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How To Potty Train a Small Dog

Updated on February 27, 2011

Let me just say I'm not a dog trainer nor have I read any books about potty training dogs, but I had one dog as a kid who had major potty issues. Well, she didn't have an issue about going indoors, but we certainly did with cleaning up after her. What I know is from experience- the good and bad. I didn't own a dog for a long time after that, but when I finally did, I had learned from my mistakes and every dog I've had thereafter has been perfectly potty trained, even my current chihuahua who hates our Washington rain, but still does his business outside. I've also helped friends and family out with their dogs as well.

Potty training a dog needs to start before ANYTHING esle! Puppies have short attention spans and that's why, for one week, you should not teach them any commands other than "Go Potty". New dog owners concentrate on the relationship and bond with their dogs, but end up so frustrated about potty isuues, it turns their relationship sour. Some give their dogs away because they can't potty train them. Play and bond with your new dog, but put potty training at the top of the list.

Best Tips for Training

1. Kennel or Crate Training an animal depends on their acceptance to one. It's not necessary in potty training, but it is extremely helpful. You can try it for a week or two and if you don't make progress, then eliminate it. Most dogs don't like it at first, but if you put the kennel in a family area, like a living room, then they will accept it better. Make it a happy place- put a toy and blanket in it, intoduce it to them with the kennel door open and let them sniff it out.

The benefit of kennel training is putting your dog in there during times when they might have to go potty- in between feedings or any time you are unable to keep an eye on them, when a mistake can quickly occur. I think kennel training works excellent early and along with potty training. If you can't keep your eye on your dog enough to read potty signals or they're the sneaky type, then they should be in a kennel. Kennel training is very useful for extended outings where you must leave your house. In a kennel, they can't get in much trouble or potty in the house.

2. One Command is best for consistency purposes. What worked with my dogs is "Go Potty". I announced this command upon letting them outdoors and when they actually initiate the act of going potty. Repeat your command EVERY TIME.

It's also helpful if one person does most of the training, but don't let a child be the main trainer. Not many kids have the capacity for consistency required nor can they read potty signs effectively. If you can't potty train your dog, it's because you're not being consistent.

3. Consistent Feedings lets you know when your dog will most likey need to go potty. Dogs can be fed twice a day- morning and night, but small dogs may need to eat more often. Within an hour of feedings, your dog will potty so be alert for signs like distracted sniffing or suddenly leaving the area where you're at.

A big mistake owners make is leaving their dog's food out all day. Chihuahuas get low blood sugar so if you must, give them a biscuit maybe twice a day in between regular feedings. The snack won't lead to a potty break soon after so you don't have to be as alert. Water can be left out all day, but try to notice when they lap up a lot at a time, which is usually after feedings. Try to feed your dog the same times every day. Small dogs have smaller bladders so they will have to go outside more often while training.

Tips for Older and Stubborn Dogs

Food is always the biggest motivator. So for old or stubborn dogs, use the peanut butter bell technique. I learned this from my dog's trainer. You can even start out with this method when you have a puppy, but it's extra work and you must stick with it.

Here's what to do:

1. Get a few golf ball sized jingle bells (craftstores sell them or other stores sell them during Christmas time) and tie them together with yarn.

2. Tack or nail the yarn, with the bells hanging from it, dog height beside the door in which your dog will go out to potty.

3. Put a small amount of peanut butter on one of the bells.

4. When letting your dog out to potty, first stand beside the bells and make sure the dog licks some peanut butter off, enough to ring the bells, then say your command ("go potty") and let him outdoors.

Put very little peanut butter on the bells, enough for a couple of licks, or else your dog will be using it when he doesn't need to go potty. I tried this, for the fun of it, with one of my dogs and he took right to it. He now only uses it when he is desparate to go out to potty. Eventually, a week or two, you will not have to use the peanut butter- you may not even have to use it every time either, just enough to condition the dog.

What Not to Do

1. Don't change potty training techniques every week or so. It's not the technique that doesn't work, it's the inconsistency.

