I got a message from your pup today and they want me to share a few things with you so you can both be on the same page!
We often think about potty training from a human perspective – we don’t want a mess inside our houses!
But teaching our dogs what we expect can be difficult… and frustrating. And when accidents mean messes and maybe even stained carpet or ruined furniture, it’s enough to drive a human crazy.
Today I’m going to walk you through some potty training tips from your dog’s point of view.
I think it might help you with your technique and you’ll see better results. And of course, this can help you build a stronger relationship with your dog. This is a win-win situation!
Before we jump right into potty training tips, first let’s understand doggy physiology and emotions on this subject.
I’m going to assume you have a pretty young puppy. After all, when we bring our puppies home around 8 weeks of age, potty training is the first thing we start to work on.
As you should! But let’s just think about what’s happening in your puppy’s brain. I’ve got my logo dog, Monty, here, to share his thoughts with you about what your puppy wants you to know. Monty says “My brain and bladder don’t work together yet! I’m just a little pup”
If someone suggested that you teach your 2-month-old baby to walk to the toilet and use it whenever he has to go potty, you’d think that friend is crazy, right!?
Babie’s brains – and bodies – don’t work like that – not yet anyway. We can’t always compare puppies to babies. But we can make some analogies to better adjust our expectations. Puppy brains and bladders are not connected at first.
Puppies don’t really pay attention to the feeling of a full bladder, they are used to just going when they go! It takes some time for those two parts of the body to work together.
How much time? Well, don’t freak out when I tell you this but most puppies are potty trained by 6 months old. Yep! 6 MONTHS! If you follow my suggestions you won’t be seeing accidents every day for 6 months, but some pups just need that much time for practice, repetition, and brain development. So if you are worried about your 12-week old puppy who is still having accidents just remember that it’s normal.
You’ll get there, with time and training! Let’s see what Monty has to share with us next. Monty says “I don’t have a lot of advance warning!” notice the feeling of a full bladder, then comes the timing. He might notice the full bladder about 2 seconds before he goes potty!It takes time for the bladder muscles to develop and for your puppy to learn to hold it until he gets to the right spot.
It takes time for the brain and bladder to sync and to send the signal to the bladder that it needs to find a spot to go potty ASAP Crate training can help with this because it encourages the puppy to hold his bladder until he gets out of his sleeping spot. BUT…This isn’t a guarantee, though. Not all puppies avoid going potty where they sleep.
If there is a lot of room or the puppy is really stressed, or maybe he’s been in there for too long, he might have an accident. Some mama dogs were also not so good at cleaning up their pups. So if the puppy got used to sitting in his own mess, he might be more likely to have an accident in the crate.
Don’t worry, we can help you teach him what to do instead. Just keep watching and we’ll get you there! If you think about this advance warning we want from our dogs, think about how complicated this is. Your puppy has a number of fairly complex thoughts that he has to work through for this whole potty training sequence.
First, there’s: “I feel something, I think I have to go potty” and then “I need to get to the right spot” and also “I need to tell Mom that I need to go” and also “I need to tell Mom in a way that she taught me to tell her, not the way I’m used to talking”. There is a lot going on in that puppy brain! Do you see why that is not all happening at 8 weeks old? Right? It’s just not all connected yet! Let’s keep going.
Here’s another thing that’s happening:
Monty says “I communicate when I have to pee, you just don’t notice it.” People often post questions in my FB Group Puppy Training. They say “My dog is not giving off any signals that he has to go, and we keep having accidents!”.
Well, sorry to tell you this, but he IS giving off signals. Those signals your puppy is giving off are often very subtle and not very noticeable to the human brain, because it’s not how WE give off signals. Common signals that your dog has to go are: sniffing, circling, being rambunctious, sniffing in a straight line, or even jumping or barking to get your attention.
They’ve figured out his signals and can now get him out when he needs to go! He was talking to them all along, they just didn’t know his language! Figuring out your dog’s language can be so rewarding and really further your relationship.
