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How to potty train your dog

One of the quintessential first steps when getting a new pup is potty training. It may seem like a daunting task but with positive reinforcement training, a solid routine and patience, potty training is actually much easier than most owners first think! 

Positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement practices are always the best method to use when training dogs. The Humane Society couldn’t have explained it better, “Positive reinforcement training uses a reward (treats, praise, toys, anything the dog finds rewarding) for desired behaviors. Because the reward makes them more likely to repeat the behavior, positive reinforcement is one of your most powerful tools for shaping or changing your dog’s behavior.”

A good way to think about it is if you were doing the task. Would you go to work at your job if you weren’t getting paid? Probably not. Your dog views training in the same way. Think of the motivator as your dog's paycheck for the work they’re doing.

*Pro tip: Kabo meals are highly nutritious and palatable, making them a perfect training tool. Your dog will be jumping at the chance to show you their good potty skills!

Set up a routine

Dogs are creatures of habit. Once they get into a routine, they will become accustomed to scheduled bathroom breaks. For an adult dog, bathroom breaks in the morning, mid-day, evening and before bed should suffice.

When do puppies need to pee?

Puppies have to pee A LOT. With such tiny bladders, it is best to take them outside as often as you can. This could be every 1-2 hours during the day and every 6 hours at night. A good rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold its bladder for as many hours as it is months old. Here are some suggestions of when to take your puppy out to pee during the day:

  • When they wake up in the morning
  • Before they go to bed for the night
  • After playing (with you or another dog)
  • After spending time their crate
  • When they wake up from a nap
  • After chewing a toy or bone
  • After they finish eating or drinking

”Bathroom” options

When it comes to potty training a pup, it is important to establish a designated “bathroom” spot. This can be anywhere, as long as it is desirable for you and you keep consistent on where they go.

Outdoors

Most pet owners opt to train their dogs to do their business outdoors. This helps to eliminate unwanted smells in the house and creates a more natural space for dogs to go to the bathroom. Dogs are more likely to potty on the grass versus cement. This is because grass offers some cushioning for their feet and makes it more comfortable for them to do their business.

Pee pads and potty squares

Outside potty training isn’t always feasible for all pet owners. This is why some owners choose to potty train their dogs using pee pads or potty squares made with artificial turf. These options can be kept in the house or out on the deck/porch. They are particularly good for those owners who live in high rise condos and/or have dogs who refuse to potty outside in the cold. 

Keep in mind however, that it can be very difficult to untrain dogs from using pee pads or potty squares. Once trained to indoor alternatives, it can be tricky to transition them to using the bathroom outside.

Steps for potty training your pup

It is important to remember that when potty training a new dog, you can be doing all of the right things and you still may find the occasional accident. Patience and creating a positive environment is key with training. Here are a few steps to get you started:

  1. Determine what you will use as positive reinforcement. What will your dog do anything for? It could be treats, toys, affection or food. Find out what motivates your dog and use it to reward them for any positive behaviour.
  2. Pick your preferred potty spot for your dog. Whether it’s outside or on a pee pad, determine a specific spot where you want your dog to use as their bathroom.
  3. Begin taking your dog out to that spot routinely. They will not potty every time but it is good to establish a routine.
  4. When they poop or pee in the desired location, reward and give them lots of praise. Your dog will start to associate going potty in that spot with a reward and good things, motivating them to do it more often.
  5. Eventually through repetition and routine, your pup will be perfectly potty trained in no time!

Tips for potty training potty training

  • Consider a crate

Crate training is a good option to avoid overnight accidents or messes while you’re out of the house. Instinctually, dogs are less likely to poop or pee where they sleep. If they are overnighted in a crate, there will be less chance of finding a mess in the morning. A crate or puppy fence will help them to learn the difference between where their bathroom is versus where their bedroom is.

  • Control feeding

Puppies have a rapid digestive system. Too large of a meal and it will have them pooping very quickly. Try feeding 3 small meals per day, rather than 2 large ones. This way they won’t feel the need to go to the bathroom as frequently.

  • Feed high quality food

If you are feeding your dog a diet with low quality ingredients, chances are most of the diet is not going to get digested and they will just be pooping it right back out. A high quality food will have more digestible ingredients, so that dogs can absorb and utilize all those nutrients!

  • Watch for potty signs

Dogs will show certain behaviours when they have to go pee or poop. Watch out for certain signs that your dog has to go, such as sniffing, circling, stopping in the middle of play, barking, scratching, restlessness or squatting.

  • Shovel them a potty spot in the winter

Living with a dog in Canada can be tough. Sometimes dogs may not like the snow. If you have a yard, shovelling the snow off of a small spot may encourage them to go outside in the cold.

  • Utilize attractants

Canines are very scent driven animals. They are more likely to urinate on strong smells. Natural attractants can be purchased from the pet store to make certain spots more desirable to pee on. 

  • Clean up accidents using an enzyme cutting cleaner

If your dog messes in the house, clean it up with a specially formulated pet cleaner. It needs to be one that cuts the enzymes in dog urine because while you may not be able to see or smell the spot anymore, your dog still can. This is especially important with a dog who’s prone to marking.

  • Be boring

When taking your dog outside, don’t rush them. Stand there and act boring. This shows your dog that you’re not outside to play and will encourage them to sniff around and find a spot to do their business.

  • Teach your dog potty commands

Training commands can also be a helpful tool. When your dog does their business, use a command like “go” or “go pee” and then reward them with a treat, toy or affection. Your dog will start to associate the command and the action with positive reinforcement. Eventually you will be able to get them to go on command. 

  • Teach your dog to let you know when they need to go

Train your dog to use a bell or signal for when they need to go outside. A similar approach to the potty commands can be used for this one. Positive association with treats and toys are always the best method!

Things to avoid when potty training

  • DO NOT get mad or scold your dog when you find an accident. 

If you do not correct a bad behaviour within 30 seconds of it happening, your dog will have forgotten what happened. By yelling at your dog after it has an accident, your negative reinforcement is more likely just to scare your dog than to get your message across.

  • Avoid giving them unlimited access to water when you are out of the house

Monitor your dog’s water intake and if you are out of the house for a few hours, consider taking the water away. This will reduce the likelihood of your dog drinking too much water and needing to piddle while you’re out. Another option is placing a few ice cubes into your dog’s empty water dish. The ice cubes will melt slowly and your dog will still be hydrated but won’t be able to gulp down the water while you’re out.

Take home message

When you begin potty training a dog or puppy, accidents are inevitable. Remember to stay diligent with taking them to their designated potty spot and by utilizing a positive potty training approach, you will have a perfect potty trained pooch in no time!


Golden retriever puppy pooping on the lawn
Golden retriever puppy pooping on the lawn

View Sources

AKC. “How to Potty Train Puppies: A Comprehensive Guide for Success” (2021). https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/how-to-potty-train-a-puppy/ 

Humane society. “How to potty train your dog or puppy”. (2020). https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/how-house-train-your-dog-or-puppy#:~:text=Watch%20for%20signs%20that%20your,outside%20to%20their%20bathroom%20spot

Kabo. “Crate training your puppy”. (2021). https://kabo.co/puppies-101/crate-training-your-puppy 


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