Dog Potty Training Guide
(Updated Oct 1, 2019)
Why is potty training a dog so difficult? In my recent interview with Lifehacker titled “Ask an Expert: All About Dog Training,” I was blown away (and saddened) by the number of questions and the difficulty people were having with housetraining their dogs. Sadder still is that many of these questions were coming from parents with dogs that were several years old. These poor dogs and parents are living with this house soiling problem and in the process fracturing relationships and adding stress and frustration to what should be a joyous connection. Some of the questions people asked about their dogs were regarding pets that were adopted, rehomed, bought from a breeder, or were about to be relinquished because of their potty training problems. So although I ignorantly thought that potty training wasn’t a huge issue for parents of older canines, it seems many parents are simply living with the problem for years. Life with your dog does not have to be this way and if followed, Fun Paw Care’s potty training/house training guide will offer many solutions to fix house training issues and will improve your relationship with your dog, lower your anxiety levels and restore your relationship with your companion. There is no reason to give up your pet or rehome them because your dog is peeing or pooping in the house. House soiling transgressions can be solved with the parent’s vigilance, understanding and by following these simple house training instructions. So let’s go over this thoroughly, yet simply. Remember, never be at a LOSS when it comes to how to house train your dog/puppy.
How To Succeed at Puppy Potty Training
You are not alone. It turns out that house soiling is a common problem, affecting up to a staggering 37% of dogs. Bringing many pet parents to ask, “what’s the easiest way to stop a dog from pooping and peeing in the house?” I love mnemonics because they make remembering things easy. Theories, ideas, and concepts that once escaped me are easier to remember this way. With that in mind, there is a four-pillar approach to understanding why a dog pees or poops where and when they do, and this knowledge can thereby fix potty training problems with your puppy or dog. The mnemonic is LOSS, and it stands for:
L = Location. Dogs are location-based. They are drawn to the same location and prefer to relieve themselves in the same location day and night.
O = Olfactory. Dogs have powerful noses. A dog’s olfactory system is many times that of a human nose. A dog prefers to go pee and poo in the general same smelling area as they did before.
S = Substrate. Urine and feces are composed of chemicals and have a unique chemical composition and breakdown. Specifically, the proteins within pee and poo emit a noxious chemical concoction irresistible to canines. Your dog wants to relieve themselves on top of or next to other dogs’ pee and poo.
S = Spatial. This is the pet parent’s management of a dog’s space, both outside and inside environment. Spatial management is your job to manage your pup effectively, vigilantly and prudently thereby not allowing your dog to make house training errors.
As you can see from LOSS, the composition, direction, and placement of a dog relieving themselves all lead too and paint a vivid picture of where and why your dog wants to urinate and/or defecate. No, your dog is not stubborn, stupid, being spiteful, vindictive, obstinate, or intransigent. Your dog is being, well, a dog, and doing a species-specific behavior. Being mad at your dog for peeing or pooing in the wrong location is as silly as being mad at your dog for breathing.
Potty Training Medical Issues Come First
First and foremost your dog should always receive a clean bill of health from your preferred board-certified veterinarian to rule out any incontinent medical issues. If your adult or senior dog suddenly starts peeing in the house, medical issues are likely the cause. Many puppy and older dog medical issues can be causing or contributing to your dog’s inability, frequency, variability and duration of which they need to relieve themselves. Factors such as:
- Your dog’s age
- Medications your dog is on
- Other resident animals in the house and/or outdoor animals
- Stress levels
- Food reaction/change/contamination
- Fever/common cold
- General illness
- Arthritis – Pain when squatting to urinate or defecate
- Ectopic Ureter (Abnormally formed urinary system)
- Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
- Intestinal parasites
- Bladder infection or bladder stones
- Kidney disease/failure/tumor
- Liver disease
- Adrenal gland disease
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Addison’s disease
- Age of your dog
- Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (dementia)
Other factors that aren’t overtly apparent to us may also be contributing to canine house training issues. In addition, it is worth noting that contemporary behaviorists and trainers don’t use outdated parlance such as house “breaking” any longer so you won’t hear about house “breaking” a dog from any up-to-date trainers or behaviorists. We are not breaking anyone of anything. Breaking conjures up disturbing images of dominance and force, both of which are not used by compassionate, up-to-date, dog trainers. We are simply teaching individual learners to perform human preferred behaviors. We are teaching another species, canines, where we would prefer them to relieve themselves. People don’t like to hear it, but if your dog is not pooping and peeing in your preferred location, roll up a newspaper, look in the mirror, and hit yourself over the head and say, bad human! Or go over to the pee or poop and rub your nose in it and say very sternly, NO! As dumb as this sounds to do to us, is as ignorant to do to dogs. All kidding aside, it is always our fault if a dog pees or poops where we don’t want them too because we have allowed them to do so. It is worth repeating; it is always our fault if a dog is not house trained. And as the only resource holders and pet parents in the family, it is us who hold the keys to our dog’s very existence. So throw away your can with rocks or coins in it, your water spray bottle and all of your other punitive devices that you heard or read about on the internet or from a reality television show and focus on positive reinforcement, antecedent arrangement, management and setting your dog up for success.
