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Potty Training for Service Dogs

The Ultimate Guide


Potty Training for Service Dogs 1

The Ultimate Guide 1

Introduction 2

What You'll Need 2

Keys to Success 3

Step 1 - Commit to a Schedule 3

Step 2 - The First Day and Night 4

Step 3 - Follow the Puppy Schedule 5

Step 3a - Potty Break 5

Step 3b - Free Time 6

Step 3c - Training Session 7

Step 3d - Nap Time/ Puppy Parent Break Time 8

Step 3e - Repeat 8

Step 3f - Nighttime 8

Step 4 - Establishing a Strong Potty Cue 9

Step 5 - Expanding the Puppy Schedule 10

Tethering 11

Transitioning Away from the Puppy Schedule 12

Step 6 - Fitting the Puppy Schedule into Normal Life 12

Notes on Older Dogs That Aren't Potty Trained 13

Notes on Older Dogs That Are Potty Trained But Don't Go On Cue 13

Conclusion 13



Introduction

Having a potty trained dog is the number one priority for every dog owner I know. It's even more essential for a Service Dog, as they won't be allowed in businesses without a firm handle on this skill.

Being able to potty your Service Dog on command is extremely helpful, especially if you are traveling and may have limited opportunities to relieve your dog. Nobody wants to be waiting around for 20 mins, trying to coax it out of them, only to be forced to give up and spend the rest of your outing in fear of an accident happening!

We've raised more than a few puppies and have successfully taught them to potty on command, anytime, anywhere, within 30 seconds of hearing the cue. We've gotten so good at this, that our most recent dogs will go nearly instantly on any surface we indicate.

Over the years we have honed in on the perfect Potty Training plan, and now we're sharing it with you. This plan has many other benefits as well, such as: building a good foundation for loose leash walking, keeping your dog/pup out of trouble, and increasing their desire and drive to work with you.

This tutorial works best when started as young as possible, but older dogs can follow along as well, with a few tweaks. If you are working with an older dog that is not potty trained or if you are working with a dog that is potty trained but you’d like to have them go on cue, please be sure to read the Notes section at the end of this guide. This program also works best if you can be with your puppy at home during the day, but can be applied to those who work away from home with a couple changes.



What You'll Need

A Potty cue. "Get Busy", "Go Potty", "Hurry Up" are common ones, but you can use whatever you prefer.

Leash

Collar/Harness of your choice

Food Treats (kibble, hotdog, string cheese....)

Crate (Just large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around. We recommend purchasing a wire crate large enough for your dog as an adult, with 2 doors and a divider to start small enough and adjust as your dog grows.)

Toys your dog loves

Kong filled with kibble, bananas, peanut butter or other goodies and frozen. (We start with 4 so we always have one available)

Safe chew toys

Optional - Soft crate for your puppy's first few weeks (Very easy to put in your bed or on your nightstand so you can comfort your puppy during the first nights. Also convenient for the early car rides.)

Optional - Snuggle Puppy (From Amazon. Our favorite tool to help prevent separation anxiety)



Keys to Success

In order to succeed with this potty training program, it is very important to stay consistent. Certain behaviors from your dog should lead to the same response from you EVERY TIME. This helps your dog to know what to expect from you and makes the learning process go much faster. Pairing consistency with a structured schedule, tailored to set your pup up for success, at a pace that they are ready for, will give you amazing results.

Accidents and mistakes are inevitable. That's life. The more we can prevent those accidents, the faster training will progress. While a potty accident isn't the end of the world, each one means it will be that much longer before before your puppy is *Fully Potty Trained*. But don't be upset if and when your dog makes a mistake. Getting mad or frustrated is one of the worst possible things you can do during the potty training process. If you feel yourself losing control, the best course of action is to crate your dog and take a break.



Step 1 - Commit to a Schedule

One of the first things we do in our house (before puppy comes home!) is sit down and decide on a Puppy Schedule. Puppy Schedule rules our life for the first few months and I don't know what I would do without it! Puppy Schedule dictates meals, playtime, training sessions, naps, potty sessions, and most importantly break time for you, the puppy parent.

