How to Train Your Dog to Go to the Bathroom on Command
Get Your Dog to Go Potty on Command
Are you the type of person who will be late for work because you anxiously walk the dog for 20 to 30 minutes while it stops and sniffs at everything before doing its business. If so, your dog is actually taking you for a walk, and you can break this cycle and make both walks and potty times more enjoyable for everyone.
That said, it's not easy to do this. It requires absolute consistency and cooperation between everyone in the house. But, then again, not much in life that’s worthwhile is easy.
The longer you and your dog have been doing this current walk-potty-home routine, the longer it will probably take to un-train the dog from doing it, so be patient.
Successfully Separating Two Very Different Activities
If this method works for you and your dog, which it will with almost all dogs as long as you are very consistent from now on, you will have successfully de-coupled two very different activities with your dog: going to the bathroom (a necessity) and going for a walk (Fun!).
Service Dog Fact
Most service dogs are trained this way and taught to go to the bathroom on any surface specified, including concrete/tar outdoors—even indoors on "pee pads" (available from pet supply shops)—upon the owner's command.
Even Old Dogs Can Learn This
Although dogs learn at different rates, even old dogs can learn this "new trick". After a matter of days you'll probably be able to stop kenneling the dog (because it will always "go" at the appropriate place and time) and about a week after that you can stop giving treats to the dog and simply give it lots of praise and petting.
Consistency is the key to success, so keeping that special potty leash next to the door you use to go out is important. I use hooks to hang leashes by every exit door in case of escapes and to ensure that the routine leashes are available at the appropriate doors for going to the bathroom versus going for a walk versus going on a trip ("shopping").
Do Not Walk the Dog to Get It to "Go Potty!"
Don't walk the dog just to get it to go potty. This is setting yourself up for failure if you need to leave the house in a hurry because you will have trained the dog that, the minute they go potty on their walk, the walk is over; so, they'll try to "hold it" as long as possible, sometimes making you late and frustrated, just to extend their walk.
Always give the dog an opportunity to go potty before you leave the house, regardless of how long it has been since the dog last went to the bathroom. Who knows when you'll get stuck in a traffic jam, checkout line, or other delay in whatever errand you were running. It also sets a good routine for the dog that you care for it and are leaving but will return—this reduces separation anxiety.
The Potty-Training Process Used by Most Folks Who Train Service Dogs
At a routine potty time, put the dog on a 4-6 foot, non-retracting leash—you may even want to buy a special, very different-looking leash just for this purpose to reinforce in the dog's mind what is going to happen--something friendly looking in bright colors, not a chain or other boring leash.
Choose a desired and legal place (preferably on your own property) for the dog to go to the bathroom from now on, and take the dog there. Do this even/especially if you have a fenced-in yard. Think how much time you'll save before each mowing if you can skip the step of sweeping the whole yard for solid animal waste!
Potty Area Tip
Your yard will die if you have grass in the designated potty place, so it's best to create a small rock area for the dog to use that is away from the doors and windows to your house (and neighbors' houses, of course). This prevents odors and germs from entering your house when windows are open in the summer.
Also, use pea gravel or another small-sized rock to keep the potty area from hurting the dog's paws. Don't use sand, otherwise all of the cats in the neighborhood will be using your dog's potty area, too! If you’re very creative, turn part of the potty area into a rock garden, perhaps with a small fountain.
Once you're at the potty place, just stop and say "[Dog's Name], go potty" (or whatever your normal command is) in a high, pleasant but commanding voice.
Don't move from where you're standing from that point forward, and don't let the dog pull or coax you away from your standing spot. Bend your knees and stand with your feet a little apart at right angles if you have a strong puller to keep from losing your balance.
The dog must go to the bathroom within the confines you've established by choosing the spot, using a short leash to keep the dog there, and refusing to budge if the dog attempts to dally in doing its business or tries to "travel" away from that spot.
Note that they can, however, use the leash in any direction around you (360 degrees) if they wish, though in my experience they develop a habit fairly quickly and don't try to run circles around you.
Wear garden shoes that are easy to clean when you take the dog out to the potty area, and leave the shoes just outside the door to prevent tracking muck into your house.
Give the dog about one minute, immediately giving the command "[Dog's Name], go potty!" in a high, excited voice.
