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12/13/12

Dog Indoor Potty Training

Dog Indoor Potty Training
Although most dogs are trained to relieve themselves outdoors, it sometimes makes sense to teach your dog to have an indoor potty area. This method is most commonly used by people with very small dogs, people who are unable to get outside easily due to health issues or living in a high rise and people who work such long hours that their dog can't reasonably be expected to hold it and wait to go outside.

Generally, we recommend indoor potty training only for owners whose dogs will permanently be trained to go indoors, since it can be difficult to train your dog to go outside once he's been taught that he's supposed to go indoors. If you work all day and can't get home to let your young puppy out, you may be forced to do temporary indoor potty training, or at least partial indoor potty training, until your puppy is old enough to hold it for the full day. We don't want to force him to have an accident, so we'll give him an indoor option that he can use while you're at work, but you should be sure to work diligently on his outdoor housebreaking program at all times when you're at home and able to get him outside.

There are several options for creating an indoor potty area for your dog. The old standby is just several sheets of newspaper laid out on the floor, or you can use absorbent potty pads from the pet store. You can also use a dog litter box or a tray lined with artificial turf. The pros and cons of each are discussed in the article "Indoor Potty Options". The general rules for training using any of these options are the same, so in the instructions we'll just use the term "potty area" to mean newspapers, potty pads, litter box or turf pad.


When teaching indoor potty training, you need to be very consistent and clear with Fido to prevent confusion about what area of the house is his "bathroom". Outdoor potty training tends to be clearer to Fido because of the obvious differences between indoors, where he should not potty, and outdoors, where he should. But with indoor potty training, you're teaching Fido to go potty in the house, so the distinctions aren't as clear. Your dog may have trouble distinguishing your floor from his potty area, so, don't expect Fido to just get to his potty area and know that he's supposed to relieve himself there. Occasionally you'll get lucky and your dog will figure it out right away, but, in most cases, you'll need to use scheduling, confinement and lots of encouragement to teach Fido what the potty area is for.

When training Fido to use an indoor potty area, you must supervise him as outlined in THOU SHALT SUPERVISE FIDO'S FREE TIME IN THE HOUSE, and you may want to use Umbilical Cord Training in the early phases of your training.

Choosing an Indoor Potty Area

Before you start training, you should decide where you want Fido's potty area to be. If at all possible, you should set up Fido's potty area where you want it to be long-term. Although not impossible, training him to use a new indoor area and to stop going in the original area he was trained to use is tricky, and you should avoid having to change the location of his potty area if at all possible. Putting Fido's potty area in a room with linoleum, tile or other hard flooring is better than putting it on carpet, since there may be occasional overflow or misses. In the early phases of training, if Fido's potty area has to be in a carpeted area, you may want to buy a linoleum remnant or waterproof plastic tarp to put under his papers or litter box, to prevent any overflow from getting to the carpet.

Since Fido will be relieving himself in the house, you should also consider the "ick factor" when choosing a location. Many people choose the kitchen for Fido's potty area, since the flooring makes training easy and it can be an easy place to create a confinement area. However, they later realize that cooking and eating right next to Fido's poo and pee is less than pleasant. This can work for some owners, especially those with large kitchens, but you will have to be extra vigilant about keeping the potty area clean or nobody will ever want to come to your house for dinner again! Other icky areas that should be avoided if possible include right next to your bed (you'll be awakened by the "stink alarm"), a small child's play room, a pantry or other food storage area and right inside the door where you greet your guests. Laundry rooms and bathrooms (especially if there's one that isn't frequently used by humans) are usually great spots for Fido's potty area.

Another very important note on choosing a potty area... don't let Fido choose his own potty area unless it's the same one you would choose. It's not unusual to see a potty pad right in the middle of an expensive rug in the living room or to see several all over the house. When asked why the pads are there, the dog owner inevitably says, "That's where he always goes, so we put papers down for him." That's not potty training, that's giving up!
Getting Started

There are two basic methods for teaching this indoor potty training. Read the brief descriptions below and pick the method that you think will suit you and your dog.

Indoor Potty Training Method #1 - Using a Small Confinement Area


This is the easiest indoor potty training method for most dogs. You will create a confinement area either in a very small room or with an exercise pen (which is a multi-panel gate that can be assembled to create enclosed areas of different shapes and sizes). This confinement area should be large enough only for Fido's bed, his food and water bowls, and his potty area. There should be no visible floor space. You may be surprised by how small this initial confinement area is, but giving Fido more space, even though it may seem like a nice thing to do, will only confuse him and slow the training process. By using a small area, we're encouraging Fido to make the right decision by using the potty area to relieve himself. He doesn't want to potty in his bed or where he eats so, because it is the only other space available, the potty area becomes a natural choice.

SAFETY NOTE: Fido should never wear a collar when left unsupervised in his confinement area, because he could get it caught on any number of things, especially if he attempts to escape. You must be absolutely sure that your confinement area is secure, as an escape attempt could injure or even kill your dog.

