How To Potty Train A Dog – The different ways and training stages

All family dogs have to undergo potty training at some point in their lives, and hence how to potty train a dog is something every owner will face. Whether they are successfully trained or not depends mainly on how the owner (or trainer) teaches them.

When I had to train my first few dogs, I sought advice from various sources, including pet shop owners, other dog owners, and research online. Things did not go well for the first dog, but eventually, the subsequent dogs I had were better trained. My current dog is now well-trained, with approximately one accident or no accidents at all each month.

In this article, I will share with you the following aspects:

  • How to choose your dog’s toileting area
  • Three different ways to train your dog
  • The different stages in the potty training process
  • Managing accidents
  • Additional proven tips and recommendations

There are two major decisions you have to make before you start potty training your dog.

Decision No. 1: Outdoors, Indoors, or Both?

There are pros and cons for each option, and the decision will ultimately be depended on what appeals and is feasible for you. Different options will also require you to prepare different items in advance.

Toileting Only Outdoors

Toileting outdoors certainly means less work in cleaning the house, but you will need to bring your dog out for walks every day at the same time. Therefore, consistency is a crucial factor here; one missed walk and your dog will most likely have an accident in the house.

I will recommend this option to owners who have a fixed working schedule or arrange fixed walking times for the dog. If you cannot have a consistent routine, the difficulty of potty training your dog increases significantly and may not have good results.

You will need a leash, a collar or harness, and bags to pick up your dog’s poop to dispose of for this option. Picking after your dog’s poop is both a polite thing to do and reduces the environment’s pollution [1].

Toileting Only Indoors

If you allow your dog to relieve himself indoors, you can have a more flexible outdoor schedule. However, do be prepared for more accidents during the training phase. Your house might also stink if you clean up the mess a long time after it is made!

This option is not commonly seen, but owners who cannot arrange for a fixed walking schedule may prefer this option. Such an arrangement allows them to clean up the mess in their free time while not dirtying other house areas.

In this case, I strongly recommend a litter box with dog litter, although newspapers and pee pads do work too.

If you do bring your dog outdoors, remember to poop bags along to pick up the droppings.

Toileting Both Outdoors and Indoors

A combination of both is possible. You get to experience the best of both, having less work when you have the time to bring your dog out and having less worry about having accidents if you do not have the time to do so. However, be aware that the training phase might be prolonged because your dog must understand that there are two options available when he wants to relieve himself.

This option is more common for owners who cannot arrange a fixed walking schedule but still prefer to have their dogs relieve themselves outside the house. This is how most of my dogs are trained; most dogs adapt to this routine after 3 to 6 months.

You will also have to prepare all the items listed above – leash, collar or harness, poop bags, and litter box with dog litter.

Decision No. 2: Crate, Pen, or Outside?

The second decision you will have to make is the type of training you intend to use. Your choice for the first decision will likely influence your choice on this second decision.

Regardless of which method you use, it can be combined with clicker training so that your dog knows precisely what he/she should do.

Crate Training

Crate training means that you put your dog in a crate that is only sufficient for the dog to stand, lie down, and turn around. When you see your dog showing signs of wanting to relieve themselves (listed in the next section), you immediately bring your dog to where you want him to relieve himself.

This confining method may seem cruel and inhumane to some, but it does work on most dogs. The reason being most dogs value the cleanliness of their sleeping area and do not want to soil it unless necessary. This training also allows your dog to get used to a travel crate for future traveling purposes and is suitable for indoor and outdoor toilet training.

Crate training requires you (or another person) to be always within range of the crate to notice your dog’s signs. If your dog did not manage to hold it in and soil the crate, the training might backfire; he may feel that it is okay to soil his living area and start peeing and pooping wherever he wants.

This training method may also not work if your dog had past experiences of peeing and pooping in his living areas, such as being confined in a small space when he was in a pet shop or shelter. It may also result in your dog fearing the crate and associating it with negative experiences if the training goes on for too long.

