Fisher has had very few accidents in the house. Any accidents he has had, have been my fault. I didn't follow my own advice, leading to him going potty in the house. It's our job to set our dogs up for success, and when they don't succeed the fault is often ours.
Whether you're bringing home a new puppy, or adopting an adult dog, they need to be potty trained. There is a lot of misinformation about how best to go about potty training, and how to deal with bathroom accidents. Have you ever heard that you should put your dog's nose in the puddle or pile that they left behind? Have you ever been told to swat your pup with a rolled up newspaper if they make a mistake in the house? These methods are scary for your dog, and are counter productive to the ultimate goal of having your dog use the bathroom outdoors.
For successful potty training, there are two positive and effective methods that you can use. One option is crate training, in which you use an appropriately sized crate to contain your pup when you can't give her 100% of your attention. The second option is the umbilical method in which you attach your dog's leash to your waist to keep him from sneaking off and using your carpet as the restroom. Fisher and I have been using a combination of the two methods based on the day's activities.
For either method to work you need to apply the following rules: 1) Your dog is NEVER left unattended while loose in the house. 2) Your dog isn't allowed loose in the house unless he has JUST gone potty outdoors.
3) Your dog is on a strict feeding schedule - one meal in the morning and one in the evening (or 3 evenly spaced meals for young puppies).
4) When it's time for your dog to go potty put him on leash, then have him sit at the door. Bring him outside on leash to his "potty place" (this will be the place he uses the bathroom EVERY time). When he does his business give a cue like "go potty". Once he's done, give lots of praise and some yummy treats. 5) As a reward for going potty outside, your dog can have free time in the house to explore and play.
In either case, sometimes your dog won't go to the bathroom when you bring them outside. When this happens, follow these rules: For the crate method bring him indoors, put him in the crate and wait about 15 minutes, then repeat steps 4-6 as needed. For the umbilical method bring him indoors, attach the leash to your waist and wait about 15 minutes, then repeat steps 4-6 as needed.
Some things to note: your pup will have to do it's business after pretty much every activity. Your puppy naps, then when he wakes up he needs to be brought outside. Your puppy plays, when she takes a break she needs to be brought outside. Your puppy chews a bone, which stimulates gastrointestinal activity, then he needs to be brought out. With a young puppy you can expect to be going out for potty breaks a least hourly. As your puppy ages, the bathroom breaks become more spread out.
Fisher can currently go 2-3 hours between potty breaks. At night, he can sleep for 5-6 hours before waking me up to go out. You can expect that you won't be sleeping through the night for several months when you get a new puppy. An advantage of adopting an older dog is better bladder control!
Remember, that sometimes accidents happen no matter how careful we are. If your pup makes a mistake in the house, and you catch her in the act, immediately pick her up and bring her out to her potty place. Reward her for finishing her business outdoors. If you don't catch your dog in the act, don't try to correct him. He doesn't know what he did wrong! Use a pet specific enzymatic cleaner to remove the smells and stains that encourage dogs to continually soil the same place. With patience and consistency any dog can learn how to use the bathroom outside.
Emily Lewis is a professional dog trainer and veterinary technician. She lives in Vermont with her three rescue dogs, tuxedo cat, corn snake, crested geckos and Russian tortoise.