How to Train Your Dog to Signal for Potty

How to Train Your Dog to Signal for Potty
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon1-3 Weeks
General training category iconGeneral

Introduction

It’s cold and dark outside, but you take your dog out anyway. You don’t want to risk him going on the kitchen floor... again. However, you walk outside for 10-15 minutes but to no avail. You head back inside and head up to bed. Sure enough, you walk downstairs in the morning and what do you find on the floor? A mess you don’t want to be described in graphic terms. Guessing when he actually needs the toilet is just a bit of a gamble.

If you could train him to signal to you when he needed the toilet you could prevent some of these unpleasant experiences. You also wouldn’t need to aimlessly wander around, hoping and praying he’s going to go. It could even make training him to signal to you about a variety of other things easier too.

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Defining Tasks

Many people may not bother with this training because they think it will be too difficult, but in actual fact, it’s pretty straightforward. The hardest part comes from initially conveying to your dog what you want him to do. Then you need to incentivize him to signal to you and reinforce the behavior so it becomes a habit. If he’s a puppy, he should learn swiftly and you may see results in just a week. If his toilet habit has been unchanged for many years, then be prepared to invest two to three weeks into the new regime. 

This training will make heading out for the toilet a quick and easy process. No more hanging around and no more playing toilet roulette! You may also be able to train him to signal when he wants you to open a door, and any number of other things, too.

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Getting Started

Before you can crack down on your pup's toilet habits you’ll need a few different bits. Poo bags will be an essential, so stock up! You’ll also need treats or his favorite food. They will be used to motivate and reward him throughout training. Some bells will also be needed for one of the methods.

In addition, you’ll need to be able to dedicate some time to training each day around his normal toilet times, for example, after meals and in the morning and evening. 

Once you’ve got the above, just bring a positive attitude and you’re ready to get to work!

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The Speak Method

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1

Teach him to bark

If you can train him to bark, then you can train him to bark when he needs to go outside for the toilet too. Firstly, you need to monitor him for actions that cause him to bark. Does he bark while your making his food for example?

2

Introduce the verbal command

Now just before you think he’s going to bark, issue a ‘speak’ command. As soon as he does bark, give him a treat and lots of praise. Practice this every day for a few days.

3

The command alone

Now try giving him the command even when he’s not in a bark inducing situation. If it works, great news! Keep practicing for 10 minutes each day. If it doesn’t, go back to using it when he’s already barking, it’s not become habit enough yet.

4

Toilet barking

Now each time you take him out to the toilet, issue a bark command just before you open the door. As soon as he barks, open the door and give him a treat. Practice this for a few days, he will soon associate barking with going to the toilet.

5

The waiting game

Take him to the door, but don’t open it until he barks of his own accord. Be patient, it won’t take long for him to realize what he needs to do. Once he starts barking each time, you can stop giving him treats. If he doesn’t bark on his own, return to the previous step for a few more days.

The Potty Bell Method

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1

Setting up

Tie some bells to the door handle that leads outside. Make sure they hang low enough that he can easily reach them with his mouth to make a noise. You can get bells from online retailers and a range of local stores.

2

The bell

Each time you take him out to go to the toilet, you’re going to use the bell. Secure him to a leash and then on the way out, hold your hand behind the bell with a treat so he has to knock the bell to get to your hand. As soon as he hits it and it makes a sound, give him a treat and reward him.

3

Toilet time

Quickly head outside for the toilet and praise him. Be sure to be playful and upbeat, if he think it’s all a big game, he’s more likely to use the bell again and repeat the behavior.

4

Be consistent

Every time you head out for the toilet, you need to make sure he hits the bell first. Over days and weeks he will associate the sound with going to the toilet. He will soon think of the bell as a trigger and eventually start going straight to the bell when he needs the toilet.

5

Lose the treats

After a week or so, start giving him the chance to go to the bell first. It will come, so be patient. Once he does start heading for the bell when he needs the toilet, you can stop giving him treats. He will officially have his toilet signal!

The Leash Method

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Place in the mouth

Before you take him out to the toilet, play with the leash around his mouth, a bit like a game of tug and war. When he holds onto it, give him some praise and encouragement. Then head outside and let him go about his business.

