You CAN Train Your Puppy to Go Potty Outside!

Comprehensive advice from one dog owner to another about training your puppy to go outside and do her/his business…

  So you have a new puppy. You signed the papers and/or paid the money, picked out a leash, collar and food and brought the little bundle of excitement home. The puppy is so adorable and cute, and you set it down on the living room floor to watch it run around. Just as you were hoping, the puppy gets frisky and starts running around, sniffing and playing. Suddenly, IT happens… the puppy stops sniffing and starts to go potty on the tile or carpet.

 Now you may be wondering what to do. Or, perhaps this incident was just the beginning of a series of similar potty accidents which have driven you to seek some help with this issue. You feel upset and frustrated, and might wonder where it all went wrong…. You may have even considered ridding yourself of this unruly, albeit cute, creature at the nearest opportunity. And really, who could blame you? But it isn’t really that you want to give the puppy away at all; You just wish that he or she would behave, i.e. potty outside, more often. The good news is that even a dog who is no longer tiny, and has started going indoors, can be re-trained to go potty outside, STARTING TODAY. The bad news? Well… Luckily, there isn’t any…

 The answer to a pup or dog who potties indoors is actually quite simple. Your dog is trying to tell you something but has no way of speaking. He is saying he needs some relaxation time inside his “den”. Dogs, in the wild, are denning animals. They sleep curled in their den and it relaxes their nerves and gives them time to rest without worrying as much about threats from the outside world. It is the equivalent of a nice hotel room, when the proper amenities are provided. Your dog must have a den or else he will continue to potty indoors.

 You should create a den for your dog, using a spacious dog crate (at least 4 times the floorspace area that he takes up while lying down), a blanket, and a bowl for water. For my pomeranian I used a medium sized crate. You want to think spacious, but not too huge either. Remember it is a den, not a playpen, but he/she should be able to walk around a little as well. Cover 2/3 of the crate by draping a lightweight blanket or sheet over top and sides of the crate, leaving the front 1/3 (with the door) uncovered, so the puppy can look out. Now you have successfully created a nice safe ”den” for your dog to lie down and rest when he is not playing with you. Put the small dish of water just inside one of the front corners, near the door… Your dog will now sleep in the den every night (no exceptions as this prevents overnight accidents), and nap there as well, so it is important that he has something to drink if he gets thirsty.

The den is a great training tool, because the puppy will learn to love his safeplace as well as learning to hold off on pottying until he is taken out. Dogs do not like to soil their own dens. So your puppy WILL hold off if he can, because he doesn’t want his own feces or urine on his fur. New puppies might actually not yet know any better, and, as my pup did, actually make the mistake of pooping inside the den and then rolling in it. Then you may hear the pup crying and you should immediately take him out and bathe him if this should occur. If it happens, don’t worry, it is a learning experience and will most likely never happen again, as the puppy will dislike the outcome by his own natural  instincts.

 If your dog continues to potty in his den, you may need a slightly smaller crate, as he/she must get the idea that this “hotel room” has no bathroom area. If the pup still continues to do it even after the den is reduced slightly in size, you should schedule an appointment with the vet, as this may indicate a health-related issue.

 You should never leave your dog in the den too long. A good way to go is to give your puppy 3 hrs of den time at the VERY most, and at least 45 minutes of SUPERVISED playtime when he comes out. Any longer in the den or less playtime would  be cruel and unusual. The only exception to this rule is at night when he is sleeping, and by whimpering or moving in his den, he will let you know when it is morning and time to take him out. My dog goes to bed at midnight and wakes up at 8 a.m. wanting to go outside and potty. For this reason, you should always keep his or her den next to your bed so you will hear the puppy when its noises tell you it is time to take it outside to potty.

 If you are a heavy sleeper, I would recommend setting your alarm for 7-8 hrs after the pup has had his last walk and been put to bed for the night. Then get up and walk him in the early morning. If he has already pottied  in the den, he may need to go out sooner, so you should set the alarm a little earlier. He will usually not potty in the den unless he just cannot hold it any longer. We all can relate to holding our pee too long and it is no fun… do not subject your puppy to that. It will turn him off of potty-training and make both of your jobs even harder than they need to be.

