Who's being trained here; them or me?!
Let's face it, all puppies take plenty of work and supervision to potty train. Most places offering dogs for adoption want to minimize the work involved and make it sound like every aspect of dog ownership is a cloud of joy. Here at Baby Barks, we believe that realistic expectations and providing sound advice best prepare our families and puppies for success. Potty training is work, but it is very achievable and full of steady accomplishments and progress! You'll be so proud of your new fur-family member as he masters this skill. Don't be afraid! Both you and your dog can absolutely succeed! Now to prepare....
Before you allow your puppy a playtime on your floor, he must be observed going to the bathroom outside or in his control area on a pee pad. Otherwise, he will go on the floor!
Only give your puppy as much space as he has "earned". If you are seeing accidents in an older puppy, you are giving him too much space and you need to reduce his freedom. Giving a puppy the run of the house is the best way to ruin potty training success.
Puppies need to go to the bathroom immediately upon waking up from a nap or the night, and within a 2-10 mins of eating dog food.
What is a "Training Area":
For the sake of the following training guide, a "training area" needs to be defined. This is an area approximately 4x4-6 feet. You can use a baby’s 40” square playpen (for puppies under 12 weeks of age), portable exercise pen, hallway section, laundry room, or extra bathroom. Preferably the space you choose will be bright and is located where the puppy can see out. The puppy can have a pee pad down in this area, his kennel should be left in the control area with the door open, and the puppy should have access to food and water at all times. Unless you are directly supervising the puppy and just watch him "eliminate" outside or on a peeped, this is where your puppy should stay.
Exercise pens are our all time favourites.... highly recommend these for creating a "training area" you can move from place to place. The additional benefit is the fact the puppy has no physical access to your baseboard or drywall and can learn no destructive habits when not supervised. If purchasing an exercise pen for this purpose, purchase a 30" or higher variety so that your puppy can't jump out as he ages.
For the first week at home:
General expectations: Your puppy just left his litter and has no idea where he is. He's lonely, frightened, stressed and overwhelmed. Keep the first week very low-key. Limit visits, allow your puppy to get used to your house without hauling him out for playdates or visits to other people's homes, keep the food and water down 24/7, handle and cuddle him for 30 minutes and then give him 2 hours of alone time, and watch for hypoglycemia. Your puppy should not be romping around your house. Even though the puppy may seem more settled because it's busy running and exploring, this is actually stressful for them and limiting their space will help them settle more quickly.
It is normal to have a lot of crying and distress. Some families will report a puppy that settles in quickly, but these families are not the norm and don't judge your success by them. They may pat themselves on the back and share their experiences as the "expert" but they just lucked out by getting an extra easy puppy! Be patient, be relaxed, comfort your puppy and after a couple days of settling in, start working on your separation and kennel training. Don't expect any degree of initial potty training success. Once your puppy has settled you can begin the real work of training!
Info for the first few weeks:
For the first two nights, your puppy will appreciate having someone sleeping nearby to decrease their loneliness. You can have him sleeping in his daytime location (exercise pen with the kennel OPEN and a peepad close by). Alternatively, if you want him in your bedroom, he should have his kennel opening into a small, contained space only as big as a the peepad that should be placed infront of the kennel door. You can set his kennel in a large rubbermaid with a peepad infront or reduce your exercise pen to its smallest possible size. Do not close the kennel door on your puppy, as this is a new experience for them and you need to train them to accept this. See below for kennel training tips.
You should place a pee pad/paper in the small, contained space you've created in front of his kennel and have a dish of water and softened food down as young puppies need access to a food and water source at all times, as they are predisposed to hypoglycemia.
After two nights a decision needs to be made to either:
continue this routine until the puppy sleeps through the night without a pee pad (approximately 4 months of age) after which time you can have the kennel door closed if the puppy is sleeping close enough to you that you can hear his cries should he have an "off" night and need a potty break.
if he is disturbing you too much, after two nights, move him to another area of the house (same as in daytime), with a pee pad down, and access to food and water, toys etc. Be sure to leave his kennel door open. If he cries, you need to ignore him.
