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How to Potty Train Your Puppy If You Work All Day

Updated on November 8, 2018
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinary hospital assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

If you are wondering how to potty train your puppy if you work all day, consider that your doubts are very well founded considering that successful puppy potty training takes time, close supervision and lots of patience.

Forget about potty training systems that promise fast results such as getting a puppy potty trained in under a week: most puppies take about 8 weeks or even longer to be successfully potty trained and this is with almost constant supervision.

If you are a busy person and haven't gotten a puppy yet but are considering getting one, you will need to carefully evaluate whether a puppy is truly your best option. Perhaps you may find adopting an older dog who is already potty trained a more feasible option considering that potty training when you are not at home is not an easy task. There are countless potty trained dogs in shelters or with dog rescue organizations who are in desperately in need of a home.

However, if you work full-time and have your heart set on getting a puppy or already have one, it is still possible to potty train your puppy if you work all day, but it won't be as easy as with puppy parents who have the luxury to stay at home or at least work part-time. Below are two main options for busy pet parents who work full-time.

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How to Potty Train Your Puppy if You Work All Day

In order to potty train your puppy if you work all day, you are left with two main options: 1) find a qualified daycare provider who can help you in the potty training process while you are at work all day, or 2) set up a safe, puppy proofed area with the floor covered with pee pads or newspaper and accept the fact that your pup's potty training progress might proceed at a slower pace.

There is a third option as well, which is delegating the pup to a backyard, but these latchkey puppies end up getting in trouble in some way or another. They may ingest things they shouldn't which can lead to upset tummies and even intestinal blockages leading to expensive surgeries and they may rehearse troublesome behaviors such as digging, barking, chewing or attempting to escape the yard.

On top of this, staying in the yard teaches the pup to go wherever he wants and, whenever he wants, which prevents him from being successfully potty trained when inside the house. Not to mention the risks of the pup being vulnerable to theft, poisoning, teasing from ill-minded people, weather extremes and potentially dangerous critters such as snakes, skunks and raccoons and even eagles attracted to small puppies.

One option is surely out of question and worth clarifying: you cannot use a crate to potty train a puppy if you work all day. Crating your puppy for the 8 to 10 hours while you are at work will lead to significant problems because this timeframe surpasses the puppy's biological capability of "holding it." On top of that, your pup has other important needs that need met. So unless you have a friend or neighbor that can stop by at several intervals to take your puppy out to potty, walk, socialize and eat, crate training is not be a good option for a young pup.

Yes, it is true that the use of a crate in potty training can work wonders because it's based on the a pup's natural instinct to not want to soil where he sleeps, but if you keep your pup enclosed there for too long, you will break down this natural inhibition.

This means you'll have to deal with a very unhappy puppy who is crammed in a crate all day, and on top of that, is covered in pee and poop. This is the last thing busy pet parents want to deal with upon returning home.

On top of that, these pups will resent being closed in the crate due to negative associations (for sake of comparison who wants to be stuck in economy class several days in a row for 8-10 hours straight?) not to mention they will fail to carry over the "clean den instinct" to the rest of the house once old enough to be given the free run of the house.

There are therefore two different options for busy puppy owners: one is a short-term confinement option made of several outings, the other is a long-term confinement option with the puppy having permission to eliminate indoors. There are pros and cons to both of them.

Crates Work Well for Short -Term Confinement

My male pup (Kaiser) by his crate.
My male pup (Kaiser) by his crate. | Source

Option 1: Get Help For Potty Training Your Puppy While You're at Work

This option works well for puppy owners who wish to crate train their puppies and teach their pups to go potty outdoors. This option is also helpful considering that young puppies need to be fed three times a day and have a fundamental need to move and stretch their legs for proper development and a need to keep their minds active so to allow those little neurons in their brains to create new important pathways.

With this option, the puppy should be therefore taken out to potty first thing in the morning before going to work, then he is fed breakfast, and then he is taken out once again before being placed in the crate. When placed in the crate, the pup should be provided with a safe chew toy stuffed with treats to keep himself occupied.

Then, a friend, neighbor, relative pet walker or pet sitter should swing by twice a day, first mid morning to take the puppy out, then out to potty again before noon, feed the pup his meal at noon and then take him out again after his noon meal (and hopefully exercise him again) and then stop by again in mid afternoon for another potty break.

