1) Learn to Recognize When a Puppy Needs to Go
If you take the time to notice the signals that can tell you what a puppy is thinking or wanting, it can save you time and trouble. If a puppy whines or cries at you, this is probably an attempt to communicate the urge to eliminate.
Think of this like a little kid being potty-trained who says urgently, “Daddy, I need to go. NOW!” If that parent doesn’t respond instantly to the child’s plea, the next thing he’ll hear is, “It’s okay. I don’t need to go anymore,” followed by a little puddle at the child’s feet. If you don’t want to wind up like that with your pup, you’d better learn to notice the ways she tries to signal her needs! A puppy probably needs to go out if she suddenly puts her nose down and starts sniffing the floor, going in circles.
Likewise if she starts panting, but she hasn’t gotten hot from running around. If a puppy lifts her tail while doing any of this, take note of whether her anus begins to open: this is the main sign that she needs to move her bowels. This may sound as though I’m suggesting you be disgustingly over-attentive, but watching body language for signs of impending evacuation really can save you from an even grosser fate: scraping up fresh dog-doo from your floor!
2) Get the Puppy Outside Quickly!
You need to take your puppy to her potty area immediately after opening the door to the crate. If the puppy leaves the crate on her own, the first thing she’s going to do is relieve herself, a habit you do not want her to form. When you open the crate door you need to pick up the pup and take her outside. You really should be doing this every time the puppy eats, drinks, plays hard or chews a toy (which stimulates defecation).
Always take her to the same area: she will remember why and it will stimulate her. Take the puppy out on a regular schedule so her body gets into a rhythm. And do not confuse things by trying to introduce a different schedule on the weekends—the puppy’s bladder is going to get used to a certain schedule. Get up and keep the same schedule every single day of the week—it’s not as though her bladder knows when it’s the weekend!
3) Give Happy Praise Immediately After Your Dog Does Her Business
As with all positive reinforcement in the learning process, you want to reward the desired behavior immediately when it happens. This is slightly different with teaching a puppy to eliminate outside the house because you don’t want to interrupt the dog with praise while she is going.
In addition, you should not give a food treat once she’s finished – just happy verbal praise and physical affection – because some dogs might think they will get a food treat wherever they go, even inside the house! (this idea had never occurred to me when I wrote The Dog Bible, but it’s logical!) You want to reward the puppy for eliminating outdoors right after it takes place – with an enthusiastic song and dance instantly after the correct choice by the puppy, which is a display of delight she’ll want to elicit from you again!
4) No Water in the Evening
Pick up your puppy’s water bowl by 5 or 6 o’clock so that when she eventually goes to sleep after a late night potty break outside, she’ll be going in her crate with an empty bladder. – not filling your puppy’s bladder makes it a lot easier for her not to pee during the night. If a pup seems really thirsty at night, give her an ice cube, which can be refreshing without filling her bladder.
5) Be Prepared to Get Up in the Middle of the Night
If the puppy wakes up and fusses or whines, you have no choice but to take her out. She is probably communicating her understanding that she should not empty her bowels or bladder in the house—which means you must get up—and pretty darn quickly! You might even want to keep some sweat-clothes or other easily donned clothing beside your bed so you can pull them on, snap on the puppy’s leash and carry her out to her “potty spot” (where she has been regularly relieving herself).
Note that a puppy’s bladder is smaller and her digestive system works quickly, so when she realizes she has to go out there’s only a small window of opportunity between her realization of that need-to-go sensation and that sensation becoming reality. When you get outside, use your word cue (see the earlier section in this chapter on page 217, “Going on Command”) to hurry up the process. Don’t make a middle-of-the night outing seem fun: praise the puppy quietly once he goes but then go right back inside. No feeding, playing or cuddling, or you’ll teach him the benefits of waking you up. Put him back in the crate and get right back into bed yourself (as if you need encouragement at 3:00 A.M.!).
Tracie Hotchner is the author of THE DOG BIBLE: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know and THE CAT BIBLE: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know. She is also a renowned pet radio host and producer, having spent 7 years on the Martha Stewart Channel of Sirius/XM with CAT CHAT® and even longer with her award-winning NPR radio show DOG TALK® (and Kitties, Too!) that continues to broadcast in the Hamptons and the Berkshires. Her most recent accomplishment is the pet talk radio network she has created on the Internet called The Radio Pet Lady Network.