How We Do It
My program involves three different stages: Free time, Restricted time and Lock Down. After my dog potties, he gets some free time in the house. When enough time has passed and I’m no longer positive that he is safe from potentially accidents, I put him on restricted time. Restricted time can look like:
-Being in a puppy pen
-Tethering a leash to a heavy piece of furniture
-Looping a leash around your foot or wrist or clipping to a belt loop - known as an umbilical leash
-Being in a room with you if you can watch him - really watch him, not just sort of watch him while you focus on something else
-Or, going in his crate
Depending on where you are in building your dog’s bladder control, he can go out after free time or after a little while of restricted time. We are trying to build their bladder control, but not allow it to go past capacity. Having your dog in your sight while on restricted time will allow you to noticed the signals of having to go and get your pup outside right away. If you are unable to watch your pup, go straight from free time to lock down in a crate until the next potty break! Two hours tends to be a good guide for most puppies, but adjust the timeline in accordance with their feeding schedule, water intake, vigorous play or waking up from a heavy nap.
How Do You Know If Your Pup Needs To Go?
A puppy won’t be able to cue you the way an adult dog may, so don’t expect a formal invitation from your dog to go outside. With puppies, I start to go on alert when my dog:
-wakes up from a nap
-starts to sniff or move towards carpet
-goes into a squat
-wanders into another room or around a corner
I do my best to preempt an accident by bringing my dog outside before anything can go wrong. Usually, if my dog does have to go and I bring him outside and cue the potty, he will go within a few minutes.
How Long To Stay Outside
It can be temping to stay outside until your dog goes, but this can be trouble in the long term. I want my dog to know that he only has a short window to use the bathroom instead of holding their bladder as leverage to stay outside longer. This can really get you in trouble when you are in a hurry to leave the house and need your pup to go so you can go. I limit each potty break to 5 minutes and keep potty walks under 15 minutes. If my dog doesn’t go, he can hang out in his crate and we will try again in 10 to 30 minutes. By keeping each break short, my dog learns that he needs to take this chance to go or else he will be stuck with a full bladder.
Getting With The Program
Potty training begins first thing in the morning. When you wake up, immediately take your dog outside. This will be known as zero hour. First thing in the morning, get your dog outside as quickly as possible. If possible, try to have your pup walk instead of being carried. This can be tricky in apartment complexes or anywhere that he will have a chance to squat and potty along the way. Leashing from the crate to the yard is a good idea to help your dog hustle outside without squatting in the house. I always use the leash in pulses, giving my dog opportunities to follow along of their own volition instead of dragging them with steady pressure. This will help your dog figure out that when he trots along with you, the pressure goes away and encourage more of that behavior in the future.
Cue The Potty
Go outside with your dog and use your cue word to indicate this is the time to eliminate. I like ‘go potty’ because it has a unique cadence and can be said in a sing-song voice. I like to have my dog on leash, even in a fenced yard, because I can touch the leash to encourage my pup to stay focused on the task and keep sniffing around to find a spot instead of looking around or sniffing the air or playing with a leaf or chasing a butterfly - you get it, puppies are cute. When we are on a potty mission, I pinch the very tip of the leash handle and follow along with my dog, keeping the leash slack. As long as my dog doesn’t drag me or dive bomb into a smell, I want them to have the space to explore and find that perfect potty spot.
How Much Is Enough
Your dog will likely pee first. Over time you will get used to how much your dog pees so you can tell if it’s a mark, a partial pee or a full bladder empty. Ideally, first thing in the morning, you get the full bladder. After the pee, reward your pup, but do it in a way that will allow them to stay focused on doing a full system empty and get a poo in, too. Not every dog wants to poo first thing in the morning. I will give my dog 5-10 minutes of walking and sniffing around to have a chance to go.
When I go inside, I’m pretty sure my dog is empty and won’t eliminate while we are feeding breakfast. If you suspect that your dog isn’t empty, keep them on restricted time when you come back in. This could mean being on the leash, in a crate or in a sectioned off part of the house, ideally without carpet. If you feel confident your dog is empty, he can have free time! We want your dog to start associating going potty outside, with being free to have fun inside.
A Sample Schedule
7:00am Wake up
7:00-7:10 Outside, ideally pee and poo
7:10 Feed breakfast at this time
7:15 Take a trip outside right away
7:30-7:40 Another potty break if your pup didn’t go
7:40-8:40 Free time if empty or restricted time if he didn’t
8:40 Potty break - record when he goes and what in your potty journal!
