I was in Buckhead last Tuesday working with a new Home Dog Training client and his twelve-week-old Scottish Terrier named Albert.  Albert was a great little puppy and full of energy.  Being so young, he had not picked up any bad habits and just needed to be placed on the correct path to becoming a great dog. We worked on basic socialization, correct behavior, and beginning obedience. 

What are the biggest potty training mistakes people always make?

The biggest factor that I look for with puppies is their ability to focus and pay attention to their owner.  After a few corrections and redirections, Albert was always attentive when called by my client.  This indicates that Albert’s continued training will be easy and that he is a quick learner.  My client was very excited with what he had learned that day and thrilled with Albert’s ability to easily learn “the right stuff”.

Since Albert was only twelve weeks old, I wondered if there were any potty issues that we needed to discuss.  During my “what are the problems” inquiries up until that point, my client never mentioned potty problems.  Maybe he had just forgotten.  So, I asked my client about Albert’s potty progress.

“Oh, that’s right”, my client exclaimed. I have tried just about everything, but I still find accidents.  As I reviewed proper potty-training procedures with my client, I quickly discovered that, although he was doing almost everything correctly, he was making some classic errors that most people make.

Potty Training is probably the biggest training “black hole” for most of us when it comes to training our new puppies.  There are some very easy corrections we can use to stop our new puppy from not jumping or not nipping.

Obedience exercises like “Come” can be easily achieved through repetition and the use of the leash.  They are easy to achieve because they are based on our puppy’s linear learning process.  If my puppy does something wrong, I correct him in one way to show him the right behavior. When I want my puppy to come to me, I will set up an environment where his only choice is to walk to my side. We are in charge, and we can easily see the “winning situation”.

Potty training is not like that at all.  I always like to characterize it by saying that we are not dealing with our puppy’s brain when potty training, we are dealing with our puppy’s bladder.  Our puppy’s bladder tells our puppy when it is time to go and no amount of specialized training will change that process.

So, we can all agree that potty training can be challenging and often takes longer than we may wish.  There are also many steps and decision points that we need to effectively execute during the potty-training process.

The good news is that potty training, like many other life experiences, follows the classic “80/20” rule.  Although there are many steps that you need to follow to successfully potty train your puppy, there are a few that stand out as the ones that must be followed or you will fail.  The “even better news” is that there are only two things you need to remember and follow that will provide you with a high degree of “potty training success”.

The biggest mistake that puppy owners do when trying to potty-train their puppy is not watching them.  Although Robin and I emphasize this to the point of “extreme annoyance” during our training instruction, people forget or misunderstand.

The first thing that they misunderstand is the concept of “watching”.  This doesn’t mean that they believe their puppy is by their feet or “he just went around the corner for a moment and will be right back”.  A puppy’s natural nature is to potty away from everyone else.  They want to go to the far end of the room behind the corner chair or into the hallway between the kitchen and garage door.

When they do this, they are out of sight.  And, this process doesn’t need to last very long. We often demonstrate that it takes less than ten seconds for your puppy to get up, wander out of sight, potty, and return to your feet.  This is less time than it takes you to type a short text message or open your email.

Watching your puppy means “eyes on him” at all times. One way of accomplishing this is to have him on a leash and tie it to your leg. He can’t get very far and is always in your sight. You can also put him in his crate next to you.

If he does make an accident, you will see it and can mark the time.  This will give you more information regarding the times to get him outside. When he is right by your side, you may have heard him making some strange “yips” or “doing a dance”. You may have pondered “I wonder what the heck that is all about?”. Now you know.

The second biggest mistake that most people make when potty-training their puppy is leaving a full bowl of water down between meals.  Puppies need water and we always tell our clients to let them have all the water they want during their meals.

As part of the “potty management” process, we tell our clients to pick up their puppy’s dog bowl and water bowl after the meal and leave just a little water down between meals. This is where the “disconnect” occurs. Instead of switching from the “full water bowl” at the meal to a “small amount of water” between meals, many puppy owners don’t pick up the bowls at all or leave the bowl full of water down between meals.

Leaving a full water bowl available for their puppy between meals does not allow the puppy owner to properly manage their intake.  They have no clear idea of how much their puppy drank or when they drank. If there are accidents, they have no idea when they occurred.

Leaving only a small amount of water down between meals allows for “proper water management”. You can check back every hour or so to see if your puppy consumed all the water in the bowl. (Remember, there was only a small amount of water there to begin with.)  If so, you can add a little more.

If you start to see wee-wee accidents, you can cut back how often you add a smidgen of water to your puppy’s bowl when you see that it is empty.  This allows you to coherently adjust your puppy’s water intake to allow for proper hydration.

To sum all of this up, the biggest potty-training problems arise when you aren’t watching and giving too much water. These can easily be managed through an actionable process with consistent results.

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.