If you have a very young and small puppy like a Yorkie or Chihuahua, it can be hard to determine if they’ve peed. You’ll get better at noticing the signals if you watch your puppy carefully, but look for a fixed gaze, a slight squat, or more rigid stance, a raised tail and he will probably stand very still, and then have a sudden burst of energy.
You can also feel the tummy or put a tissue down there to check for wetness. Did you catch what I said about a fixed gaze? When a dog is going potty and he stares straight at you, it is not defiance, it’s instincts.
That humanized it a little bit but you get the idea. Sometimes people think that a dog who has an accident in the house, right in front of them, is giving off that “I’m going to pee right here out of spite” but dogs really don’t think like that.
They don’t feel spite. Their behavior serves a function and in that situation, he’s just acting on instinct: “You stand guard, Mom, I gotta take care of this business for one second!” Ready for more doggy thoughts on potty training?
Potty Training Tips
Here’s a good one. Monty says “If you don’t know what I should do to alert you, I don’t either. “You heard me say already that your dog DOES give off signals that he has to go, it’s just hard for the humans to notice them because it’s not how we are used to communicating. But there’s a way you can meet in the middle. If you teach your dog a different way to alert you, this will be better for both of you!
My favorite method is the bell training method.
You can hang a set of bells by the door or use a courtesy bell, and train your dog to ring it when he wants to go out for a potty break. This is a more noticeable signal for the human and it’s really all the same to the dog – he’ll do it because you taught him to and because there’s value in it for him.
At first, the value was a treat and soon it just became a habit. Like I said earlier, the complete lesson on how to train your dog on the potty bells can be found in the free New Puppy Starter Kit. I want to caution you not to proceed too fast on the bell training lesson. I outline it in steps and sometimes you’ll spend a week on one step and other times you might want to spend 3 weeks.
It really depends on your dog and how well he’s picking up on the training. Pay attention to his signals and advance at his pace, not yours. And if you’re wondering how to teach your dog to use the bells if he doesn’t have access to the potty door, don’t worry, I’ve got you covered on that too.
Ringing the bells when you take him out builds the association. It’s pre-training before you expect him to do the behavior.
Training for Dogs Works Like That.
So when he does finally get access to that door, he’ll be ready to move to that next step in bell training. Remember what I said about most dogs being potty trained by 6 months old? Yep! You’ll be watching the schedule and the signals for quite a while still so don’t expect the bells to do the work for you!
Let’s see what’s next from Monty: Monty says “I get distracted easily!” Even if we have a puppy bladder and brain that are communicating, and the puppy knows what we want him to do, distractions will overrule that communication.
Have you ever seen a toddler at a birthday party?
They are having so much fun, they often will not self-police to take a potty break. They have to be reminded, coaxed, and convinced! Your puppy is very curious and exploring all the new things in his life. If he’s busy checking these things out, he’s probably not paying attention to those boring signals telling him that he has to stop the fun and take a potty break.
Your job as a human is to pay attention to the timing and the activities and help him remember to take a break. This is often why we see accidents when we open up new rooms to our dogs. They are so busy sniffing all the new smells, they forget they have to go. By the time they realize they have to go, it’s too late
And if they are doing a lot of sniffing and are excited, this is going to keep their bladder even more active!
As the complex thinker in the relationship, it’s up to you to pay attention to the environment and get that pup out for breaks when he needs it.I have a great video on managing space and in it, I include some info on the best way to open up new rooms to your dog – and prevent accidents.
Here’s another thing your dog is thinking or what Monty also thinks:
Monty says “I don’t really care where I go. You care.” Going potty in one particular spot, such as outside, is a human concept. We do that to help live in harmony with the dog, and so they don’t make a mess and smell up our home.
If we didn’t teach our human children that the toilet is the spot, they’d simply go wherever and whenever they felt like it. It’s the same with our dogs. We teach them where The Spot is and we reward them enough times in that spot that they have the motivation to go there, and then it becomes a habit.
Potty training is the human’s job, not the dog’s. It’s a human convenience so it’s up to us to teach it in a way that the dog understands and makes it rewarding enough that he keeps doing it – for life!