8:45-9:30 Free time
9:30-10:30 Restricted time
10:30-10:40 Potty break
10:40 - If he goes, free time, if not ask him to kennel up
10:55-11:00 Potty break, no potty
11:00-11:15 Kennel with water
11:15-11:20 Potty break, potty!
11:20-12:30 Free time!
Hopefully this gives you an idea of what to do. After a potty, your dog gets free time. When he is not 100% safe, he goes on restricted time or go outside. If he potties, great! Back to free time. If not, he should go in the kennel. We want your pup to associate not going potty when taken outside with being put in the kennel and going potty with getting to be free to have fun in the house!
Learning Your Pup’s Timeline
It takes time to learn your dogs body language, cues, schedule and preferences. Don’t worry that it takes some time to get to know him. That is totally normal! The potty schedule will help you stay on track so you are giving your pup plenty of chances to go and keeping him contained when you are worried he needs to go and hasn’t yet. Keeping a potty journal will help you see how often your pup is going so you can adjust your schedule to his current bladder capacity. Luckily, as your dog grows, so will his bladder and the space between potty breaks gets longer and longer. For my adult dog, I get her out every 4-6 hours, after a nap, or after getting home if she exercised and drank while we were out.
It’s a great idea to use treats, physical affection, and verbal praise to make going potty outside as fun and exciting as possible. This is a place where I say to throw your dog a parade! Make going outside the BEST thing. It can be hard to grab a treat on the way outside, especially if you are in a hurry, so I like to keep a sealed and hard-sided container of treats by the door. Ideally, you are putting a treat in your dog’s mouth within 3 seconds of when he finishes going. If you don’t have a treat, praise, pet, and play with your voice, touch and energy. Getting low, making high pitched sounds, and running around while he joins in are all happy and exciting.
Dogs do not understand punishment, but dogs do understand an in-the-moment consequence. If I find an accident, I won’t rub my dog’s nose in it or bring them over and spank them. He won’t be able to put together that the bad part was before when he created that mess. This is where your schedule with free time and restricted time comes in! It’s on you if he sneaks off and got an accident in.
The best thing is to prevent any accidents and teach your dog right away going potty happens outside. The next best thing is if I can catch my dog in the act. If I see my dog going potty inside, I want to make it unpleasant and a little scary. The association with going potty inside should be a bad one. I want to run up on my dog quickly and loudly yelling “NOOOOOO” then scoop him up or lead him outside by the collar as fast as I can. If I was fast enough, he should still have some pee left and finish going outside, for which I will then reward them.
A dog waking up, stopping playing or walking out of sight are all things that set my alarm off to go watch them, call them back, or get them outside. It takes time to develop that sensitivity and sixth sense. Having a collar with a bell or a thin leash on in the house will help get your attention when your pup is on the move. I also don’t leave my dog alone out of the crate. Pick up all rugs that can come up for at least a month or until your pup is pretty solid on being able to hold his bladder and knowing where the bathroom is. Rugs are great to go on because they absorb the urine, where as hard floors splatter and spread onto your pup’s toes.
The same way we know where the bathroom is because it’s the tiled room with porcelain furniture, dog know the bathroom by scent. This is why it’s important to clean pee stains by fully sopping up as much urine as you can with paper towels then soaking the area with an enzyme dissolving cleanser like Nature’s Miracle. It is very important to erase the potty smell so your dog doesn’t start to associate that spot with bathroom activities. Even poo stains need a scrub with Nature’s Miracle. Antibacterial spray is good, but it won’t dissolve all those enzymes and our dogs have much more sensitive noses than we do.
Using the Crate
Most crates come with a puppy divider to gradually increase the size of your crate as your dog grows. This is so your puppy doesn’t have mansion of a crate where one corner can be the bathroom and he can walk to the other side to get away from his mess. Most dogs won’t want to mess where they sleep, so being in just enough space to spread out and lay flat is a good way to dissuade them from going in their crate. Again, if you find an accident after the fact, it’s too late to correct them for it. Just take them outside and wash the bedding. Dog bedding is a privilege, not a necessity. It can be a good idea to start with a cheap towel instead of jumping in with a luxury sheepskin crate pad right away. If you dog messes in the crate a few times, leave them in there with no bedding so there is nothing to absorb the pee. Just like how your dog happily naps on the floor, he won’t find a plain crate as offensive as we do. Bedding is a privilege he can earn by holding his bladder in the crate.
