Potty Training 101
Teaching our dogs when and where to eliminate is one of the most important lessons they will ever learn. Living with a dog that is regularly damaging flooring can be extremely frustrating and is one of the leading causes for rehoming. Once you fully understand all of the common potty training techniques, executing them should be easily to complete with wonderful results. Every trainer has slightly different opinions on which techniques are the "best" or most effective, but regardless of your standpoint, the basics remain the same. Canines by nature do not want to eliminate where they sleep. Utilizing their instincts in conjunction with plenty of opportunity for them to be successful will accomplish house training in no time!
The three most popular potty training techniques are as follows: crate training, paper training, and consistent and regular trips outside. I prefer to combine a bit of all three to set up the best game plan for success in a specific household. When discussing potty training I think it is important to consider that not all dogs learn at the same pace, and that our busy lives sometimes effect our ability to potty train dogs in the same way. For this reason, I explain MY ideal potty training plan for puppies. These are the techniques that I use to potty train in my personal household. It may be necessary for you to modify my techniques to fit your lifestyle and your dog's abilities. Feel free to reach out to me with questions if you're not sure what plan is best for your family.
Your plan for potty training should start before you bring them home. Preparing before your puppy is in your home is vital. As with any dog training, you need to make a point to set your puppy up for success. I always start my potty training in a controlled space. It should be our goal to guide our new puppy to ensure that they will be successful. If the new puppy is only ever in a position to make the correct decisions, they always will. The size of your puppy will control the size of the controlled space that you should prepare. For this example I am going to use my personal dog, Titan, who is a Weimaraner. He was around 15 lbs at 8 weeks old when I brought him home.
I was in college when I got him, so there were extended periods of time when I wasn't able to come home and let him out. The space I made for him when he would be home alone during those periods of time had to be large enough for him to use the restroom inside, but in a way that would help train him. His set up was a 22in wire crate that was left OPEN with a big soft blanket inside. (NOTE: for some puppies it may be preferred to use a small dog bed. Just be sure to observe your puppy before leaving them alone to ensure that they won't destroy and consume whatever bedding material you are using. Ingesting foreign objects can be deadly and very costly.) The open crate was securely attached to a 3ft tall X pen that was placed in an L shape. The open crate door was secured to the X pen with a velcro strap to prevent it from getting closed. Velcro was chosen to secure it so that if somehow my new puppy got caught on the door he would be able to get it unhooked to prevent any serious injury. In the end of the L shape that was NOT where the kennel was attached a potty pad was placed. (NOTE: it is important to remember that it is NEVER recommended to leave a dog of any age unattended in a crate or pen with a collar on. There is always a risk of getting caught and obstructing the airway.)
This was the ideal set up for me because it was the beginning of kennel training as well as paper training. In addition to Titan being in this set up when I was away for long periods of time, he was also in it when I was home when I wasn't able to be actively watching him and taking him outside. Using the set up when I was home in addition to when I was gone was a vital aspect of kennel training. It taught him that when he was placed in his controlled space it didn't always mean I was leaving him, therefor battling the tendency for dogs to develop separation anxiety while in their kennels. It also ensured that he was always set up for success. If I couldn't be paying attention to him, he wasn't given the opportunity to eliminate inside in the wrong location,
and instead would go on his potty pad in his enclosure. With a large breed dog, paper training isn't needed and eventually will be phased out completely, but in my case it was necessary as I was unable to take him out consistently all of the time . The placement of the kennel, X pen, and potty pad are important because they are set up to optimize a dog's natural instincts. A dog will go to the restroom as far away from where they sleep as possible. This meant that he should almost always go potty on his potty pad while in his pen.
I couldn't be home as often as Titan needed to go outside, and allowing him to eliminate inside on the floor would be very detrimental to his overall potty training (not to mention the effect it would have on my flooring). So, when I wasn't home he was allowed to go potty on his potty pad, and in most cases did or got very close. It is also important to note that his entire set up was on linoleum flooring and not carpet. When I got home, his having used the potty pad was met with no reaction and quietly cleaned up and the potty pad was replaced.
When I was home and able to be actively keeping an eye on him he was free to roam around the kitchen, but it was gated and he didn't have access to the rest of the house. When this was the case I practiced taking consistent and regular trips outside. Every time I took him outside I would ring some bells that I had hanging from the doorknob at his height. Consistently ringing the bells every time I took him outside eventually led to him ringing the bells himself when he needed to go outside. When he would eliminate outside my reaction would be to throw a huge party. I would excitedly say "GOOD BOY GO POTTY!!! GOOD BOY GO POTTY OUTSIDE!". In the beginning this was accompanied with a treat. (I prefer to use Instinct freeze dried toppers as treats). I would repeat that same phrase every time he went to the restroom outside and eventually he learned what it meant and will now use the restroom on command. This is extremely useful should you have to take your dog out on a leash to use the restroom and the weather isn't ideal. If I caught him about to use the restroom inside I would sternly correct him with a sharp "CH CH" sound and take him directly outside. If he finished going to the restroom outside I would throw a huge party, even when he had initially started going to the restroom inside.
I chose to use "CH CH" as my correction sound primarily because it is very difficult to say it in a way that sounds angry. I try to always be neutral or encouraging with dogs when I train them. I try to remember that I am their coach, and I will guide them should they make a mistake so that they can get back on track. It is important to note that any sound you use as your correction marker will only be effective if used consistently in a way that will teach your dog what the sound means.
Basically, it was my job to teach Titan that if he went potty inside he was corrected, if he used the restroom outside he would get a party and cookies, and if he went potty on the potty pad he was met with no reaction. In his mind he would realize that when he went potty inside he was told that he wasn't making the right decision, if he went potty on him potty pad nothing really happened, but if he went potty OUTSIDE he could trade his potty and little poops for a party and cookies. (Another important note: correcting going potty inside AFTER THE FACT is more or less useless. It is very difficult for a dog to associate a correction with an action that is in the past. That is why it is important that if we can't be paying attention to our puppies that they are placed where they will naturally use the potty pad.)
As he grew and could go longer periods of time without using the potty pad, he was moved from his x pen into a larger kennel. He stayed in his closed kennel when I was gone and when he couldn't be watched. He also ate all of his meals in his kennel, reinforcing the idea that his kennel was his "den" and a safe and reliable place for him to be. When I was home and able to watch him, his kennel was left open and available to him should he decide that he needed to get away for a while and be alone.
The name of this game is CONSISTENCY. If you aren't consistent your dog will never understand what is expected of them. With a little bit of patience and effort your puppy will be potty trained in no time, leaving your home and your family happy and healthy!
DISCLAIMER: All of this information is opinion, and not proven fact. It is encouraged that you do further research and decide which training techniques you would like to use in your own household. Pawsitive Speak Dog Training and MacKenzie Ryle cannot be held liable for any damages associated with use of the advise on this blog.