminate in the house do not have motives of dominance or treachery.  They simply see no reason why they should not pee or poop on your living room floor. A puppy that hasn’t yet mastered house training simply doesn’t have a clue that they should be holding their bladder, and they will go indiscriminately most anywhere.
  • Puppies do not choose between inside and outside when house training, but they do develop a preference for what type of surface they use for eliminating. If they begin peeing on your carpet, they will equate your carpet as their bathroom. Typically, dog owners want their puppy to go outside in the yard, in the grass. So we want to create a positive association between grass and elimination by giving our puppies delectable treats immediately on-site, not waiting until we are back in the house. Repeating this scenario over and over will create a positive habit.
  • Supervise your puppy by use of a leash attached to your belt or waist, a crate, baby gates, or exercise pens to limit their opportunities for accidents.
  • Thoroughly cleaning an accident site will help prevent the puppy from returning to soil the area again. Using an enzymatic cleaner like Nature’s Miracle or Urine Off will break down urine stains and odor-causing molecules that signal your puppy to use the area as a bathroom.
  • Scolding and punishing your puppy will result in a puppy that is afraid to eliminate in your presence—even when outside where you want it to happen. The puppy will move to another room, or out of your sight, and accomplish their potty mission in peace and safety.

Puppies do not come programmed to eliminate in the area you have designated as appropriate. House training is not done in a day. When teaching potty etiquette, you will actively monitor and supervise your puppy for a few months.  Consistency is your friend. Remember that you are building patterns to give you and your new puppy a lifetime of success.

Face-to-face training services at Willamette Humane Society have resumed!  We are still offering virtual private lessons and group classes, too!  Visit https://whs4pets.org/train for more information on how to enroll!