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Friday, July 8, 2011

Housetraining / potty training your puppy and training them to go on cue

You've taken your dog on a road trip with you, and you have booked into a pet friendly hotel for the night, but it's pouring rain outside and he needs to go to do his business outside before you all go to sleep. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just tell him to go, and he would obey? Instead you just know you are going to be following him around in the pitch black for 20 minutes in that pouring rain as he gets drenched but is happily sniffing every surface in sight before finally doing what you were praying for. These instructions should teach you how to train your puppy to go on cue (command) from a very early age. It will work for a grown dog, but it will take longer as they just don't go as often. These instructions should also teach a dog that going inside is not the way things are done, and that outside (and holding it) is the only option for relieving themselves.

***Updated as of 23rd December 2012

Knightley in his crate with the pen attached at age 9 weeks.
He spent quite a bit of time in his pen at this age, mostly for
his own safety - and because there was a laminate floor
underneath it, so if he did have an accident there was no
drama in cleaning it up.
I made this toilet/potty schedule and training plan for my own pup, but thought other people might find it useful. My puppy, Knightley, was fully house trained by about 14 weeks old and pretty much always does his business when I ask him to. Which is very nice! In the process of getting him house trained, he probably had no more than maybe 6-7 accidents, and the vast majority of those were my fault.

One of the requirements for assistance/service dogs is that they do their business on cue, so not only did I need to house train Knightley, but from the beginning I had to instill a cue word, and I wanted a separate one for his no.1 and no.2. I originally planned to do this by training with a clicker, and also using a favourite toy to make it fun, but this changed as Knightley was so fascinated in outside as a tiny puppy he wouldn't even notice the clicker or a toy - he preferred dirt or leaves! Now, at nearly 5 months old, he has a lot more focus and I do occasionally use a clicker/marker word with a good treat to reward him for going.

Knightley looking comfortable in his crate at age 12 weeks.
Growing up and having accidents very rarely.
Anyway, this is a schedule for potty training a puppy, assuming that you are at home. If you weren't at home, you would have him crated and would have to make it back to the house every two hours to let him out - with a small drink every time to keep him hydrated. That is the MINIMUM for a very young puppy. But an 8 week puppy really needs more contact than that, and needs feeding 4 times a day anyway. You should plan to take time off when you get a new puppy, to give him the best start in life possible.

This schedule is completely adaptable for adult dogs, but what you want to do is get some sort of liquid your dog really wants to drink - something like some chicken bones boiled up is perfect. You don't need to add anything else to it, all you want is something tasty that will make your adult dog need to pee more often! As soon as he has gone once, give him another good couple of cups of the chicken broth and crate him again. The crate is essential for this type of house training, especially at night, but also for when you can't closely supervise. If you have your dog out of his crate, you need to always be watching, or tether the dog to you. Then watch that body language for signs he needs to go!

This schedule is intended only as a guide, the times are flexible really, the point is the dog must go out every 45 mins during the day (for an 8 week old puppy), every 1 hour during the early morning (still sleepy), and every 2 hours during the night. Yes, it is overkill, especially during the night, but the more times he goes outside, the more he realises that outside is the only place to do it. If you find it isn't often enough, then you may have to do it more often for the first week or two until the bladder grows a bit. What time to feed is worked into the schedule but up to you really, as well as whether to play with the dog after a successful potty at certain times of the day etc. As time went on, I slowly pushed the times I was getting up for Knightley forward, for instance at first it was 12am 2am 4am 6am, then it was 1am 3:30am 6am, then it was 1:30am 4am, then it was 2:30am 4:30am, then 3am 5am, then 4am - just up once in the night. By 11 weeks old, the pup should only need this one trip outside, and by 12-13 weeks he should be able to sleep comfortably through the night. Yes, it sounds like a lot of work, going outside a lot. But really, it is only a few weeks when you think about it, and it is so so so very helpful in reinforcing that outside is for peeing.

So here it is:

Toileting schedule for 8 week old puppy 
6am            Outside, small treat as reward, no play, back to crate in bedroom
7am            Outside, small treat as reward, no play, back to crate in bedroom
7:45am       Outside, treat as reward, a quick play, inside to be fed
8:05am       Back in crate for a short time after feeding
8:30am       Outside, treat as reward, play, toilet again, inside to crate/pen
9:15am       Back to outside every 45 mins with treats as rewards every success
10am               "
10:45am          "
11:30am     Outside, treat as reward, play, inside to be fed
11:50pm     Back in crate for a short time after feeding
12:15pm     Outside, treat as reward, play, toilet again, inside to crate/pen
1pm            Back to outside every 45 mins with treats as rewards every success
1:45pm             "
2:30pm             "
3:15pm             "
4pm           Outside, treat as reward, play, inside to be fed
4:45pm       Back in crate for a short time after feeding
5:05pm       Outside, treat as reward, play, toilet again, inside to crate/pen
5:30pm       Back to outside every 45 mins with treats as rewards every success
6:15pm             "
7pm                  "
7:45pm       Outside, treat as reward, play, inside to be fed
8:05pm       Back in crate for a short time after feeding
8:30pm       Outside, treat as reward, no play, toilet again, inside to crate/pen
9:15pm       Outside, treat as reward, no play, inside to crate/pen
10pm          Outside, treat as reward, no play, inside to crate/pen
11pm          Outside, small treat as reward, no play, back to crate in bedroom
12:30am           "
2am                  "
4am                  "
6am                  "