Pen Training

Pen training refers to keeping your dog confined in a pen with a dog bed, a small area that may contain kibbles, water, and small toys (optional but encouraged), and the litter box. When you see your dog showing signs of wanting to relieve themselves (listed in the next section), you immediately bring your dog to the litter box to relieve himself.

Owners who want to train their dogs to relieve themselves indoor will choose this method, especially if they intend to keep their dogs in the pen when they are out of the house. This method is much better for the dog’s mental well-being during the training phase, and dogs are much less likely to associate being penned up with negative experiences.

You will still need to be present in the early stages of the training. After your dog pee or poop in the litter box for the first few times, you can be lax on your supervision if you cannot be around. The scent in the litter box will help to remind your dog where he should go. Do understand that accidents can and will happen if you opt to do so.

Outside Training

As the name suggests, you bring your dog out of the house at certain times and do not return until he has done his business. For puppies, a trip outside every 2 to 3 hours is the minimum, while older dogs can afford a longer time interval.

This training method requires a lot of time, especially in the early phases. Each trip outside will be about 10 to 30 minutes, and you will need to do so several times a day.

Some owners stop feeding their dogs water a few hours before bedtime and bring them out for a quick walk immediately before sleeping. This reduces the chances of the dog needing to pee in the middle of the night, disrupting your sleep.

Potty Training Process

The potty training process starts after you have prepared everything you need.

The entire training process can be split into three parts:

  1. The early stage: This stage is when you introduce the concept of toileting at a particular spot. Your dog will need constant reminders and positive reinforcements for the concept to sink in.
  2. The observation stage: You move on to this stage when you start observing your dog having behaviors such as cueing for you to bring him out or going to the litter box spontaneously. Such actions mean that he understands the concept already, but it might not be deeply ingrained in them yet.
  3. The habitual stage: By this stage, your dog is already very well trained, although accidents may still occur. This is also the time when you can slowly stop the positive reinforcement with minimal repercussions.

The Early Stage

You will need to expend the most effort on this stage. A successful early stage will mean a greater chance of moving on to the observation and habitual stages, eventually allowing your dog to internalize the toileting behavior and routine.

  1. Have your dog be wherever you want him to be after feeding and watering them. Depending on your training type, it will be in the crate, in the pen, or walking freely around the house.
  2. Keep an eye on your dog. Whenever you see your dog exhibiting behaviors such as scratching the (crate) door, starting to sniff around, circling at a spot continuously, and getting into the peeing or pooping pose, it means that he needs to do his business.
  3. Quickly bring your dog to wherever you want him to be when he wants to relieve himself.
  4. (Optional, but especially recommended for owners who bring their dogs outside) Say the word or phrase (e.g., ‘toilet time’) associated with the intention and act of going to pee or poop.
  5. After your dog finished peeing and pooping, reward him with tons of praise and treats. This positive reinforcement will make him understand that doing his business at this particular spot is desirable.

The Observation Stage

You will most likely have a gauge on when your dog will pee and poop by this stage. Observe him during this time frame to see what behaviors he shows.

If he goes to his toileting spot (or asks you to bring him out by scratching the door), then great! Shower him with lots of praise and treats and make it a big deal because it is one!

Do note that your dog can and will still show behaviors of wanting to pee and poop in unwanted zones during this stage, but it will be significantly lesser than during the early stage. When this happens, correct him by bringing him to the allocated spot to do their business

If you see him still consistently peeing or pooping out of his allocated zone, your dog might still be in the early stage of potty training. Take it slow and easy, as this is not a phase that you can rush through to minimize accidents in the future.

The Habitual Stage

You will know that your dog is at this stage when, with minimal supervision, your dog makes very little to no accidents in your house. Such behavior means that he has internalized going to the allocated spot whenever he wants to pee or poop.

At this stage, you can start to remove the praise and treat reinforcement slowly. Instead of rewarding him every time he goes to the spot, reward him only after a few correct attempts, and eventually, stop the reward.

You will not have to worry about your dog making a mess again because the behavior has turned into a habit that is ingrained in him deeply.

