How Do I Deal With Toilet Training Accidents?

A pup stands beside a purple of liquid

 It will never fail: toilet training a puppy will always bring about a few puddles. The question, of course, is how do we handle these accidents?

To err is human—to forgive, canine. There is no puppy parent in the world who has not dealt with dog accidents. It is natural to compare your puppy’s progress with other dogs. However, this is only detrimental to your training and your mental health. How we react to our puppy’s pitfalls and accidents is an important deciding factor in how well and how fast they learn. Frustrations are common in the process, but it is important to understand that dogs may not understand the reason for negative reactions, and it can create anxiety or fear. Let’s understand better ways to deal with dog accidents. 

3 Tips to Prevent Accidents at Home 

Restrict access 

A puppy yet to be housebroken having full range of the house is a classic recipe for disaster. They’re in a phase where they have zero clarity about their designated spot or on how to communicate signs that they need to relieve themselves. Free access to different parts of the house will encourage them to pick and choose preferred spots such as rugs, carpets etc. Furthermore, the more accidents they have on a certain surface, the higher the chances of them wanting to keep going back to it. This is mainly due to ease of access to the spot and the enzymes latching on the surface that create a sense of familiarity for dogs. 

Lead your dog to their designated spot

For your dog to reliably start using a designated spot consistently to pee and poop, it is imperative for them to track it easily and walk up to it from wherever they are in the house. This will not only accelerate potty training, but also prevent accidents effectively.

The best way to lead would be gently with a leash or lure them with treats. Picking up your puppy and placing them on the spot would teach them nothing as they’d have no idea how they got there. So, you may continue to pick them up and put them on their spot, but you may have to keep repeating this process for a long, long time with little to no success. 

Watch like a hawk

Close supervision is the most important aspect of early potty training. Little puppies have little to no bladder control. Furthermore, in the initial phase, they may not be able to communicate the need to relieve themselves as effectively as an adult dog. Thus, if you miss subtle signs, your puppy would continue to have accidents all over the house. 

Do not let your pup leave your eyesight even for a single minute during the first couple of weeks of toilet training. If you’re unable to supervise, leave them in a crate or a play pen, where they are unlikely to have an accident. Reduction in the number of accidents is directly correlated to the speed at which your puppy is housebroken. 

Tips to Establish a Robust Bathroom Schedule

A robust bathroom schedule is the foundation of setting a predictable routine that your pup would love to fall back on. Here are some tips to help you get there:

Plan meal times and water breaks effectively

Puppies have a reserve of energy that replenishes and depletes at warp speed. This is primarily why they need to eat a lot more frequently as compared to adult dogs. Schedule meal times frequently throughout the day and make sure to not keep it too close to their play time or walkies. 

A puppy should have access to water all day long. However, this can throw pet parents off their potty-training game as it would lead to puppies peeing often at random times. It may be a little tedious to execute, but try and provide them with water during fixed times of the day, like once every hour, depending on their activity levels and overall weather. This would help you keep track of your pup’s bathroom times better and also recognize when he actually needs to go. 

Consider limiting water intake just before bed time to ensure a good night’s rest and cut out mid night pee breaks.

Importance of activity rotations and understand your pup’s body language 

Your puppy is communicating with you all the time, whether you know it or not. They are constantly giving you signs and cues about their physical and mental state of mind, including the need to relieve themselves. Some dogs may be more vocal, whereas some subtle. 

Observe your pup closely to thoroughly understand and differentiate between their body language signs and take them out as and when they need to go. As creatures of habit, puppies generally catch on to rotation of activities quite well and adjust their body clocks accordingly. Eg, their morning routine could be a rotation of wake up – pee – eat – play – poop - rest. Even a few days of sticking to consistent activity rotation will help your puppy relieve themselves at set times of the day and make potty training a cake walk for you. 

Take your dog to their designated spot frequently and smartly

It is a no brainer that if your dog is expected to use a designated spot consistently, they need to frequent it more, especially during times that they need to relieve themselves. Regardless of where your dog’s designated spot it – indoors or outdoors, make it a point to proactively lead your dog to this spot as frequently through the day as possible. 