What NOT to do when Potty Training your Dog or Puppy
Dominance theory went out with bloodletting in the 1800s. However, people still somehow think that rubbing a dog’s nose in pee and poo while yelling or hitting them teaches them something. This is not only unfair but mean, will exacerbate the peeing and pooping problem and is unfounded in any evidence/science. The only thing this teaches your dog is that you are not to be trusted and are a little crazy. Not to mention unsafe, capricious and unpredictable that is more likely to make your dog more unlikely to go pee or poop in front of you and more likely to go in the house again when you aren’t around. So forget all of these stupid reality show suggestions and from what you heard from your best friend’s mother’s, neighbor that she heard on the internet forums, and keep reading.
Equally important, contemporary trainers, behaviorists, and veterinarians understand the scientific evidence that far more dogs die from behavior problems than any other cause!1 So if your veterinarian is still providing outdated advice such as “don’t take your puppy outdoors before they have all of their immunization shots” or, “make sure you do not take your dog to puppy training classes or socialize them with other dogs until they are fully vaccinated”, make sure you find yourself another veterinarian. If they are that far behind in the science of behavior (ethology) do you want them diagnosing your dog for anything at all!? I wouldn’t. It is negligent for a veterinarian to hurt you and your dog by providing outdated, incorrect and detrimental information, however sadly many still do. A behavioral vaccination is the most critical vaccination a puppy can get. And that vaccination has a predetermined biological growth phase and time frame that you cannot get back once it’s gone. The first 13 weeks are the most important and influential time of your dog’s life to learn.
As Steven Lindsay states in the Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior And Training, “The ontogeny of a dog’s social behavior unfolds according to a genetically programmed timetable (Scott and Fuller, 1965; Fox, 1971). These early developmental processes exercise an enduring influence over the behavior adjustment of dogs. During a brief period from 3 to 13 weeks of age, an average puppy will probably learn more than during the remaining course of its lifetime, forming a lasting emotional and cognitive schemata of the social and physical environment. Furthermore, these early experiences format the general outline and organization of how and what the dog is prepared to experience and learn in the future.”
The socialization and the critical/sensitive period is roughly 3-13 weeks. So take your dog out to socialize with other vaccinated, well-behaved, well-mannered dogs. In fact, new research in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior shows that the sensitive period maybe even earlier than we suspected for some breeds. Use basic safety and stay away from high trafficked dog areas such as public dog parks and places where you know there is poop or pee from other dogs. Be smart about minimizing your dog’s exposure before all vaccinations are gotten, but by no means sequester your dog to your home or immediate few blocks during puppyhood or before all vaccinations are received. That would be the absolute worst thing you could do for your dog, and you and your puppy will spend a lifetime making up for it.
Now, back to the mnemonic LOSS. First is the Location. Dogs like to go the bathroom in the same location to pee and poop over and over again. Yes, unaltered, unspayed and unneutered dogs like to mark their territory, however for the purpose of this article; we will focus on urinating and defecating, not marking (which are different in quantity, function, meaning…etc.)
If your dog is peeing on your rug, furniture, bed, couch, in your living room, bedroom or any other place, these places must be immediately off-limits to your pet. Do not allow your dog access to any areas where they have house soiled or previously marked.
Because we know that dogs prefer to go in the same physical, tactile and geographical location to relieve themselves, we can use this information to our advantage. If we set a puppy up to go potty where we would prefer and not where they would prefer, their tendency to go potty in the correct location that we taught them will remain just as strong as if they decided to poop or pee where they taught themselves.
Make sure you watch the, How do dogs “see” with their noses video above. Did you see how large the section of a dog’s brain is dedicated to the olfactory system!? It makes a human nose look darn right primitive by comparison (and it is). Dogs transmogrify data and information, long after a scent was left, making dogs virtual time portal nose machines. Freaken awesome! If a dog’s olfactory bulb and vomeronasal organ don’t amaze you by now and give you a newfound awe, appreciation and profound intrigue about how a dog senses the world, nothing will.
Now that you realize the power and incredible abilities of a dog’s nose, your newfound respect for your dog’s abilities may have you looking at him/her differently with respect to potty training. A dog prefers to go pee and poop in the same general smelling area each time. This strong habit can be good or bad for us. If we teach a dog to pee and poop where we want them to go, this habit will be great and can be used to our advantage! However, if they have not been taught where to poop and pee and are urinating and defecating wherever and whenever they want, it can be a darn right nightmare.
Get your chemistry hats on for a minute. Dogs love the chemicals that are emitted by urine and feces. So much so, that they prefer to countermark, to pee and poop on top of and next to where they or other dogs have gone before. Hence, why you see dogs pooping and peeing on other dogs poop and pee and why they typically go potty in high trafficked dog areas.
Poop and pee communicate many social signals to dogs such as:
- Who passed and when
- A dog’s age
- Health status
- Social status
- Reproductive stage & status
- If the dog was neutered or spayed
- If the dog is friendly
- The dog’s gender
- The dogs breed
And many more signals and information that we are still learning about. This is also learned through a dog urine marking, anogenital investigation and countermarking. This is a dog’s way of exchanging business cards and communicating with one another. So allow your dog to sniff and investigate other dogs’ rear ends, it is no more gross or weird than you shaking someone’s hand (who knows where that’s been), exchanging business cards, greetings and getting to know one another.
