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How to Potty Train a Small Dog: 10 Tips for Toy Breed Owners

How to Potty Train a Small Dog: 10 Tips for Toy Breed Owners

12 minute read

Small dogs, especially toy breeds and puppies, are extremely cute, cuddly, and adorable! It’s impossible to imagine yourself getting mad at such a cute pup until… your small dog has an “accident” inside your home. How frustrating!

When it comes to house breaking a small dog, there’s a famous stereotype: Small dogs are harder to train than large dogs.

Unfortunately, this stereotype is generally considered to be true. Puppies of large breeds can take up to 6 months to potty train. Compare that to puppies of small dog breeds, which can take up to 1 year to housebreak. To be clear, these are the worst case extremes on the spectrum, not the norm, but the timelines clearly illustrate the challenge. 

Why Are Small Dogs Harder to Potty Train?

One theory is that this is simply because of the small size of toy breeds. Because they’re so small, they might not think it’s as big of a deal to use the bathroom in the corner of the room, whereas a larger dog might have more awareness about their surroundings.  

Think about it: a normal sized room might seem huge to a toy dog. By using the bathroom in the corner of the room, the dog might think that it’s far enough away from its waste that it’s not a big deal.

Another theory is that because small dogs are so cute, their owners think of them as never-growing puppies or babies. The “cute factor” kicks in, and the parents are more likely to forgive the dog because of how cute it is. In other words, this theory suggests that parents are more likely to let a small dog get away with accidents compared to larger dogs.

No matter what the reason is, the reality is that it’s difficult to housebreak a small dog. It’s no wonder that so many people are wondering how to potty train a small dog!

why are small dogs hard to potty train

Potty Training Small Dogs 101

Fortunately, even the most stubborn dogs eventually learn proper house manners! By following these tips, it might happen sooner than you expect!

  1. Schedule Frequent Potty Breaks.

    The idea is to avoid any accidents in the first place. Because toy breeds are so small, usually 5 to 15 lbs, they have to use the bathroom more frequently because their bladders are smaller.

    Think about it this way: You’ve likely heard the saying that 1 human year is equal to 7 dog years, right? Well, if that’s true, then wouldn’t 1 human hour be equivalent to 7 dog hours? Even if the math isn’t exact, this helps illustrate the point that smaller dogs have smaller bladders, faster metabolisms, and a different sense of time. This means they’re going to need frequent bathroom breaks.

    This is important because the key to house training is to prevent accidents in the first place. If your dog realizes that it’s always using the bathroom outside instead of inside, then it will understand that your home is a place it needs to help keep clean!

  2. Use Enzymatic Cleanser.

    Whenever your dog has an accident inside, always clean it with an enzymatic cleanser. Not only will this help keep your house clean and smelling fresh, but it will also discourage your dog from using the bathroom in the same spot again.

    You see, dogs instinctively want to “mark” their territory. One of the ways they do this is by using the bathroom in the same spots. For example, whenever you take your dog on a walk, you might notice it pees on the same tree or fire hydrant or bush every single time.

    Similarly, if an accident happens inside the home, there’s a possibility that the next accident will happen in the same spot. By cleaning the area with an enzymatic cleanser, you're discouraging any future marking.

  3. Wait Until Your Dog Does Both in the Morning.

    According to veterinarians and dog training experts, you should always follow the same morning routine: Stay outside until your dog uses the bathroom both ways, urination and defecation. Remember, just as dogs need to learn to control their urge to use the bathroom inside, they also need to learn when and where it’s appropriate to relieve themselves.

    Small dogs will always need to do both things in the morning, so wait until both happen. If you don’t then this dramatically increases the odds of an accident happening inside the house. And yes, the dog may sometimes go to the bathroom 3 times before you go back inside – defecating twice and then urinating once or urinating twice and then defecating once. This is part of their learning process.

  4. Immediately Stop and Correct Accidents As They Happen.

    Unfortunately, no matter how good you are at dog training, puppies will have accidents inside the house. It’s bound to happen. However, the key is to always immediately stop the accident whenever you catch it happening. Better yet, it’s best to take your dog outside right at that moment. This will help your dog understand that the inside is a place to keep clean.

    Because dog memory is different from human memory, it’s only effective to correct an accident as it’s happening. In other words, if you attempt to scold your dog after finding an accident hours after it happened, your dog isn’t going to know why you’re angry. It’s not going to understand what you’re upset about, so it’s going to be terrified and frightened.

    Instead, this must be corrected immediately on the spot – and this is why so many people invest in the smallest dog training collar. Wiggle Kingdom’s training collar allows you to get your dog’s attention immediately, thanks to a remote control with a 1,000 foot range. This means that even if your dog is all the way across the room and down the hallway, you can correct your dog the moment an accident happens. Without the collar, your dog might have finished before you could get there – or run away in fear, making an even bigger mess.

    So for many people, the secret of how to potty train a small dog comes down to the tools that are used, in this case, a small dog training collar, which is also known as a shock collar.

