You’ve gotten a dog—now what? There have probably been lots of snuggles, tug-of-war matches, and walks so far. But, there also may have been a few potty accidents along the way. While dogs are generally easy to train, sometimes it takes a few days for the owners to learn how to help their dogs be successful with this skill.
Some owners may feel overwhelmed with the charts, routines, and products touted by the various experts on the internet. However, when we did our research both from the experts and our own dog experiences, we found that a little common sense, combined with these potty-training principles, made training our dogs quick and easy!
The first thing to know about training your dog to use the bathroom outside is what NOT to do. Experts agree that consequences and punishments for bathroom accidents do not help your dog learn to go to the bathroom outside. In fact, those methods can often have the opposite effect on your dog.
Your dog is intelligent and ready to please you. Instead of rubbing their nose in a mess or yelling at them for an accident, praise them when they do go outside and reward them immediately for doing things right.
The next mental step to take as you prepare to potty-train your dog is to realize that dogs thrive on a routine. If you’re the owner of a new dog, flexibility and spontaneity can come with time; but in the beginning, every dog benefits from a routine and knowing what to expect throughout the day.
Experts say that dogs can go an hour between potty trips for every month old they are. Therefore, if you’ve adopted a two-month-old puppy, they need to be taken outside at least every two hours. Older dogs may be able to go 4-5 hours, but in the beginning, stick with 2-3 hours to guarantee their success and the establishing of a routine.
Along those same lines, what goes in must come out, so getting on a routine that involves both eating and pottying is the first step you should take in getting your dog used to doing their business outside.
At night, after they’ve had access to freshwater throughout the evening, take the water away before the last trip outside. This will help them start to learn to make it through the night without needing to go outside. Similar to a new baby learning to sleep, your puppy or dog may still wake up during the night needing to use the bathroom.
If this is the case, make the trip as unexciting as possible. Turn on as few lights as necessary, don’t make eye contact or speak much to your dog. Let them do their business and then head back to their bed for the rest of the night.
We mentioned that these principles are pretty common-sense, and this one might be the most obvious of all. Set very clear expectations for your puppy or dog of where they are to use the bathroom and what will happen when they do.
When you start establishing your routine, take your dog to the same place each time you go outside. The smell of their past experiences will help develop a pattern in their brain. As they use the bathroom, pick a codeword or sound that they can hear and start to associate with this behavior.
Also, prepare ahead of time to reward your dog each time they do what you expect. Once they have finished their business, give them a treat and lots of praise. Be careful to wait until they finish, or you may excite them so much that they forget to finish what they started! Don’t have them wait until they are back inside to reward them—this will confuse them.
Learn Their Communication
Routines are great, but you’ll want to start stretching out the time between those bathroom trips. Now it's time to let your dog learn to communicate with you about their needs. This may take more time and attention, but it is well worth it in the end.
Between those beginning bathroom trips, make sure to keep your dog near you where you can observe their cues and behavior. It’s often very easy (and sometimes adorable) to be able to tell when your puppy feels their urges coming on. An older puppy may be harder to read, but with careful observation, you’ll learn to tell.
Once your dog senses that you are paying close attention to their needs, they will learn how to communicate those needs to you. If you need to work somewhere in the home, tether your dog close to you with a 6-ish foot lead. This allows them to have some freedom to move around but you can observe when they need to go back outside.
With these four principles in the back of your mind, we know that any new pet owner can easily train their new dog to use the bathroom outside. Many owners wonder what happens should they need to leave their dog for extended periods of time.
The best solution for this is to have a trusted neighbor, friend, or paid dog walker come to your home and let your dog go outside every 4-5 hours. In between these times, especially with a new puppy, it may be best to have them confined (humanely) in a crate that is large enough for them to lay down in and turn around, but not large enough for them to designate an area for bathroom use that will encourage bad habits.
Although it’s not ideal, some families have chosen to train their dogs to use the bathroom in certain areas inside, when outdoor facilities are not readily available. If this is a need for your family, there are many more detailed resources available that address those methods.
Potty-training your new dog can seem like a big hurdle to cross in having a new family pet, but it is an effort that is well worth it in the long run. When adding a new dog to your family that needs to be trained to use the bathroom outside, make sure you allow the time needed to give your dog a successful start in these habits.
As with most things in life, the most meaningful pursuits take a lot of effort. Remember that as you spend many hours establishing a routine and clear communication with your new dog. It’s an investment that will be returned many times over in the form of a loving, faithful companion for you and your family.