What To Do When Your Puppy Potty Training Plan Fails

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Sophia Yin, DVM, MS. September 11, 2009

OK. By now, most of you know the potty training basic plan. Take the puppy out first thing in the morning and stand around until she does #1 and #2. Then praise her when she does, give her a treat and some play time and water. Then, throughout the day either have her tethered to you or on leash nearby or in her crate where she's not likely to potty. Or keep an eagle eye on her so you can take her out at the first sign she has to potty. That sign may be: she's just eaten, or drunk water, or woken up from a nap, or is now sniffing around. Interrupt accidents and rush the pup to a proper potty place but don't punish her or scare her or she may just learn to sneak off and potty behind your back. And of course clean all accidents up promptly with an enzymatic cleaner.

Every day, thousands of people hear this advice and try to follow it only to be frustrated. The issue boils down to several factors, which can be addressed with a few tips.

Puppy potty training Tip 1: Some dogs are potty geniuses. Others aren't. Some dogs learn virtually by magic. You take them out frequently for a few days and all of a sudden they're potty trained. In fact my parents' last four dogs were like that. Meaning, if you're sort of consistent, the pooch will learn. But in other cases, the dogs seem to be potty training dunces. Realistically, in the wild, feral dogs may keep their immediate sleeping area clean, but areas close by are “in bounds.” So it's not that odd that your dog thinks his actual bed should not be a potty spot but the rug right next to it is OK. In these cases, potty training is really just about forming a habit-never giving Rover the opportunity to go in the wrong place. Only give him opportunities to potty in the right places.

Puppy potty training Tip 2: Some puppies will potty even when tethered close to you. For some puppies, tethering them close to you won't prevent them from pottying. It will only give you a better chance to keep an eye on them. And some puppies can potty in the blink of an eye. For these puppies you'll have to rely on keeping them crated in a small den-like crate and then bring them out for potty sessions where you make sure they potty before they are allowed to play. If they don't potty quickly, they go back in their crate for 15 minutes before their next potty opportunity. They must learn to potty automatically when you take them outside and then never get the opportunity to have an accident when you're inside. Once they potty, they can play, but if they've eaten or drunk water, you'll have to bring them outside again after another 10-15 minutes before they go back into their crate. In fact you may be having 15-minute play sessions in the house every few hours and then long play session outside since, otherwise, when they're in the house they are resting in a crate.

Puppy Pottytraining Tip 3: Realize that young puppies have frequently potty urges. Young puppies can potty a lot! Especially if they're only 7-9 weeks old. They can drink water and then seemingly 5 minutes later pee it all out. So just because they pottied outside 5-10 minutes ago doesn't meant they won't do it inside as soon as you look the other way. If you find that you have this problem of pups pottying even shortly after they've pottied outside, instead of saying “But they just pottied outside” or ” I just let them play unsupervised for a minute,” get a clue! Expect them to potty even right after they've gone outside and whenever you leave them unsupervised and change your behavior accordingly. That is, be ready to crate them or keep your eye on them at all times.

Puppy Pottytraining Tip 4: Some puppies need to learn to hold their #1 urge a little bit. Some puppies need to learn to hold their pottying. I'm talking primarily about pee. These pups seem to just potty whenever they get a slight urge as if pottying is a pastime. These puppies need to be crated for longer periods for at least several days. In general, during the day they can be crated the same amount of time as their age in months. So an 8-week old puppy can be crated for about 2 hours and a 12 week old can be crate for around 3 hours during the day. Once your vet has assured you that the frequent piddling is not due to a urinary tract infection, start crating the puppy for longer hours. For instance, start crating the 12 week old for 2-3 hours at a time so she learns to hold it. When you take her out, reward her with long play sessions so she gets enough interaction, play, and training time too. But when finished, put her back in the potty-safe crate area.