It’s a good idea to monitor your dog’s water intake. For new puppies, limiting water in the evening to help them sleep through the night is very helpful. I advise doing a 3-meal schedule where dinner is fed around 5/6pm. Dogs need water to hydrate their kibble, so be sure that your puppy eats he has full access to water for about an hour to an hour and half. After that, pick up the water, giving him three chances to drink before bed. Only let him have a few sips, the way you drink when you go on road trip. While my puppy is house breaking and crate training, I have to do what I can to help him gain bladder control. If my dog doesn’t know he will be contained for 6-8 hours while I sleep, he will drink to his hearts content then need to go in the middle of the night. Limiting water will help him have a manageable amount in his bladder so he can start to sleep through the night. If you are worried, lifting the skin on the back of their neck is a good hydration test. If the skin quickly slips back into place, he is well hydrated. If it stays peaked and is slow to slide down, he needs more water. Water restricting at night should not be dehydrating. Be sure you are finding the balance between enough water and too much water.
When going over to someone else’s house, it’s a good practice to ask your pup to go potty before going inside. An empty dog is a safe dog. It’s easy for a pup to sneak off in a new space. When I go somewhere new, I like to close all the doors and keep my dog on-leash for a while. My dog will learn that the way to get inside a new place is to go potty outside- then we go right in. This is a great association to make! We just don’t go inside till you squeeze out a little potty. Be careful of rugs, blind corners or hallways, and, as always, food, cat food, and litter boxes. If you pup doesn’t potty outside before going in, keep him on leash in the house so he can’t wander off then go back out after 10-15 minutes. Just like with the crate at home, the way you earn your freedom is to go potty in the right place.
Bringing your pup over to a friend’s house with a healthy and polite dog who enjoys or tolerates puppies can be a great double hitter for socialization and potty breaking. Dogs will instinctively want to pee on another dog’s pee, so if the dogs play then go for a potty together, your puppy will likely copy the older, housebroken dog and go outside. Just like exercise, play gets the pipes moving, so be sure to take your pup out more often, especially if they are drinking more than usual.
Dog doors are convenient, but often create a dog that isn’t fully house broken. Just like a baby in diapers, a dog with a dog door never learns to hold his bladder because he can go potty whenever he wants. If you move, if you board your dog, or if the dog door is closed, your dog likely won’t be able to hold his bladder. Dog doors also prevent you from knowing if and when your dog has gone. When I’m first potty breaking, I recommend not using dog doors so you can go out with your pup every time and make note of what he does and when. There is always time to add on extras like dog doors later on, but for the initial potty training process, it’s important to avoid them.
Pee pads are tough! Unless you live in an apartment and plan on using pee pads throughout your dog’s life, it’s better to not use them at all. When I bring my dog home, it’s important to create a distinction from the breeder or kennel he came from and this new life, where we only potty outside. While potty pads can be an easy option at first, they are a hindrance for long-term house breaking as it will be another hurdle weaning your dog off them when you eventually pick them up. They are unsightly, smelly, and, unless your dog has perfect aim, are prone to having pee spill off the edges. Pee pads are too similar to rugs, which we don’t want our dogs to potty on and create too much nuance between going ‘here’ inside, but not ‘there.’
The way that dogs stomachs are designed, grazing is particularly bad for them. Instead of leaving food down all the time, I like to offer my puppy 3 meals a day. I put the food bowl down for 15 minutes, saying “are you hungry?” then pick it up until the next meal. This will teach your dog to eat when food is down or else he will go hungry. Feeding on a schedule will also help you estimate when your pup is likely to poo. If your puppy can free feed, it’s hard to know when he will need to go out since I don’t know how much he ate when.
It’s hard to balance the advice of your veterinarian and trainer. A vet will say that the risks of exposing your not fully vaccinated dog to the diseases that can be passed through the environment or contact with other dogs is not worth the risk. A trainer will say that the socialization and potty training dogs get in those first four to eight weeks at home is invaluable. Having a yard is a huge help in keeping your dog safe from environmental diseases. If you don’t have a yard, try to pick a quieter out of the way area where you can take your dog to potty