  5. Learn Your Dog’s Body Language.

    Since dog’s can’t communicate through words, we need to pay attention to the cues that they can give. One of the biggest hints is body language. Most dogs have the same body language cues every time that they have to use the bathroom.

    For example, many dog owners describe their dogs as sniffing the ground intently, walking around in circles before they use the bathroom. So if your dog sniffs while spinning in circles, this might be a sign that it’s searching for the perfect spot to relieve itself. Bring your pup outside immediately!

    This isn’t to say that every dog will have that same cue. Some might paw at the ground, as though to dig a hole in the dirt for themselves. Others might wag their tails more quickly or more slowly than they usually do, signaling discomfort. Whatever their unique cue, odds are that your dog utilizes body language signals whenever it needs to use the bathroom. If you can learn your dog’s body language, then you can better recognize when it needs to go outside.

  6. Avoid Long Hours Away from Home. 

    This isn’t to say that you can’t have a girls night out or that you can’t grab a beer with the guys. However, you also need to take into consideration how long you can be away from home when you are a pawrent. The American Kennel Club suggests that any dog above 6 months of age should never be left alone for more than 8 hours.

    But for optimal health and comfort levels, most experts say that the prime time is no more than 2 to 4 hours left alone. Think about it: even if your dog can technically hold itself while you’re gone the entire day, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is comfortable. It might be convenient for you, but it can negatively impact your dog’s quality of life. Being pawrent means that you’re committing to taking care of your pup’s comfort as well.

  7. When You Aren’t Home, Confine.

    Keeping your dog in a crate will prevent any accidents while you're gone, and it will teach your dog to hold it for longer as well. Dogs don’t relieve themselves in their crates, because they understand that their crate is their “home” within a home. Remember, dogs descended from wolves and wolves had dens. Your dog will think of its crate as a den, so it will respect the territory by holding it for as long as it can.

    But it’s not just using the bathroom. If you are training to stop chewing on your belongings while you're away, then crate your dog whenever you’re not home. In other words, if you can’t supervise, confine.

    When picking out a crate, it’s important to pick out a crate that is big enough to allow your dog to comfortably sit and adjust its position inside. Your dog should have freedom to move and be comfortable.

    small dog potty training

  8. Teach Your Dog to Ring A Bell.

    Many people find success by teaching their dog to give a signal when it wants to go outside. The most common and easiest cue to implement is a bell ringing system. Simply hang a bell from the doorknob and ring the bell every time you bring your dog outside.

    In about 1 to 2 weeks, your dog will understand that you ring the bell every time you go outside. Most dogs will then ring the bell to see what happens. When this happens, be sure to let your dog outside immediately, so it can associate bell ringing with using the bathroom.

    Remember, this all comes down to communication. Since dogs can’t communicate with words, we need to figure out the best ways to understand them. As we stated above, one way is to understand your dog’s body language. But it’s also worth trying to teach your dog to communicate with you as well.

  9. Know Your Dog’s History.

    Is your dog a rescue dog? If so, you might be wondering, “How do I potty train my rescue dog without scaring him? He’s already gone through so much and I just want to make sure he’s happy.”

    Well, knowing your dog’s history is key to your process. For example, you might be more patient with a rescue dog, because you know it will have a harder adjustment process in general compared to a dog without any trauma.

    Or perhaps your dog has a medical condition such as diabetes. Dogs with diabetes need to go to the bathroom more often than others. This is just the physical reality of their condition. Simply knowing this would make a huge difference in how you care for your dog. So it’s important to be aware of your dog’s life experiences as well as its medical history.

  10. Be Consistent.

    No matter what you do, the key is consistency. Without consistency, your dog will either be confused or will never pick up on the cues that you are trying to communicate. Your tactics will only be effective through consistency.

    For example, if you use the smallest dog shock collar, then you have to activate the collar every time you catch your dog using the bathroom inside the house. If you don’t, then your pup won’t understand why the collar is going off; it’ll just think they’re random triggers. Consistency is what allows the dots to be connected so that your dog truly understands. 

How Long Does It Take to Potty Train a Dog?

In general, most dogs will be fully house trained in 4 to 6 months – but don’t worry: this doesn’t mean that your dog will be having accidents consistently for 4 to 6 months. The frequency will slow down dramatically, but you may have the occasional “whoopsie” every 3 to 5 weeks. But after 6 months, there should be no more worry of indoor accidents.

Now, it’s important to note that this is just a general guideline. Some dogs are quick learners, and yes, some breeds are indeed smarter than others. And other dogs may need up to 1 year to fully be potty trained. If your dog takes this long, it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong or that your dog isn’t smart or obedient. Rather, it’s just a different timeline because of a complex variety of intertwining reasons. 

To speed up the process, you may want to consider a training collar for your dog. A shock collar is an effective tool because you can correct your dog immediately. There’s no misunderstanding what you’re trying to communicate, as long as you trigger it consistently. For parents wondering if training collars are safe for small dogs, we recommend that you read our previous article here

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