Many people use an indoor potty for their dogs for some period of time. Testament to this is the fact that the pet products market is now flush with many varieties of indoor dog potties to choose from. To name just a few: Simple Solution Jump Start Pads, Patio Park, Porch Potty, Penthouse Dog Potty, PetaPotty, WizDog, Pet Zoom Pet Park, Ugo Dog, Potty Patch, Pup Head, Pee Wee Portable Potty, and Pet Loo.
Some of these products are developed for people who want a dog who is permanently taught to eliminate in a designated spot indoors. But, the vast majority of people use an indoor potty for just a couple of months or so, until a young pup has developed the requisite bladder and bowel muscle control to ‘hold it’ for periods of time in between walks. Before that, a long term confinement area, such as a bathroom that is gated off or an exercise pen can be used when you need to leave your pup for longer than you know he or she can ‘hold it’ in their crate. In this enclosure the pup has access to an indoor potty area.
Most people faced with the task of transitioning from indoor to outdoor potty training are those with puppies. In this case, the goal is usually to have the pup go from using the temporary indoor potty spot to eliminating exclusively outside. However, we certainly do hear from people who are faced with a more daunting challenge; Teaching their small dog who has been trained to go potty indoors to either now go outdoors as well or harder still to stop using an indoor potty altogether and instead only eliminate when taken out for walks.
When I meet with people for puppy lessons, I often start by asking them what their housetraining goals are. Those with medium or large sized dogs are usually pretty clear cut. They want their dogs to learn to go potty promptly when taken out for adequate walks and not to eliminate indoors. People with small breed pups are often not as sure of their housetraining goals.
In a perfect dog training world, people would carefully plan their long term goals for their dogs before they even bring them home. In the case of choosing a potty spot, they would consider that even if having a small dog go on an indoor potty seems convenient, it may not be wise to have this as a dog’s exclusive potty area since in the future something might change in their life that makes having the dog go potty outside preferable. This could be (amongst many reasons) bringing another dog into your family or having a new partner who wants the dog to go potty outside. In addition, going out for walks can be such an enriching part of a dog’s life (both physically and mentally) that it is a shame to not have this be a part of the dog’s daily routine. So, while one of the many reasons some people choose a small dog is due to the assumption that it will be easier in some ways, it is usually advisable for small dogs to be trained to go outside even if they are also being taught to use an indoor potty for convenience.
Aside from socialization, creating reliable housetraining skills is a top priority. The good news is, once you help your dog develop a strong habit of eliminating in a specific spot, they tend to be particular about going in that place. But, that also means that once you have helped your dog develop a habit of eliminating in a specific spot it can be a bit more of a challenge to change that habit once it has become deeply ingrained.
Teaching your dog (whether puppy or adult small dog) to eliminate outdoors instead of or in addition to using an indoor potty will require some diligent scheduling and time management on your part. Your main focus should be on giving your dog as few opportunities to be indoors with access to the indoor potty spot as possible when they need to eliminate. Instead, when you know they need to go, you should take them (carrying them out for the first few weeks is advisable, so accidents don’t happen on the way out) outside to an area of about 10 feet wide and walk them back and forth for five minutes without talking to them.
If they don’t eliminate during that time, pick them up and carry them back in where you will hold them for five to ten minutes on your lap before heading back out to try again. Be sure not to put your dog down as he or she may eliminate indoors and this will create a pattern of behavior where your dog learns to go outside, sniff about, and then come back in to eliminate. In most case, this in and out routine takes no more than a few repetitions before outdoor housetraining success. However, it is advisable that if it is your first attempt at getting your dog to eliminate outside, you should probably spend a week or two walking your dog on leash to his or her indoor potty spot before you begin transitioning to outside. This will allow your dog the opportunity to become familiar and comfortable with eliminating on leash, something many dogs who have been trained on an indoor potty spot haven’t done before.
During this transition period, also be careful not to allow your dog free access to roam in your house, even when you are home. Each time you do this the dog may further practice eliminating going on the indoor potty, which decreases the chances of a successful outdoor potty break. Instead, when you can’t give your dog your full attention, have your dog on leash tethered safely nearby or resting in his or her crate, in both case provide a couple of engaging and safe toys.
If you are attempting to eliminate the indoor potty spot, then be extra diligent about this. Once you remove the indoor potty area your dog may be so conditioned to going indoors that he or she will seek out other areas and surfaces that are similar to the old indoor potty area. These might be front door or bathroom mats or newspapers left lying on the floor.
It is also vital not to punish your dog if a mistake is made indoors. This is not likely to teach your dog much other than to avoid eliminating in front of you (the big, bad, urination and defecation police!). In this case, your dog will surely hold it as long as possibly when you take him or her outside on leash as you are standing right nearby.
As you focus your energy on being a diligent doggie time manager in an effort to help your dog learn to eliminate on a new surface (grass or concrete), in a new and potentially very distracting environment (outside), remember that it may take your dog some time to develop a new, strong habit. Your dog is counting on you to help them understand the benefit of going in this new spot (by offering calm praise and other rewards), and to help prevent them from going in other places you prefer they not.