Jump to section
Imagine bringing your Shih Tzu home for the first time. You absolutely adore him and you are so thankful that you found him. The first day with him is total bliss, and then after a great night of sleep together, you leave your new buddy curled up on your couch to go run some errands for a couple of hours. The errands end up taking longer than you anticipated--twice as long to be exact. When you arrive home you walk through your front door and excitedly anticipate being greeted by your new ten pound best friend. You do not see him so you take a couple of steps inside your home and put down your purse and bags so that you can go to find him. As soon as you look down to place your bags on the floor you realize why he has not come to greet you. You are standing in a puddle of pee. You grimace and kick yourself for giving him so much freedom in the house for so long. Apparently, your new buddy is not potty trained yet.
Now imagine walking into your home with a guest after being gone for four hours. You are surprised when your pup greets you at the door. You thought you had confined him, but apparently, you did not close the door well enough and he wandered back out. You nervously warn your guest to watch where she steps as you look all around your home for an accident. You are pleasantly surprised when you do not find an accident. It is at that moment that you realize that all of your hard work potty training since that first day when you left him on the couch, has really paid off. You proudly take your pup outside to go potty, and you praise him enthusiastically when he goes right away.
Teaching your pup where to go to the bathroom and where not to is essential. Very few people would have dogs as pets if dogs could not learn how to hold their bladders while inside of a home, or if they could not learn how to eliminate in only specific locations, such as on pee pads. Potty training is essential for health reasons, convenience reasons, general coexistence together, and financial and relational reasons as well. Many dogs are given up to shelters and rescues every year because of potty training issues. Although it will take time and work on your part to teach your pup how to go to the bathroom in the correct location, the temporary inconvenience is well worth the years of stress and inconvenience it will prevent and the years of peace and enjoyment that it will facilitate.
When teaching your dog how to use the bathroom, try to prevent as many accidents as you can by closely supervising him when he is not confined, by confining him when you cannot watch him, by following a schedule for potty breaks, and by closely following the rest of the steps outlined in the method you choose to use. The more accidents that you can prevent, the quicker your buddy will learn, and the easier the training will be in the long run.
If you do not intend to have your pup use the potty inside your home long term, then avoid the use of pee pads. Instead, if you are using the 'Toilet Area' method, then use a litter box with the top removed, filled partially with cat litter or a piece of grass sod. Because pee pads are made out of fabric type material, when you remove the Pee Pads in order to transfer the training outside, some dogs will become confused and use the bathroom on similar objects, such as rugs, mats, and carpeting, instead. It is best to only use pee pads if you plan to continue using them long term. Litter and grass more closely mimic the material that your pup will encounter outside, so they are more suited for temporary use.
Be patient with your dog while teaching this. Most dogs will not remember something out of context or after a lot of time has passed. If your pup has an accident and you do not catch him in the act, then simply clean up the accident well with a pet safe cleaner that contains enzymes that will break down the pee and poop smell fully, and then try to supervise your pup better next time.
To get started, you will need a six-foot leash and small treats that your puppy likes. You can also use his own dog food in place of the treats if he is very food motivated. You will also need patience, attentiveness, and something to keep track of the time with, such as a watch, clock, or smart phone. If you are using the 'Schedule' method or the 'Toilet Area' method, then you will also need a spray designed to encourage elimination. If you are using the 'Crate Training' or the 'Toilet Area' method, then you will need a crate that is large enough for your pup to lay down, turn around, and stand up in, but not so large that he can pee in one end and stand in the other end, away from the pee. You will also need a Kong or other hollow chew toy, and food stuffing supplies, such as dry dog food, peanut butter or soft cheese, a bowl to mix it in, water, a Ziploc bag, and a freezer. If you are using the 'Toilet Area' method, then you will need an exercise pen large enough to place the crate in one end and a litter box or Pee Pad on the opposite end with at least one and a half feet between them. If you would like for your buddy to be a bit more comfortable, then you will also need a chew proof bed to place in the crate. Finally, you will need a toilet area, such as a litter box without a lid, filled two-thirds of the way with cat litter, a litter box without a lid filled with a piece of grass sod, or a pee pad and something waterproof to place underneath it. For all of the methods, you will need attentiveness, patience, perseverance, a positive attitude, and to keep your mind set on the goal.
