By Dr. Karen Burgess
The keys to successful housetraining are consistency and frequency. The goal is training a pet not to eliminate in improper places (inside the house) and to hold their urine and feces until in a proper area (outside). The use of a crate or small confined area can expedite the process as most dogs will not chose to eliminate in the same spot that they sleep. An appropriately sized crate is big enough to allow a dog to stand up, turn around, and lay back down comfortably. Following are some general guidelines for successful “potty training”.
- The younger the puppy the less control they will have and the more frequently they will need to go outside.
- Feeding your puppy on a consistent schedule will help with potty training. A good method is putting the bowl of food down two to three times daily for 15 minutes and then picking the bowl up. Water should be offered at all times as young dogs do not have full ability to regulate their water reserves and can thus become dehydrated easier than adult dogs.
- Puppies tend to need to eliminate after sleeping, eating, drinking, and playing.
- Your puppy should not be left unsupervised. If not able to 100% watch a puppy for signs of elimination (circling, sniffing), it is better to confine them in their crate to avoid accidents. It is helpful to gate off a small area or tie an attached leash around ones waist to better monitor a puppy’s movements and watch for early signs of need to eliminate.
- All trips outside to eliminate should be accompanied. When taking a puppy outside to eliminate use a consistent phrase (“outside”) and take them to the same location every time. Often a location that is as close to the door you will be exiting through is helpful. Keep your pet on a short leash to allow direct observation and thus praise for elimination. If your pet has an accident inside you can place the soiled clean up rags in their designated elimination spot to further reinforce this as the proper place to go.
- Use a consistent phrase every time your dog eliminates (ex. “go potty”, “hurry up”). This phrase can be used throughout life to designate a time for elimination. Verbal praise and a treat (dog food kibble) should occur simultaneously with elimination NOT after going back inside.
- If your pet eliminates, give them copious praise. This is then a good time for the reward of a walk or play. If they do not eliminate outside within a short period of time (five minutes) they should be put back in their crate for a period of time (15-30 minutes) and the steps repeated until proper elimination occurs.
- If your dog eliminates in their crate and DOES NOT require a bath, the crate is either too big or there is too much bedding present.
- If your puppy is caught in the act of having an accident, make a sound (clapping) or say something (“no!”, “eh-eh”) to interrupt the behavior and take them directly outside to their elimination area. Reward accordingly for appropriate elimination. Remember that physical punishment or reprimands (ex. rubbing nose in area of soiling) does not help with potty training and if anything can make a pet fearful or even worse aggressive. If you have found an area of previous soiling the only thing to be done is appropriate sanitizing (dry cleaning type odor neutralizer) and better observation moving forward. Most accidents are “operator error” as opposed to puppy error.
- Paper training may seem like a good idea, but it may confuse a puppy and in the end prolong potty training efforts. Another option is sod training (placing a small area of sod inside). This may avoid some future confusion with paper surfaces.
- A dog is typically not truly potty trained until they have not had an accident for a full month.
Example potty training schedule:
Crate overnight, carried outside on short leash in morning to designated elimination spot, after 5 minutes if no elimination take back to crate for 15 minutes. If proper elimination occurs, verbal praise and treat, then back inside to start day. Feed, supervised play. After hour or two (may need to go out again after eating) then back outside and then into crate for two to three hour “rest time”. This allows the bladder to be trained to hold urine and the puppy to understand that it is ok to be crated even if people are around. After rest time, take puppy outside and repeat cycle. It is often easiest to have a designated “rest time” in the morning, afternoon, and dinnertime. Always remember to sandwich time in the crate with trips outside (outside, crate, outside).
The first question to answer when a pet is having issues with inappropriate elimination is whether the pet was ever fully housetrained in the first place. Also consider whether they has been a change in schedule, elimination location (more difficult to access), or feeding schedules. In these situations going back to housetraining basics is often enough to get things back on track.
If a pet is having accidents along with other changes in behavior, an underlying medical or behavioral problem may be present. Increased thirst, change of urination or defecation frequency, and change in character of stool or urine (ex. loose stool, blood tinged) may all be signs of an underlying disease. Location of accidents can also be telling as some pets may actually be experiencing incontinence while sleeping whereas urination on vertical surfaces may be marking behavior. Any signs of discomfort associated with urination or defecation are of note and also require examination by a veterinarian.
Elimination associated with specific environmental situations may be indicative of a behavioral issue are not typically purposeful or under the pet’s immediate control. Submissive or excitement urination often occurs when a pet meets new people, is stood or reached over, or is overly excited in a situation. Dogs that have issues with separation anxiety or noise phobia may soil during stressful times. Specific techniques are used to address elimination issues associated with behavioral problems and should be discussed with your veterinarian.
Regardless of cause, a pet that has soiled an area repeatedly should be denied access to this area unless 100% supervised. Ensuring that the area has been completely sanitized and even changing the substrate (ex. removing carpet, placing a mat over area) are also often helpful.