How to Potty Train a 2 Year Old Dog
When it comes to figuring out how to potty train a 2 year old dog, it all comes down to breaking bad habits and replacing them with good habits.
I write on a lot of subjects. I write many articles in diverse ways on many subjects. But, I am pretty sure that potty training articles keep me the busiest. Just when I think I have covered EVERYTHING (and I probably have) I am reminded I can simplify it or add more or break it up into more concise chunks for fur parents to absorb.
Oftentimes, someone who has a fully-grown dog, whether it’s 2 years old or 4 years old, will say that their dog isn’t potty trained. They’re exasperated. The dog’s an adult now; why isn’t it potty trained yet? Well, when it comes to dog training, if your dog isn’t trained, then it’s probably your fault.
The solution to an adult dog not being potty trained are twofold. First, you need to stop the bad habits that have been formed over the course of the past two years, or however long that your dog has been alive – like defense in football. In order to win, you need to keep the other team from scoring. The second part of the solution is to teach positive habits that will make your dog a potty pro – like offense in football. You need to score to win.
The Defensive Side of Potty Training Your Adult Dog
Several great defenses have carried their teams to championships – such as the 2012 Ravens, or the 2015 Broncos. You need to keep your opponent from gaining momentum in order to win. In this same way, you need to keep bad habits from forming during potty training – and if they have, you need to break them.
So here are the two main reasons your dog or puppy is not potty trained.
That’s right, 2 Simple Reasons
#2 Potty Pads
I hate them. Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate and a few thousand more hates… but you get the idea right? If I could I would make a billboard and be out there protesting the makers of these products right now so that they would STOP contributing to potty problems.
First off, back in the golden days of dog training, it was simple. We actually called it “paper training” and don’t get me wrong – I am not a huge fan of using newspaper either…
But, newspaper has a very different and significant feel and smell.
Ever smelled a freshly printed newspaper? Sadly there are some out there who have not, but I will tell you they have a certain smell and a certain texture. Nothing else, that is NOTHING ELSE in your house smells or feels like newspaper.
Pee pads, puppy pads, and potty pads, however, have been conceptually designed to be soft and plush and have an additive to encourage your dog to go potty on them.
I agree; it sounds like a GREAT idea.
But it is not… how many other surfaces in your house are soft and plush?
- Bath mats?
The list could continue on just about forever…
And if your laundry, towels or anything else smells even remotely soiled by you, I am just guessing that there is a reminiscent smell factor that most people don’t even think about.
I once knew a Jack Russell who would use the bath mats, and if the bath mats were picked up he would scratch a towel down, and if the towels were too high he would find laundry, and if the laundry was put up he would go to the next soft surface like rugs.
I think the soft, plushness of having been potty trained by potty or wee wee pads encouraged him to both urinate and defecate in the most inopportune places for his owner. And, the habit at 5 was very difficult if not impossible to retrain without constant supervision.
And, potty pads teach your dog to go potty INSIDE!
I don’t want my dog to ever get comfortable going potty inside.
I want my dogs to go potty outside!!
If I wanted my dog to go potty inside I would teach him to go potty on the grassy indoor potty mats. For more on that click here.
I want to make it my mission in life to take my puppy out every 2 hours or so to make sure he conditions to relieving himself outside.
I can’t get lazy and hope he finds a potty pad.
I never want him to get into the habit of thinking it is okay to pee or poop in the house.
I think people think potty pads are some kind of miracle, when really they aren’t, they are actually detrimental to potty training.
I recently had a brief argument with a frustrated owner who said her dog would pee on the potty pad but would not poop on them, but the potty pads were working fantastically.
No, no the potty pads aren’t.
If you are having accidents (which most dogs do once they begin to associate the potty pad with other soft things) then it isn’t working.
I don’t say my outside potty training is going great if my dog is still peeing or pooping in the house… it isn’t successful if he is having any accidents at all.
Don’t Get Me Wrong
Now, don’t get me wrong.
90% of puppies are going to have accidents at some point and they must be cleaned up well and managed. I think people get too comfortable with potty pads too which makes them lackadaisical about potty training - and no one wants to be lackadaisical - but you clean them up and work toward the goal of having your dog or puppy potty outside!
And, I believe the number one problem, which actually totally ties in to what I was just talking about is: inconsistency.
Again, this is why I hate potty pads because I think they trick us into being complacent and inconsistent at a time when our dogs need total consistency.
I have had 9 week old puppies that were totally potty trained because I didn’t allow accidents and I got them out every 2 hours.
Because the truth is, potty training is not about your puppy.
Your puppy came from a place where, most likely, he could pee and poop whenever he wanted.
And, dogs don’t discern inside and outside and what is a social potty faux paus!
As a tiny baby, he pooped and peed when he wanted.
Now you expect him to suddenly realize he doesn’t want to potty inside and he must communicate with you (a totally different species) that he has to go to the bathroom; when before he just squatted and went?
YOU, YOU, YOU, YOU a million times… you are responsible for potty training.
You are responsible to follow that puppy around like a toddler in a china shop.
You are responsible to make sure he doesn’t sneak off.
You are responsible to take him out every 2 hours, and after he eats, after he drinks, after he exercises, after he naps, etc.
He is a baby.
We don’t expect our human babies to suddenly potty train themselves, and the truth is that puppies don’t either.
Humans, at least grow up with the same social norms and language.
But puppies and dogs will continue to potty in the house if they are not taught to avoid it.
And, once your puppy or dog develops a habit…. Well it is not 100% impossible to break a bad dog habit; but it is very, very, distinctively, horrifically difficult.
Because dogs are canines and not people!
People find it horrifically hard to change a bad habit. Ever tried to quit smoking or quit an addiction?
As a human you are capable of “setting your mind to change”, but your dog is not.
