Avoiding Puppy Potty Training Pitfalls

Avoiding potty training pitfalls

House training is one of the most challenging times in all of puppyhood for both puppy and owner. Puppies are carefree and happy, and most don’t understand why their humans freak out over a piddle or a poo on the floor.
They don’t have the control of their bladder or bowels and some are so young it almost seems silly for humans to get so upset. After all, it would be the equivalent of getting upset at a baby for soiling their diaper.
For older dogs who may have been adopted or rehomed, they may never have been properly potty trained or they may be suffering stress at new surroundings or simply may not know where to go.
The good news is, no matter what age a dog is, as long as they are old enough to have some control of their bladder and bowels, potty training can commence.

So let’s first examine some potty training pitfalls, how you can avoid them, and how you and your new puppy or “new to you” dog can get ready for house training.

First things first, here are some key factors to consider:

PHYSICAL HEALTH: It is important to make sure there are NO HEALTH problems that are causing inappropriate elimination behavior. Schedule an appointment with your vet if you find that you’re having some potty training issues to help rule this out as a contributing factor.
BEHAVIORAL HEALTH: A dog’s prior history is important too. A dog’s elimination behaviors are a product of the environment in which he or she has been raised. A chat with your vet can help determine if this is part of the issue.

We will get into both physical health and behavioral health in a later blog, but for now, remember to rule these out to make sure there are no underlying health issues that could play a major role in house training. Even completely trained pets can have accidents in the house. For most, it is simply that, an accident, and for others, it could mean they don’t feel well or are having another problem.

On to the Potential Pitfalls:

Here is a list of common potty training mistakes;
We can help you avoid these, as they should be avoided at all costs!
Common and easily avoidable potty training mistakes:

  1. Not taking your dog outside often enough:
    This is a tough one, because most newbie pet parents will not understand how a puppy can hold it at night but can’t make it more than 20 minutes while they are playing. Well, an easy way to explain it is –active puppies have “to go” more. Why is this so? Because when they sleep, their bodies aren’t making as many waste products. When they are awake, active, and running, they generate waste products, sometimes rapidly. Metabolic waste has to go somewhere, and that is usually through urine and feces. AND, you will notice in young puppies, it is mostly urine. Lots of urine. Growing is serious business, and puppies may not notice they have to go until they are actually going.
    A good rule of thumb for a puppy to hold it at night or while sleeping, is roughly an hour for every month of life for the first few months. So, a three month old puppy should be able to “hold it” for three hours in a crate at night. HOWEVER, if they are awake, they really may have to go every 10-20 minutes. This also means that for most puppies you will have to get up in the middle of the night to let them out, and when they are awake and active they really may need to go every 10-20 minutes, especially toy and smaller breeds. Remember too, when they wake up they will have to go immediately, so keep an eye on those babies. When their eyes pop open from a nap, pop that leash on and get them outside.
  2. Not cleansing with effective products: 
    There are some rules when picking out cleaning supplies for a new puppy, such as, NEVER use ammonia or ammonia containing products. Urine breaks down into ammonia, so when a dog smells ammonia, it means, “It is OK, there is already urine here, so this is a great place to go!”
    So say “NO” to using products that contain ammonia.
    NEVER use products that are known to be toxic to pets; read labels carefully. Most will state to keep away from pets not only while you are using them, but even after use, and these products should be avoided. The safest products to use are those specifically labeled for PET ACCIDENTS and that are designed to be safe for use around pets.
    The next thing you need to be on the lookout for, is ALWAYS use a product that has ENZYMES for cleaning. The enzymes actually break down urine and feces, and when they are broken down, their odors are eliminated. Just because you have a favorite cleaner and you cannot smell the accident site, rest assured your dog who has thousands of more smell receptors than you do can still smell odors. And, an odor means, “This is where we go!”
    That is why we frequently hear, “He always goes on this carpet” or “she likes to go here all the time.”
  3. Free feeding:
    Leaving food down all the time seems like a great idea at first. However, this can make housebreaking almost impossible, as most puppies eat and then almost immediately, poop.  They can also eat a lot for their size, and if you do not time your feedings, they will also be making a lot of waste. It is best to put food down for about ten minutes at regularly scheduled times, and pick it up at the end of ten minutes, and don’t put it back down again until the next scheduled feeding time.
  4. Too much freedom too soon:
    “Hey, Sparky didn’t have an accident all day, I’m going to let him run through the house!”
    Don’t do it. When training, your puppy or newly adopted dog should be within eyesight at all times, just like a toddler, and when they can’t be watched, they should be in an area they are unlikely to soil, like a crate or smaller area.
    The use of baby gates to keep them in the room with you, or even tethered (SAFELY) to you are good methods to keep them close, so you can see what they are doing, and more importantly, to learn their cues for when they have to go.

  5. Using walks as potty breaks:
    There are a couple of reasons not to have your puppy or adopted dog use long walks as their main means of elimination.
    They may be too distracted to go to the bathroom (the walk is so much fun!) There are usually too many distracting sights, sounds and smells that going to the bathroom will be the last thing on their “to do” list.
    Dogs are smart. They learn that if they “go” then they get taken back inside. They don’t want to go inside, they want to walk!!! So they will start HOLDING IT longer and longer to get LONGER WALKS. Our dogs are very smart, and they train us very well, so they can really learn to hold it, as long as it gets them a longer walk.
    Plus, training your dog to go when you want/need them to, instead of having to go for a three mile trek before they go, can be helpful in the future.
    Don’t fall into that trap. Have your pet learn to go outside to eliminate first, then you can go off and do fun things like a fun walk. We’ll discuss more in a later blog such as learning to cue to eliminate as well as other techniques to make potty training faster and more convenient both for the here and now, as well as for future events.
  6. Rubbing a dog’s nose in excrement:
    We know this is a long held training method, and many people still hold firm to the belief that showing a dog that they had an accident is an effective method of preventing future accidents, but veterinary behaviorists and trainers disagree.  Truth be told, it does teach the dog something, that having one’s face rubbed in excrement is gross and disgusting. If they make any connection at all, it may teach them that if a mess is out for all to see, then faces get rubbed in it. So, if they have an accident, and this technique us used, they may learn to simply HIDE where they go. We call these “closet poopers” or “behind the couch whizzers” because their owners have unknowingly trained them that hiding when they go eliminates the facial rubbing. It can also destroy the trust you’ve made with your new pet, and they may learn to fear you.  It could even lead to “submissive” urination issues as well, which is a topic for another day.
  7. Attributing dogs inappropriate voiding behavior to spite, jealousy, or anger:
    While we know our pets feel emotions, they probably do not feel them the same way humans do. It is highly doubtful Fifi peed on your new carpet because you hugged Uncle Frank or fed the goldfish first. For our pets, revenge is probably not even in their emotions repertoire.  Your dog doesn’t soil your home out of spite; there is always another reason.  Except for anxiety, emotions don’t play into potty training. Anxiety affects animals on a physical and mental level, and is very real, so we’ll address that separately.

Take Home Message: 

There are a lot of aspects to potty training; it isn’t a simple cut and dry “just follow the directions and they get it” kind of training. There are a lot of factors that influence a dog’s behavior, including their elimination behaviors. Hopefully, by avoiding some of these common mistakes, you and your pet can live harmoniously.

In our next blog segment, we will try to teach pet parents some simple tricks and methods for potty training, making it easier on both the pet and their people.

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