By: Drew Webster, CPDT-KA
Dogs have no idea when they first enter an environment if they are allowed to relieve themselves or not. It is our job as pet parents to manage the environment, the resources and the amount of time between potty breaks carefully to create a consistent routine. Dogs that are most likely to have potty problems usually are relatively new to the environment, get food throughout the day (free feeders or excessive treats throughout the day), have full access to all areas of the home and inconsistencies in their routine.
Frequently, I meet pet parents who are sure their dog is going potty in the home out of spite or anger toward them. Dog’s don’t relieve themselves indoors to get even with us or to send us a message. The only message you should receive if you find an accident is that you waited too long between potty breaks or your routine is not predictable enough for your dog. There is one dog training tip too many pet parents seem to receive and it has no merit. It is the advice to “rub the dogs nose in it” when you find they have soiled in the home. Not only does this not teach the dog anything but it could severely impede your training and harm your relationship with your dog. DO NOT RUB THE DOG’S NOSE IN THE MESS.
If you are having problems with your potty training routine, go back to step one with your dog and set up a “Potty Plan” to achieve success. The key to any potty training plan is managing resources and the environment combined with good timing and consistency. Let’s break this plan down.
Feeding schedule: Free feeding a dog is a popular idea among pet owners with new puppies or picky eaters but it actually reinforces the idea that there will always be food in the bowl and it can decrease the dogs desire to eat on a set schedule. I don’t recommend free feeding dogs if they are having a hard time with potty training because it adds difficulty to the timing of potty breaks. It is better to establish a feeding schedule either two or three times a day. Consult your veterinarian to make sure the amount you are feeding and diet are appropriate for your dogs breed, size and life stage.
Confinement: This is simply managing your dog’s environment. If you have beautiful carpet in one area of your home and hard wood or linoleum in another, try to keep the dog confined to the area that is easy to clean and won’t hold onto the odor should the dog have an accident. Many pet owners learn that using a crate, baby gates or an exercise pen in the home helps manage the dog between potty breaks. Being confined to a smaller area helps because most dogs don’t like to eliminate where they eat or sleep so crate training is a wonderful tool if done in a positive and consistent way. Consider feeding your dog in your confined dog appropriate area and then taking your dog out to a designated potty location shortly after feeding time. When you take your dog out, remain quiet, calm and still. Don’t go for a big walk or go somewhere interesting and new. Go to a familiar or hopefully the same spot to relieve your dog and wait patiently. If your dog goes potty he has earned your trust to be out and have access to your home. If he doesn’t go, give him a few more minutes in the confined space and then take him out again.
Timing is everything: dogs have very consistent digestive tracks if they are on a regular diet. Changes in food can result in an upset stomach or loosening of their stool. Find a diet that is healthy and helps your dog have regular and solid stool. Keep rich treats to a minimum and remember, any changes to diet may require more frequent potty trips. If your dog has a consistent feeding schedule, it will make potty-break timing easier to manage. When your dog eliminates in an appropriate area in front of you, give him some feedback such as saying, “Good Potty”. This help name the behavior and let him know that he made a good choice on location to relieve himself.
Alternative potty plans can include potty pads or indoor potty stations for urban dwellers, or if you have a long distance between your apartment and the nearest appropriate potty area. If you have a small outdoor deck or landing area, you can set up a turf potty station when your dog is new to the environment. Then work toward going potty outside as your dog establishes a routine. Another option for pet parents who don’t want to use crates or confinement is tethering. This is where you tie your dog to you. The idea of tethering is your dog is with you, and you can rush outside if nature calls. It also prevents him from slipping into the next room when nature calls.
If you continue to have issues and your routine is very established, mention it the next time you see your veterinarian to make sure there are not any medical issues keeping you and your dog from being successful. If your dog has accidents inside, use a pet stain and odor removing product to completely remove the enzymes left behind by pet elimination. This is key so the odor doesn’t trigger your dog to potty in that area again.
Now you have a potty plan. Remember schedule, timing, confinement and lots of praise when your dog goes potty in the appropriate area.