2

A couple of steps back

After a couple of days, place it in his mouth again, but now walk a few steps back and encourage him to come over to you. As soon as he does, give him a treat and praise. Repeat this for a few more days.

3

Increase the distance

Now as before, place the leash in his mouth, but this time leave the room and call him over. Once he finds you with the leash in his mouth still, give him the same tasty reward. You are slowly teaching him to bring the leash to you.

4

The big step

After several days when you think he’s got the hang of it, it’s time to make him think on his own four feet. Wait for him to bring the leash to you. He will now have made the connection between bringing you the leash and going to the toilet. For the first couple of days, stay close to him around toilet time to make it easier and so you can encourage him. Remember to reward him each time he completes the signal successfully.

5

Lose the reward

When he’s finally got the hang of it, which may take a week or two, you can stop giving him treats altogether. By this point he’ll understand what bringing you the leash means and going to the toilet will be reward enough.

By James Barra

Published: 10/18/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Teddy bear

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Poodle

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4 Months

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Question

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He wants to play instead of going potty outside, he now plays with his leash when I'm taking him out, he grabs his leash and plays with it I even got another harness where the the leash would be further back but he still grabs it and plays, I bring him inside after 20 minutes of standing outside and then he pees or poops

May 4, 2022

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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Hello Rachel, When pup grabs the leash, pull the leash toward pup, so that it's like a horse bridle hitting the spot where pup's jaws meet in the back of his mouth. That spot is sensitive and pups will generally then spit the leash out of their mouth themselves. Keep your response calm. Pup will probably act like the leash is a snake and bite it again, repeat the same thing each time pup grabs it until pup decides this game isn't fun anymore and stops biting the leash. When pup doesn't go potty while outside, crate pup for thirty minutes, then take pup back outside again after the thirty minutes are up, repeating the trips outside and crating until pup finally goes potty. Reward pup with a treat when they do go potty outside (keeping the treat hidden until after pup goes so they don't just fixate on that). Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

May 4, 2022

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Joy

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toy poodle

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5 Months

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We can’t figure out when she needs to go outside to potty. Tried using a bell hanging from the door. We take her to the same place to potty every time. She goes when we take her out but she will also go in the house sometimes an hour after she’s been out. She doesn’t have heath issues or urinary tract infection. Also she doesn't respond to the command to come. She will respond to her name when we cal her but won’t come unless we offer a treat.

March 5, 2022

Joy's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Paula, First, for the Come, check out the Come article I have linked below. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/train-dog-to-come-when-called/ For the potty training, if pup isn't already crate trained I would do that. I would crate pup when you are away, can't supervise, and at night. When you are home, when it's been at least 45 minutes since pup last went potty, I would tether pup to yourself with a hands free leash or crate pup, until it's been 2 hours - at which point pup needs to be taken outside again. If pup acts like they need to go while tethered to you - whining, pulling away, sniffing, circling, squatting, barking at you, ect...Take pup outside sooner. Go with pup when you take them out, walking them around slowly, telling them to "Go Potty" and rewarding with 1-4 small treats, one at a time, when pup goes potty outside. I would strictly follow the above rules for at least three months, or until pup has been completely accident free for at least two months. Often in situations like these pup is being given more freedom than they are ready for. All the accidents that happen due to freedom keep pup from progressing further with potty training. Often a dog won't be motivated to alert that they need to go potty outside- even with a bell, until they associate the home with cleanliness and have built a habit of keeping it clean. That habit happens through preventing accidents for an extended period of time. Once pup has built a habit of keeping the home clean, then that's when you see dogs start to ask to go outside on their own more often. Usually that takes place about three months after the dog is fully potty trained - where you maintain their scheduled potty trips and they are accident free with your help. When someone defines a dog as being potty trained, often what they mean is that the dog doesn't have accidents so long as you stick to a potty schedule, not that they alert on their own just yet necessarily. To get to that initial point where pup will wait until the scheduled potty trip to go outside, there needs to be strict prevention of accidents through managing pup's freedom and schedule for an extended amount of time. I hope that helps, Best of luck training! Caitlin Crittenden

March 7, 2022


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