Teaching a dog to take potty breaks outside is easy to do with these simple tips.

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Chihuahua going potty in the backyard
Credit: schulzie / Getty

Teaching a dog of any age to go potty outside seems like a daunting task for first-time dog owners … or anyone that's adding a new four-legged friend to their family. And although it may seem natural to us humans that dogs use the outside as a bathroom, it's not coded in doggie DNA to seek out only your grass, and not a rug, to do their business. Dogs need to be taught—with patience, understanding, and an enormous amount of positive reinforcement—to go outside.

With these four easy tips you can help any dog decide to use your yard instead of your carpet when doodie calls (yep, I did that).

4 Tips to Help Teach Your Dog to Go Potty Outside

Before you get started, ensure your yard or designated outdoor potty area is dog-friendly and any spaces in your home your canine student will relax in are dog-proofed and suited to their individual needs.

1. Use a Bell

I am a huge fan of bell training for potty purposes. Essentially, you teach your dog to ring a bell (attached to a strip or string near the door) whenever she needs to go outside to potty. I have found great success over the years and continue to use "potty bells" for any new puppy I bring home. The bell can quickly become a clear way for your dog to tell you they need a potty break.

Training a dog to use a bell is simple with these three steps:

Step 1: Teach your dog to "nose target" the bell to make it jingle. Hold the bells close to your dog's nose and let them investigate. If they sniff, touch, or boop the bell, mark and reinforce with a favorite treat. Repeat. After several repetitions, move the bell further away so that your dog must take a few steps towards it to touch it.

Step 2: Once your doggo is touching the bells to get a tasty treat, hang the bells on the doorknob of each door they might use to go outside. Encourage them to touch the bell as it hangs from the doorknob and when they do, mark and reinforce!

Step 3: Now they need to understand that the bell ringing means the door opens to go outside. The moment your pup touches the bell, open the door, take him outside and give him a treat. If he potties, give him another treat and then immediately go back inside. Repeat this each time you want your pup to go outside, but be sure you are not waiting for him to ring the bell until he is so full he might have an accident while he waits for the door to open.

2. Get the Timing Right

Understanding when a dog, especially a young puppy, will need to use the bathroom is crucial to successful potty training and will help create a potty-time schedule. Knowing when they might need to go helps you avoid accidents. Look for behaviors like sniffing the ground, pacing, whining or whimpering, jumping up on you or following you, becoming more mouthy during play, moving away from you, or quickly running towards another space. These can be indicators a dog needs to pee or poop. There are also times before and after daily events your dog must be let outside.

Dogs need to go outside AFTER these key moments:

  • After naps or sleeping for any period of time longer than 15 minutes
  • After eating 
  • After drinking
  • After a play session
  • After a training session
  • After a stressful or scary event 

Dogs need to go potty BEFORE these key moments:

  • Before going to bed at night (no more than 10 minutes before bedtime!)
  • Before being crated or kenneled
  • Before a training session or puppy class
  • Before friends or family come over for a visit
  • Before going inside the vet office

3. Remain Positive

When dogs are just learning to pee or poop outside you need to constantly provide treats and praise and should never use punishment. Avoid scolding or harsh corrections when your dog has an accident, otherwise you only increase the likelihood they will get better at hiding where they potty inside instead of getting better at peeing outside. Plus, whenever you get upset with your canine you only break the bond you are trying to build with them. Focus on teaching them what to do instead of what not to do.

Give them a tasty treat and praise when they go to the door to let you know they need outside. Each time they use their potty pad, give lots of good praise, and every time they successfully go potty outside give them a favorite goodie. Make sure you reinforce them for making the choice to go potty outdoors consistently, especially during the first few months of training. 

Remember your dog is learning and you are living with a totally different species that doesn't innately understand their toilet should be your grass. It is your job to know when they might need to use the green facilities and it is not your dog's job to teach you. Be patient and keep the whole process laid-back and full of positive reinforcement opportunities.

4. Clean, Clean, Clean

Accidents happen and they are no big deal! Your floor will survive and your dog can learn with patience and understanding that there are better spots for their pee. Just make sure to thoroughly clean accident spots and keep your pup's space clean and tidy and free from any item that might be soiled. Remove pee pads as soon as they have been used more than once, and launder any bed or stuffed animals that might have been accidentally soaked.

Things You Definitely Need When You're Teaching Your Dog to Pee Outside

To make your potty training journey a little easier, stock up on these essential items.

Pee Pads

Disposable pee pads are a great tool to use when teaching a new pup, or adult dog that needs to re-learn potty training, to go to the bathroom in a designated area. But, I often hear dog parents expressing concern over letting their new puppy or rescue use potty pads. They worry their dog will rely on them and generalize the behavior of peeing on the pads to other areas around the home. Thankfully, this is just a myth. Puppies, and any dog learning where to potty, can easily transition from pee pads to the outdoors. Besides, the pads are for temporary use or to help prevent accidents on your flooring. If you are paying close attention to the potty needs of your dog, and get them outside in time, you will find pee pads are just a stand-in for emergencies until a dog becomes totally potty trained.

Carpet Cleaners

The smell of doggie accidents is no treat for anyone, including your pup, and lingering odors can even entice your dog to use that same spot as a bathroom again. You need to make sure that any soiled areas are thoroughly cleaned. Avoid using any product that contains ammonia. Although it is a common ingredient in many cleaning products it also happens to be a chemical in urine, and so it only increases the likelihood your dog will urinate in that same spot again. 

It is best to use an enzymatic pet stain and odor remover to clean up your furry pal's urine. These cleansers break down the bacteria in the urine and help eliminate the scent, which is crucial to reducing your dog's desire to re-use the same spot for his potty business.

Baby Gates

When your dog needs to rest, or you are not sure if they are "empty" and could have to potty while you make dinner, use baby gates to safely confine them to a space. Block off the entrance to a bedroom with a walk through gate or make a dog-friendly pen in your living room. This way your canine doesn't have free access to your home, decreasing the chances he will take advantage of your lack of attention and use the carpet in your office as a toilet.

Kennel or Crate

Your dog's crate or kennel makes a good resting place after play sessions or while you do chores around the house and can't fully supervise your fur baby. They also work well to help a new pup relax between potty training breaks, especially if they didn't eliminate when you thought they probably should. Place them in a room where you can still easily see your dog so you can be sure to let them outside to try and potty if you hear them moving about or starting to whimper. Just make sure your dog's crate is the perfect size for them and they are fully comfortable with crate training before you require them to hang out in there for any period of time.

Potty Bells

Potty bells hung from your door can make potty training a breeze. You will likely want to purchase a set for any door your dog will use to go outside. Make sure they are low enough that your dog can easily reach them for loud rings you can easily hear.

Treats

To encourage a young pup or your new rescue baby to continue to go outside and potty, give them a great reinforcer right when they start to go. As they begin to tinkle say "good potty," and as soon as they finish, offer a delicious treat. This makes the whole experience a positive reinforcement opportunity for your canine buddy.

Although successful potty training takes time, plenty of patience, and lots of positive reinforcement, it can be a simple process when you are well-prepared. Making sure your canine family member has great potty skills goes a long way in ensuring both you and your dog are living a happy, relatively clean and stinky-carpet-free, life together.