The idea of the schedule is that it provides many many opportunities for the dog to go outside, and minimises the likelihood that he will go indoors. So don't get slack, or it will be your fault when your dog can't help but go inside!! If he does go inside, don't scold, it is likely that the pup couldn't help it. Take him outside to the toilet place immediately and hang around there for a while. If he goes again, have a HUGE party! Make sure you clean up with a enzyme cleaner before he is allowed free roam again. At the age of 8 weeks, a Golden Retriever has the bladder the size of a walnut, so it really isn't fair to expect it to hold much more than a couple of hours while sleeping, and indeed much shorter than that when awake. The good news is the bladder, along with the rest of the puppy, grows quickly. It is a matter of learning good habits from the start. That is where a rather overzealous schedule comes in, going out very frequently and making sure your puppy does it outside again and again and again, and gets rewarded for it with a treat and a bit of a play every time (although not at night when you need the puppy to sleep, you may have noticed). Also it is important to take water away from your pup at about 8pm, after his last meal. You can give him some ice if you think he looks thirsty, but when his bladder is so small, by drinking late at night you are just making it harder on you and him to get through the night without accidents or having to take him out quite a few times. This is different if you are wanting to re train an adult or older puppy, who has a good bladder size. You can let them drink at night, in fact I would encourage them to drink with the chicken broth, but do take them outside during the night at least once - and praise and treat profusely when they do go.

Now for training the cue. By keeping him in a crate for the night, and by taking him out often and regularly you know that when he gets outside into an open area he definitely is going to go - perhaps not every time, but many times. This means that you are going to have the opportunity to tell him that he's doing exactly the right thing many times a day. Firstly, keep him on a shortish leash, so you can be right there beside him. You can try using a clicker for this training when the pup is young, but I have to say, it didn't work with Knightley - he just enjoyed being outside far too much and barely heard the click. However what I did do was this: he started peeing and I would say "looloo! looloo!" and then praise him lots and lots verbally. When he finished I would pat him and tell him he was the best puppy in the world. Sometimes I would then play with him, depending of the time of day. He was often too distracted and excited at being outside to eat any treats, although he will now thanks to my hard work! So now what I do now is click my clicker as soon as he is finishing his business (timing is important!), and then immediately give him his treat. Clickers can be bought cheaply at any good petstore, although the iClick is considered the best.

I chose "looloo" for his no1 cue and "go toilet" for his no2. I wanted cues that would be ok to use in public, and wouldn't sound a bit off! It is important you don't go inside straight away as soon as he has done his business, as he will learn to delay it as it means fun over. So stay outside for another minute afterwards. However, if he doesn't go, don't hang about, go back inside and try 20-30 minutes later. Also, always use the same spot, so that it has his scent and encourages him to go.

Knightley in his crate at age 14 weeks. He had slept in a
little crate in our bedroom up until this night pictured.
He'd been sleeping through the night for about a week
or so by now, and finally I made the move to get him out
into the living room by himself. He adapted well.
This is all you have to do to train the behaviour, but you need to do it over and over again. When your dog starts going as soon as you get outside with him because he knows he will get a tasty snack (cooked chicken is a good option) or will get a chance to check out the backyard, or will get played with, that is the time you start adding a cue. Watch your dog carefully, and when you see what type of business he is doing, say your chosen cue word (eg looloo!) AS he starts going. Praise, click and treat like normal. Keep on repeating your chosen cues. You can have just one cue for both "no. 1" and "no. 2" or you can separate them. It will take several hundred repetitions before you can test it out by saying your cue before your dog has started going himself. If he goes within 2 minutes it is considered a success. Then you need to start proofing it, by teaching him to go in different places, on different surfaces, with distractions etc.

I wrote this plan well before I got Knightley and followed it almost to the letter - and it worked completely. It is so nice to be able to ask him to go before getting in the car, and many other examples like that. As I said, it is required for assistance dogs, but I wish I had known how to do it with my previous pet dog, it would have been so useful. If you are consistent with training from day 1 of bringing your new pup home, housetraining should be a breeze. If you have a problem dog, or a problem puppy, it isn't too late. Just stuff them full of tasty liquid and have them spend quite a bit of time in a crate!

Other tips

  • Sniffing the ground in circles often means "I need to go"
  • Staring into the distance or at you sometimes means "I need to go"
  • Always go out by the same door when taking your dog out
  • Always use the same place in the garden, the scent will encourage your dog to go
  • Use a short leash
  • If you pup doesn't go within a minute or two, go back inside immediately. It should be boring unless he does his business. As soon as he does, everything becomes wonderful.
  • If there are any accidents inside make sure you use a special pet cleaner that has enzymes in it so that there is no scent left to encourage your puppy to use the same spot again
  • In addition to the schedule make sure you take your pup out after he wakes up from a nap and after any play sessions - this is the one that resulted in Knightley's only accidents! Get your pup out FAST after he wakes up AND after play sessions!!!
  • Once your dog knows the door you go out by, he'll stand by the door when he wants to go out, so watch out for that behaviour beginning
  • Don't tell your dog off for going, even if you catch them in the act. It is quite unlikely to do anything, and your dog may start finding private places to do it, so you won't catch them. It is better you know when they go and see it happening, so you can take them outside immediately. If you tell them off, they will be less likely to do it in front of you in the future.

Good luck!


  1. Thanks for this. I will try adapting it for our now 13 week old and she is eating 3 meals a day now. I still have her on a 30 minute timer when she's awake in the day but she is sleeping well through the night (though decides she is rarin to go at 5:30 a.m.!) Do you have other posts about how you adjusted her schedule as she grew?

  2. Unfortunately not sorry. How often is she having accidents inside? A 30 minute timer for a 13 week old is pretty often! How often is she actually going outside? I am just wondering if she could have something like puppy vaginitis if she is needing to go a lot? Anyway, I think Knightley was going outside every 1.5 hours or so at 13 weeks. I kept him with me a lot and learnt to watch those body language signs, especially sniffing, and out he would go. So sometimes it would be only 40 minutes, sometimes almost 2 hours. I found the most important times was taking him out after he had woken up, and finished playing. If you didn't do that, then you were asking for accidents.

    By about 15 weeks he could hold it for 4-5 hours - the bladder development was very swift, and he was very much aware that inside was NOT the place to go. The two accidents we've had since 15 weeks old have both been bad diarrhea when he just couldn't help it, poor puppy.

    Anyway, make her outside trips as enjoyable as possible, with food, toys and lots of praise (only after going), and just don't comment when she has accidents inside, and it will improve. Good luck.

  3. Yes I am still having to do a timer on her every 30 minutes or she has an accident. It was every 20 minutes for awhile and she was still having accidents. I thought we'd try the 45 minutes but she has already had 4 accidents today and I look at the timer and it is sure enough closer to every 30 minutes. It is making me crazy. I haven't heard of puppy vaginitis. I wonder if I should ask the vet. I didn't tell them HOW often she was having to go and just said "it is still crazy with housetraining" which I guess can be interpreted any way you want. She is getting rewarded, pet, praise, treat, some playtime when she goes outside. If I catch her going inside we say "no!" and take her out, but mostly she does it when I'm not looking and so we just go "oh...no potty here, potty outside!" and take her out while I clean up.

  4. PS I am "mom2four" on the golden retriever forum. :) thanks for your blog!

  5. That's crazy often. Go and see your vet. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there is some puppy vaginitis.

    Don't say anything to the pup when she has an accident, completely ignore it. I just let Knightley go, even if I caught him in the middle of it. If she gets bad vibes from you, she will start trying to go in places where you won't see her, but it won't make any difference to stopping her going inside. If anything it will make her nervous and anxious and that can lead to a problem called submissive urination! Just make it wonderful to go outside, and be completely blank when she goes inside. When she has finished going inside, take her **immediately** outside, still completely neutral - even if she hasn't got anything more to do. Remember you take her to potty at the same place every time, so if she has just gone, but with none of the usual praise she gets when she goes outside, and then is whisked outside to the place where she does usually get praise and you stand around like you are waiting for her to go... she may well start to get it. If she happens to go again, have a party!! But don't tell her no for going inside, it is often counterproductive - dogs only make connections for 2 seconds really. If you did want to tell her no (but don't just in case) the only possible way it would make an impact is if you caught her within 2 seconds of her beginning the motions of squatting.

    See the vet first though, and treat any issues there may be. If there is nothing, that's good for her. If there is something, it may explain a lot. Either way, there is some re-education to be done.

    Oh - and I had guessed who you were. :)

  6. thanks! I made an appointment for Friday with the vet, but my friend with an 11 year old Golden is saying no free watering. i've been letting her have free access to water til 8 p.m. (from what I picked up from your blog) but apparently that is too much and she may be filling her belly with water. She eats all she's supposed to eat, plus her treats. she's not too fat at all. But maybe that is the key. do you allow unlimited water? I'd read somewhere for puppies that is a must, but maybe she is past that age.

  7. Hmmm. It isn't a good idea to control water supply, although you could give small breaks for it I guess. I certainly do allow unlimited water, and all the advice I've read also says you should. Once you start trying to ration water then you may end up with other medical problems....

    However, when I think about it, at 13 weeks I was crating Knightley to go out for up to 3 hours with no water, although he was always very thirsty when let out. I'd try giving her some ice, enough to wet her mouth but stop her getting full. Sometimes it can upset young puppies stomachs, but I'd say your girl is old enough that it shouldn't. Still give her some wrehgular water every hour and a half to two hours thouhgh. If it doesn't make a difference discontinue quickly!

  8. thanks! will try this and keep her vet appointment. :)