Being a puppy parent is incredibly tiring. I have found that not having to think about what to do next, as well as knowing that no matter what, a break for myself will be coming up soon, makes a huge difference. Building in time away from puppy is good for your mental health as well as puppy's! One of the bonuses of this program is that it helps prevent separation anxiety, which is really difficult to reverse once it starts, especially with a Service Dog that spends all of their time with their handler.

Here is the Puppy Schedule that we start with at our house:

1. 5 mins - Potty Break! Did puppy go? If YES go to Step 2. If NO go to Step 4

2. 5 mins - Free time!!!

3. 5 mins - Training Session

4. 15 mins - Nap time (25 mins if Puppy didn't go Potty)

5. Repeat



It's really that simple. Each "round" lasts 30 mins for at least the first few days. Puppies have small bladders and their muscles haven't matured enough yet to be able to "hold it" very well. Having a maximum of 25 mins in between potty breaks helps ensure that puppy never has to have an accident (and gives you lots of opportunities to reward good potty behavior and build in your potty cue).



Step 2 - The First Day and Night

We usually give new dogs a little leeway for the first day they come home. Now, this doesn't mean letting them run helter skelter through the home unattended. This simply means not being strict about the schedule.

We spend a lot of time outside (if you don't have a fenced in yard puppy should be on a leash) which lessens the chance of accidents in the house. Once the dog goes to the bathroom we spend a short amount of time playing and cuddling together in the house. Short as in no longer than 15 mins. Then back outside. I also like to keep whatever crate we're going to be using nearby and frequently throw treats (ideally kibble pieces) inside for the puppy to hunt for. This will help your pup learn that the crate is a great and wonderful place to be.

2 hours before bedtime, take up any food or water. Try to keep your puppy awake and active during this time so they are ready to sleep. I also like to see the dog go pee at least twice after I take up the water and before bed so I know their bladder is empty.

Unless your puppy is a miracle baby, the first night will probably be a little rough. Keep in mind that your pup has spent its entire life up till now, with its litter mates and mother. This is a huge change. Being alone is a completely foreign concept and it's your job to teach your dog (gradually) that alone time is perfectly ok.

We like to set up a small soft sided carrier with some soft bedding and a Snuggle Puppy inside as the pup's bed for the first little while (basically until they grow out of it). If you have the chance, have your puppy's breeder rub the Snuggle Puppy on mom and litter mates so it has their familiar scent. The Snuggle Puppy has a small motor inside that mimics a heartbeat, as well as a heating pack to mimic the warmth of litter mates. I've found it an invaluable tool in helping a puppy sleep through the night and remain calm.

For the first few nights I set the small crate on my nightstand so I can unzip the side panel a small amount and stick my hand inside to comfort puppy if necessary. Be sure to set an alarm to go off every couple hours to take your pup outside for bathroom breaks. You wont get much sleep, but this too shall pass.



Step 3 - Follow the Puppy Schedule

It's the start of your first full day together! Let's start off on the right foot and jump right into the Puppy Schedule. It's easiest to follow if you set alarms on your phone ahead of time, with appropriate labels to let you know exactly what to do next. Start with a Potty Break at your desired wake up time and end with a Potty Break at your desired sleep time. Make sure your dog has plenty of access to and opportunities to drink water during the day.

Let's Go!

Step 3a - Potty Break

Stash some treats in your pocket. Open the crate door and attach puppy's leash (and collar or harness if they aren't already on). In the beginning I highly recommend scooping up your pup and carrying them outside so they don't have the chance to pee on the way to the door. Carry puppy to your potty spot (choose somewhere appropriate and easy to access no matter the weather). Place your pup on the ground, hold the end of the leash with your hand at your belly-button, stand like a statue and say nothing. Completely ignore your pup but watch closely.

If they begin to eliminate, calmly say the Potty cue as soon as you notice. Try not to startle your pup as you want to be sure they finish. For a while you will be saying the cue at the same time that your dog is going potty. Gradually we will shift this earlier and earlier until you are able to say the cue first, then your dog goes. But for now we need to teach them what the word means.

As soon as puppy finishes, throw a party!!!! Break out the treats, shower them upon your dog, dance around, show that they are the best thing since sliced bread. If your potty area is in a safe enclosed space, feel free to remove the leash and let puppy spend the remainder of the 5 minutes playing with you in the yard. If you aren't in a safe place, keep puppy on a leash but play around.