Get the idea? For some dogs, you can't cut any corners. You can't let them wander out of sight for 2 seconds or expect that they will hold it if they've just gone potty outside and had a drink of water. For these dogs, you can try a doggie diaper. Maybe they won't potty in that. Or you can try an indoor potty system where you place them in an exercise pen with a sleeping area and a fake grass potty system or pee pad potty area and no other type of surface. They can learn that the different substrates are for different purposes. But chances are you'll have to just get realistic and alternate between strict crating, safe potty times outside, and eagle-eye supervision when they are getting their playtime. That means you'll have to make a special effort to be sure they get enough playtime too which adds even more planning to your puppy care. But that's the joy and pain of having a puppy. And the reward of having the house as a potty free zone is priceless.

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36 responses to “What To Do When Your Puppy Potty Training Plan Fails

  1. Andy Lloyd of Dandy Dawgs told me about you. My 9-month old Labradoodle still has accidents in the house and on the carpet. I have read all the material you have above. I have done all that you recommend.

    His other problem is soft stools. I have tried Blue Buffalo Puppy food, Kirkland Puppy Food and California Natural. All of these produce soft, runny stools. Help!!

    Sincerely, Jeanne H. Wood

    1. He may be allergic to chicken!
      My dog is but he gets explolive diarrhea.
      Maybe try a food with no chicken. We go to Costco for their Salmon dog food.
      Good luck!!

      1. Blue Buffalo is actually not really good food. It’s made by Purina. I did one bag of Purina Puppy Chow and it was soft and mustard yellow. Quickly switched to Iams and we had solid BM’s ever since!

        1. You can try giving him a probiotic like Advita or some canned pumpkin. If that doesn’t try to cut out certain things for 3 months at a time to see if he is allergic to an ingredient. For example if you suspect he is allergic to grains put him on a grain-free food and then don’t feed him any treats with grains or any table scraps. Then after three months he still has diarrhea, try cutting out chicken and etc.

  2. You’re right about your first statement. Some dogs have it and some don’t. I’ve had 4 dogs in my lifetime and I’m split down the middle on how they learned. 2 of them were easy and the other 2 were not. Still love em all though.

  3. I’m doing all of this. What do you do if our puppy pees and poops in the crate even when left for just an hour? There has only ever been one time where she hasn’t peed in her crate. Even if she goes pee right before the crate.

    1. I have the same problem as you and have been working on this for 2 months. I’m so frustrated don’t know what to do!

      1. I have been told that this usually means you need a smaller crate or to block off part of their create. Puppies will choose a part of the crate to sleep in, and the other to potty in if they have too much space. Though it may look like they just go on their sleeping area, this is probably just because they stepped in it, had to panic, and then it got all over. Try making it a smaller space, even though this may seem harsh because they cant play around in their kennel anymore, it works. It worked perfectly for my 12 week old who still hates the crate but I don’t come home from work to a pee and poo covered kennel or floor or walls even. and she is a happy little shepherd 🙂 even with the smaller crate.

      2. The crate can be too big, allowing your puppy to do his thing at one end of the crate and dry at the other end. Reduce the size of the crate with a barrier that blocks off excess to the area.

        Make sure you are not crating the pup for too long. The puppy must have just enough room to stand up, turn around in a circle and stretch out. Be patient and allow for some mistakes.

        Second, bedding in the crate may be acting like a diaper, absorb offensive waste and moisture away. Your dog must earn the bedding by keeping her crate clean for about seven days. When she accomplishes that, add thin bedding, such as a sheet or worn towel. If that too stays clean, then you are safe to add whatever bedding you like.

  4. She’s mastered everything else but potty training!!! She won’t go in her crate but will anywhere else in my apartment…everytime I take her potty I make her sit by the door and then I open it to let her know if she sits by the door I’ll open it and then I tell her lets go potty. But that hasn’t worked either… I’ll let her roam around in my apartment and see if that will help a little! Any different advice would be great! She’s 7 going on 8 month old boxer mix with pit

    1. Im having the SAME issue with my 11 week old pit boxer mix she is relentless and no matter what i do the moment i let her back in the house she runs off and goes potty on the floor so i might just get an even smaller kennel because if she doesnt learn i cannot keep her sadly

  5. My dog pees as soon as he steps out of the crate, in my floor. I took him for about a 45 minute walk last night, he pottied a few times. As soon as we walked inside the house he started peeing. I don’t know what to do . =/

    1. Take the crate outside, that is what we did, eventually she got that she should not be peeing in the house (she was just too excited to see us). You need to make sure that on walks you are praising them for peeing outside, offer their favourite treats (with us it was turkey sandwich meat) and make sure that peeing outside is pleasant and peeing inside is not.