Perhaps the most important and salient component of LOSS is Spatial. This is because when a parent controls a dog’s space and environment, we also control the potty training accidents in their preferred olfactory location, their preferred substrate location and if we control the spatial ability of where a dog is allowed to pee and poop, we obviously control the location component as well. In fact, all of LOSS may be controlled through spatial management. Which is why spatial orientation must be a priority. The antecedent arrangement/environmental space that the dog has access to in your home and the management of that space is vital to managing a dog’s pee or poop cycle and setting them up for success. A pet parent’s control and management of the dog and space/environment is the most vital aspect of controlling where and when a dog is allowed to relieve themselves.
Every time we allow a dog to pee or poop in the house or the wrong location we set them back several steps to achieving perfect house training. At all costs, we cannot allow dogs rehearse and to practice inappropriate habits or these bad habits will become stronger and more difficult to stop.
How to Potty Train your Dog – Products and Considerations
Control Freaks and Micromanagers Unite. Tools of the Trade: Calling all control freaks and micromanagers. You know who you are! Your time has come, you have waited your entire life for this moment, and here it is, so don’t screw it up! This is where you get to practice your control/management of your dog. By that, I mean the following. Say hello to your new best friends:
How to Clean Dog Pee and Poo?
Enzymatic Spray – Well, it turns out that a dog’s powerful nose can smell the chemical protein breakdown in pee and poo well beyond after you clean it with your regular daily household cleaner. To really clean those pesky pee and poo stains, you need an enzymatic cleaner. Which breaks down the enzymes that lure dogs to the same substrate again and again. This will help stop the cycle of a dog preferring to go where they or another dog went to the bathroom in the past.
Enzymatic cleaning solutions break down the proteins in your dog’s feces and urine. Cleaning the poop and pee space from your dog’s perspective is different than cleaning pee and poop for our plebian noses. An indispensable tool is an enzymatic spray. This spray will help stop the magnetic pull of a dog to urine and feces and will disconnect the chemical smells of pee and poop from the location that was peed or pooped on in the past. Remember, a dog can smell a spot where they or another dog has peed or pooped days, weeks, even months after it has been left. Dissolving the chemical smell allows dogs to reorient themselves to your new preferred elimination location. Score! The old places must be cleaned with the proper enzyme spray to clean pee and poop from a dog’s nose perspective – not just clean to our primitive noses. Unless we use proper cleaning supplies and methods, the old pee and pooping station will still smell like a dog park to your dog even if it smells lemony fresh to you.
Empty all garbages – Toss any cleaning materials you have used to clean the poop or pee, such as paper towels, towels, newspapers, rags…etc. In the outdoor garbage can that seals off odors. You don’t want those smells lingering and making your home smell more like a dog park to the dog. Or at the very least use a closing lid garbage can.
Baby Gates – These are great to change the arrangement of the house in a hurry. Block off certain rooms and makes your home manageable to watch your dog without having to close your doors. Ancillary, baby gates and X Pens or partitions are also great to block off the kitchen to prevent counter surfing and hence stopping your dog from eating food that could kill them. Even when not potty training, I typically have several baby gates on hand.
Hire a dog walker – A dog walker or dog runner may not be focused on training a dog, however, for working breed dogs or dogs with a lot of energy, dog walkers are vital. They can provide much-needed stimulation, enrichment, exercise, play, socialization and bathroom relief from a dog “holding it in” while dad and mom are at work. It is inhumane and negligent to leave a dog in a crate all day while you are at work, while unable to provide stimulation, enrichment, exercise, love, care, and access for them to relieve themselves.
Strict supervision – Vigilance is required during potty training. There is no getting around this. Dogs are very time-intensive, (not space intensive) and even more so when potty training. If you don’t have the time, consider all of the other options you may have.
Frequent trips to the bathroom – Do not get lazy or wait too long in between bathroom trips. The more frequent trips you make, the more likely your dog will go to your preferred location. Simply, the more time you spend outdoors with your dog, the more likely this is where they will pee and poop.
Rewarding your dog for Peeing and Pooping – There is no better strategy for conditioning good dog behaviors than with high-value food rewards. Exchanging these high-value food primary reinforcers will reward your dog and have him eager to pee and poop where you condition them to go potty. Immediately substitute several high-value treats for peeing and/or pooping. Have a puppy party each time!
Dog/Puppy Pens – It is critical to use dog pens to control and manage your dog’s space precisely. The set up should look like as described in the remainder of this paragraph. In one of the four corners of the puppy pen, place your dog’s crate. Ideally, a metal wire crate that can be sectioned/sized as your dog grows. Providing only enough room for your pup to stand up, turn around and sleep comfortably. If you provide too much room, the dog will likely pee and poop in one corner and sleep in the other, defeating the purpose of benefits of crate training. Sizing is critical, which is why even the best plastic crate, or best mesh carrier bags, while wonderful for other applications, should not be used and are not ideal for crate training and house training.