You'll want to stay outside for the full five minutes, even if puppy goes sooner, because you can't be sure they wont have to go again. For example if they went pee 30 seconds in, they still might have to go #2 and you'll want to give them that opportunity. If your pup goes a second time, be sure to say your Potty cue as soon as you can then praise and treat your puppy!

When the 5 minutes is up (you should know from your alarm), head inside and move on to Step 3b.

If puppy does not go within 5 minutes, pick them up and skip to Step 3d.

Step 3b - Free Time

Free time, yippee!! Immediately after going to the bathroom is the best time for your pup to explore your home. In the beginning, free time will only last 5 mins, but eventually this time will be expanded. During free time you should never be more than 2 feet away from your puppy. Don't let them loose to get into whatever mischief they please. Use this time to socialize your puppy to the new sights, smells and textures of your home. If you have other pets or family members, this is a good time to have calm introductions. Show your pup where the water dish is. Introduce them to the stairs. Enjoy each other!

Even though puppy just eliminated, you can't be totally sure at this point that they wont go 2 minutes later. Because you have your constant eye on your pup and aren't more than 2 feet away, you are in prime position to swoop in if you see any suspicious behavior beginning. This includes circling, sniffing, stopping play suddenly and wandering off, etc. If you have ANY inkling that puppy is about to go potty, rush them outside to the potty spot. It's better to be safe than sorry at this point, and you'll gradually become an expert on your dog's body language to know exactly when they need to go.

If for some reason you are more than 2 feet away, not watching your puppy like a hawk and they have an accident inside... First, vow to do better next time. Then calmly clean up the mess with an enzymatic cleaner. It is important to use a special cleaner to effectively remove the odor or your puppy will associate that spot with going to the bathroom in the future.

Do not scold your pup, punish them, hit them with a newspaper, rub their nose in it, put them in a timeout, or any other related reaction. You want your dog to be absolutely thrilled to potty in your presence. If your puppy has any fear associated with eliminating in front of you, it will make pottying on cue nearly impossible. So the best thing is to simply ignore mistakes, clean the accident thoroughly and prevent it from happening again.

Ding! 5 minutes is up. Time for some training!

Step 3c - Training Session

Now is a great time to begin building the foundations for behaviors and cues you'll want to use in the future. In the beginning it's best to do your sessions in a distraction free environment (unless you are doing a safe and controlled socialization session), away from any other pets or children (unless they are helping!) Puppies have a short attention span and are easily distracted. As they build more focus can start practicing with more distractions.

Note: I highly recommend measuring out a days worth of your dog's food and using that as a reward during your daily training sessions.

Here are some behaviors I would suggest starting out with:

Learning to take treats gently

Name recognition

Recalls

Look at me/Focus

Loose Leash Walking/Lazy Leash work

Sit

Down

Settling

Handling and Grooming

Leave It

Drop It

Socialization



Obviously this isn't an exhaustive list, but getting a head start in these areas will really pay off in the long run.

5 mins of training is an eternity for a puppy (be sure to keep sessions fun!). Now it's time for a nap.

Step 3d - Nap Time/ Puppy Parent Break Time

Whew, you made it! Place puppy in their crate with a safe chew toy or one of the frozen kongs you prepared ahead of time. During the day it's best to have the crate placed in a central location in your home, preferably in the same room as you. Over time you will be able to move the crate further away to help your pup get used to being alone.

Hopefully your puppy will be content busily working away on their chew/kong and might even fall asleep. Take advantage of this time to take a break, do any chores that need attending to, take a shower, eat, or any other regular life activities that don't magically disappear when you get a puppy. 15 mins might not seem like enough time to get things done, but remember, you have 15 mins out of every 30 mins to yourself. Also, you will be lengthening this time very soon.

If you're at this step because puppy didn't go potty during Step 1, your break will be 25 mins long.

Step 3e - Repeat

When your alarm goes off to signify the end of nap time, it's time to start the whole schedule over again. Grab your treats and leash and head back to Step 1 for a potty break.

Step 3f - Nighttime

I like to change up the last few rounds of the Puppy Schedule before bedtime to help give us the best chance of sleeping through the night. These changes include doing away with food rewards, keeping puppy awake rather than napping and doing extra bathroom breaks. I want my puppy to be tired and worn out as well as empty before going down for the evening. Take up water just as you did the first night also.