The Schedule Method
Get set up
To begin, grab lots of treats that your pup loves and place them by the door that you take your puppy outside to go potty through. Place them where your buddy cannot reach them. Grab a six foot leash and have a clock somewhere in your house where you can pay attention to it, such as on your smart phone, on your wrist, or on a wall.
Create a rough schedule
Decide when you will feed your puppy and when you will put him to bed at night. Try to stick to this general schedule within an hour as much as you can.
Take him out after activities
Ten minutes after your puppy eats, take him outside to go potty., even if he already went recently. Also take him out after he wakes up from a long nap and first thing in the morning, and after he gets very excited, and after he gets lots of exercise while playing or training with you.
Teach him what to do
When you take him outside, grab several of the treats by the door on your way out. Take him out on a leash so that you can keep him from becoming distracted, tell him to "Go potty" and allow him to sniff around. As soon as he finishes peeing or pooping, praise him and give him five treats, one treat at a time.
Take him out frequently
At first, take your buddy outside every two to three hours. If he does not go within seven minutes, then bring him back inside, and attach him to yourself with the leash, so that he cannot sneak off to pee or to poop. When it has been thirty to forty five minutes or if he is acting like he needs to go, then take him outside again. Repeat this process until he goes when you take him outside. After he goes potty outside, you can give him supervised freedom again for two to three hours before it is time for the next potty break.
When your pup starts to go potty when you take him outside and he is no longer having accidents in the house, then you can gradually increase the amount of time between potty breaks to every four hours.
If your buddy will not go potty when you take him out, even though it has been more than four hours, then purchase a spray designed to encourage elimination and spray that spray on the area that you wish for him to eliminate on, right before you take him there. You can also leave one of his poops in that area, so that the smell will encourage him to go there again. Do not leave more than one poop though or the large mess will actually discourage him from going there.
Give puppies extra trips
If your Shih Tzu is a puppy younger than six months of age, then take him outside to go potty every one and a half hours at first, instead of every two to three hours. Also be aware that puppies' maximum bladder capacities during the day are generally their age in months plus one. So if your puppy is only three months old, during the day he cannot hold his bladder for more than four hours, even while crated and under the ideal circumstances. As he gets old, his bladder capacity should increase, until he has an adult bladder capacity around eight months of age.
The Crate Training Method
Introduce the crate
To begin, get your puppy used to being in a crate. To do this, leave the door open to the crate and sprinkle treats inside and in front of it for your puppy to find later. When he is comfortable going into the crate, then close the door behind him while he is eating the treats, then let him back out when he finishes them. When he is comfortable with that, then close the door again, but this time leave it closed for longer, and sprinkle more treats into the crate every one to two minutes for up to five minutes. Gradually increase the amount of time that you leave the door closed as he becomes used to the crate. Also, gradually increase the amount of time that passes between treat sprinkles.
Add a Kong
Practice leaving your pup in the crate for longer and longer periods of time, occasionally rewarding him by dropping treats into the crate. Do this until he can remain calm in the crate for thirty minutes. When he can remain calm in the crate for thirty minutes, then stuff a hollow chew toy, such as a classic Kong toy, with food, and place the Kong into the crate with him when you first put him inside. Now, practice leaving him in the crate for longer and longer periods of time with the Kong, until he can remain calm while in the crate for one hour.
Stuffing a Kong
One way to stuff a Kong is to fill the Kong with dry dog food and small treats, and then cover the opening part of the way with a larger treat, allowing only a couple of pieces of food to spill out at a time. Another way to stuff a Kong is to place your puppy's dry dog food into a bowl and cover it with water, and then let it sit out until the food turns into mush. When it turns into mush, then mix a little bit of peanut butter or cheese into it, and then loosely stuff the Kong with the mixture, place the stuffed Kong into a Ziploc bag, and freeze the entire thing.
Take him outside
When your buddy is used to being in the crate, place him into the crate for three hours. If your dog is younger than six months of age, place him into the crate for one to one and a half hours instead. After that time has passed, then grab at least five treats and take him outside to go potty on a leash. When you get outside, tell him to "Go potty", and allow him to sniff around. Right after he finishes going, then praise him, and give him five treats, one treat at a time, and then take him back inside or play with him outside.
If your pup peed or pooped when you took him outside, then give him two hours of supervised free time. If he is younger than six months of age, then only give him forty-five minutes. After that time has passed, then place him back into the crate with a toy, and then repeat taking him outside again after he has been in the crate for one hour. If he is a young puppy, then take him outside again after he has been in the crate for thirty minutes.
Repeat potty trips
Repeat the potty schedule every day, until your pup is no longer having any accidents in the house, is going potty quickly when you tell him to "Go potty", and is beginning to let you know when he needs to go outside. When he is doing all of that, gradually increase the time between potty trips by fifteen-minute increments. Do this over a one to two month period, and if he begins to have any accidents again, then subtract thirty minutes from the time that you added between trips, so that he does not have to hold his bladder for as long.
Take him out often
When your pup can hold his bladder for a normal amount of time for his age, and will let you know if he needs to go outside, and is no longer having any accidents in the house, then he is officially potty trained. Congratulations! Remember to always take him outside after a reasonable amount of time. If he is an adult, then he can likely hold his bladder for six to eight hours maximum during the day, with trips outside every four hours being ideal. If he is a puppy, then he can hold his bladder for no longer than his age in months plus one. With one and a half hours less than that amount of time being ideal. For example, if your puppy is five months old, then he can hold his bladder for five to six hours, but ideally needs to go out every four to four and a half hours.
The Toilet Area Method
To begin, purchase the appropriate size exercise pen for your pup, a crate, an optional chew proof dog bed, a spray designed to encourage peeing and pooping, a couple of chew toys, treats, and a toilet area for your dog. The toilet can either be a litter box without a lid on it, filled two thirds of the way with litter or with a piece of grass sod. If you want your pup to learn how to pee on something inside your home long term, and you are not planning for your pup to pee outside primarily later on, then you can also use a pee pad placed onto something waterproof, like a plastic lid or litter box bottom.
Get set up
Set up your exercise pen in the area where you would like for your pup to eliminate. Place your crate, with the door open, on one end of the exercise pen. Place the chew toys in the crate, and a chew proof bed in the crate if you would like to add more comfort for your pup. Place your toilet area on the opposite side of the exercise pen from the crate, and then spray the center of the toilet area with the spray that encourages peeing and pooping.
Place your buddy into the exercise pen and pay attention to him. When he eliminates on the toilet area, go over to him, praise him, and give him three treats, one at a time. After he has eliminated, then you can let him out of the exercise pen for two hours if he is over seven months of age. If he is younger than seven months then give him freedom for forty-five minutes instead. When he is free, supervise him though. After the planned time has passed, place him back into the pen until he goes potty again. When you are not at home, then you can simply leave him in the exercise pen while you are gone, but provide him with something fun to do by stuffing a hollow chew toy with food for him and giving it to him. Also provide him with water if you will be gone for a long period of time.
When your pup is reliably eliminating on the toilet area right away when you place him into the exercise pen, is no longer having any accidents in the house, and it has been at least one month, then leave the door open to the exercise pen when he is free, and gradually begin to increase the amount of supervised free time that he has between potty breaks. Do this until he will consistently hold his bladder for up to four hours before you take him over to the area to go potty, or three hours if he is younger than seven months, or until he will consistently go over to the area on his own when he needs to pee or poop.
Transition to outside
When your pup will consistently hold his bladder until you take him to the toilet, or he will go to the toilet on his own, then remove the exercise pen if he is otherwise safe to be left unconfined in your home, but leave the toilet area there for him to use long term. If you wish to transfer his potty training skills to outside, then place the toilet area outside, and take him outside to pee on the toilet area every three hours. When he is consistently peeing on the toilet area, then gradually make the toilet area smaller by removing the plastic walls, then removing the plastic box entirely but leaving the litter or the grass sod by itself in that location, and then by gradually taking away the grass or the litter from that spot until he is simply eliminating on your yard.
Increase time again
When your pup will eliminate on your yard without the toilet area, then you can gradually increase the amount of time between potty breaks again. Ideally, your adult dog should be taken outside every four hours, but most dogs can hold their bladders for six to eight hours when needed. If your pup is younger than seven months of age, then the maximum amount of time that he can hold it for is his age in months plus one. For example, if your buddy is four months old, during the day the longest that he can ever hold it for is five hours. Ideally, he should be taken outside one and a half hours before that time though. Which would be every three and a half hours.
Written by Caitlin Crittenden
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 05/07/2018, edited: 01/08/2021
More articles by Caitlin Crittenden