You will note that neither night time suggestion is to close the door on the puppy. Your puppy will require training to relax in the kennel with the door closed. This training can certainly begin after the first few nights, but it would be a daytime exercise. Your puppy will require freedom to get up to piddle or poop multiple times through the night and you'll spare yourself a lot of sleepless grief if you just put out the peeped and start getting up with him in the night once he's old enough to only need 1 or 2 breaks. This would typically be around the 12-16 weeks mark.
A tip for better night time success: Have your puppy practice spending time in his sleeping area for short periods of time during the day. Place your puppy in their sleeping area and ignore them completely until they have stopped crying. This may take 10 minutes, it may take an over an hour. Once they are silent and accepting of their location for about 5 minutes, retrieve them and take them outside for a little play. This is their reward for accepting where you left them and waiting quietly. If you give the puppy attention of any kind before they quiet themselves, you are rewarding the loud and demanding behaviour and they will continue to carry on.
If you want use kennel training to aid the potty training process and avoid paper or pee pads peeps completely: You must work through the kennel training process (week 8 and 9) and then you must be available to let your kennelled 10-12 week old puppy out every one to two hours. She should be taken from the kennel to the spot you want her to eliminate outside. After you have watched her go to the bathroom, she can then have about 45 mins of supervised play. If they choose to eat during this time, take them outside within 5 minutes of eating. If you have worked through their kennel training, they should return to a closed kennel within an hour of their last successful bathroom break in order to encourage "holding it" until the next one.
Your training area should be close to the kitchen so your puppy can be placed there quickly if you cannot supervise him (under four months, for time such as making meals, answering the door, etc).
Some age related expectations:
The 8-9 week old puppy needs to work on separation training and kennel training with you. This is not an appropriate age to close the door on a puppy for more than about an hour. Because of this, kennel doors need to be open at night time. Generally, there is no potty training success during this age range. You are just helping the puppy settle in, teaching them that you will only give them attention if they are quiet and learning their bathroom cues. You can also regularly introduce them to the yard and take them out to potty every 1-2 hours, depending on naps.
The 10-12 week old puppy can now wait in his kennel for 1-2 hours, provided you have worked diligently on your kennel training skills for the first two weeks.
The 12 to 14 month old puppy can be kennelled for up to two hours, then put out to eliminate, eat and play for one hour before returning to a closed kennel.
A 14-16 week old puppy may be able to hold for 3 hours, but if any accidents are happening in the kennel, don't try to move up the length until they are having success for several weeks.
The 4-6 month old puppy can hold for up to four hours. They can then be out of their kennel for one and a half to two hours before returning to a closed kennel.
Essentially, we calculate that he will be able to wait to be let out one hour per each month of his age. For example, Barkley, the three month old puppy, can wait two hours. Will he choose to wait for two hours? Likely not, unless you put him back in his kennel after his playtime or he is old enough that he has grasped the idea of waiting and holding it until you take him out again. But he is capable of waiting the two hours and can be encouraged to wait this length of time by closing him in his kennel after his playtime is over.
Pups should be over 8 months of age before they are caged for the maximum of 6 daylight hours in one time period. A limit of 6 total hours per day maximum kennelled (not including the night) should be observed to avoid stress related to over caging.
I close my new puppy in the kennel and he cries and caries on. Is he afraid of the kennel? How do I get him used to this?
Given the choice, the vast majority of our puppies choose to sleep in a kennel with their siblings. The only difference between this and when you put your puppy in the kennel for his first few times is companionship and restriction. Your puppy is used to going into the kennel with friends and having to hang out there on his own is new and somewhat lonely. Your training will help him actually enjoy the experience. Additionally, he isn't used to being closed in a kennel without the freedom to come and go as he chooses. So he's crying as a protest and saying "hey you, let me out of here!". Kennel training is a valuable tool for potty training and safety and with just a tiny bit of time and effort, your puppy will actually love resting in his own "cave".
Kennel training is similar to separation training. We'd suggest waiting until your puppy has gone to the bathroom and is played out before you try it the first few times. Once he's getting tired, just put him in, close the door and walk away. If he starts crying, don't stand there looking at him or talk to him about how sad it is... this will only encourage the poor behaviour. It may take 5-60 mins to settle on your first few attempts. As he gets more practice, this settling period will dramatically decrease. Once you hear he is quiet for about 5 minutes, walk over, open the kennel, pick him up and take him outside for a potty break. He did a great job! Giving him attention is his reward for accepting where we put him and relaxing there. Don't make a big deal about it... no treats and wild praise. Those rewards create excitement and we want everything about the kennel to be relaxing and quiet. Just open the door and let him out or pick him up and take him out. Mission complete. Then repeat this little training exercise a couple times a day.