You will want to set alarms every few hours at first to take your puppy out to potty until you learn how long they can hold it at night. It can be difficult to tell if your puppy really has to potty or if they are lonely and want to play. Give your pup the benefit of the doubt the first few times and take them out, but it should be just to potty. No playing, talking (except your potty cue), etc.

If you discover that your puppy is vocalizing at night but not pottying when they have the opportunity, you can start ignoring them (but comfort if you'd like by putting your hand in the crate and using the Snuggle Puppy). If your puppy has an accident during the night, make note of what time it was and set an alarm for the next night to take them out for a Potty Break before that time.

Set an expectation for "sleeping" until your normal wake up time from the beginning. Otherwise, if you let your puppy wake you up too early, you'll be setting up a dangerous habit. Continue pottying your pup but bringing them straight back to bed until your wake up alarm goes off. When that happens, start back on your daily Puppy Schedule.

Almost every one of my puppies has been able to sleep through the night after a few weeks. I consider nighttime potty training to be the most frustrating part of this process, but it's not forever! Soon you be able to look back and laugh about it.


Step 4 - Establishing a Strong Potty Cue

Hopefully you've been saying your potty cue each and every time puppy goes potty so far. This will establish a strong foundation, providing upwards of 10 opportunities to reward appropriate pottying each day. You will want to continue this routine for at least 1-2 months before changing anything.

You will know it is time to advance your cue work when your dog a) eliminates almost immediately upon entering the potty area and b) you have learned your pup's body language well enough to be able to predict with at least 80% certainty that he/she is about to go.

At this point, begin to incorporate two things into your program:

1. Provide new opportunities for your pup to eliminate on various surfaces (grass, gravel, cement, sand, dirt, wet, dry, cold, etc) and in different situations (snow, rain, dark, bright, hot, cold, etc). Even try having them go on a potty pad (start outside) just in case of emergency in the future. You'll want to prepare your puppy for pottying wherever and whenever they might need to in their career as a service dog (even pet dogs will benefit from this as well). Take them to the new potty place when you are 95% sure they need to go. When they potty, say your cue and reward like crazy!!

2. Start shifting your potty cue earlier and earlier in the elimination process. When you are 99% sure your pup is about to potty, say your potty cue first, before they begin. Keep your voice calm so you don't distract your dog and interrupt what they are doing. If your pup doesn't potty after hearing the cue, keep with your previous routine and try again in a week or two. If they potty after hearing the cue, throw a party!!!!! This is a huge step and you should be proud of both your dog and yourself. Keep saying the cue ahead of time, when you are almost certain they are about to potty, and stick with this for the next month or 2. Practice in many different locations and situations. After a couple of months, if you are consistent, I bet you could say the cue and prompt your dog to eliminate whenever you'd like. Give it a try. If they don't, take a step back for another month or two and try again.



Step 5 - Expanding the Puppy Schedule

The goal is to start extending the free time and nap time sections of the Puppy Schedule as soon as puppy is ready. While you could pretty much guarantee an accident-free experience by sticking to this schedule forever, that's not why you brought a dog into your family right? Here's how we do that:

Every day that your pup can successfully be accident-free, add 5 mins to either free time or nap time (Don't forget to change your alarms!). It doesn't matter too much which section you lengthen first, but we start with nap time at our house just to give our puppies a little extra practice with good habits. Alternate expanding nap or free time.

If your puppy does have an accident, go back to the previous schedule that they were able to be successful with. If they can make it through again with no mistakes, try the expanded schedule again.

Example:

Day 1 - 5 mins Potty Break, 5 mins Free Time, 5 mins Training Session, 15 mins Nap Time. No accidents on Day 1!

Day 2 - 5 mins Potty Break, 5 mins Free Time, 5 mins Training Session, 20 mins Nap Time. 2 accidents on Day 2.

Day 3 - 5 mins Potty Break, 5 mins Free Time, 5 mins Training Session, 15 mins Nap Time. No accidents on Day 3!

Day 4 - 5 mins Potty Break, 5 mins Free Time, 5 mins Training Session, 20 mins Nap Time. No accidents on Day 4!