Note that you should only give this command once, otherwise the dog will learn to delay, and be sure to begin each actual command with the dog's name so that it knows you are talking to it and that a command will immediately follow their name.
It's okay, in the early days especially, to occasionally reassure the dog that, "This is a good place to go potty", and "You're a good dog. Go potty!"
After only a minute or two of an otherwise-obedient adult dog ignoring you, take the dog back inside and put it in its kennel without a word and with no access to toys, freedom, food, or water. Set a timer for 15 minutes, and remember to listen for it and immediately act on it (your dog can hear that timer, too, regardless of where they are located in the house)!
Repeat the above steps as many times as it takes for your dog to get the clue that you're expecting it to eliminate in your designated area on your cue command. They will understand you—studies show that most dogs have the vocabulary (and perhaps comprehension and naughtiness) of a 2.5-year-old child.
Once the dog does its business in the appropriate place and time, say "Yes!" immediately, dole out the praise lavishly in an excited voice, pet the dog, and, if your dog is motivated by treats, immediately feed the dog a very high-value (good tasting and probably bad smelling to us) training treat (not a dog biscuit, just a tiny piece of training treat that is low in calories). Have a potty party!
Now go back inside with the dog, leaving the dog outside of its kennel to roam and play, nap and cuddle as usual.
The "No Potty" Command
Tip: I'm currently training my dog the "No potty" command when it's clear that she's headed for a neighbor's yard or other inappropriate place to do her business. Depending on how badly she needs to go, she usually does obey this command. I'm not advocating torturing dogs here, though: if they really need to go, try to find a boulevard area and let them go potty on the walk anyway--if you've gotta go, you've gotta go.
Take Your Dog for a Walk—An Important Final Step
After awhile—15-30 minutes—call the dog ("Dog'sName, Come!" in a pleasant, commanding voice), put on whatever leash it regularly uses for walks (and perhaps a nice bandana, too—applied with a lot of praise so that the dog sees the bandana as a good thing, not a punishment) and then go for a nice, medium-length walk. This reassures the dog that it will still get plenty of outdoor time with you and regular walks. Be sure to take baggies "just in case," and remember to say, "Ooops!" in a high, "happy" voice if the dog accidentally goes potty on the walk, and reassure the dog that, "That's okay, accidents happen." Don't punish the dog, always keep walks fun and friendly, just make it clear in your words and tone of voice that walking is not potty time. Other people and their yards will thank you for that, too!
Rinse and Repeat: Practice Makes Perfect with All Dogs
As another typical potty time approaches, kennel the dog in advance, set a timer for 15 minutes again, then take the dog out to the same spot and repeat that whole process again.
It will take a few days to a week, and a lot of patience and frustration on your part, but your dog will begin to respect your authority more—showing greater obedience—being now dependent on you for food as well as elimination of it.
The New Dog Walk: Quality Time, Not Potty Time
Once you have trained your dog to go potty on command, completely separate from walking the dog, you and the dog will enjoy the lower-stress walks much more.
Walks are SO much less stressful when the dog isn't afraid of being taken back indoors the minute it does its business! Wouldn't you be?
For example, if you are leaving for an appointment and are used to walking the dog to get it to go to the bathroom your stress about being late is not travelling down the leash to the dog. In fact, you'll both enjoy walks more (and you'll be carrying fewer and fewer baggies).
Even if the dog eliminates on a walk (which you must still be prepared for by bringing baggies), be sure to continue the walk and make sure that the dog knows that this is your quality time together and it is not dependent on—or related to—elimination.
Minor Modification to This Process for Puppies
If you have a puppy, this whole process still works. In fact, it will likely work better and faster, too. Simply reduce the kennel waiting time to, say, 3-5 minutes between the times when you take the puppy out and cue it to "[Dog's Name], go potty!" and when you give up and bring the puppy back in, unsuccessfully, to its kennel.
If you have a dog...
Have you tried this method following the instructions faithfully?
If you answered "Yes" or "Mostly" to the question above, did it work?
All text, photos, videos, and graphics in this document are Copyright © 2013 Laura D. Schneider unless indicated otherwise or unless in the public domain. All rights reserved. All trademarks and service marks are the property of their respective owners.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.