  6. Small dogs are harder to train, and I don’t think they always communicate as effectively – or their bladders are really small, so they just can’t wait sometimes.

    I find that scent is important – you need to use an enzyme cleaner to get rid of every trace, or they’ll keep using the same spot. Soaking up the spot with a puppy pad to attract her to the correct spot has always worked for me.

  7. unfortunately I got my precious puppy at 5 months old and they never took her outside to go to the bathroom so she pees and poops in the house she won’t go to the bathroom outside she never has since I have gotten her I don’t know what to do I have potty pads she doesn’t go on the potty pad she goes everywhere else helpshe sleeps in her crate maybe I should put the potty pads in her crate and every time she goes to put her in the crate she sleep in the crate so I might have to get her a separate crate for the potty pads

  8. Part of this is exactly on point–I think with my four months old puppy I’m at the stage where she needs to learn that she can hold her need to pee longer than she does, which I know since she can go an entire night without having an accident of any type.

    Good recommendations, I will work on these and let you know how it goes.

  9. Initially, my lab puppy would always run to her “place.” She even would sit in front of me instead of playing, and even went to the door a couple of times. Sure they’re were accidents in the house, but I attribute that to my inattention, brief that it was. Now, she refuses to poop in the “place”, (she’s now 11 weeks and has never pooped in the house, nor messed in her kennel), and when I try to walk her to another place, she starts squatting on the street, and I pick her up and carry her to the grass, but no dice. I crate her and wait for a while, then repeat, but she does the same thing.

  10. 14 month male shih tzu. Has older make shih tzu brother ( 3 years )
    House training failure
    Used crate. No poop in crate. Now in pen no poop in pen
    Sleeps through night on bed
    Take. Out and will not poop
    Comes right in and poops
    Should we backward and start all
    Over with crate and do better job of getting him out the 6 times a day( where we may have failed)

    1. Once you have ruled out any medical issues with your vet, you should find either a behaviorist or a trainer to review how you’re doing your crate training or see if there behavior issues. Hope that helps.

    2. I also have a shih tzu puppy he is 15 weeks and.does the same.thing. I take.him out no poo bring him in and poop uggg I praised him when he goes on the pad and outside. Sometimes he’ll go outside but then come in and.go.more. I too know he can hold it, cause he sleeps in his crate and he does not potty in there. I am going to try harder stay more consistent and wait every.time he goes outside for a complete potty time. Very heloful.posts from all. Thank you

  11. Help…my 14 old German Shepard puppy is not getting potty training at all. We started training him to go on puppy pads and ghat worked but going outside was not happening. Could be out with him for half an hour and nothing but as soon as he came in he would go. Had a small break through and he was peeing outside about 30% of time but no poop. Yesterday though I thought we cracked it. Other than one small pee all business done outside but today he is worse than Evey and not even using puppy pads but length of kitchen floor. We have an other dog but he doesn’t even copy him when out.

    1. This sounds like what we are dealing with and we have a 13 month old Havanese. We thought he was trained to go in a certain spot outside and he will go a week or more without any indoor “accidents”… But, then we find surprises. They can be nearly anywhere in the house. We have tried sitting on the floor in the spots where he has peed or pooped. We have tried walking him nearly every 2 hours. We went through a rigid crate training program for 3 weeks and then gradually eased up… Now he is back to occasional mistakes. I am about ready to give up. But, he is such a cute little guy and we have become so attached, I hate to do that!