Day 5 - 5 mins Potty Break, 10 mins Free Time, 5 mins Training Session, 20 mins Nap Time. No accidents on Day 5!

Day 6 - 5 mins Potty Break, 10 mins Free Time, 5 mins Training Session, 25 mins Nap Time. No accidents on Day 6!

And so on and so forth...



Tethering

Once your Free Time section reaches 15 minutes or more, I let the pup have the first 10 minutes of free time as usual, and any time after that I tether puppy to me using a leash around my waist. So if Free Time is 25 minutes it will go 10 minutes free time and 15 minutes tethered to me before the Training Session. The Ruffwear Slackline leash is great for this purpose as it has a very easy buckle attachment for the waist as well as the waist and leash length being completely adjustable.

Tethering in this fashion has many benefits.

  • It is great for teaching your dog leash manners and awareness of how to move with you.

  • It keeps puppy from getting into trouble and creating bad habits (chewing inappropriately, getting into the trash, jumping on people, harassing other pets, etc).

  • Tethering gives you plenty of opportunities to learn your dog's signals and body language.

  • Tether training teaches your dog to settle down and relax while you are taking part in activities such as working, eating, or watching TV.

  • It teaches the pup to respect your actions and leadership by being required to take part in activities of your choice and following you where you wish to go.

  • Tethering helps forge a bond between handler and dog that is extremely strong.

I tether in this manner until a minimum of 6 months old and if necessary pick it back up during adolescence (when a dog's brain tends to exit the building).

Transitioning Away from the Puppy Schedule

Once the Nap Time section reaches 2 hours there is no need to expand it any further. In fact, at this point, you can do away with the Puppy Schedule altogether and shift into your desired routine. Gradually allow your dog more off leash free time as long as they prove they can make responsible choices and do away with structured nap times. I would still recommend having the crate available in case your dog choose to nap there as well as utilizing it when your dog must be left alone at home unless they are very trustworthy.



Step 6 - Fitting the Puppy Schedule into Normal Life

Reality Check. It isn't always possible to spend the first 6 months of your puppy's life at home, focused on them 24/7, never leaving the house. In fact, that is not recommended at all. Many folks need to work to support their families, and puppies should be exposed to the world around them in order to become confident, well-adjusted members of our human society. That's just not possible with only 5, 10 or 15 minutes of free time at a time.

When necessary, go out into the world! Take care of the errands you need to and don't worry about messing up the Puppy Schedule. Bring your puppy on safe and controlled socialization trips to various locations a few times a week. Just put the schedule on hold while you are out and pick up with your alarms when you get back home.

If you must leave your new puppy or young dog at home alone for an extended amount of time, you have a couple of options. You can crate them and come home periodically to provide potty breaks or you can hire a dog walker/trainer to do so for you. You can also set up a secured and puppy proofed area such as your laundry room or a bathroom with food, water, chew toys and newspaper or potty pads. There are pros and cons to both options, so think carefully about which is best for you. I still believe that if you can spend at least the first week at home with your new puppy or dog, it will greatly pay off in the long run.



Notes on Older Dogs That Aren't Potty Trained

If you are dealing with an older dog that isn't potty trained, I would follow this guide just as you would with a new puppy. While their bladder muscles are mature enough to be able to hold it long enough, you will be fighting bad habits that your dog may have been practicing for some time. It is better to be conservative and expand your dog's freedom gradually as long as they can be successful.


Notes on Older Dogs That Are Potty Trained But Don't Go On Cue

If your dog is potty trained and you just want to teach them to go on cue, you can do away with most of the steps in this guide. Simply follow the instructions in Step 4 - Establishing a Strong Potty Cue. You may have to adapt to a longer timeline than a small puppy would have, because you a not starting from scratch.


Conclusion

There are many different ways to successfully potty train your dog. Some people don't like to use crates or tether their dog. Some don't potty their dog outside and prefer to use potty pads. Many people are more laid back about the process and others are even more strict and structured than we are! Every family has their own unique preferences and style, and we celebrate that!

This is the routine that we have found works most effectively for our household. We have shared it with others and they have been delighted with the successes it has brought them. Potty training can be a very frustrating process, no matter how experienced a dog owner you are. We hope, that by following the steps in this guide, potty training can be a painless and enjoyable experience.



Potty Training For Service Dogs 13


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