Written by Samary Birkline, © 2020
When it comes to potty training, all dogs are not created equal. Potty training can be a challenge, or it can be a breeze, depending largely on the dog’s personality and its early puppy-hood experiences. Strategies will vary based on the environment the pup was raised in. Whether a dog is destined for the show ring or for the couch it is necessary to enforce at least minimal training and below are listed some solid tips to ensure success in his housebreaking education.
The first thing to consider when beginning to potty train is the puppy’s early education. If a pup came from a breeder who kept them 100% outdoors, the dog will have exactly no experience when it comes to understanding where to pee and where not to pee. The same goes for a breeder who kept his litter 100% indoors. The pup will have no clue that another place has been designated for body elimination. The “golden” pup is one that spends almost equal time indoors, within a small “den”, and outdoors, on the grass he’ll be eliminating on. These pups are both easier to housebreak, and because they’re already accustomed to the indoor/outdoor dance, it causes much less stress for everyone, including the breeder! Pups that haven’t had the benefit of this early education tend to be more difficult to potty train, but with patience any dog can be taught.
1. No More Than 30 Seconds!
The number one rule when potty training is this: Within thirty seconds of waking up, the puppy will pee. It’s a fact. They wake, then eliminate. So, naturally, the first thing in the morning is a potty break, outside, where the puppy will be expected to habitually eliminate. This may require hand-carrying at first, and most often does. Once the pup becomes accustomed to not only the action of going outside first thing in the morning, but also the direction in which he’s expected to walk to get to the yard, he’ll be eager to walk the distance himself. At first, show him by carrying him, if possible. If the owner prefers to have the dog sleep relatively far from the exterior door, and the dog is too large to carry, begin the training closer to the exterior door and begin moving the crate when he has mastered the shorter distance first.
2. Not So Big!
Dogs are den animals by nature and do not like to eliminate where they sleep. They prefer a small, defend-able space to sleep in, and then they wander outside that area to relieve themselves. Many modern owners humanize their dogs, and mistakenly provide a much larger crate than is necessary. For dogs who are already potty-trained, larger spaces tend to be less complicated, but for puppies who are learning the ropes, it is much easier to work with their instincts than against them.
Too large a crate inadvertently creates a situation where the puppy assigns one end of the crate to sleeping and the other end to using the restroom. When purchasing a crate, owners should select one that is just large enough for the dog to lie down in, fully stretched out on his side. It should be tall enough so that, fully grown, the dog will not scrape its spine on the entrance and wide enough so when he is lying on his side, his legs can extend fully. Proper crate sizing goes a long way towards teaching any new puppy not to soil it.
A word against using crates for too long: Dogs are emotional beings, similar to a human. Being locked away with little to do, no outlet for energy, and nobody to interact with is certain to cause any dog distress. Stress in dogs can be seen in physical symptoms, such as panting, mouth licking, whining, and pacing or turning. After the initial crate training, these signs of stress could indicate that an individual dog has been contained for too long and is in dire need of a long walk.
3. How predictable.
Everyone likes to know what’s coming next, and dogs are no exception. Like humans, canines are creatures of habit, and flourish when a part of a strictly kept routine. For best results, the routine should be instituted on the very first day the puppy is introduced to its new home, and should be kept to, as closely as possible, each day.
For The Kennel Birkline, this means going outside instantly upon their master’s entrance into their line of sight, watching the humans eat first, then having breakfast. A one mile walk follows a few cuddles, and then it’s back inside to cool off, drink some water, and have a nap. Dogs are roused 90 minutes later and taken outside again for a potty-break, and then they each enjoy one-on-one training. After training, they tend to play either with the family or with one another, and then after the dogs watch the humans eat again, they’re fed their dinner. They receive one more walk, about a half a mile, and then after cooling down, they’re put in their crates for the evening. Our day begins around 6:00 am and ends usually around 9:00 pm.
