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Potty Training - AKA Poop Happens...
It's All About Training


Dogs are naturally clean animals. What do I mean by this? Well, you know the expression; dont poop where you have to eat? The same goes for dogs. They do not like to eliminate where they have to spend a lot of time. There are always exceptions. One is a dog purchased at a pet store that has spent a lot of time in a crate where it had no choice but to learn to eliminate where it lives. Another is a non neutered male who is marking his territory.

Like their cousins, the wolf, they learn that there is no reason to eliminate in the den, as if they eliminate around it keeps the sleeping space den space clean & marks the exterior for the appropriate territorial message they are trying to send out.

Now that we have established that fact, how do we help our new family members learn what our rules and boundaries are around elimination.

WE WILL TEACH THEM THEY HAVE A MUSCLE THAT THEY WILL LEARN HOW TO USE: First think back to when you were a small child. Did you come out of the womb knowing how to go to the bathroom in the toilet? If you did, I want to meet you. I'll get you in the Guinness Book of World Records! It took you quite a while to "Master" potty training. My advice to you is again, as you have heard from me before, be patient and help them learn. What we forget is we actually had to learn that there was a sensation that would happen before we took ourselves to the toilet. Not only that but we learned to build a muscle in case we couldnt get to one at the right time.

How do we set our dogs up to succeed in this learning process & learn to build that muscle?

Successful potty training methods consist of four main elements:
  • Confinement
  • Training
  • Timing
  • Praise
CONFINEMENT... and, Set Them Up to Succeed

Before I go into an entire dialogue on crates, I will tell you one of the main reasons crating is so very important is that because they dont like to pee or poo where they spend time, they learn how to use the muscle that helps them hold it in. They then can build on it from there.

Now, there are different ways to confine your dog. Lets introduce the crate. Many people have reactions to a crate like. Jail, no freedom, its so mean, not nice. Here is where it is really important to understand the canine mind. Wolves, like dogs are den animals. A den to a pack animal is its safe place, a place to sleep, to hide from things that could hurt it. It is its sacred space. Remembering the key factor that a dog is not a person, we can do so much good if we respect this piece of the canine equation.

Have you ever seen a dog get scared? What does it do? Usually it runs under a table, a chair, something that has boundaries, on all sides and over its head. It naturally tries to create a small safe place for itself.

In addition, a dog with too much room, or too much freedom too soon, can become nervous, neurotic, and develop many problems like thinking its the dominant dog. Also dogs with neuroses like tail chasing, pacing and other OCD disorders can be contributed to by too much space. Knowing the pack leader is in charge of "Space" if it gets too much freedom too soon, it can overwhelm them and make them nervous, along with sending the wrong Pack message.

Would you let your un-potty trained 2 year old run around without a diaper and without watching him? Just letting him or her do what it wanted? That's how we have to look at potty training and Pack Leadership. The Pack leader makes all the rules including, where and when you may go to the bathroom. Since in the wild only the Alpha Female can reproduce with the Alpha Male (the pack leaders) when they have a litter of pups, they in a nurturing yet very clear way assist the pups in this learning process.


Since we know they don't like to potty where they have to spend a lot of time we use the crate to help them understand the rules.

  1. No free feeding. 1, 2, or 3 meals at approximately the same time each day, allowing only the 10 minutes to eat rule. Pick water up 2 hours before bedtime and give them a chance to go before you go to sleep for night.

  2. Never let your dog out in the back and wait for him to do his thing. Walk out with him while he is on a leash. Say & repeat, lets go potty, let go potty in the direction and area you want him to go to. Using the leash can assist in teaching them where YOU want them to go. With a leash, you just take the dog there every time. Leashes also keep your dog close to you, where you can supervise and control everything that happens. Puppies, especially, are easily distracted are everything is brand new, like bugs, smells, birds, leaves etcand they all make for easy distractions. If you are near the puppy (or dog) with the leash in hand, a gentle tug will redirect away from the curiosity and keep them in tune to the task at hand.

  3. I teach words for elimination. This way, WHEN I put a name on the action the puppy will eventually understand what the words mean. Then I can eventually ask for WHAT I want as well as WHEN I want it to happen. My words are "go potty" for urination and "go poop" for defecation. You can choose ANY word or phrase you want as long as you use it consistently (such as, "hurry up", "do your business", "No #1", "let's go", "No #2", etc.). Be comfortable with it as you will say it often.

    As I take my dog outside on a leash, I start to teach him the word "OUTSIDE". "Let's go OUTSIDE!" "Do you have to go "OUTSIDE?" "OUTSIDE! OUTSIDE!" In time, the dog will learn that the word OUTSIDE is associated with elimination. Eventually you will be able to ask the dog "do you have to go OUTSIDE?" and get a response like barking, running to the door or tail wagging.

