How to potty train puppies

Using this method, you can teach any puppy to be completely house-trained in just a few days, at the maximum, a couple of weeks.

It's important in the beginning to set up for success, you want to set your puppy up for success from the beginning, to increase your chances of success and to reduce friction in the process.

Any puppy can be house trained, also small breed puppies and even older dogs.

So how do I do this?

First of all it's important to start the training right away as soon as you get your new puppy to use the substrate that you would like to use for the future. This is really important because puppies have a preference. They develop a preference very early on to what kind of substrate they would like to use for their toilet. When I say substrate, I'm talking about they might want to prefer sand, gravel, grass, anything like that. So, that's what you want to decide right away and then start teaching that.

You also want to always use positive reinforcement, and nonviolent communication to train your puppy. I will explain later in this article why that’s so important for success.

Now, it's important to understand and predict when the puppy needs to go to the toilet. Then, when you are ready with training treats and praise, you will have more success. Always reinforce positive behavior.

When do puppies go to the toilet and how often?

There is an individual difference in how many times per day, but usually for puppies less than three months of age, there's no more than two hours that goes between toilet breaks. So, it's really important to take this project very seriously and firmly for the first few days. To avoid

failure I recommend setting the timer on your phone or your watch to remind you every hour to take the puppy outside.

So, when do puppies need to pee?

Puppies need to pee when they wake up, after they've slept through the night, or if they've had a nap during the day, then usually they need to go to the toilet and pee. If they go and drink a lot of water, that means they have to pee soon. And it's not because the water is going really fast through the puppy, it's because the body is making room for the new water. So, it's eliminating the water or the urine that's now in the bladder.

And when does the puppy need to poop?

The puppy needs to poop after they've eaten something, even if it's only treats. If we're training the puppy and we give them a lot of treats that count as a meal and they are going to want to take potty breaks 20 or 30 minutes later.

So, if you anticipate these things and you take your puppy to the place where you want them to do their business every time, you will have success. However, it's not always so simple. You're going to have accidents, that’s ok, just be patient.

Common questions and mistakes that puppy parents make

A lot of people ask me, when should I tell off my puppy and how much?

And, I always say that telling your puppy off has very limited effect, it's not going to work so well. What is going to happen if you start punishing your puppy or shouting at them, or somehow telling them off, you're most likely going to teach the puppy that it's not a good idea to do their business anywhere close to their pet owner. So, what they start doing then, is they start hiding and doing their business somewhere else where the owner can't see. And if you can't see it, you also can't praise your puppy when they do the right thing, because they're going to avoid doing the right thing when they're close to you. That's not a good idea and that's not what we want.

Should I train my puppy to use a pad on the floor?

So, like I said in the beginning, puppies get used to a particular substrate and they have a very strong preference for this substrate when they get older. When the puppy is choosing the substrate, they don't look up to see if there's a ceiling or not, they look down to feel the substrate, so the smell and the feeling on their paws when they're peeing. So, it's best to start right away, to train your puppy to use the substrate that you want them to. So, if you want your puppy to go in the garden, in the grass, train that from the beginning.

The danger with the puppy pads is that the feeling of the puppy pads under the paws is very similar to fabric or paper to the dog, so it's very common that people who use these puppy pads are going to have problems later on, because the puppy is going to want to also pee on fabric. So, they might pee on clothes that are lying on the floor, towels, the newspaper, or anything like that, that could feel a little bit like the puppy pad when they're standing on it. Usually, it's a good idea not to use them, just skip them.

You can teach your puppy to go outside right away and it shouldn't take more than one to two weeks to do that. So, this is one of the common mistakes that I see people make is using the puppy pads or newspapers to train your puppy to go on this kind of substrate, because this will stick with the dog as they get older.

Winter puppies

I've noticed that people who have a small puppy in the wintertime tend to give up too soon and they are not waiting long enough to give the puppy a chance to do their business and get the praise. Another common problem is the puppy just wants to play when they go outside and when they come indoors again, after playing, even if they've been outside for 30 minutes or more, they just save it and then they pee on the floor when they come inside. This is very common, and it just means that, of course, puppies want to play and when they go outside, something exciting is going on and they just forget that they need to go to the toilet. And, then when they come back inside and they're going to relax, then they suddenly realize that they need to pee, and then it's too late. So, they just put it on the floor. And the trick to solve this is to just go outside, stay in one place, have the puppy on a leash, don't let them run around playing until after they've done their business. This gives them the feeling of forced bathroom breaks.

The puppy plays outside and then goes inside to pee or poop

Sometimes, I've also seen puppies that are very timid or scared, that they don't like to leave their signals outside. They're nervous about other dogs being around and they don't want other dogs to smell their pee or their poop. They might also have a preferred potty spot. So, they prefer to do it inside after their nice walk. And the solution with a timid puppy is to find a

quiet and calm place and stay there, in the same spot for a while, until they get a little bit more confident and eventually they can't hold it anymore and they're going to let it out. Then, you have a chance to praise them for it.

The puppy hides in a room and pees and poops where I can’t see it

Another problem that people complain about is that their dogs pee or poop where the owner can't see. So, they will go into the kids' room or into the garage or something like that and they pee on the floor when the owner is not looking. This happens usually because people have been telling the puppy off or scolding them and the puppy doesn't understand what that means.

They don't understand that they are being scolded for peeing on the floor, they just think that they are being scolded for peeing in front of the owner. This you can counteract by never scolding the puppy when they pee or poop indoors, just if you see them doing it, you just pick them up and take them outside and try and see if they will finish in the right spot. Then, you can praise them. There's no need to be upset. It's just a puppy and accidents happen. We have to be patient with the puppies.

You can also use a baby gate to restrict puppies from peeing in all places. Potty training a puppy needs a consistent schedule and patience. Crate training and taking the help of a pet sitter can also help.

What about older dogs who are still not toilet trained, is there hope for them?

Other problems that I see as well, commonly, are that if the puppies are having accidents still when they are many months old, or even as adults, it's usually because people haven't been patient enough with the training. They give up too soon, they're using the pads or they're scolding the dog. So, they can't get a chance to praise them for doing their business outside and the dog never learns.

I have a 16 year old havanese dog. I got her when she was three years old, she had not been toilet trained. She had been a kennel dog, where somebody would come every day and clean everything. And, nobody trained her to do her business outside. I know, I said earlier about the substrate preference, but actually you can train an older dog to be house-trained, so it's definitely possible.

But, it took longer for my three-year-old kennel-trained dog. It took more than two weeks to train her because I had to go against all the preferences that she had developed as a young puppy. What I did with her was to keep her on a leash and you can also do this with your puppy, if you tend to forget, and the puppy wanders off and pees behind your back. It's a good idea to keep the dog on a leash, then set the timer on your watch or your phone, and

then remember to take them outside regularly, stay as long as you need and wait for a chance to give them a super valuable reward.

Good luck with the training.

Sif Traustadottir, veterinary behaviour therapist

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