One of the most common questions we get at Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA is, “how do I potty train my adopted dog?”
The truth is, it really isn’t all that difficult. The steps are simple enough – but it does require a little time, focus and above all, consistency. So let’s walk through it, shall we?
It’s important to understand that dogs (like me), thrive on a schedule. Routines provide a great deal of comfort for your dog since they don’t wear a watch and can’t read a clock. Potty training is all about creating a consistent routine to avoid unnecessary setbacks.
Getting Started. Once you’re adopted your new puppy or adult dog, you’ll want to think through a manageable routine for your dog that aligns with your own schedule. What areas of your home are you going to set up for toileting? What will be your food/water/potty schedule? How long will the dog need to be confined when you are away?
Blocking. In the theatre, blocking is the precise staging of actors in order to facilitate the performance. You’ll want to set the stage for your dog by deciding where you want her to do her business on a regular basis. Is it in your house or apartment on pee pads? Or is it on the grass outside? Once you’ve figured this out, you’ll want to set up a confined space for your dog during the potty training process. For puppies, a kennel is usually best. For adult dogs, they may need a bit more space – so a larger area like a laundry room, or bathroom is a good place to start. As they learn more that they have a dedicated space to do their business, you can begin to expand that area to a larger space until eventually, they can roam freely.
Set up a feeding schedule. Feeding your dog around the same times every day is really important in order to set the potty schedule. Why? Because healthy dogs usually defecate after eating their meals because their stomach “is wired to” the colon by nerves triggering the reflex to eliminate. As soon as the dog’s stomach is full, the colon is notified. That means most adult dogs will poop within about 30-minutes after eating. If you’re potty training a puppy though, that process happens much faster. So you’ll want to take them to their designated potty spot right after they eat.
An old dog can learn new tricks. The potty training process for adult dogs is more of a case of discovering what has gone before than ‘training’ a new habit. Initially, when unsupervised, you might want to confine the dog to places where accidents are easily cleaned up. Pay attention to any patterns you see, and adjust schedules/environments accordingly. With puppies, one of the main concerns is time, as they really can’t go very long between potty breaks. With an older dog, time is not so much of an issue, as they are generally more physically able to ‘hold it’ for longer periods.
The myth behind punishment. Why do pet owners fail in helping house train their dogs when they resort to punishment? Because humans and dogs have different ways of viewing “accidents.” To us, an accident is a ‘bad behavior’, something we should not do, because we ourselves were trained to use a toilet, and before that were in diapers. If we focus on the accident, we don’t do anything to set up the ‘acceptable’ habit. So the dog is left to try to figure out what we really want them to do or not do, based on very little useful information or instruction. This is not a good set-up for learning.
As the saying goes, accidents happen. How should you handle the situation when you discover little Beyonce just couldn’t wait?
First, calm down. Ain’t nobody got time for your temper tantrums! Clean them up calmly, with an effective cleaner. Look at these accidents as ‘intel,’ if anything, letting you know how to change things in the future so accidents can be avoided.
What’s your signal? The key is to see what’s already there. What body language or behavior patterns does this dog use when it is about to eliminate? Often one or more of these patterns can be identified, reinforced, paired with a command then reinforced, and so on, until you have a reliable signal. For example, some dogs paw at the door to go out. If you don’t want scratches on your screen, you might redirect this already present signal to a bell or hitting a commercial ‘door bell’ for dogs. Consistent reinforcement (‘I get to go out and pee!’) often settles in to a consistent signal. When I take my dogs out, their reinforced signal is “find your spot!” Once they find their spot, they are rewarded with a treat or a big belly rub.
Many dogs have been successfully housetrained, in a variety of environments, so there may be many paths to success. If you’re finding things difficult, we’re always here to help. Feel free to call our behavior hotline at 626.792.7151 ext. 155 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.