Hopefully the pup can hold it then until your return when you should immediately take him out, then take him out again before his evening meal, after his evening meal, then sometime in the middle of the evening, then, right before going to bed and finally at least once or twice during the night or early morning hours.

An alternative option is taking the puppy to doggy daycare, a place where busy dog owners working 9-to-5 jobs can take their puppies and dogs. Dogs can be dropped off on the way to work and picked up on the way back. Staff will take the puppy out frequently during the day and will feed him is midday meal.

Although it may turn out somewhat costly, the advantages of this option is the fact that the puppy gets exercise, mental stimulation and even socialization through play with other puppies and interactions with staff and people dropping off and picking up their dogs.

Puppy owners who work all day may also be delighted in picking up a tired pup rather than a puppy who has loads of pent-up energy from being confined for hours on end.

It's important to find a reputable daycare that requires proof of vaccination for all of their participants, and has strict hygiene measures in place to prevent infectious diseases.

You can only crate your pup during an 8-10 hour workday if you can arrange for at least two bathroom breaks. One quick run home during lunch won't be enough, at least not until he is five to six months old."

— Pat Miller, Positive Perspectives 2: Know Your Dog, Train Your Dog

A Closed Off Area With Tiles Works Well as a Long-Term Confinement Area

My female puppy (Petra) by her long-term confinement area.
My female puppy (Petra) by her long-term confinement area. | Source

Option 2) Potty Train Your Puppy Using a Long-Term Confinement Area

One of the most common ways to potty train your puppy if you work all day is through the use of what Ian Dunbar, veterinarian and founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, calls a "long-term confinement area."

A long-term confinement area is a larger area than what is provided by a crate. It allows the pup to have space and the possibility to eliminate as needed. It works best for busy pet parents who must leave the puppy for more than a couple of hours.

A long-term confinement area is often composed by a sturdy enclosure such as an exercise pen, also known as Xpen, or the puppy in kept in a puppy-proofed room such as a kitchen, bathroom or utility room closed off by a door, sturdy boxes or a baby gate. Some puppy apartments are suitable as long-term confinement areas for puppies of very small breeds.

A puppy long-term confinement area is typically located on a washable surface for ease of cleaning. Tiles and linoleum work great. The area is lined up with pee pads or newspaper. Initially, you may find it useful to cover a large percentage of the floor area with pee pads or newspaper to set your puppy for success. Then, gradually, you can remove more and more, until your puppy learns to go just on a few.

Some puppy owners like using litter boxes. For pups destined to potty eventually outdoors on grass, puppy owners may find litter boxes lined with fake or real grass helpful so that the pup develops a substrate preference for grass.

Keep your puppy's food, water in one area and some interactive, safe toys and bed at the farthest corner away from the potty area. Puppies by nature (other than store-bought puppies or puppy mill dogs) are reluctant to potty near where they eat, play or sleep.

Newspaper training a puppy may seem like an economical solution but as with other indoor potty training methods, its main drawback is the fact that at some point, you may have to teach your pup to no longer go on papers at all. This can be confusing because at first you have been teaching your pup to pee on newspapers placed indoors in the bathroom or kitchen, and then, later on, you will be telling him that this is no longer OK as you expect him to potty exclusively outside.

Sure, there are pups who have been successfully trained to go both indoors on paper and outdoors on grass, but going indoors might not be longer feasible when pups develop into large dogs, creating lake-size puddles requiring an industrial mop.

There are several advantages to using a long-term confinement area. It helps prevent accidents around the house, it will help the pup learn to use a designated indoor area to potty, and it provides more room for the pup to stretch and walk around.

Disadvantages include some setbacks in the potty training department. Because the pup goes potty indoors, he may come to learn that it's acceptable to do so. Also, since the pup goes potty when he needs to, he is deprived from the opportunity to learn how to "hold it" as it may happen with the crate.

© 2018 Adrienne Janet Farricelli

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    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 days ago from USA

      That is wonderful that you always had someone at home to care for and train your puppies while you were at work. Pups in busy households struggle due to lack of guidance and this can put a dent in their progress.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      8 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for covering this important topic so well, Adrienne. I've been very lucky because there has always been someone at home to train and care for my puppies when I've been at work. Training them without this support might have been difficult, but you've shared some good suggestions about how to do it.

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