Another option is to position the crate to be part of the puppy pen as seen below so it is not in the corner of the pen but part of the pen, with each end of the pen attached to the sides of the corner of the opening of the dog crate. This is an example of an outdoor scenario. However, I would suggest for most cases this be set up indoors. The dog crate door may be left open with an additional dog bed placed inside the crate. Of course, when you are managing your dog’s pee, and poop and the dog needs to be inside of the crate, the crate door should be closed. All other times when your dog has already immediately eliminated, and you are watching your dog, you may leave the dog crate door open and allow the dog to roam around his doggie den (inside of the open crate but closed pen). Your dog should have another dog bed outside of his/her crate in the other corner of the pen. This will be another place for your dog to go and hang out if he/she wants to be outside of the crate.
Earn space – Start with a puppy pen area and have your dog earn more space, room by room over the course of months. Err on the side of caution and safety and do not think your dog “knows where to go now”, was good and had no accidents for a few weeks and then provide the entire house for them, only to have accidents and set the clock back.
Wee-wee pads – The pen may be covered with wee-wee pads. Pee pads, newspaper, and tarp are optional depending on how vigilant and controlling you are with watching your dog. I prefer to use sod and to mimic the grass environment in which I wish for my dog to eliminate. If you have ample time and spend most of your day outdoors and training, you may skip the sod and puppy wee pads since you will be outside for most of the day rewarding your dog when he/she poops and pees.
Dog/Puppy Crates – Crates are amazing for many reasons. The fallacy that crates are bad sounds like the punchline of a pet sitter sales pitch “crate-free” or “cage-free.” This advertises someone’s ignorance about dog behavior, health, and husbandry. Dogs are den animals and prefer small, dark spaces. A crate should be a Zen area for your dog and has so many beneficial uses, including potty training. Not only will a dog crate help with house training but it will also help your dog be healthy and happy for life. A dog crate is helpful in innumerable ways such as transporting a dog anywhere. Whether you are staying at a hotel, going to the vet, on vacation, to the park, on a car, boat, plane or train a crate is instrumental. A dog crate offers a safe place for your dog if they are recuperating from an injury, surgery or illness or if you have visitors that are afraid of dogs or vice versa. If you have contractors or construction workers coming and going, a dog crate will keep your dog safe from any chemicals and materials lying around and provide a safe, relaxing environment. In emergencies, hurricanes or natural disasters, your dog will feel safe, comfortable and relaxed in their doggie den. Caveat, if your dog has had a bad experience with their crate, has anxiety, fear, is panting, pacing, drooling, yawning, barking, scratching at the crate…etc, do not use a dog crate and call a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, CDBC and work on desensitization and counterconditioning (D/CC).
Why use a dog crate?
If the above didn’t convince you, this will. Dogs innately do not like to defecate or urinate where they sleep, who would! We use a dog’s natural inclination not to want to soil their den where they sleep to our advantage. A dog will hold it in while they are in their crate. Keep in mind, a puppy must go out very often, when they wake up, before bedtime, after they eat, after they drink, after they play, basically every 1-2 hours, depending on their age. It is also cruel to confine a juvenile, adolescent or adult dog to a crate for many hours. A dog should have the opportunity to relieve themselves at a minimum of 4 times a day.
When using the crate, it must be appropriately sized so that a dog may stand up, without hitting the top of the dog crate and turn around unencumbered. You do not want a crate where the puppy or dog may relieve themselves on one side of the crate and then nap on the other side. This defeats the purpose of the crate. The only time your dog or puppy is allowed to be out of the crate is after he/she has gone to the toilet in your preferred location after they have just emptied their bowels and bladder.
Pro tip: A puppy should be picked up out of the crate, on the way to go piddle outdoors or they will likely piddle in the elevator, stairwell or anywhere on the way to go outdoors. Simply pick him/her up out of the crate, walk over to the spot where you want him/her to pee and poo, and place him/her down on the grass or wherever you wish your puppy to relieve themselves. As a smart parent, you will always be prepared and be armed with high value treats to reward them with delicious treats (not their kibble) and a puppy party after they pee and/or poo.
Pro tip: If you don’t sound foolish and embarrassed lauding your pup with your over-the-top, high-pitched voice at your puppy’s pee and poo party, you aren’t doing it correctly.
Remember, when bringing your dog outdoors to pee or poop, just stand there and do not pay attention, pet, look at, talk to, play with, or show any of the toys or treats to them for them until after they go to the bathroom. They should be in a relatively boring environment for them to do their business and then the celebration comes. If they have to go, it should take under 5 minutes. If they do not go potty, simply bring them back inside to their closed crate and start the clock again and wait another 30 minutes or so and repeat the process.
Tethering – tethering your dog to your belt via a dog leash belt, is a great way to keep them in sight. However, tethering is not a full-proof way to manage their urination or defecation. You may tether your dog to you when your dog is not in their pen or crate. If your dog is leashed to you, you can monitor them easier. That way if your cell phone rings or someone knocks on the door you can always be next to your puppy watching with vigilance. It only takes a nanosecond for a puppy to sneak off and squat. This will help prevent those mistakes.
When your dog is not tethered to you, he/she goes in the properly sized crate. Do not worry, dogs are den animals and prefer small dark spaces. You are not punishing your dog. Your dog’s crate should be thought of a doggie Zen area. And it would be cruel not to provide that for him/her.
Doggie diapers – Helps with female urination incontinence and also helps with the management of male/female pee and poop messes.
