Monday, November 11, 2019

My Dog Won't Go POTTY! Potty Training the World's Most Challenging Dog

You can lead a dog to grass but you can't MAKE them pee!

If you had told me a few years ago that potty training a new puppy would be my kryptonite, I would not have believed you! I've potty trained or assisted with potty training countless dogs, my own dogs, my family's dogs and client dogs.

"It's not hard", I would say, "just put them on a reliable schedule and take them outside frequently." This year I may have eaten my words.

Quite a few people have told me that small dogs are more difficult to potty train than larger dogs. I've never believed those people. I have always thought that it was just stereotypical "small dog owner" nonsense. Small dogs usually get away with murder. A lot of owners don't train them very much, if at all. I just chalked it up to owners being lazy or irresponsible and didn't think any more about it until I got Alice.

When I got Alice, I did exactly what I've done with other dogs. I put her on a schedule immediately and took her outside frequently for potty breaks, just like you're supposed to do, just like ALL the dog books say to do. When she wasn't attended she was crated. I also used a tether attached to the couch so she could have more freedom. When we moved around the house, she was leashed or carried.

We'd go outside and Alice would sniff around and then look at me like "okay, now what?" We could spend hours outside and she would just hold it. Then we'd come back inside and she would still hold it. She was completely unpredictable and she would not pee or poop. She wouldn't even mark over the other dog's pee. Even worse, she begun displaying behavior that was almost identical to what Zoe did for years (taking hours on end and long walks to relieve herself and never using the same spot twice). Alice's behavior being so similar to Zoe's behavior (that's driven me crazy for 8 years) caused me so much anxiety. I love Zoe but I absolutely did not want another dog like her and I was terrified that Alice was going to be Zoe 2.0. At least in Zoe's case, she never had a single accident in the house.

For months Alice continued to not pee or poop on a regular schedule, despite being fed at exactly the same times and having water available at all times. She would only pee maybe twice per day and I was lucky if she'd poop once daily. Sometimes she'd hold her poop for up to three days. I was either walking her or standing in the yard. If she wouldn't go we'd either stay outside for hours on end or I'd bring her back inside and crate her immediately. Sometimes she would hold her pee for 15 hours, despite many, many trips outside... Which isn't healthy at all. Rinse and repeat over and over with zero progress. We even tried driving her to new places to see if she'd pee at a park somewhere. Even hiking for nearly 3 hours where dogs frequent, she would not pee or poop during outings, either. We saw two different vets by this point and they both said she sounded challenging but normal for a shelter dog in their new home. All the tests we ran came back normal.

Any time she did finally go to the bathroom, I was praising her and feeding her high value treats.

There were times when I felt bad for keeping her crated and we'd be playing inside and then she'd suddenly squat before I could catch her. It's incredibly embarrassing to admit but she had way more accidents inside the house than any dog I've ever had under my care.

The frustration that I felt during this period of time was extreme. I would cry to my husband and friends about it. I had people tell me I should take her back to the rescue, that she was completely abnormal and there wouldn't be any way to fix her. Another friend who is extremely kind and has tons of patience, mentioned that I might be suffering from codependency and she wasn't wrong. I realized that I desperately needed to take care of Alice and she wasn't allowing me to because I couldn't make her go to the bathroom. During these months, my depression and anxiety were at an all time high. I had the puppy blues so badly and it was all over my inability to potty train this dog. My confidence as a dog trainer took a huge hit as well because "potty training should be easy". "All you have to do is put them on a schedule, stand in the yard and then reward them for going." Yeah, no.

In the meantime, during this, I also had neighbor problems. We own our townhouse but have to share a large yard with other neighbors. Most of my neighbors are elderly and don't have much to do, so they were curious at all times about the new dog. They were constantly coming out whenever I'd go outside to see the puppy. So Alice was never not distracted from learning what I wanted her to do outside. I believe she thought that the yard was play and social time and it never really occurred to her that the yard was for pottying.

My new puppy was going to be house trained or I was going to DIE trying.

So after a few months of trying and failing to potty train her I ended up crowd sourcing it. In complete desperation one day, I posted on my facebook wall (most of my friends are trainers) and in my favorite facebook group, the Fenzi Academy: Fenzi Dog Sports Academy Alumni Group. I have taken quite a few of their online classes and have loved all of them. The people who train there are always kind and understanding. My posts received a lot of attention and the advice I got was incredibly helpful.

By the time I decided to ask for help, I had three problems, Alice would not go to the bathroom regularly, Alice would not go to the bathroom in our direct yard at all, end of story and Alice was nervous about me and the yard because I had gotten so frustrated trying to get her to go that she was totally picking up on my negative energy. It got to the point where I would dread waking up in the morning because I knew getting Alice to relieve herself was going to be such a frustrating hassle. I'm also not my best self when I'm low blood sugar, either. We would go outside and she would sniff or eat grass and refuse to look at me. It sucked and I was totally afraid I was screwing her up and ruining our relationship because I was so frustrated.

