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House Training

Potty Training Your Puppy Using a Clicker

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Clicker training has become its own phenomenon in recent times.  It is simply an effective positive reinforcement training method.  Included in its repertoire is potty training your puppy using a clicker.  I dare say that the vast majority of puppies have been and will continue to be potty trained without using a clicker.  But, for fans of clicker training, there is no reason not to begin as a puppy with potty training.  In this clickertraining.com article on house training your puppy, note that there are many activities suggested beyond simply clicking and positive reinforcement at the time of elimination.  Study it well and potty training your puppy using a clicker can be your success story.

Behavioral health

A dog’s prior learning history is important, too. A dog’s elimination behaviors are a product of the environment in which he has been raised, and are affected by his learning history.

Pet shop puppies and other dogs obtained from mass breeding operations are often very difficult to potty train. Most of these dogs spent their critical periods of development living in their own feces, as well as those of their cage mates. Living in their own filth has been imprinted on them. It takes patience and persistence to teach these dogs more appropriate elimination behaviors.

Some elimination problems may be symptoms of other behavioral issues. Dogs with separation anxiety may exhibit destructive behavior toward themselves or property, or bark or howl incessantly from the time an owner leaves until she returns. These dogs may also exhibit inappropriate elimination patterns (often very loose stools). On the other hand, destructive behaviors or excessive vocalizations may be a reflection of boredom. In this way, a dog may be indicating that he requires more mental and physical stimulation. If you suspect that your dog exhibits signs of separation anxiety, the best course of action is to seek assistance from a qualified trainer or behaviorist.

Submissive urination and excitement urination are elimination behaviors that are directly related to a dog’s feelings about environmental stimuli. In both cases, the behavior that needs to be modified is the human’s. Tone down greetings to your dog or puppy. Do not scold or reprimand for the unacceptable behavior, as it can exacerbate the existing problem behavior. Just clean up, and continue to reward the dog for calm behavior.

Your behavior matters too, and may need to change. Don’t punish your dog after the fact. If you find an accident in the house, simply clean it up. If you did not catch your dog in the act, he is not going to associate your punishment with the behavior. Remind yourself to manage the situation more effectively in the future, and move on! Think of “accidents” as “mistakes,” because that is what they are. A mistake on the dog’s part, and a mistake on your part for not sanitizing appropriately, managing the situation, or providing enough opportunities for elimination.


A thorough cleaning of all interior surfaces where the dog has eliminated previously is necessary before re-training can begin. Be sure to use an enzymatic cleaner made specifically for the elimination of pet feces/urine. There are many appropriate products on the market; in our classroom we like to use Nature’s Miracle. (I’m tempted to buy stock in the company, as we go through gallons of the stuff!).

You probably have already cleaned up old messes using regular cleaning products. While you can no longer detect a smell, chances are good that your dog can, and that’s a problem. The scent of previous elimination sites can function as an olfactory cue for elimination behavior. Use a black light to locate elimination sites that require a more thorough cleaning. Residue of urine and feces will fluoresce under the light.

Recordkeeping and scheduling

Never underestimate the importance of good recordkeeping when it comes to training and behavior modification/management. “What goes in must come out,” and that’s particularly true here! Tracking your dog’s food and water intake along with his elimination will help you predict his behavior better—and manipulate its consequences.

Tracking your dog’s food and water intake along with his elimination will help you predict his behavior better.

Excel worksheets make recordkeeping easy…  Here you can track your dog’s consumption of food and water, his pre-elimination behaviors, and his elimination behaviors. Eventually, this detailed record will let you predict how often your dog will need to eliminate each day, and at approximately what times.

Over the course of several days, make note of every time your dog goes to the bathroom. In the first two columns of the worksheet, record the date and time each time your dog goes to the bathroom. In the third column, write “accident” if the dog had an accident in the house, or “success” if your dog went to the bathroom outside. In the fourth column, enter the letter “U” if your dog urinates, “D” if he defecates, “B” if your dog did both, and “N” if you took your dog out for a potty break and nothing happened. In the fifth column, enter what your dog was doing immediately before elimination: sleeping, napping, eating, playing, etc. Finally, in the sixth column, enter the consequences for the dog. If he went potty outside, did he receive reinforcement and, if so, in what form (food treats, party, play, walk)? If he went potty inside, was he punished? Was the mess just cleaned up without fanfare?

At the bottom of the worksheet there is an “additional notes” section. Observe your dog before he eliminates—what behaviors do you see? Does he sniff around? Scratch at the ground? Write down these pre-behavior indicators so that you know what to look for in the future and can recognize your dog’s signals for communicating that he needs to go out.

The last columns of the Excel worksheet are for intake recording. Dogs that eat on a schedule poop on a schedule. I believe that scheduled feeding times are preferable to free feeding for a number of reasons, one of which is the enhanced predictability of defecation. In the intake section, there are columns 1) to record the date and time of each meal, 2) to note if the meal was finished, and 3) to record the time/date water was offered.

At mealtime, leave your dog’s food down and available to him for approximately 10 minutes; then pick up whatever food remains. You can opt to use those meals as training treats or in a food-dispensing toy such as a Kong, Tug a Jug, or Buster Cube. I suggest that you make water available every hour, or every few hours, for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. Once your dog is eliminating outside the house reliably, you won’t need to restrict water intake (although I still do not recommend free feeding).

If multiple family members assist with feeding and potty training, they must also record data on the forms. Print the forms and put them on the refrigerator, where they can be easily accessed by all family members who need them.

After a few days, you should start noticing patterns in your dog’s elimination, and will begin to recognize his pre-elimination behaviors. You will see how many times a day, on average, he needs to go potty. Note approximately how many times he needs to urinate and defecate each day. Use this information to create an elimination schedule that will benefit all family members (two and four-legged!).

Reinforcement of appropriate behavior

Reinforcement is my favorite topic, and is sure to be your dog’s favorite, too!

When you bring your dog out to go potty, proceed immediately to the same section of the yard, and be as boring as possible. Ignore your dog, letting him sniff all around.

If he goes to the bathroom outside, have a party! The “party” may include treats, affection, praise, play—whatever your dog likes. Make sure that you reinforce the heck out the behavior you like. If you provide a consequence that is reinforcing to your dog, the behavior will be offered more frequently. And, if you click when he finishes eliminating, you can eventually put the elimination behavior on cue!

If he goes to the bathroom outside, have a party!

If your dog does not go to the bathroom outside, bring him back inside and put him in his crate for a half hour, then repeat the process.

There are scent attractants on the market that are supposed to attract a dog and make him want to eliminate in a certain area of the yard, but I have not tried these products. If you do choose to use an attractant, bring your dog to the scent post to start the potty process.

What about lawn spots? Always bringing your dog to the same section of yard for elimination will keep the rest of your lawn from suffering urine lawn burns. The best way to deal with lawn burn is to keep the affected areas watered well, to dilute the acidic urine, and to use lime to balance the pH of the soil.

Click here to read the article in its entirety and to access the referenced Excel spreadsheet.  It may sound like a lot of work; but, in the long run, the recommended planning and record keeping will likely save you time.  Potty training your puppy using a clicker can be the first clicker training exposure for your new puppy.  Have you used a clicker in potty training your puppy?  Please share your experiences.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. First of all I want to say terrific blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
    I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your mind
    before writing. I have had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting
    my ideas out. I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15
    minutes are usually lost just trying to figure out
    how to begin. Any suggestions or tips? Thanks!

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