    I also teach them the word IN, so when I am going in the house they understand eventually the difference between IN and OUTSIDE. THIS CAN BE HELPFUL IF YOU NEED TO CORRECT YOUR DOG IF YOU CATCH THEM IN THE ACT.YOU CAN SAYNO POTTY INPOTTY OUTSIDE WHILE YOU TAKE THEM OUT. MORE ON HOW TO DO THIS REALLY WELL A LITTLE LATER. When your dog is going potty, put the name on the action. Say "Good potty, good potty as he/she goes. They will look at you like you are nuts. Verbal praise needs to happen DURING the act, not after! Usually dogs will urinate first, and then defecate. You need to become familiar with your dog's habits so you can wait for defecation and use a command for it (i.e.; "more potty", "go poop", etc.).

    A FABBY TIP!!! ONE OF MY FAVORITE TIPS IS TO HAVE THE OWNERS GET A SMALL BUNCH OF BELLS (LIKE FROM A CAT COLLAR) OR SOMETHING THAT THEY JINGLE WHEN THEY WALK THE DOG OUT THE DOOR. Make it something the dog can reach so the dog hears that sound every time they go out that door to eliminate. The dog will associate the sound with going to the bathroom and will subsequently learn to ring it so you can know they may have to go.

  4. As soon as he's done, praise again "Good potty outside," give them a treat and make it the best thing in the world. The treat might be great, but even better, now the LEASH comes off and he gets to run around in the back yard, or have free supervised time inside once potty time is over.

  5. When a dog goes out to go to the bathroom, they are only allowed to come back inside for FREE TIME, or stay outside for free time if they have successfully gone. If not they go back in the crate. In other words, FREE TIME INSIDE or OUTSIDE is earned by having gone to the bathroom.

  6. Now that your dog has gone, they get free time, depending on their age it is only a limited amount.

    If 2 months old, 30 minutes of free time... then 1 hour in the crate
    If 3 months old, 45 minutes of free time then 1.25 hours back in crate.
    If 4 months old,1 hrs out of crate 2 hours back in crate.
    If 5 months old, 1.5 hrs out of crate 2.5 hours back in crate.

    Even though this is an approximate, think:

    2 months... 2 hour maximum capacity of movement to movement
    3 months... 3 hour maximum capacity of movement to movement
    4 months... 4 hour maximum capacity of movement to movement
    5 months... Your dog should be potty trained by now.... but you get the idea!!!

    Your dog can hold it for as many hours as the approximate number of months they are in age.

    ANY time there is a change in activity, such as after waking, playing, or eating, puppy MUST be taken outside!

    When I first start with a very young puppy, I take them out right after eating. As they get a little older, I put them in the crate for 15-30 minutes after eating so they really learn to build that muscle.

    Your puppy will also give you signals each time he needs to eliminate: abrupt stop of play, circling, sniffing, running out of the room, a "look" on his face. You will eventually become familiar with these "warning signs".

    A THOUGHT ON ACCIDENTS... A puppy that has NEVER eliminated in the house and been CAUGHT and CORRECTED has not yet learned that it is wrong. There MUST be "accidents" in order for REAL learning to take place!



All is not lost if puppy eliminates in the house or in his crate! If you catch him in the act, make an abrupt noise. Say, "Hey" sharply, or say, "Egh Egh" and use a LOW, deep, sharp tone to illustrate your displeasure. But, DO NOT SCARE THE DOG OR THEY WILL GO! I say the word "NO" over and over as a bridge, as I grab the dog around the tummy area. It goes as follows.

I see the dog about to or in the midst of making a mistake. I walk over to the dog pick it up as I say, "Egh Egh..." then, I repeat "Egh" or "NO," over and over like "Egh Egh, NO POTTY IN... NO POTTY IN."

Then, as I approach the door my voice starts to get friendlier. I bring them to where they should go and I say, "Potty outside. Good dog... Let's go potty OUTSIDE!"

Remember, you MUST catch puppy IN THE ACT to help teach the proper lesson. Rubbing his nose in "it" afterward (even by just a few moments) only teaches him that "poop" in the house gets him in trouble, but will not connect him to that he put it there.

TIMING... of going out, free time & crate time... of PRAISE, for appropriate elimination and CONSISTENCY. Both are the key! Proper behavior must be praised EVERY TIME you give a command and it is followed. I do it every time Jupiter and Jazzy go to the bathroom, even though they are 4 & 5 years old.

Some of the following are from one of my favorite trainers and I thank her for the use of her questions and answers.


1) "What about paper-training or wee wee pads?" I have only met one client in all my years that successfully trained her dog to go on a wee wee pad. When I say successfully I mean her Dog ONLY went on the wee wee pad. A lot of people say "My dog is wee wee pad trained, but I find accidents here & there. Then they are not wee wee pad trained. What she did was she got a square plastic boundary piece that the pad fit it (From Drs Foster & Smith) and it made the dog understand it better. But, do not wee wee pad train your dog if you are going to want them to learn to go outside on the GRASS. One of my favorite things to do even if you live in a small apartment, if you at least have a patio door... bring a piece of sod on to the patio and teach to dog to go on the piece of grass, rather than a pad.