This is only an example of a schedule; the one kept at The Kennel Birkline. Every dog owner would do best to come up with a schedule and to keep it, in order to allow the dog to predict what’s coming, reduce adverse behavior, and potty train with the best of them.
4. Give it a Name
Dogs learn best if every action is assigned a name. For example, at The Kennel Birkline, our pups begin learning early that “potty” is an action they perform. They will be praised for eliminating outdoors with verbiage praising the action, not the dog.” It sounds like this: “Good potty outside, Spot. Good potty outside!” Dog training, in general, is easier for a dog to learn if the action is reinforced in the praise, with or without the dog’s name. So, we don’t say just, “Good girl, Princess.” We say, “Good sit, Princess! Good sit!”
Using a clicker or treats can and will accelerate even the most challenging of tasks, identifying the action of “potty” being one of the easiest to teach. Do some research on clicker training and then invest in a good one. They aren’t expensive and they’re used to mark exactly the moment when a dog is performing the act that has the aforementioned name. (Click when he squats to pee, then treat when he’s done.) Never click and treat at the same time. The click marks that the correct deed has been done and that reward will follow when the deed is complete. They should be separate in the dog’s mind.
5. Innocent Unless Caught in the Act!
Studies show that though dogs do have episodic memory (meaning they can remember personally significant moments or episodes), they do not have much more than five minutes of short-term memory. Furthermore, because studies haven’t shown much to indicate dogs can recall personally insignificant events or episodes, (like having a potty accident), punishing a dog after the fact is most often counterproductive. The dog won’t recall having the accident. But he might form an episodic memory of its owner or trainer screaming or physically punishing him, which will create more problems than it solves.
Working with the dog’s instinct is critical, and that means, in this case, remembering that the “old-fashioned way” has been proven on countless platforms to be both wildly counterproductive and has also been proven to induce longevity in anxiety in canines. The old way relied on physical punishment, yelling, and isolation. The new way results not only in a faster satisfactory result, but also a more confident dog and a stronger bond between friends.
If the dog has an accident, it should be immediately cleaned, using a specialized product for animal waste. Avoid cleaners containing ammonia, as it is a natural attractant and will encourage the dog to soil the area again. Unless the dog is caught physically in the act, it is best to resist the urge to punish the dog or yell. Clean the mess, and keep a stricter eye on the dog.
Hot Tip: Urine will glow when exposed to a black-light.
If the dog is caught in the act, the trainer should make a loud noise to startle the dog, such as loudly clapping the hands while saying firmly, “No Potty Inside!” As mentioned above, the action should be scolded, not just the dog. The dog should be carried, if possible, out to the correct place dedicated for elimination and praised, “Good Potty Outside.” Even if the deed is already done inside and there is no more potty action in the yard, the dog should be praised.
6. Don’t Get Mad, Get Help
It is important to note that there are special diversions to the potty training easy street. Medical and emotional conditions can complicate housebreaking efforts, causing high levels of stress on both sides of the relationship. This can result in a weak bond, resentment of either party, or even complete abandonment of hope. In these cases, it is important to seek help from a licensed veterinarian, to ensure there is nothing going on inside that may be causing it. Bladder infections, undersized bladder, extreme fear or timidity, etc. can all be causes of potty training difficulty.
Professional training clubs can also help. Enrolling in a local training class helps to build an unshakable bond between owner/trainer and puppy and can morph into participation in canine sports. The happier a puppy is, the more likely he is to try to please his master. This, many times, improves home life almost immediately, from an improved appetite in nervous dogs, to fulfillment of the drive many working breeds are born with. This great info-graphic tells what training does to a dog’s brain , affecting his entire lifetime!
Potty training can be quite a challenge. The key is consistency and patience. If both are applied liberally, nearly any dog can learn where and when it is appropriate to eliminate. If in doubt, forgive the dog and start over with a clean slate. As tough as it is as a human to just let those accidents go and give grace, it’s as critical as the dog’s brain itself for healthy development and learning. Once the dog understands, a strong bond with his master will drastically improve the odds for success each and every day.