Is it mean or detrimental to kennel a younger puppy so frequently?
Younger puppies sleep a lot of the time as their energy is going into their rapid growth. Essentially, they will play wildly for brief durations and then "crash" for hours. If you kennel them after their playtime, you are encouraging them to briefly hold it when they wake up, which gives you the opportunity to take them straight outside and eliminates their chance to wake up, sneak off and make a mess. In conclusion, when you are kennelling a younger puppy you are essentially kennelling him during the frequent and lengthy nap times he would have been taking anyways.
At what age can my puppy make it through the night without a potty break?
By four months of age, the majority of puppies can sleep through the night with the door shut and no need for paper. This can be achieved a bit earlier by closing them in their kennel for a couple hours at a time, at various points in the day. This helps them learn how to hold it. By practicing this skill, you are preparing them to make it through an entire night. To assist with making it through the night, we'd recommend picking up food and water about 2 hours before bedtime once they are 4 months of age until they are completely potty trained.
Should I use "indoor alternatives"?
Outside training is the fastest and most natural training for a puppy. Using a kennel training only, with no inside paper or pee pads, is successful only for people who are home the required amount and can fully focus on the puppy’s needs. Your puppy can start using your yard from the first day he is home. In the winter, we'd suggest continuing with outside potty breaks until about -15C. The key is watching your puppy and keeping it brief. You don't want the puppy to get too chilled.
I have need to get some things done and can't watch my puppy. What do I do?
Puppies and young adults should be kennelled or in a training area when not supervised, until two years of age on average. Some dogs can be trusted to play unattended younger (one year) and others it can take longer (up to three years).
My puppy is crying in the kennel? Do I ignore?
After worked through your initial kennel training process (see above info) it is important that you are able to let the puppy out of his cage if he cries to go to the bathroom. Otherwise, he can start messing in his kennel and it will defeat the purpose of this method of training. If it becomes clear that your puppy is just crying to get out of his kennel and has no interest in going to the bathroom, then he needs to be ignored. Clearly a bit of discernment is needed!
Can my puppy have a bit of carpet play time?
Your puppy should not have access to ANY carpets until after four months of age or until you have at least one month of no accidents on lino or like surfaces. As long as you are having such accidents, exposure to carpets will only increase accidents!
How often will my puppy poop at first?
Puppies go to the bathroom a LOT more than an adult dog. Expect to see lots of little tinkles and anywhere from 3-8 poops a day. A bit of diarrhea is not uncommon from time to time and is particularly common in the first week due to stress. See our "health" section for info on dealing with diarrhea.
Advice for part-time workers:
If you work part time, your mature puppy needs the same attention, not being kennelled longer than six hours per day maximum (not including nights). Obviously, the kennel option needs to be age appropriate (see above for age related lengths and training tips).
For the first three to six months of age, you will need to use a combination of kennel and training area with paper - depending on how long you work. See above for cage limits and control area with paper direction. Asking a neighbour or family member to assist you during the first several months is the best possible way to manage your new puppy.
Advice for full-time workers:
If you work full time and are able to come home at noon, you would need to leave your puppy unkenneled in his control area, with pee pad down for a limited time. See above instructions regarding kennelling time restrictions.
A pee pad should be left down in his control area until your puppy is at least one year old in case you can’t make it home on time or he/she just has to go.
If you cannot come home at noon, consider having someone from a dog service pop by, using a doggy daycare facility (after immunizations are complete) or installing a dog door to avoid housetraining and destructive boredom problems. Adult dogs should not be asked to wait eight hours until 2-3 years of age, and even then, some dogs just don’t do well left for so long.
I took my puppy outside, but he didn't go...
For the first year, you would need to stay outside with your puppy for 10-15 minutes to be sure he/she has gone before allowing them to play on the kitchen floor. If puppy doesn't go in this time frame, bring him back in the house and either hold him on your lap or put him back in his kennel or training area for half to one hour, then try again. If he pees on the pad, that’s okay. It’s not unusual for this to happen up to three months of age, but the more he is given access to outside, the less he will use a pee pad.
