When Potty Training Isn’t So Text Book

(That face! Adorable, right?!)

Like most new puppy owners, I have spent countless hours scouring web articles, books and social media posts for tips on quickly and easily training our new little bundle of joy to potty in the right place and the right time.

And while all of the hints and tips out there are quite common, and work for tons and tons of pet owners, sometimes it just doesn’t go as everyone says it will.

And as luck would have it, we just so happen to have had that exhausting puppy training experience, so I thought I would share that here – so that, if you’re reading this and you’re near tears or possibly pulling your hair out because you’ve tried everything, you’ll know you’re not alone! You can get through this.

I am the last to claim to have the answers, but this post will highlight some of the issues that occurred for us, all of our failed attempts, and finally when we started to see the light at the end of a very very long tunnel.

The first thing to remember is that your puppy is an infant, and then a toddler. It is learning, and cannot possibly be expected to just ‘know’ what to do. It has to be taught, but it also has to truly understand.

Second, your puppy is not a helpless baby. It is an animal. Driven by instinct. Desiring to identify and follow the leader. If you coddle your puppy, what you are doing is taking away its responsibility to learn. You have probably already read lots on how easy it is for us imperfect humans to see our little 2lb puppies and think “Baby!”. Stop! There is a time and place to ‘baby’ your puppy, but be patient… That will come later – when your dog already sees you as it’s leader, and feels safe with you.

So… We logically knew all of this before we ever brought our Yorkie home. We were ready to start being those perfect puppy parents with the best behaved dog out there!… But then – life happened.


She broke two middle toe bones on one of her back legs after being home for a week. So doctor visits, pain medication, splints… All of which kept us from developing a normal routine. I found it impossible to try to put any potty routine in place when we had to stop to wrap her splint in plastic and tape before we took her to pee all 700 times every day! Then, she wouldn’t have to go. Plastic wrap comes off. Sigh. It was tough.


So for the month that she had her splint on, we just put a pee pad in her pen, and we’re happy enough that she would pee on the pad and not in her bed.

But by the time the splint came off, she had an acceptable routine of peeing in the house on a pad. She had no idea how to pee outside, and still struggles with that at 9 months old (but it actually worked out… More on that in a minute).

The splint came off, Christmas, parties… and then in the New Year, there was her spay, and surgery to pull a couple of stubborn baby teeth… Sigh…And then at the end of February, we immediately moved into a new house. Add to that 5 weeks of contractors in and out of the house every day. There was just no routine at all.

We were determined no pee pads in the new house however so this little pee monster and us we’re going to have to learn some new tricks!

We bought a PetLoo – a step-up platform with synthetic grass on it – and placed it out in our garage. We would pick her up, take her out into the garage, and walk her down the garage steps to the Loo to go pee, but she would not indicate to us at all – no matter what we did. It was an on-going guessing game!

Crate training? Sure, why not. Started in a medium sized crate (she’s an especially tall Yorkie). Nope – pee and poo in the front of the crate, and sleep in the back. Then, come to the front of the crate – through her mess – to get to the front to get out. Daily morning baths and sanitizing our world. So, we tried a smaller crate. She would simply go, and sleep in it. Sigh.

Hang a bell from the door? Sure, ok. We tried that. And let me tell you – she is the QUIETEST dog bell ringer in the world! Sigh. Took to ringing the bell consistently after just half a day, but we couldn’t hear the damn thing. Double sigh.

And treats? Well, I have a ‘treat graveyard’ of every type of training bribe out there – hundreds of dollars of treats that were useless in actually getting her to indicate and go to the door to potty.

Adjust eating schedule – must have changed 4 times over two months – trying to time out day time potty breaks and avoid night time accidents. ARGGG! The hair pulling was in full force!

But then one day – it happened!! Momma woke up with this incredible epiphany about what she was doing wrong! By picking the dog up and walking it into the pee position, down the steps and placing her onto the Loo each time she had to go, she was completely reliant upon us to say when to pee, and how to get to where she had to go!

Light bulb, right?!? Gosh it sounds so simple to write, and yet it took me six months to figure it out!

By coddling the animal in her, I was removing her instinctual desire to learn and to do what is required for our praise. I had been doing the work for her.

My incredibly patient husband built an extension on our garage step platform, and we moved the Loo up by the door. The next potty time, I put her on the floor in the kitchen, said in an excited tone “do you have to go outside?!” And then started running out to the back door – which she naturally followed, all excited. I opened the door, had her follow me out onto the garage landing, and then tapped on the PetLoo with my hand (we still use pee pads on the Loo to keep it sanitary) – all while being very excited about it. Up she jumped!


Then before she had time to think about it much, I gave her a good back scratch, she shook it off, circled and pee’d!!! Since she had never been allowed (or given opportunity) to jump off the Loo before, I had to lift her front legs down onto the landing step and she came the rest of the way on her own. Back in the door, and a treat. Oh I was soooo happy!!!

In that one instance, I gave my dog two things – trust, that she could do what I wanted, and the opportunity to learn about her own instincts to engage in something that I, her ‘all-knowing’ leader was excited and happy about.

It’s been 3-4 weeks, and while we are not at a place where she gets free range of the house, she has only had one accident in the house (because we hadn’t taken her out in time), and we have started to allow her to be that strong, happy little pup, and not the helpless, constantly draining puppy that we had – not all her fault – the first five months.

She has been worth every minute, and I got this blog post out of it, lol, but hopefully our story will help other struggling pawrents to sit back, breathe, and evaluate how your actions are feeding, or not feeding, your pup’s instincts. They have to be allowed, and expected, to grow up. And once they’ve done what you need, THEN smother them with hugs and kisses, and tell them Auntie Jenn said “Good job!”

UPDATE: Shortly after this original post, we completed professional training with our puppy and found that by becoming the true pack leader and setting boundaries around the house, we fast tracked her potty training – she now asks permission to go potty! And the concept of alerting for this was an almost instant unintended side effect. For more on our trainer experience, see: