Life is easier when your dog knows and responds to a potty cue. It’s good for:

    • House training

    • Cold mornings

    • Rainy days

    • Road trips

Two Reasons Why This is Can Be a Challenge to Train

#1: The Distracted Dog

Your dog is distracted by sensory information: sights, sounds and smells; and consequently forgets to go potty.

#2: The Shy Dog

Your dog prefers to go potty in privacy. If a dog received verbal or physical reprimands when he or she went potty in the house, your dog could have unintentionally learned that it is safer to go potty when people are not present. In some cases, a dog can go out for a two hour walk and “hold it” until you return to the house –  and subsequently sneak away to eliminate in a concealed area of the house.

This article is written specifically for the “distracted dog.” The “shy dog” is a little bit more complex. If you feel that your dog falls into this shy dog category you should contact a certified professional dog trainer to learn how to re-establish trust in order to show your dog that it is “ok” to urinate or defecate in your presence. If you have a “distracted dog” – read on.

The Training Process

The training process usually takes the average dog 7-10 days if you are consistent in training protocol. Inconsistency will prolong training process. You will need a leash, high value treats — I recommend using Natural Balance rolls. This is a high quality food, that is moist and meaty, and loved by most dogs, a timer (optional) and a training pouch. Avoid using crinkly plastic bags to hold treats, they can be a big distraction. It is helpful to know your dog’s potty habits. For example, knowing that your dog always has to go pee and poo immediately after feeding will help you to effectively schedule your outings and set expectations/criteria. Block access to a doggy door and prevent your dog from spending any unsupervised time outside during this 1-2 week period of time. This will also hinder the process. 

Step 1: Reinforce the Behavior

Take your dog outside on leash armed with a treat pouch filled with high value rewards. Walk up to your designated potty spot and wait for 2 minutes. Set a timer if you have it. During these 2 minutes, say nothing. Don’t talk, walk or do anything that might distract your dog. If your dog pees, wait until he or she has completely finished and then within 1 second of completion say in a calm tone,”good dog” and deliver 3 treats. Make sure you deliver them one after the other. If you are too enthusiastic in your praise your dog might forget that he or she still has go #2! Avoid this mistake.

After you have delivered the third treat, your dog might remain staring at you for more treats. Ignore this behavior by staring at the sky and crossing your arms. If your dog goes poo, wait until completion and then in calm manner say, “good dog” and deliver 3 more treats. If your dog neither pees nor poos by the end of these 2 minutes you should walk back inside and bring your dog to a potty free zone. This would be any area that your dog will likely want to keep “clean”. A crate or gated kitchen is ideal for puppies or adult dogs struggling with house training. Once you’ve waited for 20 minutes, repeat the process. If your dog pees and does not poo, you can make a judgement call. If you feel that your dog has to “go,” but was too distracted, bring your dog back to the potty free zone and try again in 20 minutes. If you feel it’s “safe” to give your dog free roam – go for it. If you’re wrong, change your training protocol accordingly.

Step 2: Put the Established Behavior on Cue

Usually, I will spend 3-5 days creating a reinforcement history for a desired behavior. I only add a “cue” once the behavior is at least 90% predictable. In this case, I would only add the cue if I was 90% certain that my dog will potty when I walk them up to the designated potty area. If my dog is still getting distracted, I will extend Step 1 as needed, or modify my training strategy. Modifying my training strategy might entail increasing the value of my reinforcement. For example, playing a game of fetch to get the dog’s digestive system stirring or re-scheduling potty trips outside to better match the dog’s potty patterns. If the behavior is predictable — add the cue! Walk up to the space and then just as you see your dog going through the “pre-potty motions”, you should give the cue, “go potty” (or whatever you want your cue to be). Say it ONE TIME.

Now wait. Once your dog potties you will again say, “good dog” and provide three high value rewards. For best results deliver the cue approximately 1 second before your dog begins to potty. This requires skill on the trainer’s part. You need to be able to predict when your dog is about to “go.” Continue to pair the cue with the behavior for another 3-5 days. Note: Establishing the cue simply implies that you are pairing English words with a predictable behavior in order to teach the dog what the words “go potty” actually means. It’s like teaching a second language.

Common Mistakes

#1: Using the verbal cue too soon

Saying “go potty” over and over again to a dog that is sniffing for rabbits will not teach your dog to potty on cue. This can effectively teach your dog to believe that “go potty” means “find those rabbits.” Dogs learn by association. Create a solid reinforcement history first, and then pair the cue with a predictable/well established behavior. 

#2: Important to supervise

People stand inside the house and let the dog go potty unsupervised. If they provide reinforcement it is only after the dog has returned inside. This teaches your dog that coming into the house is a highly desirable behavior. This can teach dogs to walk outside and walk back inside in order to receive a reward. Have you ever seen a dog that walks out and walks right back in? Most dogs were unintentionally trained to offer this behavior. Reinforcement for potty-ing has to come within 1 – 1.5 seconds of elimination. Otherwise, your dog will not understand what he or she is being reinforced for.