How to be Your Puppy’s Personal (Potty) Trainer

how to potty train puppy

Yep, that puppy sure is cute. Your floor is cute, too, and you’d really like to avoid turning it into the “commode de canine.” Potty training your puppy can be a heartbreaking experience, especially for your floors. And these woes aren’t just limited to puppies. Older dogs sometimes need to be trained, too. Is it even worth it?

Giving a dog a home is absolutely worth it, but here’s the reality: All the advice in the world on how to potty train your puppy isn’t going to stop you from catching your dog mid-stream or mid-squat. You’ll have an occasional mess (or more than an occasional mess) on your floor. Here’s how to be practical and be prepared.

Positive reinforcement

Thinking of punishing your dog? Bad person! “If a dog goes in the house, you should roll up a newspaper and smack yourself in the head, because it was your fault,” says Charme Blanchard, who rescues special-needs dogs.

Yelling about a mess that’s already happened? Poochie won’t know why. “Dogs forget what they’ve done within seconds,” says David Mustain, trainer at Central Carolina Canine.

“Another thing people do is withhold water so they don’t go as often,” he says. “You should never do that.”

“In a crate, the dog learns to hold his bladder,” says Mustain.

A dog crate is made just big enough for a dog to turn around in. It helps when you’re figuring out how to potty train your puppy and also taps into the dog’s innate desire for a den. So, yes, having a big crate in your space isn’t the most beautiful piece of décor, but it’s important for both the dog’s feelings of safety and for your home. Because no matter how stain-and-odor-resistant your carpet or flooring is, you still want to eliminate as many accidents on it as possible.

“Puppies are very frustrating,” says Blanchard. “They should come with a handbook.” Consistent training is a lot of work, but results come more quickly—although when they “get it” can vary. Veterinarian Peters says larger-breed dogs are easier to train.

“Puppies are like babies, some catch on more quickly. But really it has to do with how consistent the human is,” says Letha Mooney, a rescue volunteer at the Society of Humane Friends.

When you’re home and the dog is uncrated, keep him in your line of vision so you can catch him in the “I’m about to go” squat. Scoop him up and take him outside even if he’s halfway through. If you don’t want to lose your mind following him everywhere, keep him enclosed in one room, or keep a leash on him. Yes, really, a leash indoors can help when you’re learning how to potty train a puppy.

Consistency is key when you’re outside, too. “Get everyone in the house to pick a word: potty, go pee-pee, hurry up. If you all say the same thing to the dog, he catches on faster,” Mooney says.

“You want them to go outside, do their business and come back in,” says Mustain.

When the dog does do his business outside, make it a real celebration with treats, giving tons of pets and snuggles, and an excited voice to let your pup know he did a great thing. “Use food or love, whatever motivates your dog,” says Mooney.

“I even hear myself singing, ‘Celebrate good times,’ to my rescues,” says Blanchard. “I get very animated.”

“Giving a dog positive reinforcement for going outside lets them know what we want them to do,” says Dr. Peters. So any time you catch your dog doing something right, it’s a perfect time to quickly do the whole get-on-the-floor-and-love-on-him thing. As he’s wriggling all over the carpet, he’s also associating his good behavior with good times.

Even after you’re certain your dog “gets it,” there may be the occasional mistake, so it’s good to stay vigilant with watching your dog for awhile.

“A+ students will catch on in four months, but the majority take five or six months,” says Dr. Peters.

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