How to Potty Train a New Puppy

How to Potty Train a New Puppy

The old quote about death and taxes being a certainty in life holds true. Yet, anyone who chooses to get a puppy gets two more. The first rite of passage is housebreaking, while the second is weeping like a freshly minted widow over the dog’s passing.

There’s not much you can do about the latter, but when it comes to the former, you can make the process pretty simple. You will deal with accidents, but it’s possible to mitigate the quantity pretty easily. You just need to understand how puppies work.

Timing Is Everything

For starters, acknowledge that what goes in—in the form of food and water—affects what comes out. If that’s revelatory in any way, maybe you’re more of a goldfish owner type of person. Water and food intake dictate when a puppy is going to have to go outside, it’s that simple.

This is why consistency is so important. If you feed your puppy at the same time, every day, it should learn to go poop at the same time, every day. Water is a little trickier because you don’t want to withhold water just to keep the pup from going pee, except for one instance. When you crate a puppy in the evening, cut off water at a specific time (and don’t water in the crate).

What this does is start to condition the pup to sleeping longer and waking up for bathroom breaks less. It’s also a good idea, at least in the first couple weeks, to set an alarm for every few hours so you can take the pup out before it wakes up and lets you know it’s too late. And on that note, puppies sleep a lot. When they wake up, their urge to take a leak is usually pretty strong.

If you’re using an appropriately sized crate for nap time, one that is small enough that they shouldn’t want to soil it, then pay attention. When the pup starts to stir, you know it’s time to pick it up and bring it outside. Anticipating bathroom breaks will help you fast-track the housebreaking process.

Also, if you notice your pup drinking a lot, you’re going to have to anticipate more trips to the yard. If you notice your pup with its nose in the food bag for who knows how long, you’re going to have to anticipate quite a few poop breaks. One of my dogs did this once at about 12 weeks old, and it was an experience to remember to say the least.

Praise & Commands

The typical strategy for young puppies and housebreaking is to reward them with a treat for going outside. This is as basic as it gets, and it sets a simple foundation. Some trainers don’t treat train, which is fine, but if you’re not a professional trainer, you should take this easy and effective route every time you can with young puppies.

Rewards, whether treats or praise (or both), also rely on timing. If you’re not anticipating the tight window in which your puppy will need to go outside, you could miss the chance to reward them for doing the right thing.

I had a golden retriever puppy in a past life that was such a big fan of this that she actually started to fake me out. She’d squat in the yard, not pee, and then sit down for her reward. It was an adorable deception. One that took me far too long to figure out.

You can also command your dog to go to the bathroom. Scratch that; you should use a command for it. I learned this trick from a few different trainers, but essentially you use a command every time they squat to pee, or hunch up to drop a growler in your yard.

I use "outside" for pee, and "hurry up" for poop, mostly because I heard DeadFowl Trainer, Tom Dokken, use those two commands. The idea is to get them to go to the bathroom on command, and quicker than they would choose to on their own.

If this sounds dumb, stand outside in a Minnesota winter while your dog sniffs every spot in the yard, or travel with your dogs and pay attention to how long your rest stop breaks take.

The strategy of anticipating every bathroom break while using a crate correctly, and rewarding on time, will housebreak most pups pretty quickly—often within the first couple of weeks. It’s a pain, but it’s a hell of a lot better than cleaning up after a five-month-old dog that still hasn’t figured out the difference between the yard and your carpet.

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