Puppy Potty Training: Simple, But Not Easy

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The litter of 10 pups that my good friend was fostering for our local shelter at her home had a spay/neuter surgery date, and I was relieved. Surgeries had been cancelled for weeks, and while the pups could have been adopted out and brought back later for surgery, the shelter director instead decided to postpone the adoptions until a plan could be made to arrange surgery under covid-safe conditions. (Getting folks to bring 10 puppies back to the shelter on a given date is impossible, especially when they get adopted by families who may live several hours from here in every direction.)

Anyway, surgery was planned for a Thursday and my friend and I made a plan that the three girl pups would recover at my house, and she’d keep the boy pups corralled at hers. And the following Monday, we’d release the puppies’ portraits on the shelter’s Facebook page and the shelter would make appointments with people who were interested in adopting. We would bring the selected puppies to the shelter for outdoor “meet and greet” appointments and pick them up afterward if they didn’t get adopted.

It took about two weeks to get them all adopted, given the more arduous process of emails and phone calls and appointments, but they all did get adopted. One of the girls was the last to go, so all in all, I had three, then two, then one girl puppy here with me for about two weeks. And boy, oh boy, was it an in-depth refresher course in potty training.

A simple process

I tell people ALL THE TIME that potty training is simple, and it is. You take them outside CONSTANTLY, and you walk around with them and you watch them. And when they pee, you praise and give them a treat. Then you can bring them inside for about five minutes of scrutiny-free time and breakfast. But right after breakfast, you are all outside again, walking around, looking for that poop! And when that happens, you praise and give them a treat, and then you can bring them inside again, for maybe 10-15 minutes of scrutiny-free time, before you need to go out again for another pee.

You take them out after every nap. You take them out after every meal. You take them out after every play session ends. You take them out if it’s been more than 15 minutes since they last “went”! Simple! Not easy!

And what if they don’t “go”? Well, the smart thing to do is to pop them into a crate, because very few puppies will potty in a crate, so you can make sure that they don’t have a chance to “make a mistake” and pee or poop indoors, where you don’t want them to while you are not paying attention. Because no one can watch them every minute, even while sheltering in place! And if they potty in the house (or in your home office), they have just effectively been reinforced for doing so; it feels good to relieve the fullness of your bladder! And every mistake seems to build on itself; it’s far easier to just make darn sure a mistake doesn’t happen. In my experience, if you can get through three days of not letting them make even ONE mistake indoors, you’re pretty much home free with the potty training. They will want to go outdoors to potty and get right to business when you take them outside.

What not to do

What about the old “rub their nose in it” business? It’s poppycock. It makes them afraid of you, they don’t understand why you’ve grabbed them and have attacked them and are being gross. It’s a terrific way to induce a lifelong fear of humans, especially if there is poop or pee around, and to make them want to hide from you when they do go (so they become reluctant to go anywhere, even outdoors, near you; instead, you may find pee spots in closets and poop under your bed).

It can be effective, if you see a puppy start to squat, to run and grab the pup and carry them outside quickly – not in a way that scares the puppy, just interrupts her long enough so that she has some left to finish outside, where you can praise her. Being whisked outside isn’t all that comfortable, and it may be a little alarming – hopefully, just enough to interrupt her and not scare her, and what she remembers is the praise and maybe a treat for finishing outside. Simple! Not easy!

It’s not quite as easy as it sounds

I had three pups for six days, two pups for three more days, and one pup for seven more days; call it 31 total puppy days. My record? Not good. I ended the period with three pee puddles in my office, and probably six or seven in my house. (No poops indoors, however.) My mistake, EVERY time! Going over the 15-minute limit, when I should have either taken the pup/s outside or put them in a crate. I’d start making myself a sandwich for lunch, let the puppy come in, get interrupted by a phone call and ACK! see the pup squatting on the far side of the kitchen. Again and again! It’s so hard to pay such good attention for very long! And, though this seems backward, I had more success on the three-puppy and two-puppy days than I did on the one-puppy days. You can’t take your eyes off three pups or two pups; they are just capable of way more mayhem than one, not just potty stuff but also shoes, cords, paperwork, plants in the garden, rock-chewing, you name it. But one puppy chewing a chewy on her bed is easy to forget, until you hear a trickling sound. Argh! But a look at the clock says you’ve been working on the computer for an hour straight; she was overdue!

Anyway, when people complain about potty training, I don’t think I’m usually very sympathetic, because I feel like the whole process is So. Very. Simple! But I forgot that paying such close attention is just NOT easy!