  12. Help…my 14 old German Shepard puppy is not getting potty training at all. We started training him to go on puppy pads and that worked but going outside was not happening. Could be out with him for half an hour and nothing but as soon as he came in he would go. Had a small break through and he was peeing outside about 30% of time but no poop. Yesterday though I thought we cracked it. Other than one small pee all business done outside but today he is worse than ever and not even using puppy pads but length of kitchen floor. We have an other dog but he doesn’t even copy him when out.

  13. We have a 6 month Shih tzu and having a hard time getting her to go outside ….she holds it and comes in the house and runs to the wee wee pad and goes…..how do we transfer her from going on the wee wee pad to going outside when she gets walked…..pls help cause I’m pulling my hair out!!! Lol!!

  14. I have a 3 month old female dachshund who will not potty train. She stays in her crate all night with no accidents but throughout the day she uses the house as her toilet. I take her outside frequently but she will not go. As soon as I take her in, she goes to the bathroom! Part of the problem I’m sure is that I got her from an elderly lady who could not manage her so the dachshund did as she pleased. Any advice? I am at my wits end!

  15. Help! My 4 month old pitbull puppy is not getting the idea of potty training. We take her outside and she will pee and poop but she will come inside and pee whenever. She doesn’t give a sign she just pees. We have a small kennel for her but she pees in it and then lays in it. It won’t even be an hour before she pees in the house after taking her on a long walk. We don’t understand. We have had 6 dogs before and none of them have been so hard to potty train.

  16. Please someone help, I’ve been reading all the comments here and following all the advice. We have a small chihuahu/Doberman mix puppy. We adopted her at 10 weeks. She just won’t grasp the concept of potty training. We first kept her in an open crate inside a closed off pen so she can come in and out of her crate but still in closed corners. We realized that didn’t work as she would just pee in that small space outside of her crate. We would interrupt her when she’s about to and rush her outside and she will pee but not poop. We still praise her but as soon as she’s back in her corner she will just pee right away. She will not stop whining non stop and at first we thought she needs to go outside but it’s only sometimes she’s whining to go pee but sometimes she will just do it no signs at all. We decided to just take the play pen out all together and just keep her in her crate. We kept a pad in there but she just peed on it so we took the pad off but she does it anyways still. So we made the crate smaller but she just peed and laid down anyways. We told her she can’t do that and take her out. We tried not letting her out of the crate. We would carry the crate outside then let her out to pee only to find she already peed again in the crate. Pooping is out of the question because she will not poo at all unless inside the house. It’s been a very crazy 2 weeks going on 3 weeks now and we don’t know. There’s no progress. The vet said she’s a very healthy puppy.

  17. Help! I have a 5 month old golden doddle that I got from a breeder at 3 months. The breeder kept him in a pin with others and they did all their business in one spot (eat, drink, play, pee/poop). We have been crate training and he doesn’t go in his crate but will pee when out of crate roaming in house. I’ll take him out to potty and bring him in and not 30min or an hour goes by where he doesn’t just pee on the floor without any sign to take him out. He just isn’t getting it!! I feel bad because he is in his crate all the time and get the feeling that I cannot leave him out for any extended amount of time in fear that he will have an accident. Any recommendations on what to do so he gets the idea that indoors is no place to potty? So frustrated and at my wits end.

  18. Do you recommend a grain free dog food? My 12 week old Shih Tzu is Chocolate and white and it was recommended by a person that raises tzu’s and shows them because of his liver color.

  19. We have a 10 month old chihuahua mix who we’ve had for 5 weeks. Thought she was potty trained after a couple of weeks but then found she had been peeing on the carpet and we didn’t realize it. So we started to re-crate and take her out every hour. She always goes pee and poop outside and gets very excited when we ask if she needs to go outside. We rolled up the carpet and have concrete floors. She won’t go on the floor but if there is anything left on the floor, a sock, a kitchen towel, etc. she will pee on it. She marks outside. Is that what she’s doing inside and how do we break that habit? Thanks!

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