Controlled hydration – Water management is essential. Do not provide free access to water 24/7. While this may seem like blasphemy to some, I have yet to meet or read about a dog that got ill or died from not having access to water 24/7 as long as they are provided water every couple of hours depending on their activity level, health, age, environment..etc. After all, we all fast from the nighttime, until morning otherwise known as breakfast, literally named to break, the fast. I am sure you can see how 24/7 access to water is not detrimental to your dog. I suggest providing fresh, clean water at all times after your dog is well potty trained and I do NOT recommend depriving your dog of water when they are thirsty, sick, dehydrated, on medication, after exercise, direct sun exposure…etc. If your dog has had a long walk, playtime, exposure to the sun, medication, or after eating he/she may be particularly thirsty so time and manage your play sessions and the aforementioned carefully. During potty training, your dog’s life will be orchestrated to fit into your potty training schedule. Do NOT leave your dog without water for the entire day or during the day for 3+hours.
While potty training and taking into account all of the above, assuming your dog is healthy, I suggest providing all the fresh, clean, cool water your dog can slurp down about every 2 hours. After, pull the water bowl up and start the timer on your watch. Before bed, last call! Pull up your dog’s water 3 hours before you go to bed. And remember to give them all they want to drink as soon as you wake up.
Remember, the goal is for your puppy to become reliable enough to roam free around your house, not to stay in a crate for life.
What Goes In Must Come Out
Dogs are like clockwork. The dog/puppy’s age will tell you how long they can hold in urine and feces. The younger the dog, the shorter the ability to hold in urine and feces. As your dog gets older and has the capability of holding it in longer, you may adjust your times and schedules accordingly. You will have a good idea by just watching and learning your dog’s cycle to understand their preferred timing to poop and pee after they eat and drink. This requires observation and awareness. And which is also the fun part. I mean who doesn’t love watching a puppy or older dog all day!
It is important to note that no one solution will likely stop the peeing/pooing invader. This is a team effort. Your best chance of stopping your dog from going to the toilet in your home is with spatial management. However, managing all aspects of LOSS will make it easier for your dog to build great bathroom habits and stop your dog from house soiling.
Common Potty Training Mistakes
Too much space – Increasing space and decreasing vigilance is the bane of a great potty training plan. The adage, “my house is your house” will set you and your dog up for failure. My home is your home will come down the road, after your puppy is potty trained. Start small and let them earn space slow and steady. Providing more space and increase the space provided to your dog slowly. Too much, too soon will cause accidents. Remember, habits (good and bad) take a while to form and stick. Dogs are time-intensive, not space-intensive. You are much better off taking it slow, measured in months not weeks; to doubly make sure your dog looks forward to peeing and pooping as soon as they go outdoors in your preferred bathroom spot than taking a shot and increasing their freedom because they got it right for a few weeks in a row. Invest a few months of inconvenience and vigilance for years of a happy and joyous pee and poop free home – it’s a great ROI.
Lazy to reward good/preferred behavior – funny/sad isn’t it, how we are so quick to punish and scold bad behavior but often forget or take for granted our dog’s good behavior as if we just “expect” our dogs to understand us and to behave like little fur baby angels. Well seeing how expectations are future resentments, it would behoove us to not expect or take anything for granted. You can never generously reward peeing and pooing quickly and on cue enough. Meaning, despite a dog’s age, I still bring high-value rewards out with me on occasion for any age dog, just to keep the variable reinforcement schedule intact and strong. You should see how a 12-year-old lab dances around in circles like a puppy again when I whip out his favorite treat for going pee or poop quickly where I wanted him to, in the rain! We have a party, and it is an awesome spectacle! Seeing him that happy brings tears to my eyes and I imagine you experience the same connection with your dog when they are happy, you are ecstatic. If you treat generously, frequently and with contiguity, your dog will start to pee and poo like Flash Gordon, and you both will all be happier and healthier for it.
Punishment – Why does my dog hold it in when we go outside and wait until we get home to pee and poop? Has your dog been scolded, yelled at, hit, rubbed their nose in their pee or poop? Have you ever scared your dog, intimidated them or punished them in any other way for peeing and pooing inside? Has your dog been punished for peeing and pooping outdoors in ways you didn’t think of? Such as this scenario: You take your dog out for their long-awaited 1-2 walks per day, they poop and pee immediately like a great dog, you casually say good boy or nothing at all and then hurry them back inside? See the punishment? The reward (going for a walk and being outdoors) is removed immediately after they poop and pee and the dog learns very quickly to hold it in and not pee and poop quickly or at all while outdoors. Rewarding your dog should include high-value food rewards and when taking your dog for a long walk, let him/her off leash or to provide more space to him once he has fully eliminated. The problem most parents run into is that directly after the dog eliminates the parents remove the reward (e.g. being outside and going for a walk) and bring the dog back to the boring indoors (yuk!) So wait calmly and patiently, without playing or talking to your dog at your preferred spot and surface you would like him to go on, after he goes, then provide all of these rewards: have a celebration in your best baby voice, many high value food rewards, pets, and then go for a long walk, so that the quick elimination predicts the rewarding long walk and all of the above. That is how to get a dog to eliminate quickly and not to hold it in until the very last minute after you have been outdoors for an hour. Which is frustratingly what dogs often learn when parents immediately bring a dog inside after they go potty.