Rewarding your dog when he does what you want is a critical part of shaping dog behavior. We always want to reward our dogs when they go potty outside, at least when they are still learning and maybe long after they’ve gotten the message.
The timing of our reward is also important. I’ve heard of people who take their dog out for a potty break, then go inside and give him a treat. We definitely encourage you to give him a treat, but in this case, the dog thinks that going inside is what is getting him the treat. So the human has probably sent the wrong message accidentally. Be sure to reward your dog outside, the minute he has stopped going potty.
Let’s talk about that outside time for a minute.
I often hear about humans who have diligently watched the schedule and the signals and get that pup outside for a potty break at just the right time. It’s the time!
He needs to go! Let’s do this! And then… he pancakes. Lays flat in the grass or just outside the door Or he rolls in the grass, or he sniffs the flowers, or he sits down and just sniffs the air, like Ferdinand the Bull in the bullring. Now, what do I do? they ask me.
Monty can help us with that one. Monty says “You can help me stay focussed.” As a human, you can help your dog stay focused on the job you want him to do.
You do that by keeping him on a leash, using an outdoor puppy pen, and practicing the route and sequence of potty breaks outside of the time you need him to do it. This helps normalize it so it’s not so exciting at the time you need to head out. I also encourage you to spend some time outside with your puppy so he has that outlet for exploring and the world is not quite so new or exciting at the time of a potty break.
I would separate outside playtime from outside potty time by going back inside between the two events. Even if you go inside after a potty break, play a training game for one or two minutes, then head back outside to play, that will send the message that those two activities are separate things, and potty breaks do not equal playtime.
What else does Monty want us to know?
Monty says “Pee pads teach me to pee inside.” The manufacturers of pee pads will tell you that they will magically teach your dog to pee on them. But what you’ve learned from this video is that dogs learn what you teach them! Nothing about a pee pad says “go right here”.
It’s just one more surface in the house. Did you catch what I said there?
IN THE HOUSE. Yep, pee pads in the house teach your dog… to go in the house! Is this what you want for a lifetime?
Furthermore, if your dog learns that inside is the place to go, there’s nothing that will necessarily teach him that the pee pad is the spot. To him, it’s not very different from the kitchen rug or bath mat or any other floor surface in your home
It also frequently becomes a chew toy because it smells interesting and it makes fun noises. Just skip the pee pads altogether if you really want to potty train your dog to go outside. If you have to use something inside for potty breaks, use a grassy patch with a little fence or border around it to clearly distinguish it from the rest of the house I go over some great details about that in this video, about raising a puppy in an apartment.
Do you want just one more thought from our friend Monty? Before I share my last trip with you, hit that subscribe button so you can be notified when my next video is released. Monty says “Have patience with me, I’m still learning.” Ahhh, thanks for the reminder, Monty.
This is a good one. Dogs are not stubborn. Their behavior serves a function. If a dog is not learning what you are trying to teach, it’s up to you to adjust your methods to help the process work better.
Potty training involves 4 key elements:
- Reward when he goes in the right spot
- Keep him on a schedule so you can predict when he needs to go
- Restrict his freedom to prevent accidents and watch for potty break signals
- Clean up with the right product to try and eliminate the smell
If you’re having accidents when you think you’ve done all the right things, check those four fundamentals and see which one – or more – need to be tightened up. Remind yourself that no one is perfect – not human nor canine.
Accidents DO happen. There may be a medical issue, you might have missed an extra long water break, maybe the schedule got away from you or maybe the pup just forgot what was expected of him.
These accidents are normal throughout the first year, or even later in life, especially when something big changes in his life or environment. An accident does not mean that all potty training has failed or you have to start over from scratch.
It means you have to recommit to the potty training fundamentals and re-teach your dog what you expect. If you do this with the love and patience of a parent, you’ll get on the right track to a potty-trained dog and a great relationship.
In the comments below, tell me which of Monty’s thoughts was most helpful to you!