There are certain times of the day when a puppy just needs to relieve themselves:

  • As soon as they wake up in the morning
  • After any nap of the day that exceeds 25-30 minutes
  • 25-30 minutes after meals and water intake
  • 25-30 minutes into any kind of physical activity
  • Last thing before they go to bed

Knowing these timings is crucial to prevent accidents at home and set a better potty-training routine for your pup. Take your dog to their designated spot as per the timings mentioned above and encourage them to do their business. This is how we combine hard work and smart work while housebreaking puppies. 

Schedule pee breaks more frequently during active hours

Physical activity, play, and excitement can stimulate a puppy's bladder, leading to increased blood flow, muscle contractions, increased hydration and panting which in turn cause increased need to urinate. If your schedule suggests taking your puppy out every one – two hours for pee breaks, reduce this time frame to every 30-45 minutes when your puppy is physically active and playing. Puppies are more likely to have accidents when they are stimulated and physically moving. Often, during such times, they may take the easy way out of just peeing wherever they deem fit rather than walking to their designated spot. Thus, leading them to their spot proactively when they are active becomes imperative.

Reward small wins

Rewarding small wins help in shaping the final behaviour successfully and a lot faster. In this case, if the final behaviour is getting your dog to use the porch potty regularly and diligently, start rewarding your pup for small behaviours like proximity to the Porch potty, taking active interest in sniffing and exploring it, climbing on top of it and finally peeing on it. Reward small and reward often. 

Positive reinforcement is often misunderstood as rewarding only the final behaviour with treats. In reality, it is so much more than that. Positive reinforcement involves using low and high value rewards for different levels of success, verbally and physically praising the dog for the display of every tiny desirable behaviour and lastly avoidance of punishment and rewarding what you want to see more of instead. 

A dog stands in a garden, head tilted in confusion

There may be a few reasons why your pup is struggling with accidents around the house.

6 Reasons Why Your Dog May Be Having Accidents 

Lack of proper training and consistency

Factors such as lack of ample supervision, failure to take the puppy to their designated spot regularly and consistently, missing body language cues, inconsistent routine etc. are all a part and parcel of improper training. Young puppies are like clean slates, thus, what we teach is what we get. 

The first couple of weeks is the most crucial time of a puppy’s life in terms of building a solid training foundation and setting crystal clear boundaries. If we fail to set a routine for our pups during this developmental stage, they usually end up doing it for themselves. 

Marking issues

The behaviour of marking around the house is a product of heightened territorial instincts. Dogs usually engage in this behaviour to communicate their presence with other animals and to claim a territory as their own. Hormonal influences, such as the scent of a female in heat, can also trigger marking. Changes in the dog's routine or living environment such as moving to a new home, rearranging furniture etc. can also contribute to marking behaviour. 

Underlying medical issues

Certain medical conditions, such as urinary tract infections or bladder infections, can lead to increased and out-of-place urination. This is because they kay associate their regular spot with pain. If you notice a sudden change in your dog's pee and potty behaviour, consult with a veterinarian to rule out medical issues.

Free range of the house

A young puppy having free range to the house will quickly pick and choose his most preferred spots to pee and poop. These surfaces usually end up being the rugs or carpets. The more your pup uses these surfaces to do his business, the more difficult it will be to house break him. 

This can be averted by limiting your dog’s access to just the area that easily leads to the designated spot. Make all of his essential resources available in this area and build positive associations with it. Crate training can also be a useful tool in keeping your pup out of trouble.

Improperly set routine

The routine that you set for your dog must be a healthy balance of your convenience and your puppy’s preferences and body clock. This may mean going through multiple trial and errors to figure out when your puppy is most likely to do his business, what are his surface preferences, what motivates him and what discourages him.  