Of course, you will want to clean the potty area regularly and remove any poos promptly. This will prevent Fido from stepping in his pee and poo and tracking it all over his confinement area. Many people believe they have to leave the potty area dirty so Fido will recognize it as his bathroom. There's some truth in this... a trace of his scent can help to draw Fido back to the area to relieve himself. But you don't need 4 piles of poo to create a trace of his scent... leaving a pad or paper with a bit of urine on it under the new fresh one or leaving a few bits of soiled litter in the fresh litter in his box is plenty! Lazy cleaners may also find that Fido is such a clean freak he refuses to use the potty area if it is dirty, creating a housebreaking problem.

The confinement area is the only place Fido should be when you are away from home or unable to supervise him. When he's out of the confinement area spending time with you, he must be directly supervised at all times so you can make sure he doesn't have any accidents. You should take him to his potty area any time you think he might need to relieve himself, either because you're watching the clock and keeping him on a schedule, because he's just done something that can get the juices flowing (napping, playing, eating, drinking, chewing) 

If Fido is very young or totally new to potty training and he's small enough to carry, you might want to carry him to his papers for the first couple of weeks so you can prevent accidents from happening on the way there. Once he's matured a bit and is getting the idea, you'll definitely need to let him walk with you to the papers so he can learn the path he'll need to use to get there on his own later in training. As Fido becomes more familiar with the location of his potty area, you should let him go there anytime you see him trying to head in that direction. You'll need to follow him at first, of course, to be sure he doesn't take a detour or have an accident along the way. Anytime Fido takes himself to the papers to potty, you should fuss over him like crazy so he knows he did the right thing... treat him like he just won the Nobel Prize!

Once Fido has reliably used his potty area when confined with NO accidents for one month, start to gradually increase the size of his confinement area. If you are using an exercise pen, you can enlarge it by using additional panels or even getting a second exercise pen to attach to the first, creating an extra large pen. When Fido is reliable in the enlarged pen, you can use a closed door or puppy gate to enclose him in the room his potty area is in. If you are using a small room as your confinement area, you can gradually broaden Fido's horizons by adding on a hallway or room using puppy gates or closed doors. You can add a room every month or so, assuming there have been no accidents.

If Fido starts having accidents once you've enlarged the area, you've probably advanced too quickly. Simply put him back into the smaller confinement area, then try enlarging it again after a month of good behavior. Continue adding space until Fido is able to have the run of the whole house and take himself to his potty area every time he needs to relieve himself.

Indoor Potty Training Method #2 - Crate Training

he crate training method is a good choice for owners who don't have an appropriate space for creating a confinement area and for those whose dogs escape from their confinement areas. This method is also helpful for those whose dogs are not responding well to the small confinement area, such as those who are destructive when confined or who potty in the bed or food area instead of the potty area. It will only work for owners who are able to take Fido out frequently for potty breaks. Please see the chart below for guidelines:


6-12 weeks12-16 weeks4-5 months6-7 months8-11 months12 months and older
daytime1 hour2 hours3 hours4 hours5-6 hours8 hours
nighttime*3-4 hours4-8 hours8 hours8 hours8 hours8-10 hours
*nighttime hours assume that the puppy or dog was not fed or watered 3 hours before bed

Rather than leaving Fido in a confinement area with access to his potty area when you're away, you will be leaving him confined in his crate. He'll need to learn to wait to pee and poo until you get him out and take him to his potty area. To train Fido using this method, you should follow the instructions outlined in the crate training article, using trips to his indoor potty area in place of trips outside.

SAFETY NOTE: Fido should never wear a collar when left unsupervised in his crate, because he could get it caught on any number of things, especially if he attempts to escape. You must be absolutely sure that your crate is secure, as an escape attempt could injure or even kill your dog.


Choose an indoor potty area as outlined in Indoor Potty Training. If Fido is a puppy or in the early phases of training, his crate should be kept close to his potty area so he can get from the crate to the potty area quickly without having an accident. The crate can stay there long term, or if it isn't in a convenient spot, you can move it farther away as Fido has more control and becomes more reliable.

As with the confinement area method, you may also find it helpful to carry Fido to his papers for the first couple of weeks so you can prevent accidents from happening on the way there. Once he's matured a bit and is getting the idea, you'll definitely need to let him walk with you to the papers so he can learn the path he'll need to use to get there on his own later in training. As Fido becomes more familiar with the location of his potty area, you should let him go there anytime you see him trying to head in that direction. You'll need to follow him at first, of course, to be sure he doesn't take a detour or have an accident along the way.

When Fido is at least 6 months old and has been reliable about using his potty area with NO accidents for at least one month, you can begin allowing him more freedom. Assuming that Fido has no other behavioral issues that require him to be crated when alone, you can stop using the crate and move to confining him in the room that his potty area is in. You can gradually increase his access to the house one room at a time, using puppy gates, exercise pens or closed doors to keep him where you want him. Most dogs do well on a schedule of adding a new room each (accident-free!) month. However, if you find that Fido begins having accidents in his newly expanded area, this means that you're advancing too fast for Fido. You'll need to go back to the smaller area temporarily, then try again in a month if Fido's continuing to do well. Continue expanding Fido's area until he can reliably get to his potty area from anywhere in the house.

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