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10 Tips To Make Potty Training A Dog In An Apartment Easier

April 22, 2021
Potty training a dog in an apartment. Image of a guilty looking puppy with a puddle in front of him.

Potty training a new dog is a top priority for any pet owners welcoming a new canine companion into their lives. However, apartment dwellers have an added impetus to make the process as efficient as possible since there isn’t always a backyard space to use as the dog’s “holding tank” when you’re not home. 

It’s never too early to begin training your puppy correctly. Mother dogs “train” their puppies from the get-go. It’s all in the approach, techniques, and consistency. The same is true for potty training a dog, and we’re here to help you get started. In fact, we believe the sooner you get started, the sooner your puppy or new dog will learn. 

Note: NEVER use punishment after an accident to potty train dogs. It confuses them. Positive reinforcement for appropriate potty behaviors and calm cleanups of accidents are the keys to success. 

10 Ways To Potty Training A Dog Living In An Apartment 

Actually, we love that apartments don’t offer an outdoor space as a “holding tank” because non-working dogs should never be kept in a yard or crate full-time - especially if “disobedience,” is the reason. Owning a dog in an apartment, nudges you into cultivating a healthier human/canine relationship, because you have to find a way forward together

Here are 10 ways Alternative Canine Training works with dog owners to potty train apartment dogs before accidents get out of control. 

Eliminate former pet odors before bringing a new dog home 

Dogs have a highly sensitive sense of smell. S/he can smell the odors of any previous pet, including former cats and dogs, that called the apartment home in the past. The same can be true of any second-hand chairs or couches. 

Learn more about whether your apartment (area rugs, furniture, etc.) was occupied by pets in the past. If so, and if you have carpet, schedule a thorough carpet and upholstery cleaning with a company that uses healthy, enzyme-based stain/odor control to eliminate old urine, feces, and vomit remnants.  

Providing a more “scent-neutral” environment minimizes your dog’s instincts to mark or over-mark his/her new territory. 

Cultivate unified terminology for potty training for the family 

Dogs respond well to verbal and non-verbal signals as long as they are used uniformly between household members. Decide with your partner, children, housemates, etc., which words will be used when the dog goes to the bathroom.  

This might be something like: 

  • Time to go potty 
  • Go potty 
  • Time to empty 
  • Business time 
  • Time to go 

Whatever you decide, everyone should use the same cues/commands whenever the dog is taken where s/he should go to the bathroom. Say it, get excited about when s/he goes while you’re saying it, and then reinforce desired behavior with extra positive attention and a small training treat. 

Understand urination/defecation abilities and patterns 

A rule of thumb for puppies is that they can hold their bladder/bowels in proportion to their age. In the beginning, this is about one hour for each month-old they are. Once they are about 12 to 14 weeks of age, dogs can typically hold their bladders for three hours or so.  

Puppies are also most likely to urinate and/or defecate: 

  • Within moments of waking up and moving around 
  • After a nice play spell 
  • After eating time 
  • When visiting a new location (a result of curiosity, marking territory, and/or nervousness) 

Your potty-training routine should accommodate their abilities and patterns to minimize frustration and false expectations. 

Use a timer 

You’re going to lose track of time no matter how much you supervise your potty training puppy. A clock, phone, gadget, or microwave time is a major ally. Estimate the time it takes to go from your apartment to the regular bathroom area (street, common area, park across the way, etc.) so your dog has ample time to make it to the desired potty location before s/he can’t hold it anymore. 

Then, set the timer for a few minutes less than your puppy or new dog needs in between bathroom sessions. When the timer goes off, the responsible puppy/potty minder, at that moment, must honor it immediately and get the pup where s/he needs to go. 

Crate training is an essential tool for potty training a dog

Crate training is an essential dog training tool for so many things, potty training, being one of the first and most important. Using the crate to supplement timed potty opportunities with your dog helps reinforce the natural elimination rhythms referenced above and leads to a regular potty schedule. 

Never use the crate as a punishment tool or it defeats the purpose. Crates need to be held as a safe, reliable, trustworthy location. Click Here to read more about safely crate training your dog. 

Hire a puppy consultant 

Hiring a puppy consultant and professional dog trainer is one of the best ways to make potty training a dog in an apartment as simple as possible. During your Puppy Consultation, we’ll meet your puppy and spend time learning more about your goals to create a customized potty training and doggy training plan. 

Observe your puppy/dog carefully 

Any new apartment puppy or dog needs to be supervised regularly for the first days and weeks s/he’s in your home until s/he’s more comfortable and you’ve established a routine. In addition to keeping your furry companion and family members (and furnishings!) safe, this also helps you establish certain “potty cues.” 

Dogs tend to let you know they need to go using body language. Typical potty cues include: 

  • Sniffing around in circles 
  • Heading to previous off-limits potty areas 
  • Walking around in ever tighter or slightly agitated circles or zigzags while sniffing 
  • Hiding in a corner, behind furniture, or in another room (some dogs are quite modest about potty time) 
  • Barking or scratching at the door (bell training addresses this) 

If you see your puppy/dog doing any of the above, or you notice his/her own personal cues, honor the potty training by getting the dog to the designated potty place ASAP. 

Try bell training 

Dogs can be trained to ding a bell hung on the doorknob to let you know when they need to go out. When they’re puppies, ring the bell each time you take them out. When they’re big enough to strike the bell themselves, you can take their paw and gently tap the bell before going outside.  

Only use the bell when it is potty time. Otherwise, you’ll hear the bell each time your pup wants to go outside (often) rather than to go potty. You’ll be impressed by how quickly most dogs learn to ring the bell when they need to go out. 

Use a contained area for puppies (playpen, x-pen, child/pet gate, etc.) 

If you can’t keep your eye on the new dog or you have to be gone to work for longer than s/he can hold it, use a contained area using a designated x-pen, safety gate in front of an open bathroom door, etc. Then cover the floor with potty pads or a grass patch to catch the messes. 

Use pee pads or grass patches 

There is a range of potty pads, grass patches with a container underneath, etc., designed for dogs who need to be kept inside or only have access to a patio during the day. Use the same verbal cues you do for their outside location when training them to use these indoor or patio-based potty training tools. 

Potty pads look like this and come in all different sizes. You can also get size-specific indoor “yard patches” that replicate grass and have a chamber below that catches liquids to be emptied later. Last, but not least, some companies deliver fresh sod patches every couple of weeks or so. Old patches can be composted or dumped into yard waste containers.  

Need Help?

Do you need help potty training your apartment dog? Contact us here at Alternative Canine Training and we’ll get you both trained up in no time.

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