Lack of access to preferred surface

Dogs are one of the most adaptive creatures on the planet. They can not only survive in a variety of environments, but also thrive in them. They are also quite expressive with regards to their preferences. You may have observed this in the fact that your pup likes to pee only on certain surfaces like grass or mud. Many of them wait to get to their preferred surface to do their business. 

Many times, it so happens that we make available a variety of indoor bathroom options for our dogs but they continue to pee on the rug. This is because they have chosen that as a preferred surface. To tackle this, the first thing to do is get rid of the rug temporarily. Secondly, if the rug is too smelly to use again, cut a part of it which has been repeatedly used by your dog and place it on the designated spot. This will encourage your dog to use the spot more often because of the surface and the scent. 

A copper dog sits and looks at its owner as he scolds the dog. A red x hovers over to discourage this.

Tempting though it may be, yelling and scolding are pointless, as they don't teach your pup anything.

4 Things NOT to Do  

Do not scold or yell at your dog when you find accidents in different corners of the house. This can scare your pup and cause him to be scared of you. A scared pup makes for a tricky subject to train. Furthermore, correcting a dog AFTER the behaviour has happened does not teach the dog anything, as they cannot connect past instances to present outcomes. 

Instead: Clean up the mess and move on. There is nothing you can really do if you come home to an accident or spot your dog’s mess hours or minutes after he has left it there. 

When you catch your dog in the act, do not punish your dog. A dog is at their most vulnerable state when relieving themselves. They need to be able to trust you blindly to continue peeing/ pooping in front of you. Punishing them can cause that trust to break and encourage them to relieve themselves in your absence. 

Instead: Use mild startling techniques such as a loud clap to stop your dog instantly and quickly get them to their designated spot.

Do not make a big deal out of accidents. They’re a part and parcel of puppy raising experience. It can be frustrating, but you have to know that your dog is not doing so on purpose to give you a tough time. It is most probably happening because the learning curve is not yet complete. 

Instead: Keep it low key. Making the whole situation stressful may make your dog feel cornered. 

Do not give your dog untimely time-outs frequently. It is advised to put the dog in the crate or the playpen when you’re unable to supervise them. However, giving them frequent timeouts throughout the day may disrupt their routine and create more confusion, which may in turn lead to more accidents. 

Instead: Stick to the routine. Even if your dog had an accident, take your dog to their designated spot during fixed timings to help in better predictability next time. 

Cleaning Tips for a Spotless and Stink-Free House

Cleaning up after your puppy can be a daunting task because the enzymes in your dog’s mess can be as stubborn as your pup! Thus, it is important to clean it up promptly so that these enzymes don’t latch on the surface. 

If it is on a carpet or a rug, make sure to blot (and not rub) the surface with paper towels first and then use a powerful enzyme remover that probably doesn’t smell as strong. Using a strong-smelling cleaning solution may encourage your pup to pee over in to off set the smell with their own scent. 

Porch Potty offers a stain and odour remover which works great for cleaning up accidents. 

Household products such as vinegar, baking soda, dish soap, lemon and warm water also work quite well on several surfaces.

Avoid ammonia-based cleaners as they can mimic the scent of urine, potentially attracting the dog to the same spot for repeat accidents. If you find yourself cleaning the carpet time and again, consider going for professional cleaning services to completely get rid of the smell. 

Lastly, if you're having difficulty locating old stains, use a black light in a dark room. This can help you identify urine stains that may not be visible in regular light.

In Conclusion

How we react to dog accidents is as important as the steps we take to prevent it. Our reactions can often make or break the training we provide to them. Our dogs must always be encouraged and motivated to perform and repeat good behaviours. However, it is important that they should not be scared to make mistakes or fail in front of us. After all, we are all they have. 

Siddhika Bhat, certified dog trainer and behaviourist and founder of Wag A Bond.

For more information on toilet training your dog, check out these articles:

Puppy Toilet Training Tips: How Porch Potty Can Simplify the Process

Innovative Dog Toilet Solutions for Modern Homes

Creating a Dog-Friendly Space in Your Urban Homes

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