It suddenly dawned on me this morning (as I watch our own 9 month giant German Shepherd puppy romp around in my kitchen with his best buddy, a Rottweiler that we board here once in a while) that I have not written a single post on dog training! What, how is that possible? I have trained dogs on a professional level for almost 15 years and haven’t written a single post about it yet, unacceptable!
Here you go… I decided to start with the basics.
Potty Training Your New Dog
I’m going to explain the way I have potty trained every one of my own dogs (7 in the past 16 years) and explain the thinking behind each step so you have a better understanding of where I am coming from. These steps pertain mostly to puppies but towards the end I will tell you what are the very minor differences when dealing with an adult dog. If you have an adult dog who suddenly seems to have “regressed” in this area, have your vet cjheck for kidney function or an urinary tract infection issue.
Step 1 Make sure you do not have any known carpeted areas in your home where other pets (or children) have soiled repeatedly. If you do and it is urine, you will most likely have to replace that part of the carpet and pad underneath and treat the subfloor with a product that seals any odor (ask for it at Home Depot or Lowes, it’s a paint). Dogs have an incredible sense of smell and some will find that spot in a heartbeat even if you have used “all the best cleaners” to get it out. Others won’t and you don’t have to worry about replacing the carpet but you don’t know which type your dog will be. You are welcome to take your chances with just cleaning and not replacing the carpet but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Step 2 Get a kennel before you bring your dog home. Get a kennel that is big enough for the dog to lay comfortably, stand up fully, turn around, and sit comfortably but no bigger. You don’t need the Taj Mahal of kennels for a small or medium sized dog. If you are getting a puppy, get a kennel that will fit them as a full grown dog. There are kennels you can purchase that have the divider to make it smaller in the beginning and those are perfect! If you can’t get those you can always make your own divider or just put a big box in the back to cut the kennel size down.
This kennel will act as your dog’s den and safe place. Most weaned dogs will not make potty messes in the same places that they sleep (their “den”) which is why you want it just big enough to comfortably fit them. If it is any bigger then they will have room to make messes on one side or in one corner and still have room to sleep or hang out in a different area of the kennel. That folks, defeats the purpose of kennel potty training.
The kennel should always be a happy and safe place for them. A place where they get special things or treats that they don’t otherwise get, a place they can go if they are frightened or just want to be left alone, and a place they go when you can’t keep an eye on them so they don’t get themselves in trouble. Never use the kennel as punishment. When they are in their kennel they are off limits to kids and try to make them off limits to other animals in the home. You don’t want them to be teased or messed with when they are in their “den”.
Step 3 Get new dog. Woohoo how exciting, a new dog in the home! Ooh ooh I’m even excited for you, I love new dogs! Did you get a cute adorable puppy? Did you find a great dog needing a home from your local shelter? Did a pup “follow” your kids home from school (with them hanging onto the rope that just happened to be tied around their neck)?
This is an exciting time for sure but first things first…don’t take things too fast. If you have a dog that is old enough to walk on a leash take them for a 45 minute walk around the neighborhood the second you get home (yes, even before you show them the inside of their awesome new home). This helps burn off excess energy, establishes you as the leader, and helps them become familiar with their surroundings so if they happen to run off they have a better chance of making their way back to you. If you have a puppy, play in the yard with them for 30 to 45 minutes or take them on a 20 to 30 minute walk if they are leash trained. Give big praises if they potty and assign a command word to it. For example, when your dog goes pee you can say something like “tinkle” (make sure it’s the same every time). For now, just say the word each time they do their business, you’ll see why later. We use “potty” (#1) and “poo” (#2) here at The Shepherd Hobby Farm.
Step 4 Take your pup inside and show them the room where their kennel is as well as their water bowl (probably thirsty). For now shut the doors to other rooms so the dog isn’t overwhelmed and open to getting out of your site and having an accident or getting into something. Let them get to know their limited inside surroundings a bit (keeping a constant eye on them for signs of potty behavior… circling, squatting etc.) and then attempt to lure them into their kennel with a treat or a special toy. The first couple times may require TONS of patience. If they go in allow them to come right back out if they want. This is showing them that the kennel isn’t a trap. Reward them a lot when they go into the kennel (treats, petting, kind words etc.) and say/do nothing when they come out.
After they have been in and out several times (when they are comfortable with going in) shut the door. Count to 5 and open the door (they may come out if they want). Repeat the exercises of in and out with an open door. Look at you, you’re a dog trainer 🙂
When they are once again comfortable with going in give them a special toy or bone and a treat, shut the door and walk away. If they settle down quickly let them relax in there for 15-30 minutes for a pup and 30-45 minutes for an adult dog. If they whine and carry on wait for them to settle down (noise and behavior needs to be quiet) and then open the door and let them out. Continue the exercises of in and out and do the whole process again. Make sure if you have a pup you are stopping ever 15 min or so to let them go out and go potty. Set timers if you need to because time may fly by!
Step 5 The serious training begins! Your dog is somewhat or completely comfortable in their kennel, this is a huge step, congrats! Now the potty training gets put into full swing and if you follow the instructions your pup will be housetrained so very quickly (some as short as 3 days while others take a week). Here’s the rules, only 5 and they are simple. They serve a purpose and they are not to be taken lightly if you want success.
Rule 1 Pup is in kennel unless they are going out to potty or actively being played with.
Rule 2 Active play means someone responsible has their full attention and eyes on the pup the ENTIRE time they are out of the kennel for active play. Play play play. Get them worn out!