Separation Anxiety Disorder – If a dog has anxiety urinating or defecating due to separation anxiety or if you suspect that this may be a contributing factor, please take some time to understand separation anxiety thoroughly and treat that behavior problem separately or concurrently from potty training. It is vital to address the underlying conditioned emotional response (CER) thoroughly before using a crate or potty training. Never address any behavior through punition, fear, intimidation or force.
Letting your dog off-leash in your yard to pee and poo –
9 Reasons not to let your dog alone, off-leash in the backyard when you are Puppy Potty Training:
- Contingency – You don’t know where, when or if your dog went
- Spatial – You cannot control their space and where you want them to go
- Contiguity – You cannot reward your dog in a timely fashion
- Quantity – You cannot see how much they went potty. Did they piddle just a dribble after they drank a full bowl of water or just marked a spot? Maybe they made a small poop when you know they usually make larger poops or more than one.
- Generalized aggression to passersby, other animals on the street or around your property
- Barrier frustration-aggression to passersby, other animals, on the street or around your property
- Bad behavior outdoors
- Teaches a dog nothing and the dog gets self-reinforced for poor behaviors. Builds and strengthens bad habits instead of good ones.
- Coprophagia – The consumption of feces. Poop eating is more common with puppies than with adult dogs but can occur at any age.
- Isolation – A dog urinating or defecating by himself in the backyard with no leash on is an entirely different scenario than going when other people are around, when a leash is attached or when your dog is being watched. It’s also not the same as urinating or defecating on cue which is what you want to teach your dog. This is why many parents ask, why won’t my dog pee or poop on the dog walk or in front of me? Simply, they haven’t been taught or conditioned to do go on cue in front of you or while attached to a leash. All of the above scenarios may seem nuanced and the same, but they are entirely different behaviors to your dog and dogs don’t generalize well or at all until taught and conditioned to do so. There are many nuances that can be broken down even further however these are the main scenarios that confuse parents and that dogs have issues with.
Bladder control and age – How long can my dog hold in their pee and poop? Age obviously plays a significant factor in a dog’s ability to hold it in. A generalization is to take a dog’s age in months, and that is how many hours a dog can hold it in. So a 4-month-old may be able to hold in their pee or poop for 3-4 hours. I always err on the shorter side for caution. Of course, this is a generalization and does not mean that a 10-month-old adolescent should be able to be crated or to hold it in for 10 hours. That is cruel and not recommended. But if you are wondering about the short end of the age curve, you may use this formula for generalization. Remember, that every breed, size, sex and development of a dog is different and all play a part in how long they can hold it in. For puppies and older dogs, it is normal for them to pee after they wake up, after an exercise, and after drinking a lot of water. Obviously with puppies, what goes in comes out faster. So if a puppy drinks a lot of water, depending on a puppy’s age, it will come out sooner.
Time – Potty training is easy but takes lots of time, and you work all day. Many pet parents don’t have the time or do not want to go through the tedious tasks of potty training their puppy. So they call a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant to do it for them in a boarding and training boot camp scenario. This will give the dog a big jump start in providing them with strong beginnings of great potty training habits; however, either way, all of the same protocols listed throughout will have to be followed after your dog returns to your home or your dog will likely begin peeing in your living room again.
Other animals – Other dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, bears, deer, raccoons, and outdoor animals can stress out a dog or excite them to the point that they cannot control themselves. When your dog is potty training, other animals may make it more difficult for them to hold it in and more likely for them to make mistakes. Remember, your dog can sense other animals visually, olfactory, auditory or otherwise through their somatosensory system. Even if we cannot sense other stimuli, your dog can. If a resident companion animal or outdoor animal has access to your crated or penned house training dog, this may cause arousal and/or elimination. Look for ways to sequester a dog so that he is as least stressed and stimulated while resting between potty training sessions.
Obedience training – This is a tricky one because we want to train our dog at the same time as they are potty training. One tenet I go by when potty training a dog is: keep a dog on the most consistent and regular routine as possible and don’t feed a dog any food that may upset their stomach. This is a cardinal rule. This means keeping a routine and regularity at all costs during potty training. Unfortunately, that means not switching foods, experimenting with foods, not giving them many dog training treats, which means not focusing on obedience training while you are working your behavior modification potty training protocol. Obedience training and learning new tricks such as sit, down, stay, roll-over, high-five, crawl, play bow…etc, are great fun, and all dog training tricks require rewards to reinforce those behaviors. A dog’s reward/payment system is typically in food just like a human’s reward is typically in money.
Using positive reinforcement dog training works best for learning new behaviors and obedience, however, training a canine with high-value food will inevitably alter their poop schedule and routine. Something we are trying to prevent at all costs. Further, the more we begin to experiment with a dog’s hierarchy of food rewards, the higher the chance of unpredictable and softer stool/diarrhea. This is not an endorsement for skipping a dog’s sensitive/critical period or socialization, enrichment or environmental stimulation. It is merely an acknowledgment that potty training is on a continuum and is continually being adjusted. On this continuum, lies a perfectly potty trained dog on one end of the spectrum and a dog that pees and poops in their crate or the house on the other. As a dog learns, we adjust our freedoms allowed and training treats, frequency, and quantity provided to the dog. There are many stops in between. For example, potty training an 8-week-old puppy may be shorter in duration than potty training a 3-year-old puppy mill dog that has been pooping and peeing on themselves, in their crate from birth to 3-years-old. The latter dog has a long history of learned behavior and a much more difficult habit to change. The more ingrained the habit or inappropriate house/crate soiling, the stricter I am about intake, treats, and food in general. After your dog is potty trained, this will all be moot.