2. Don't leave food out all day for your dog or give them scraps.

3. Start out using different doors when letting your dog out to potty. Until your dog is completely potty trained, use one door.

4. Do not punish your dog for making a mistake. Punishment does not motivate unless you are a criminal or in the military.

5. Do not use any indoor forms of training like newspaper or puppy pads, etc. If you are going to be gone for long periods of time, use a kennel or puppy pad, but no newspaper. Don't use any indoor methods when you are home and available for your dog.

Just remember; Potty training should be simple and doesn't need to be a bad experience for dog or owner. Consistency is the key. If you spend the extra time the first week or so of potty training, it will save you hassle in the future.


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    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 5 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Thelma~ I would keep a puppy pad (waterproof potty trainging pad) by the door so if you can;'t open the door fast enough or can't get to it quick then she can go on the pad and no mess...until she can hold it better. The trick with peanut butter truly works! use baby gates to block off certain areas of the house too. That way she doesn't have such a big place to roam and can't make it to the door in time. Just some more thoughts.

      I've had to do this a few times, but luckily have two awesome potty trained dogs, including a chihuahua which are supposed to be super hard to train.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 5 years ago from Germany

      That´s a great idea. I have a new puppy and I have to train her how to potty outside the house. At the moment she knows where to make her business but sometimes she can´t wait that she´s done her business before I could open the door. That trick with peanut butter is good. Thanks for sharing. Have a nice weekend!

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 8 years ago from The Great Northwest

      junebug~ I'm from Washington (the rainy state) and I have two small dogs which are notorious for hating to go potty in bad weather. The rule of thumb is a dog needs to go potty about an hour after food or drink so I keep my dogs in a kennel until that hour has passed and let them out. If they don't go potty, they go right back in the kennel. Then I give them another chance in a half hour, etc. They don;t get out of the kennel until they've gone potty outside. They are great about it now, they hurry to do their business outside, any weather. THe kennel is great for this purpose.

      trudyvan~ I hope it works for you. we've had great luck with these tips and so have our friends. It really takes consistency and dedication for about 2+ weeks, then they are trained for life with a few reminders on the way. Also, no dog is perfect all around. I have one dog that is a barker to the core not matter what I try, but he's a chihuahua and the breed has something to do with that.

    • TrudyVan profile image

      TrudyVan Curre 8 years ago from South Africa

      Hello there, TrudyVan here. thank you for the great advice. I will try it. I have a 3 month old Staffordshire terrier and that is the one thing she is battling with.

    • profile image

      junebug 8 years ago

      My dog (a miniature Dachsund) is trained...except when it is raining or snowing. She won't go outside, I've picked her up and made her stay out while I wait with her but she won't go. I've had to put doggie diapers on her which humiliates her but still she won't go out. I've put coats on her to keep her warm, I've tried it all and at my wits end....HELP

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 9 years ago from The Great Northwest

      RGraf- you are clever- that's great. Our chihuahua was originally box trained, but it didn't make sense for us personally because we don't have cats. I did have a big rabbit and two cats at one point in my life and all used the same litter box.

    • RGraf profile image

      Rebecca Graf 9 years ago from Wisconsin

      Very good advice. We got our dog to use the litter box with the cats most of the time.

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 9 years ago from The Great Northwest

      We all get a dog out of love, but the first order of business is potty training. It really just takes a week of consistency. THe last dog I got was a rescue and I got him during my college break so I knew I had nothing else going on, but concentrating on training the dog for a week. Potty training can really make or break the future of your relationship with your dog- nobody wants to part with a dog or be mad at them all the time for pottying indoors. Hope you do use this advice, I am very confident in it.  

    • indy cindy profile image

      indy cindy 9 years ago from Indianapolis, Indiana

      This is excellent advice. I bought a dog at the pound a couple of years ago and adored her ... but unfortunately, was inconsistent with both potty and crate training. My adult son now cares for her. I want a puppy within another year or two and don't want to repeat my mistakes. This hub will come in handy for me at that time and I have book marked it for future use. Thanks for the helpful tips.