Rule 3 You go out with pup every time for potty. You cannot just turn them loose in the backyard to go potty, you need to be next to them to give them the biggest celebration and rewards when they potty.
Rule 4 While your pup is out for active play encourage them to drink as much water as you can.
Rule 5 While your pup is out for active play take them out to potty every 10-15 min (longer for an adult dog of course). Set a timer if you need to. For puppies you may need to pick them up and carry them to the door to go out.
Step 6 Set up the potty routine. This is what it looks like and this is how it should be done every time… Take your pup out of the kennel (Never make a big deal of taking the pup OUT of the kennel even though you may be excited to play).
Take pup out to potty. If they go potty say your command word (“tinkle” or whatever you chose), give tons of praise (you are right next to them so this is easy), a treat, lots of petting, whatever your pup loves. Give them a drink of water regardless if they go potty or not. If they do not go potty (make sure you give them some time to try… most dogs go potty better after they have moved for a bit so walk them around in a small area ) take them back to their kennel and give them praise as you lure them into the kennel with their favorite toy or treat. Shut the door and try again in a short amount of time (15 or 20 minutes). Repeat same process if they do not go potty again.
If they do go potty then it’s play time! Bring them in and play play play actively for 10 to 15 minutes. Lots of water during this time. At the 10-15 minute point take them out to potty. If they potty then it’s another play session! If not then into the kennel (happily, with a treat, toy etc.).
What if they go potty but you have to go somewhere? Actively play with them for just a few minutes and take them back out to potty. If they don’t potty then into the kennel and you can go do what you need to do. If they do go potty (amazing, I know, sometimes they just live to mess up our plans) then you have to actively play for a minute or two and try again. The active playing is the super reward for going potty.
You will find after time(a couple weeks, maybe a month or two) you can simply say your command word (“tinkle” or whatever) and they will potty on command. Super convenient when it’s raining, freezing or super hot out or you are traveling and there’s a million new smells to smell and you just want to get back on the road. Darn those truck stops and their enticing smells to dogs lol!
That’s it folks, it’s really that simple. Pretty soon your dog will start going to the door to tell you they have to go potty and that’s such an amazing feeling! When your pup goes to the door and looks up at it, take them out to potty. If they go potty then another play session. If not then into their little den for some rest.
Yup, there’s always what ifs.
What if my pup has an accident in the house… If this happens, give them a quick, short, “NO” and get them outside immediately (even if you have to pick them up mid stream) and let them finish their business out there giving tons of praise as they do (yes, I know your temper may be rising at this point, get control of yourself!). This is the ONLY time you are able to have them go into their kennel after they finish going potty outside (if they do) because you have a little mess to clean up.
With our pups we could often see the signs that they were about to potty and get them out in time. When going poo dogs will often start sniffing the ground in a circle pattern and then of course start to squat. If you see this take them out to potty just to be safe. Remember, if they don’t go potty and you have to have them go back in their kennel you can always get them back out to try again in as little as 5 to 10 minutes 🙂 Most all pups will squat to pee as well but usually give little warning signs so just watch for the squat and take them out often as a precaution.
When pups are young I suggest play time not be on carpet if possible (easier to clean up in kitchen etc.)
What about feeding… feed them in their kennel. If they won’t eat their food, take it out and offer it again in a couple hours. Young pups should be fed at least 2 times per day but more little feedings throughout the day is much better. We would keep a day’s worth of food in a Ziploc bag and every time a pup went into their kennel they not only got treats and a toy but also some of their food.
What if I don’t have time to actively play with my pup after they go potty… If you can’t give them even just 3 minutes of play then you really shouldn’t have gotten a dog that needed to be potty trained. Remember, at the beginning of every play session and at the end of every play session pup goes out to potty. It’s ok if a play session can only be 3 minutes but you better be sure you’re getting a lot of play sessions in a 24 hour period if that’s the case.
What if my pup whines in the night to go potty… get up and let them out. Yup, they can be a lot like babies. The play sessions should be a lot more low key but they still get an active play session even if it’s 2:00am. Once again, this can be a 3 minute play session and then when they go out to potty at the end of that 3 minute play session they probably won’t go potty and they get to go back into kennel. The only thing I change about night sessions is I only offer a little water once or twice in the night.
If you have an adult dog who needs to be potty trained the only difference is the amount of time you can actively play before having to take them to potty. A little puppy can only go 10 to 15 minutes at most before pottying while an older dog has a bigger bladder and more control so they can usually play a little longer. Often times you will get wore out before the dog is worn out. Adult dogs need more “active” type play which is often best started outside with fetching etc. and then wrapped up with fun play inside before you take them out at the end of the play session to see if they will potty. If they don’t then back into kennel. If they do then more active play (doesn’t have to be super long if you have other things to do).
What if my pup has an accident in their kennel… clean it up. Do not scold the pup. NEVER scold the pup in the kennel unless you are disciplining bite or nipping behavior. Look to see if the kennel is too big. Were they able to poo or pee and then get away from it? If so then the kennel is probably too big. If not then you probably dropped the ball with not getting them out enough to potty. When a pup wakes up from a nap they almost always have to go potty, watch for that.
You might be saying, “Jhenna, you sure are asking us to pay A LOT of attention to this dog.” Yes, yes I am. For potty training you need to make it your whole and total mission to devote your energy and time to the matter at hand for it to be trained in quickly and assuredly. Put in the work now to save your carpets and floors down the road.
Have any other “what if” questions for me? Let me hear them! I’ll answer the best I can.