He toddles along the same path and the same habits each day.
Again, it is YOU that must be consistent if you want to make a change!
The Offense of Potty Training an Adult Dog
Just like with sports, simply keeping the other team from scoring a ton of points won’t help unless you manage to score. It’s the same way with dog training; you can teach your dog one hundred things not to do, but you won’t have success until it’s successfully trained on what the right response is.
You need to form the right potty-training habits in your dog to replace the old, bad ones. You need to train it on the right place and right time to go potty if you want to have success while potty training dogs.
Part 1: The Potty Spot
Teach your dog where he SHOULD take his potty breaks, instead of trying to use punishment to teach him where he should NOT go potty. If you focus on what you want him to do, instead of what you don’t want your dog to do, you’ll get faster results. Teaching your dog where it’s OK to go is very important, and one of the reasons why so many people are never successful in potty training their dogs.
They just spend too much time yelling at their dog for peeing and pooping in their home, and never actually reward and praise him for going where he is supposed to go. After all, how would a dog even know that it’s supposed to go outside? Dogs don’t speak English, and just because we might yell at our dog as we catch him in the middle of peeing on the floor and then rush him outside where he finishes it off… doesn’t mean we did an effective job at telling him that outside was where he was supposed to go. We are usually too focused on getting him NOT to go inside, instead of going outside.
It’s important you establish a spot while potty training that your dog knows is where he needs to perform his duties. You must take them there every time except of course when you are away from home. This is extremely important in the dog potty training process. Pigs actually learn this all on their own but we have to teach our furry friends.
So, as long as you didn’t buy your dog from a puppy mill or an un-reputable breeder, the puppy you bring home comes pre-programmed with this belief:
Potty Where I Eat & Sleep = Bad
Potty Anywhere Else = Good
…so, with a bit of luck, hopefully you got your dog from a breeder who teaches these techniques. This will be handy in the crate training and potty training processes.
When you suspect your dog is ready to go take him to the potty breaks spot. The signs are usually pretty clear. They’ll start sniffing around or walking a little funny. If it’s been a couple hours it’s probably best to just take them out.
When he starts to go to the potty spot say your command whatever it’s going to be. We’ll use “go potty.” After he eliminates give him large amounts of praise and a special treat.
Note: Fido gets rewarded NOT when he starts to go, and NOT after he comes back to the house, but as soon as he finishes. Yes - you must take him out and stay with him. Fido quickly learns that eliminating outside gets a tasty reward.
You could also use your clicker here if you’re using one as part of positive reinforcement training. Your dog lives for your praise so needless to say it’s important in dog potty training as well.
Part 2: Having a Schedule
This is a big one – In order for you to be successful at potty training, you need to set up a schedule, regardless of your dog’s age. Whether he’s a full-grown dog or just a pup, you must be consistent.
If you don’t have a routine in place, you can start by taking your puppy out every two hours. Your puppy needs to be in his crate when you are gone, aren’t supervising him and while he’s sleeping at night. The crate is his home until he’s potty trained.
This goes back to the basic behavior that we talked about earlier: a dog doesn’t like to eliminate where they sleep. In this case, it’s his crate. This will help teach him to hold it for extended periods of time. Once you return or wake up, you should immediately take him out of his crate and continue to take him out every 2 hours.
Next, start adding more time between his potty breaks each week by 15 minutes so he gradually learns to hold it for longer. This applies to older dogs, too, if they’re not potty trained. So if you start with an 8 week old puppy and 2-hour intervals, your weekly schedule should look something like this:
- Week 1 – Every 2 hours
- Week 2 – Every 2 hours and 15 minutes
- Week 3 – Every 2 ½ hours
- Week 4 – Every 2 hours and 45 minutes
- Week 5 – Every 3 hours
A 15-minute increase is in line with your puppy’s age if you start him at 8 weeks. But regardless if he’s 8 weeks, 8 months or 8 years, adding a time gradually will help ease him into controlling his bladder without either of you feeling too much anxiety.
Puppies generally have to use the bathroom after eating or drinking, after waking up from a nap or if they have been playing for a while. So although you could take your puppy out after you see they have woken up from a nap in order to avoid a mistake, that won’t keep him on a schedule, and that’s what you want to do.
If I take my dog out at 10 a.m. and he takes a 30-minute nap in his crate, that would put us at 10:30 a.m., which is 1 ½ hours away from his next scheduled potty break. So, instead of taking him out, I will place him in his crate until 12 p.m. and then let them out of his crate to go potty. I do this each time the scheduled potty breaks fall out of line with the schedule – with the exception of after eating or drinking water.
If I take my dog out at 7:30 a.m. and feed him at 8 a.m., I will take him back out 15 to 30 minutes later and start my 2-hour schedule from that point.
I know I keep mentioning this, but it is SO IMPORTANT for you to understand that in the dog potty training process, there are going to be accidents. What you do when your dog has an accident is very important. Yes I know that nobody likes cleaning up after the fact but if you react negatively your dog will start to associate your anger or frustration with him going to the bathroom and will be afraid to eliminate around you. I would say this is the biggest mistake people make while dog potty training.
So, instead of reacting negatively by yelling or even rubbing their nose in it, concentrate more on heavily rewarding the good behavior – positive reinforcement. Now your family has a potty-trained dog they can enjoy in the house or if you’re dog sitting you can return the dog fully potty trained to the owner with of course a small bill!
So, in Short:
It can be difficult to potty train a 2 year old dog, but it’s definitely worth it! Nobody wants the type of present that will be left behind if they aren’t potty trained.
Don’t fall prey to potty pads! They do so much more damage than they could ever be good for (I apologize to anyone who works in a potty pad plant).
And, make it your mission YOUR MISSION to be consistent and make your dog successful!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.