I was in Atlanta last Thursday working with a new Home Dog Training client and his thirteen-week-old Jack Russell named Norman. I like Jack Russells because they just make me laugh.  No special reason, they just make me laugh.  Needless to say, I enjoyed working with Norman and he was a very good student.  Being a young puppy, we initially focused on socialization and any inappropriate behaviors.  This set him on the path of understanding that my client was his leader and deserves his respect and focus.

Leaving your puppy's dog food bowl down

We moved on to obedience and focused on come, sit, leash, and walking.  Norman was a puppy and all of this was pretty new to him. He wasn’t perfect, but he was very attentive and showed that he knew and was willing to participate and learn.  That is very important for proper teaching and Norman showed that he was ready to “work for the A”.  My client told me that Norman was pretty good with pottying.  He said that Norman was about 80% there and he was very encouraged with that. 

His only concern was that he couldn’t get Norman “over the hump” so that he could start to trust his ability to freely be out and about the house. Did I have any tips and tricks to get Norman across the potty finish line?

There are many variables that come into play when it comes to potty Training.  As I thought for a moment, something caught my eye.  In the corner of the kitchen were Norman’s water and food bowls.  The food bowl was still about a third full and the water bowl was about half full. At that moment, I knew what was going wrong….

I asked my client, “Do you leave Norman’s food and water bowls down all day long?”  He told me that he did.  He also told me that he always made sure that Norman’s water bowl was topped off and would add food to his food bowl from time to time.

“So, Norman is enjoying his version of a Sunday Brunch all day long every day?”  My client thought for a moment and replied, “I guess he is”.  And that, I told my client, is the problem.

Many clients seem to make the mistake of providing a buffet for their dogs instead of regulated meals during the day.  Although either methods may be providing their dog or puppy the proper nourishment, the presentation of regulated meals is far more conducive in establishing proper potty habits. To understand this, we need to take a look at what potty training is all about.

When asked what potty training is all about, most of us will say it is something that stops our puppy from making poo-poo on the living room rug.  Well, that is a true observation, but it doesn’t get to the core learning process.  Before I go on, I am going to give you a spoiler alert. That learning process is for us.

What we constantly explain to our clients is that potty training is helping us, the dog owners, to understand when we need to get our puppy outside.  We can’t “teach his bladder” when to go and when to hold it. The only thing we can do is to establish an environment that lets his bladder process food and observe the times “it comes out”.  This is all based on consistent management.

The two primary action items that we control regarding potty training is managing when the food goes in and observing when the food comes out.  We also have some control over other environmental items, to be sure, but feeding and pooping are the fundamental variables.

From my discussion with my client, he had done a pretty good job in trying to watch and get Norman out to go potty.  He had a rough schedule and even thought that he had observed some sort of “poopy dance” that Norman did when he needed to poopy.  The reason that he couldn’t get Norman’s potty training done was that there was one too many variables in the poopy equation.

The answer is: You can not leave the food and water down all day when you are potty training your puppy.  This allows your puppy to graze, sip, scarf, or guzzle at all hours of the day.  His food take, which is one of the two key factors in potty training is now under his control and is completely variable.

This is the proper process to feed your puppy:

  • At the start of the day, take a measuring bowl and pour his complete daily food allowance into the bowl.  Any food he receives for the day will be distributed from the measuring bowl. I also suggest that you use his food for snacks as well.
  • Put a portion of that food into his dog bowl and place it on the ground. Put his water bowl down too with enough water for the meal.
  • Encourage him to eat and leave the food and water bowls down for about twenty minutes.  If your puppy is a “fast eater”, you may want to use a “slow eating bowl” for his food.
  • After twenty minutes, pick the food and water bowls up.  It doesn’t matter if he has eaten all the food or not. They come up. The “kitchen is closed”.
  • If there is any leftover food in his food bowl, put it back in the measuring cup for later.
  • If he is a puppy, vets always say that they need a little extra water between meals. Add just a little bit of water to his water bowl and put it back down for proper hydration.  Check the bowl every two hours. If it is empty, add a little more water.
  • Repeat the above process for his additional meals during the day.  Make sure that the meals are always served at the same time for the same duration.

The first thing that most clients tell me is that they are afraid that their puppy “will starve” if they pick up their food bowl when they haven’t eaten.  I explain that since they were used to a buffet all day, they will need to learn to eat when you give it to them and not when they feel like it.  Our experience has shown that it takes about a day for a puppy to learn to “come to dinner” when they “hear the dinner bell”.

All we have done here is to convert a variable action into a constant action. This greatly decreases the variability of potty times and allows us to establish a far more accurate potty schedule.

Please call Robin or me at (770) 718-7704 if you need any dog training help.  We are blessed to have been your local dog training professionals for over sixteen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.