Potty Training Otis + Why We Didn’t Use Potty Pads

One of the best things about spring is that it’s the perfect time to bring a furry friend into your home. With the longer days and the improving weather, it’s much easier than winter to exercise and train your pet.

When Mitch and I adopted Otis, it was late October. In Sacramento [lately, at least], this just means Indian Summer. The days are still very warm, and the nights are cool but tolerable. We weren’t expecting much, if any, rain until late December or January. With Mitch never having a puppy before, and with me never experiencing a small puppy before, neither of us knew what to expect when it came to potty training. The Dobermans weren’t fully potty trained until ten months old [much of this could be due to the fact that they lived in an apartment for the first couple years of their lives – it’s a pain in the butt to potty train dogs in an apartment complex]. With this in mind, we ended up buying some potty pads for our new pup, just in case. We figured that if he had an accident in the play pen we’d purchased for him, it would at least be an easy cleanup.

Within two days, Otis made it abundantly clear that he would not be confined. The pen we’d gotten him was soft and collapsible, like a camping tent, so even for a tiny four pound puppy, it was easy to destroy. He started biting, tearing and digging in the mesh siding, screaming at the top of his lungs, and trying to jump over the top of it. The potty pads became fun toys to rip apart instead of using them for their actual purpose, so we ended up abandoning the playpen idea altogether. It clearly wasn’t going to work. [Note to readers: if you get a new puppy, don’t buy the soft, collapsible playpen like we did! invest in a pricier metal one – heavier duty and impossible for a puppy to knock over, jump over and destroy].

Without the playpen, there really was no reason to keep utilizing the potty pads. With as much traveling as we do, we didn’t want Otis to learn that it was okay to go potty inside the house – any house. We knew that between Tahoe and Capitola, and leaving the dogs overnight with family and friends when we travel solo, that sporadically placing potty pads all over the place just wouldn’t be an option. So, with this in mind, we decided to brave regular potty training.

Since I had potty trained dogs before, I knew that Otis would need to go outside at least every hour. And with his bladder being half the size of any other dogs I’d potty trained in the past, he’d likely have to go out even more. It didn’t help that in his first day with us, he’d followed Bella to her water bowl and figured out how to drink out of it. This meant he could help himself any time he wanted, and that we had to watch him like a hawk. While he did have a handful of accidents in the house, he actually did really well considering his small bladder. It’s possible that it helped having six-year-old Bella in the house, since he definitely learned from her how to tap on the door when he needs to go out.

If you’re considering adopting a small dog, or recently have, and are trying to figure out the whole potty training situation, here are a few of my quick tips and tricks from a dog mama who’s just recently wrapped up that portion of the training.

Tip #1: If you can, monitor water consumption and take the pup out to go potty accordingly. The more water they drink, the more they’ll have to go. Also, small dogs can be put on a feeding schedule just like large dogs – feed your new pup three times a day until he/she is about 6 months old, then wean off of puppy food and switch to adult dog food and two meals a day. Keep in mind that smaller dogs not only have smaller bladders, but smaller digestive tracts, too. They will likely have to poop within 20-40 minutes of feeding. Every pup is different, so you’ll just have to watch and learn your puppy’s tendencies. The bonus of getting your dog on a set feeding schedule is that this creates high food motivation, which makes training easier! Dogs who free-feed are less likely to care about treats as a reward for good behavior.

Tip #2: Get your pup onto a potty schedule. Be sure to make him/her go #1 and #2 right before bed time. You may have to wait outside with the pup for a bit before you get both, but this will help prevent middle-of-the-night accidents. When you get the puppy up in the morning, go outside immediately and give praise for a successful trip. Usually a high quality treat [aka something that gets your hands greasy and leaves a residue] will mark the behavior pretty quickly.

Tip #3: Try not to let your pup roam freely through your entire home right away. Block off sections or quarantine an area that is easy to clean up in case of an accident. Bonus if the door to go out is accessible from this area – it will make it easier for your pup to learn where to go when he/she needs to go potty.

Tip #4: If you catch your pup in the act of having an accident, quickly pick him up and take him outside to where you’d like him to go potty. Likely he’ll already be done relieving himself by the time you get him outside, but this will help to teach him that this is where you want him to go, instead of inside the house.

Tip #5: Consistency is KEY! Don’t ever give up. Puppies are frustrating and, as grown adults, what seems like the simplest task for us is literally not understandable from a dog’s perspective. They don’t speak our language, which is why repetition is vital to successful training. Smaller dogs can be extremely stubborn, too, which is why it’s even more important to stay strong when it comes to their potty training. They will eventually understand what you’re asking them.

Good luck to you if you’ve just adopted a puppy! Or even a grown dog from a shelter! It’s an exciting step to take in your life, and dogs bring so much joy and happiness to the soul. Don’t be fooled – they are a lot of work and take a lot of time and energy, but they are so worth it!


As always, please do your research before you bring a furry friend into your home. Find out if the breed and its energy will be right for your family, how busy you are and your activity levels. If you’re adopting from a shelter, learn all you can about the dog’s personality and its odd tendencies before you bring it home. The reason so many dogs end up in shelters is because people give up on their dogs. So few of us actually know that dogs become “teenagers” at roughly six to nine months old. They become rebellious, destructive and hyperactive. They seem to never tire, and completely forget all of their training. Almost ALL dogs do this! It’s important as a responsible dog owner to push through the hard months until the wild phase calms down. It WILL calm down! Exercise is important, and getting your dog OUT OF THE HOUSE. Having a large backyard to run in is like a gigantic cage for a dog. This is not exercise.

Also, be sure to socialize your dog heavily from six months to a year old. This is a prime age for them to learn social queues, and often times they can turn aggressive if not socialized enough or properly [aggression due to fear of other dogs, lack of social knowledge, or anxiety felt from the owner are all common]. If you are afraid to do this on your own, take your dog to obedience training at your local Petco or PetSmart – the trainers there are qualified to socialize your dog properly.

I am not an expert nor am I professionally trained in anything, but I’ve raised a lot of dogs, two of which have been an “aggressive” breed. I’ve done enough of my own research, both online and through trial-and-error, to know for my own personal life and that of my dogs what’s right and wrong. I’m always open to answer any questions you may have, whether it be food, training, adoptions, etc. related.

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