11 COMMENTS

  1. Potty training is the one thing most people mess up on, that’s for sure. My shihtzu/bichon had the Shihtzu Stupids when it came to being housetrained. I worked from home and took him out every 20 minutes, after he ate, after he woke up, etc., and he still managed to pee in the house. I can’t believe how excited we were the first time he went out the doggy door on his own!! The hubs and I watched from the kitchen window to make sure he pottied. He did!!!! Yippeee!!!! After that the Bichon Smarts took over and he never peed or pooped in the house again. He’s 13 now. Our rescue poodle came to us house-trained and she caught on to the doggy door right away. I told the hubs that I honestly never want to get a puppy again. HE wasn’t part of the potty training.

  2. HELP,
    We have a Beatle/Cataula. Hardheaded.
    She will be 6 months on the 30th. She thinks she needs to go inside every time!!! We’ve tried everything. Any suggestions??? We are at out witts end here.

  3. I’ve never read this as advice for puppy potty training, so I don’t know if it’s approved by trainers. I learned, from my Dad, to stake a rag soaked with the puppies pee (Inevitably, you will have an opportunity to clean up puppy pee) in my yard. As a puppy, I introduced my Bichon to the pee soaked rag area every time I took her outside + her potty word, which is business. She is 14 years old and she has never peed in our house. Honestly, I can only remember one accident. She pooped in 3 rooms of our new house after a major move to a new city. I remember because I was so shocked, I thought she had lost her mind.
    I probably don’t need to, but I still use her potty word everyday.

  4. This article is so timely. We adopted what we thought was a Beagle puppy right before the Country shut down. I have always prided myself at being able to potty train a puppy in record time, but this dog gave us a run for our money. Like the author, I believe you need to be outside almost constantly when you have a puppy (which is why I’m never a fan of adopting in Winter). At any rate, there are three of us quarantined at home all day so pottty training should have been a breeze. Our puppy Yazzie, just didn’t get the concept. She would pee outside, take our praise and a tiny treat then promptly pee within a minute or two of coming in again. She would look so confused when scolded and even more confused when she was praised. We’ve owned many dogs, and I was starting to think she might not be very smart. Now that she’s a solid 4 months, two things are clear; 1. She’s not a Beagle. She has that sweet Beagle face but with a large, almost Greyhound’s thin, lanky, body! Whatever she is, she is going to be the size of a pony within a year’s time! 2. She figured it out herself and is clearly very smart. Potty training took a while, but one day it all clicked for her. No matter what, follow the advice in this article and just keep at it. It may not happen instantly, but with praise and treats, all dogs can be successful.

    • We’ve been SO lucky with our dogs. The First Dog, a large hairy dog, was 10 weeks old when he cake to us and was pretty much house broken over a weekend. Each dog that came to us after that seemed to learn from the ones already in residence. We’ve had a long run of The Best Dog Ever.

  5. My schnoodle has figured out, he can go on the bottom of the toilet because that is where I go. And he goes on draperies since there will be no puddle on the floor.
    He is 11 and If I’m home goes outside every time but when I work… I refuse to crate him for all day and out for a couple hours. He is a great dog other than that.

  6. So true! I have house trained puppies before but every time I do, I need to remember it’s a new and different dog, or may even be a different breed where house training is regarded as more difficult for that particular breed. My current record for my new puppy – fair to middlin’ but getting better as we learn to speak a common language and I can understand the new puppy’s signals. The C.R.A.P. acronym gives me a great way to remember my priorities!

  7. I have a female pup that is almost 10 months old. She is about 90% potty trained. The problem I’m having is she still pees in her crate over night. She will fuss and bark to wake me up but does this AFTER she has peed in the crate. Her waking me up is like she is trying to tell me her crate is messy and she wants out of the crate. I do get up and let her outside to potty. This happens around 3:30 – 5:30 am. We come in, I clean her crate, put new paper in it and I go back to bed. Dogs go out for last time just before bed which can be any where from 10:30 pm to midnight. On the rare occasion where her crate is dry when I let her out, she is given lots n lots of praise. She is an extremely smart pup.

    How do I get her to where she doesn’t pee in her crate during the night? I’m ready to pull my hair out.

    • I would set alarm for 2AM, wake her up & out she goes for her business.
      The Training puppy sounds much like how I trained my 3 kiddos—MM & Ms–worked in a weekend of non-stop pottying.

      • I’ve got a dog that is about 1 year old. When we first got her she wasn’t potty trained. We figured that as a family we could potty train her in a most a month or so. That was not the case. We tried to but our methods did not work. Soon my kids got busy with sports and my husband and I with our jobs and we still managed to find time to spend with our dog but it wasn’t enough to potty train her. Then we decided to go to a puppy trainer and thought that would work and it helped in some areas but not in the potty training one. Now she is 1 year old and still not potty trained. Does anyone have any suggestions on what to do? Any advice would be very helpful.

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