A few days ago I was at a new Home Dog Training session with a client and his twelve-week-old Cocker Spaniel in Buckhead.  The Cocker Spaniel’s name was Sally, and she was rather calm compared to most Cockers.  Being a young puppy, we worked on introductory socialization, good manners, and basic obedience.  I also spent a lot of time teaching my clients that, even though Sally was so cute, they still needed to be firm and remain the leaders of her. 

Manage your puppy's food when potty training

“Puppies and potty” naturally go hand in hand, and I spent a great deal of time reviewing how to set up Sally’s potty training schedule and for my clients to successfully implement the schedule so that they will understand when to “get Sally outside”. One of the most overlooked subjects in potty training that I shared with my clients concerns Sally’s food management and how that drives success or failure with potty training. I would like to share that with you.

Potty training is always one of the most “mystifying tasks” undertaken by new puppy owners.  For some reason, they believe that their little pup will text them or do a jig to let them know they have to go to the bathroom.  On top of this, their puppy automatically knows that they must get out the front door before they can potty.  I always tell my clients that, before they believe this, they should ask their mothers how easy it was to potty train them.  They quickly understand that there are multiple processes that need to be undertaken to have a potty trained puppy.

Next, I need to enforce that potty training is really puppy bladder management.  You can’t give your puppy a list telling them when they will go potty.  Their bladder can’t read.  Furthermore, their bladder can’t even hear what you are saying or see what you are doing.  Potty training is understanding your puppy’s bladder characteristics. You are the one who needs the teaching.

One of the most important facets of potty training is food management.  In potty training, we are dealing with your puppy’s bladder and stomach.  In a nutshell, what goes in must come out.  Being able to predict “when it comes out” is the definition of successful potty training. It is all between your puppy’s bladder and you.  Your puppy is really “just along for the ride.”

We must be successful food managers.  This is based on consistency and ability to adjust the variables within the process to transform them into constants.  Let’s take one variable at a time.

Meal Time:  We must feed our dog a meal and not lay out an all day buffet for him.  If we don’t have a “constant” based on when he eats his food, we will never be able to establish a “constant” on when he needs to poop.

As I said, this is a meal and not a buffet.  Put the food down at a constant time every day.  We normally feed our dogs twice a day and some dogs are fine eating only once a day.  Unless directed by your Veterinarian, only small puppies need to be fed three times a day.

Put the food and water down for no more than twenty minutes and then pick them up.  If your puppy eats all his meal, that is great. If he doesn’t eat everything, he will quickly learn that “when the food is served, you eat”.

Since puppies are rapidly growing, they will often need extra hydration.  After you pick the puppy’s food and water up at the end of the meal, put a small amount of water down for hydration. Monitor when the water is gone and then put a little bit of water into the bowl.

As you are monitoring your puppy’s potty progress, you can adjust the mealtime.  If you notice that your puppy is making accidents later in the evening or in his crate in the middle of the night, you can move his evening meal earlier in the afternoon.

Meal Amount: When it comes to feeding our puppy, we always “become our mother”.  “Food is good” and more food is even better.  We almost always over feed our puppies by filling their bowl. This will lead to the problem of “too much food, too much potty”.

Look at the side of your dog food to determine the appropriate daily amount of food for your puppy based on his age and weight. Put that amount in a measuring bowl and place it on your kitchen counter.  THAT is now your puppy’s food ration for the day.

You can start by giving him one half of the food in the morning and one half of the food at night. If you see that he is making more accidents in the morning, you can cut back the amount in the morning and give him a bigger portion at night.  This could be something like giving your puppy forty percent of his daily allowance in the morning and sixty percent of his daily allowance at night.

The one thing that we always forget about feeding our dogs is the fact that we may be giving them treats during the day.  Treats are food too and the nutritionists at the dog food company have no way to take this external variable into consideration when determining your puppy’s daily allowance of dog food.  We suggest that you start using the food in your puppy’s daily allowance measuring bowl for treats.  Since a treat is just “more food”, your puppy will never know the difference and you will “keep the loop closed” in determining his proper feeding amount.

I have one more, important observation regarding the amount of food you are feeding your puppy.  I am using the dog food’s guidelines regarding the amount of food you should give your puppy.  This is only an initial estimation.  All puppies’ metabolisms are different. Some need more food, and some need less food for proper health and development.  Always consult your Veterinarian if your puppy is starting to look chubby or emaciated.

Meal Quality: Don’t feed your dog “junk”.  Puppies require good nutrition to grow and mature.  Food filled with fillers (for us, this would be candy bars and potato chips) and byproducts (stuff you or I would never eat) do not provide them with the proper nutrition. When you feed your dog “junk”, they will have to eat a lot more of it to receive the nutrition they need to grow.  This means that they are going to poop more.  You probably don’t want this.

So, what is a good food?  I could go into great detail regarding this subject, but let me give you two, simple rules.

First rule: The first ingredient listed should be a named meat (i.e. chicken, beef, salmon, etc.). It should never have the word “byproduct” following the meat’s name. This means that it is something that came from that animal that we would never eat.  An example of this would be if the ingredient was “chicken byproduct”. This could actually be “chicken beak”. So, if you see the word “byproduct”, look for another food.

Second rule: You don’t want the food to have fillers.  Corn is one of the most common fillers that dog food companies add to their dog food.  It is cheap, doesn’t normally harm the dog, doesn’t sound bad, and adds weight to the bag.  The problem is that it offers very little positive nutrition and often makes the dog hyper.  So, scan the first four lines of ingredients.  If you see “corn” in the first four lines, look for another food.

Food Management is only one part of the potty training process.  It is often overlooked because we think we are just “putting our puppy’s dog bowl down”.  I hope you now see that a great deal of opportunities to transform many of the “unknown variables” that drive our puppy’s potty routine into “known constants” is based on food management.

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 seventeen years.  We have trained over 5,000 great dogs and loving families and are ready to help you.