 Now that the pup’s den is established you may place him in the den for the next couple hrs while you run to the nearest store and buy some enzymatic cleaner which is made specifically to remove organic material such as pet stains and odor. A great product is Kids n Pets, but there are many available and most do the job fine, as long as they specifically say that they contain odor-eating enzymes designed for pet stains. Many Walgreens and other drugstores carry these and they are actually inexpensive. 

 When you get home, take the puppy out from its den. BEFORE you set him down on the floor, immediately put his leash on and take him outside. Tell him, “Go potty!” or something of that nature, and then wait until he goes. For the first 25-50 times, this may seem like it takes forever, but have patience and it will get easier for your pup to know what to do each time. When he does, give him lots of praise! You may even want to give a tiny food scrap or treat as a reward. This way the puppy associates going potty outside with a good outcome. As he gets the idea, you can reduce the frequency of the treating, but always praise him just the same as the first time. Allow a few more minutes of sniffing as an added bonus, then take him inside for at least 45  minutes of SUPERVISED playtime with you.

You must always have your eye on the puppy. The idea is that he never has any time to sneak off and potty on the floor. When he is finished with his hour of playtime, take him outside to potty once more and return him to his den. Use kind words and be very nonchalant and light about him going in his den. He should associate the den with restfulness and peace. If he cries at first, it is only because you are not right next to him, not because he hates his den. Bear this in mind always, and do not respond to his cries, as hard as it may seem, he will stop after a little while when he realizes it isn’t getting him anywhere. Then he will just sit quietly in his den resting or sleep until it is potty and playtime again.

 Now that puppy has returned to his den for a couple more hours, you can start the task of cleaning up all remaining traces of messes from the time before he started his new training. Take the enzymatic cleaner to any spot where the pup previously peed or pooped, and follow the directions on the bottle. Do this in any place where the puppy has urinated or pooped. Even if you can’t see or smell remaining mess, your dog may, because its sense of smell is VERY powerful. You must use enzymatic cleaner to totally destroy any smell, so that your puppy won’t be tempted to go there again. This makes training that much easier. Now that your dog gets a chance to go outside as soon as he leaves his den, every time, and has more supervision while out of the den, he will also be less tempted to potty indoors with less remaining odor traces of his former behaviors. Let the carpet or tile dry completely before you decide to let the puppy out again.

 You now have the option to take the puppy out of his den (always walking him immediately), and supervising him closely as he plays, or place him in his den for a rest while you busy yourself with other things that need your attention as well. The puppy can play out of his den for as long as you like, as long as he is closely watched at all times and taken out to  go potty (every couple of hours at first, but may slowly increase to every 3-4 hrs as pup grows). If you need to focus on something else, just put puppy in his den for up to 3 hrs. This way he stays safe, and so do your floors ;) Use this system of training and your puppy will be potty trained very soon. Eventually he will need less den-time and supervision. As long as he learns that he has plenty of outdoor potty-time, he will learn to wait to go outside, instead of making a mess in your home.

 Training your puppy to go outside and do its business takes dedication and patience. The puppy needs structure and as a good leader you must show it what it needs to do by following a routine and sending clear messages about potty, nap and playtime. He may make mistakes along the way, and if he does, just clean it up without scolding or punishing. If you catch him doing it, issue a firm , “NO.” Then pick him up, put his leash on and take him outside. Practice makes perfect, and if you follow these guidelines, you should have your puppy potty-trained and under control very soon.

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  1. Carolyn Cordon

    On January 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    This is an excellent article. You have explained a puppy’s needs and a great way to give the puppy what it needs. Some people think crating a dog is cruel, but they don’t understand how a dog lives its life – racing around, then resting, all through the day.
    Dogs love to have their own den. My dogs spend most of their day lounging around, either in a crate, outside or on the sofa. That’s the way they like it.
    If I was a new puppy owner, your article would tell me all I needed to know about this subject.

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