On the Fenzi group, a few ladies suggested that I up her water intake. They said that Alice might be condensing her urine and if I upped her water intake I'd have more opportunities to reward her for going in the right place. This advice might seem counter intuitive as I didn't want her having more accidents in the house but I had to start somewhere. The ladies suggested that I give her some low sodium chicken broth and wait 20-30 minutes. They also recommended trying to wait to go outside until Alice really had to go and was almost bursting at the seems, so that she would go quickly to reduce my frustration. They were absolutely right. It totally worked. Within 20-30 minutes Alice had to pee! So I started implementing extra water and giving her a splash of low sodium chicken broth mixed with water on a regular basis and then taking her outside frequently. I was able to finally capture her peeing and put a cue on it. So now I have something to work with. She finally understands the cue and I can use the cue when she gets distracted to remind her what we are doing. Hallelujah!

The next piece of advice was from a friend and several people on the Fenzi Academy mentioned it as well for pooping. I was told that I should be giving her an activity prior to going outside to poop. That some dogs needed their bodies to move before they are able to go. So getting her active by chasing a toy, or using the treadmill. etc. Someone also suggested that she might just feel unsafe in the yard and needed a calming activity to settle in before she poops. I also had a friend mention that maybe Alice had a slower gut than my other two dogs. I did some research about this online and found out that some small dogs do have a slower metabolism than larger dogs!

So in addition to giving her an activity prior to pooping, I also decided to add more fiber to her diet and feed her dinner earlier so instead of feeding her at 6 or 7 I started feeding at 4-4:30pm. I prefer my dogs to poop in the morning, right away, so they are all taken care of. So Alice gets a few spoon fulls of plain canned pumpkin and green beans mixed with her dinner. I also give her a tiny splash of low sodium chicken broth mixed with a bowl of water at this time, too. Giving her water at dinner has really helped. We walk the dogs after dinner and she will pee during that walk and then she will pee again right before bed time (in OUR yard!!!) .

You Park Here, Literally!!!

Alice is generally ready to poop in the morning when we wake up but she still refuses to go in our direct yard. On this I decided to give in a bit. I will walk her to the end of the block and back and if she doesn't go in that amount of time (20-25 minutes) then she has to wait until it's the next time to go outside. At the time of this writing, I've been working on getting her to poop closer to home by walking her back and forth in the grass across the street from our grass.

We still have issues sometimes during the mid-day potty break. I give Alice extra water with her breakfast and a lot of the time I'll pop her on the treadmill or run her around with a toy right before a potty break. Then I will hurry her outside and she will usually pee immediately in our yard.

We've had Alice for 9 months now and luckily the novelty of Alice being new has worn off on my neighbors. They no longer bother me while I'm outside with her.

We have not had an indoor accident in several months. She will whine at us now when she has to go and seems to understand that potty should happen outside. Things have gotten so much better!  It's taken a little more work on my part to figure out what works for Alice but she's finally getting there!

I am so thankful for all the people who were kind to me and helped through this difficult time! For all the late night chats and for telling me my dog is normal and to stick it out. That she just didn't know what I was wanting her to do and she was going to be fine. That it was just going to take a little longer than what I was used to but everything was going to be okay. For those people who believed in me and told me I could do it.

To summarize our day:

Morning - Alice has been sleeping with me in bed, so we get up, I toss a few treats in her crate and she hops in. Then I take Phoenix out first, then Zoe, then Alice. Phoenix and Zoe potty in the yard. Alice pees in the yard and then we go for a short walk down the street.

Breakfast - Zoe and Phoenix are fed and then Alice will get a training session or a puzzle toy and a bowl of water mixed with low sodium chicken broth.

After Breakfast - Alice plays with Phoenix and Zoe, then takes a nap

Afternoon - Alice gets an activity, we play fetch or tug, or she does her treadmill workout, then we do a potty break in the yard

Early Evening - She will usually play with Phoenix again and then nap. Sometimes we will play outside in the yard if the weather doesn't suck.

Dinner - Zoe and Phoenix are fed. Zoe and Alice get some canned pumpkin. Alice gets a cup of green beans in a bowl and then we do a training session with the rest of her dinner. After dinner she gets a bowl with a splash of chicken broth and water.

After Dinner - We go for a family walk, usually around an hour, sometimes Alice will poop but often she won't. When we get back, we will relax for a little bit and then we play again.

Bed time - All the dogs go out at the same time for a quick pee before bedtime.

At any time during the day, if Alice whines at all or paces I run her outside to pee. She often gets an extra walk at some point during the day, too and play time with her neighbor dog friend.

So this has been our potty training journey! It's been a frustrating one but in the end Alice is worth every second I spent working with her.


  1. What a challenge you have had with Alice! So glad the community came up with great ideas. I never would have thought of upping her water intake. As you say, counter-intuitive! Proud of you for working through all your self-doubts and frustrations. Congratulations on reaching success!

    Chris from Boise

    1. Thank you so much! It was tough going there for a while but I'm so glad I stuck with it!

  2. Hi hi hi! Ojo here! Alice, you are lucky to have a person who cares so much about you! And your person is lucky to have friends with good ideas for helping! I myself refuse to pee on a leash, even first thing in the in the morning when I need to go so very badly. Rather I must be able to zoom fast before I can pee. So I understand that sometimes it is not as easy as just going outside and doing the business the humans want us to do!

    1. Hi Ojo!! Oh how I wish I could just let everyone run around loose. Unfortunately, I have to share a yard with my pesky neighbors! I bet it would be so much easier if they could just all be free to do what they want.


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