The old method of paper training can still be used, however it adds unnecessary time and mess to the whole picture. Owners will have MUCH more cleanup and mess and smell with papers and they will STILL have to use the papers to transition puppy to the outside.

2) MY PUPPY WILL NOT GO OUTSIDE AT ALL. OR... I walk my puppy for an hour and he still comes in and poops on the floor...!" Get out the newspaper and hit yourself on the head.

REMEMBER: Freedom in the house is only earned by appropriate elimination outside. No pees or poos - NO FREEDOM, and puppy goes back in his crate, where he wont want to eliminate and sit in it.

Next, the owner checks again in a time frame of 20 minutes to an hour and takes puppy outside on the LEASH for another opportunity to eliminate appropriately and earn freedom.

3) I recently had a client who could not get their dog to go to the bathroom outside ever!!! I had them remove all signs of wee wee pads and made sure they had 2-3 days in a row to do NOTHING but work on potty training.

The assignment was the dog HAD to sleep in the crate. First thing in the morning take him out on a leash and spend an hour or more with him outside. Nothing happened so they came in a fed him. Took him right back outside for another hour. Nothing still. They did not give the dog any opportunity to go in the house. He ate and was on a leash and went right back outside. After about 3 hours since awakening they put him back in the crate. An hour later took him outside. They repeated this ALL DAY! NO FREEDOM... just Outside and CRATE if no success.

Not until 6PM did the dog go to the bathroom out of sheer going to burst. They had a celebration of treats and came right in and let the dog play play play inside. After about 3 days of working this new schedule, the dog learned to go outside and that inside would not work. Outside was like winning the lottery, steak, prime rib, I don't care. Make it good!!!

4) "I watch my puppy from my back door while he goes potty outside. When he is finished and comes back in, he gets a treat. This works, whats wrong with it? You do not have to, but your puppy is getting his treat for coming back into the house, NOT for going to the bathroom outside. Praise MUST happen DURING the actual act to make the connection in puppy's mind. Some dogs will run outside and run back in without eliminating because they know they'll get a treat. This can also encourage frequent demands to go out - just so they can get a treat when they come in, thereby training you very well as to how THEY want it.

5) "My puppy wakes me at 4AM EVERY NIGHT! I take him out, he goes potty then wants to play I play with him for a while and put him back in his crate. Then he cries For a while and I need my sleep. Sometimes he wakes up and I take him out and he doesnt even go potty and just wants to play. What do I do?"

As you begin this process, your younger dogs will have a need to go during the night. Your job is to ONLY take them outside with the above routine, and when they are done they come right back in go in the crate and go back to sleep. NO IF'S ANDS OR BUTS. DO NOT PLAY WITH THEM AT ALL DURING THE NIGHT!!!!!

IF they have not gone within 2-3 MINUTES, take them right back in the house to go back in the crate. You will know if you are being fooled because if a dog is whining and waking you during the night to really go the bathroom, they will go RIGHT AWAY.


1)Puppies purchased from a pet shop or other place where they were always kept in a small cage.

These dogs never had a choice and HAD to eliminate where they lived. Owners must devote extra time to take such dogs outside more frequently in order to get elimination outside rather than in the crate. Elaborate praise when they "go" is essential so they learn that life is better all around when they eliminate outside.

Elimination in the crate should be ignored and just cleaned up at first - with no correction or harsh words. Later, as the dog starts to understand "going outside" a little better, the same corrections used when your dog has an accident on the floor (see "Accidents" above) can be used for crate soiling. Training these dogs takes a lot of patience and time.

2) About Small Breeds and "Sneaking"...

Some people say that small breeds can be difficult, if not impossible to potty train. This is NOT because they are stupid - actually they are rather smart. They are smart enough to sneak to out of the way places to make their deposits instead of asking to go outside.

This just requires MORE vigilance on the owner's part, and LESS freedom for the dog. If necessary, the owner needs to attach the other end of the leash the dog is dragging to their belt loop to keep closer track of the sneak!

3) Submissive Urination, is a not a Potty Training Problem.

Your dog pees when excited or when you or others greet them. Here are some tips on it, things you can do to deter submissive urination:
  1. Kneel down and let the dog come to you. Dont bend over the top of the dog, especially when greeting. That is a dominant position.

  2. Sweet, happy talk tends to make dogs urinate - so happy greetings with a lot of conversation should be avoided.

  3. Crossing your arms across your chest rather than petting them can also assist in making this less of a problem.

  4. When visitors come over, have them greet your dog (on leash) outside on the porch or grass to avoid messes in the house.

  5. DO NOT yell at your dog for being "bad" - this isn't being "bad" at all! It is actually dog language affirming your leadership.
This article is originally posted on Jackie Hakim's website. For more information or comments. please visit her site at Heeling Arts Dog Training.

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