When your puppy goes outside, initially you should carry him/her to the area you wish to use as a bathroom area or he'll have an accident on the way there. It should not be smaller than 100 square feet and can be fenced off from the rest of your yard to help the puppy focus as so he doesn’t get distracted or use a different area.
My puppy did tinkle outside and when I brought him back in, he promptly piddled again on the floor. Why did he go twice in a row? Is something wrong with him?
Your puppy is perfectly normal! Young puppies are so easily distracted that they may see something interesting and forget what they were doing in the middle of their "job". As a result, when they get inside, their partially emptied bladder cues them and they finish emptying inside. With maturity, they won't be so easily distracted and they'll empty completely outside. You can help your puppy by limiting the outdoor distractions by reducing the area they can explore during potty time and don't praise them or talk to them until they are actually done. They'll wow you in no time!
How long does potty training take?
After ten weeks of age, you should notice a week to week improvement in his training. The period of eight to sixteen weeks is the most time consuming to train your puppy, because the puppy goes the most and understands the least. After this point, you will still be watching and training the puppy, but the progress will feel much better! As mentioned above, some dogs can be trusted to play unattended younger (one year) and for others it can take longer (up to three years).
What do I do if my puppy makes a mess?
If your puppy, less than four months of age, messes on the floor, just clean it up, don’t scold him or you will scare him. From four months of age and on, if you catch him in the act, put him outside immediately. If he’s already done, show him the mess, scold him with a gruff voice, squirt in his face with a water bottle, then put him outside for ten minutes to reconfirm that is where he is to go. When he comes in, watch him, or put him in a cage or control area if you can’t watch him. If it’s a nice day and he's been outside playing, return him to his kennel or control area for one hour when he comes in because you won’t know when he last went to the bathroom. After one hour, take him outside again and observe him going to the bathroom before allowing him access to more the house.
Should I put pee pads in different rooms of the house?
Never put paper or pee pads down in areas of your house other than his one consistent control space. Allowing him various pee-pad locations will confuse him and teach him to go in any room he pleases.
At what point do I clean up a peepad?
Dogs are clean animals and don't want to step in their own mess to go to the bathroom. If you dog have more than a couple tinkles on his peepad, he's unlikely to use it again and may decide to go elsewhere, on the floor, rather than step into that mess. If you are going to be gone an extended time, you may want to leave two peepads down to give him more space. This also applied to fake grass potty places. If you let them get gross, your dog will not want to use them. Keep them clean for best results.
Help! My puppy seemed trained but is having accidents again!
If your puppy seems to train quickly, but reverts to messing on the floor, you have given him too much room too quickly, so return to a more controlled situation for a period of about three weeks, and then try again.
I have an open floor plan or a fully carpeted home. How will this effect me?
It is extremely hard to house-train puppies on kitchen carpet or in open floor plan homes, due to lack of containment walls to put up baby gates. It will require extra patience and commitment on your part. As well, it will take up to half again longer to get them trained. Buying an exercise pen and placing it over some temporary, hard flooring surface is a good alternative and will speed up the process.
Can we use a litter box?
While some puppies can be temporarily trained to use a litter box, adult dogs will be unlikely to continue using a litter box type situation as they prefer to urinate in one area and defecate in another area. They need an outside toilet area no less than 10” by 10” or 100 square feet in size or they will not want to use this area for both "jobs".
What can we use as an alternative to pee pads?
White paper roll ends could be used to paper train your dog, as newsprint discolours the coat. These can be obtained at newspaper publishers or moving companies. If you are using a play pen or night box, shredded paper could be used. There are also fake grass pads that are reusable and require washing.
All of this sounds like a lot of work! Is this breed worse than other breeds to potty train?
All "toy" dog breeds fall into the same difficulty category for potty training. This includes the Maltese, Poodle, Havanese, Yorkie, Shih Tzu, Bichon, etc. They do seem to catch on slower than large breeds of dog. However, this is the trade off for having a small, non-shedding, awesome family member! And, when you think about it, although the potty training might take longer, your investment is well worth it as these breeds typically live longer than their larger counterparts!