Changing Dog Foods – If you are planning on switching your dog from puppy food to adult dog food, you may want to wait until after your dog has had excellent potty training success measured in many months, not days or weeks. Or, go about changing food very slowly. Often switching a dog’s diet causes diarrhea and an upset stomach. As you can imagine, managing a dog’s poop and pee schedule if they are inclined to having diarrhea inside of your house or their dog crate will be a nightmare to manage and to clean off the crate and dog. Most salient, is it will also make achieving a predictable, healthy stool routine for your dog nearly impossible.
We need to tilt all the odds in our favor, in doing so, feeding a dog anything outside of the normal feeding routine should be evaluated diligently and most often is not recommended. In addition, I would feed dogs older than 6-8 months once a day to further manage the bathroom routine. After your dog learns where to go potty, you can go back to any feeding ritual you would like.
Why Is My Dog Not Peeing or Pooping Outside?
If your dog is fearful about going outside, hyper-vigilant, under socialized, fearful, or has anxiety for any reason, these may cause your dog not to pee or poop outdoors. Some other reasons a dog may not pee or poop outdoors are:
- Inclement weather – Rain, snow, wind
- New location
- New town
- New home
- New environment
- Outdoor animals
- Thunder, lightning (maybe in the distance what we cannot sense)
- Noise phobia
- If your dog is very sensitive or picky
- Loud music
- General distractions
The list goes on and on. As you can see, whatever the reason your dog may be hesitant to go to the bathroom outside, try and find a quiet, less stimulating, intimidating, fearful environment for him/her to be relaxed enough to go potty.
Some dogs, especially shelter or rescue dogs, are conditioned to go on hard tactile surfaces under their paws such as concrete or pavement and other dogs will only go when the grass is under paw. Whatever your dog prefers, work with his/her preference as best you can. If you live in NYC or a big city, you may only have access to concrete, and if you live in the suburbs of Los Angeles Ca you may have access to only grass. Whatever your living situation, if you want your dog’s bathroom preferences to be changed, this may be accomplished over time by taking it slow and steady and rewarding heavily.
It is never too late to house train an adult dog or puppy. The time you invest now will pay off in spades down the road when you have a household with no one going to the bathroom on the floors any longer.
Other Potty Training Problems
Why Does My Dog Pee When Someone is at the Door?
Your dog may pee when someone comes over because your dog is submissive urinating or excitement peeing.
What’s going through my dog’s head? Your dog may be thinking, “OMG, OMG, OMG, this person may rub my belly! Throw me a ball! Give me attention! Toss me a doggie treat! Scratch my ears!” etc. As difficult as it may sound to have guests ignore your furry bundle of love, have guests completely ignore your dog as if they are not there. No talking to them, looking at them and no touching them. Complete 100% ignoring your dog when they come to your home. Here’s the rub, people have a VERY hard time doing this. Houseguests often just cannot help themselves. They habitually look at the dog out of the corner of their eye and bam, pee all over the rug! Many dogs will excitement pee on eye contact or attention of any kind.
The medical reason for a puppy’s excitement peeing is that a puppy’s urethra (the tube that carries urine from her bladder to the outside) muscle tone is not developed enough to control or hold in his/her pee. As her sphincter and bodily function control develop and improve, he/she will likely grow out of this peeing problem. However, an excitement pee is not the same as a submission pee.
Submission urination often happens when someone makes direct eye contact with a dog, squares up their shoulders, looms over a dog and then reaches over them to pet their head (which some dogs tolerate but do not enjoy) all of these in the dog world are confrontational, threatening and not polite.
This is what some reality show hosts do, and it is not recommended. Causing an already shy, nervous or submissive dog to roll over, try to appease you or to squat and pee, communicating, I come in peace, I am friendly, please stop scaring and intimidating me, I am very uncomfortable. You may notice when you are confronting your dog he/she may pee all over. The dog may offer other appeasement behaviors such as ears back, lowered posture, avoiding eye contact, tail tucked or cowering. In this case, the person looking to pet the dog is considered a threat, confrontational and not polite. Dogs often urinate in response to a perceived threat (so do humans). The simple solution is to learn how to communicate in a friendly manner with a dog by not being confrontational and/or threatening and to ignore the dog. Don’t use crass, human-centric social mores and loom over a dog’s head, stand over them, square your shoulders towards them, stick your arm or hand out at them, or stare at them. Get some manners, paw-lease!