Managing Accidents

Sometimes, your dog will have an accident, peeing or pooping on unwanted areas such as the doormat. How you manage the accident will largely depend on when you notice it.

Catching Your Dog in The Act

When you catch your dog peeing or pooping in unwanted areas, make a loud sound (e.g., saying a loud ‘NO!’ or clapping your hands) to startle him.

Quickly bring your dog to wherever you want him to do his business and use the associated word or phrase.

When your dog is done relieving himself, praise and reward him as per usual.

Avoid scolding or punishing your dog because he might make the wrong association of not peeing and pooping within your vision. This will give you more trouble down the road as he will be more likely to make a mess in areas hard for you to reach, much less clean. Your dog will also learn to fear you, which will hinder you from building a healthy bond with him.

Seeing the Mess After It Was Done

If you see the mess only after it was done, clean the area thoroughly with enzymatic products explicitly manufactured to neutralize the odor from dog pee and poop. Those products will prevent the scent from leaving traces on the spot, cueing your dog to return to the area for future toilet trips.

Scolding or punishing your dog will not help in this case either. Your dog cannot associate the current punishment with something that has been done ages ago, even if your act is something related to the mess made, such as rubbing his nose in the mess. You will only teach your dog that there is a reason to fear you.

Remember to keep an eye on your dog for the next couple of days as he might return to the same spot again, especially if it was not thoroughly cleaned.

Tips and Recommendations

I want to share some tips and recommendations that have proven helpful for us in the past, although it might not always work as each dog and situation is unique.

Rubbing Some Pee in Allocated Spot

When your dog pee at an undesirable spot in the early stage of training, consider collecting a tiny bit of the pee and rubbing it at the place that you allocated for him. This act will mark the assigned spot with his pee’s scent, making him more likely to return there for future toileting.

The keyword here is ‘tiny’; too much, and your dog might refuse to go there because he feels that the spot is already soiled.

This trick may not work for outdoor training since your dog will need your assistance to leave the house, but it can work miracles for indoor training.

Cleaning Mess Up Before Next Toileting Session

This recommendation holds regardless of training phase and type. Dogs will rarely use a spot for a second toileting session if used previously and the mess was not cleaned.

Owners who choose to train their dogs to toilet indoors will have to keep this in mind because they will likely make a mess in other house areas if their toileting area is already soiled.

For owners who bring their dog outside and do not clean up the mess, your dog will choose a different area to poop. You can imagine how much it will stink soon when all the waste starts to pile up!

As such, if you know that you will be away for an extended period and your dog may need to have multiple toileting sessions, make arrangements for the toileting area to be cleaned after use.

Proper Disposal of Waste

Countries and states vary in their sewage system. Therefore, how you dispose of your dog’s poop will differ depending on your state’s regulations.

Questions that you have to keep in mind include:

  • Can poop be flushed directly down the toilet bowl?
  • Can poop with clumped dog litter be flushed down the toilet bowl?
  • Are there areas in the neighborhood specifically for the disposal of dog waste?

Do also use gloves or use multiple layers of paper towels to clean up your dog’s mess. Such practice is for hygiene purposes and prevents any bacteria in the mess from being passed on to you.

Training Not Taking Effect

Some owners might face the problem of not seeing any effects after an extended period of training.

In this case, bringing the dog to a dog therapist is recommended as the dog might not be responsive to typical training methods, requiring additional assistance to be trained.

Planning To Start The Training?

Potty training is one of the most grueling and frustrating aspects of introducing your dog into the family. Still, it is an essential and unavoidable step that has to be managed carefully.

Think through your options and make decisions based on which suits you better before starting the training process. Go through each stage diligently instead of hurrying through the steps to build a strong foundation and save you from trouble down the road. The road to successful potty training requires much patience and consistency.

Remember, you potty train your dog to have a happy and healthy relationship with him. Positively reinforcing his correct behaviors through rewards will do much better than punishing him when accidents happen.

I wish you all the best in potty training your dog!