Learn How to Politely Say Hello to a Dog
For beginners, turn 90° to the dog, bend your knees and go all the way down as if you are a catcher in a baseball game or going to sit in a chair and do not look at or stick your arm or hand out at the dog or in the dog’s face. If the dog approaches you, allow him/her to at their own pace and to sniff you, empowering them. If the dog comes towards you do not reach for them, try to pet them, or move quickly. Do not turn and face them. Just allow the dog to sniff you, come to you and get comfortable in your presence on their own time. Like humans, some dogs take longer than others to get comfortable around other beings. If you are approached, and the dog hangs around your space long after exploring you, you may gradually and slowly stroke her chest. It is polite to come from under her, not over her. Many dogs enjoy being stroked/scratched behind their ears. Remember, if you must speak, (it is better to remain silent) to speak slowly, quietly, softly, and avoid any excitement. That’s a nice human, good job! No more submission or excitement pee!
What to Do When My Dog Pees and Poops in the Crate?
Soiling a properly sized crate is an extreme behavior that a dog learned from being left in unsuitable, neglectful conditions confined for hours/days/months in their crates. Often times a dog pees or poops in their crate when they are coming from overrun shelters, veterinarian offices, hoarders, puppy mills, or anywhere where a dog’s basic needs are neglected, and a dog is left in a crate for the majority of the day or lives and sadly forced to defecate and urinate on themselves. Like all habits, good and bad, the longer the dog learns to defecate and urinate in their crate where they sleep, the stronger this habit becomes. This is a hard habit to break and a very unfortunate and preventable situation.
How Do I Stop the Cycle of Peeing and Pooping In the Crate?
By following the aforementioned advice and tools to help you succeed, you will have success in stopping your dog from peeing and pooping in the crate. Extreme behaviors call for extreme antecedent arrangements. Here are some additional brainstorming ideas on how to stop a dog from peeing and pooping where they sleep. However these are generalizations and everybody’s time, environment, finances, and living situation are different and will call for different experiments.
As with all potty training issues, make sure a dog has a clean bill of health. Also make sure your dog’s incontinence is not being caused or exacerbated by separation anxiety and never punish, scare, intimidate or use force with your dog to teach them.
If your environment is suitable you may try setting up a dog pen outdoors, weather permitting on the preferred location you want your dog to eliminate on. Therefore if your dog makes a “mistake” in their dog pen, they have actually had success by peeing and pooping where you want them to go, on the grass. You can also set up this scenario indoors with sod or artificial turf. I would recommend getting some indoor sod made for dogs so that your dog will get the tactile feeling under their paws of where you would like them to go. Indoors, shielded from the elements would be best. So if your dog does make a mistake, it will at least be on the preferred surface area. This is not ideal, it is much better to walk your dog so you are able to reward them and they learn to pee and poo in front of you, however, if you have few other choices, it is better to have them get used to peeing and pooping on the grass than making mistakes in the crate or on the carpet. Learning will take longer this way, but again it is the best of the imperfect options. If you go the outdoor pen route, make sure your local weather permits this scenario and use good judgment, do not leave a dog exposed to extreme heat, direct sun, extreme cold…etc. Also, be sure to pick up the poop and check the pen area often so that you know if and when your dog went.
Typically feeding times are inconsequential and are in the backseat when it comes to behavioral vaccinations and training. After a dog has finished potty training and knows where to go to the bathroom, an irregular poop schedule is a minuscule outcome compared to the enormously important training, behavior and life skills/manners a dog needs to learn. However, the only time when poop consistency and predictability becomes paramount is when you are house training a dog. Even more so when you are house training a dog that has learned to poop or pee in their den/crate. If your dog is peeing and pooping in their crate, keep the feeding schedule militarily consistent and do not work with food for training in between meals. Alter your dog’s feeding schedule to fit your schedule once and do not change foods, or schedules or anything that may cause an upset stomach or change until your dog has learned where to relieve themselves.
You may not be able to use a crate, may need to change the placement of the crate, the crate itself or the surface under the dog’s paws. Some dogs prefer darker spaces and changing the lighting, by putting a sheet or towel over the crate, while leaving at least one side open for ventilation may help.
Spending as much time outdoors and being a strict control freak when it comes to intake of all food and water will help dramatically so you have a better handle on when a dog may need to relieve themselves.
I would suggest being more extreme with the tools, suggestions, and procedures listed throughout. Brainstorming about your specific scenario, living situation, antecedent arrangement, environment, and job will help a behaviorist put together a behavior modification protocol that will help your unique dog get on the right track.
Potty Training Summary
House soiling is the most common reason people give their dogs up to an animal shelter. Punishment is mean and never stops a dog from peeing and pooping in the house. In fact, it makes the situation worse by causing emotional stress, fractured relationships and introducing other behavior problems. If you yell at your dog, hit your dog, rub your dog’s nose in their pee or poop, try alpha rolling them or dominating them or intimidate them in any way, your dog will likely just pee and poop in the house when you are not around once they are punished and become scared of you. Punishment does nothing to help the situation and makes behavior and obedience problems much worse!
Seek help from a force-free trainer who is also a CDBC to help stop and prevent house-training errors and get your relationship back on the right track.
Potty training is a lot of trial and error and rearranging the environment to set the dog up for success. Now that you understand LOSS, and why a dog decides why and where they want to urinate and defecate you can use this information and tools to change your dog’s behavior and set them up for many years of potty training success.
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- Miller DM, Stats SR, Partlo BS, et al. Factors associated with the decision to surrender a pet to an animal shelter. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1996;209:738- 742