Potty Pen Training

This is Sheena at 10 months old outside her new home with a huge yard.

I came up with the potty pen idea after I started fostering dogs for a shelter. I was spending so much time cleaning up after them that I seemed to have no time for anything else. Plus, I hated the way my lawn looked. I am one of those people that loves to walk on a lawn bare-footed and neither I nor anyone else wanted to be barefoot on that lawn. Also, having small children I wanted a distinct area out of which I could teach my children to stay.

The pen itself can be painted or stained to match any décor or hidden with bushes or other plants. I built a pen in a corner of the yard. The pen is about 6 feet by 6 feet and can easily accommodate 2 dogs; more if I clean it every day instead of every 2-3 days. The fence is about 1 foot high and looks like a mini version of a corral, with corner posts and 2 boards for each side. On one side in a corner we left the bottom board out. In doing this, we made it so small dogs or puppies can go out this opening. Most others just choose to jump in and out once they are big enough. Sheena, my service dog in training, at a year old still uses the opening but sometimes will jump in or out. It is made of wood and takes us roughly 3-4 hours to build. To keep the bottom of the pen clean I like to put gravel down.  The cost is roughly $25-$30 dollars to build if you have to buy the wood. We go to the dump and pick up some old wooden pallets and use those by dismantling them. We save a lot of money that way.
The first picture is Sheena at 8 weeks while we lived in a 4-plex.  The second one is still at the 4-plex at 8 months old.

Once it is built, here is the schedule and instructions on how to train the dog or puppy. I put all dogs and puppies on this schedule for the first week.

7am             Potty time
7:15            Breakfast
7:30            Potty time
7:45            Play time/free time
8:15            Crate time
9:15            Potty time
9:30            Play time/free time
10              Crate time
11              Potty time
11:15         Play time/free time
11:45         Crate time
12:45pm     Potty time
1                 Lunch
1:15            Potty time
1:45            Play time/free time
2:15            Crate time
3:15            Potty time
3:30            Play time/Free time
4               Crate time
5                Potty time
5:15            Dinner time
5:30            Potty time
5:45            Play time/free time
6:15            Crate time
7:15            Potty time
7:30            Play time/free time
8                Crate time/ Bed time. Also pick up water
9                 Potty Time
9:15            Play time
9:45            Crate time
10:45          Potty time
11                Play time
11:30          Bed time

This is my beginner schedule on which I put all my dogs/puppies during the first week.  The purpose is because adults dogs are not always house trained when they get here and puppies needed to be house trained.  This schedule helps me to learn their potty schedule in a controlled way.  The purpose of there being so many crate times is to help find out their schedule and also for puppies to learn to control and extend their bladders during short periods of time.  Also, after the first week, the schedule can be change as each puppy shows that they can handle longer periods.  The playtime I would extend by 15-minute intervals.  Each will also progress at different times and in different ways so I would keep track of the schedule on which each is.   Puppies do take to the training faster than adults.

As for training them to go in the potty pen, the first secret is, once it is built, clean up your yard and put any feces in the pen.  Then spray down the lawn really well with a hose.  You will end up using the crate a lot during this time. You will stop using it, I promise.  Sheena only uses her crate now when she wants too have a break.  The door has been taken off of it.

Now, when it says on the schedule to take the puppy out of the crate, immediately put the leash and collar on the puppy so that you are in control the whole time. If it is a puppy I recommend you carry it to the pen.  Start with taking the puppy or dog to the door you will be leaving each time she is being taken out to go potty. Have a nice sized ball bell tied to a rope and tied to the door. Take her paw and get her to hit the bell so it makes a sound. Only do this when you are taking her to go potty. In doing this she will later learn to hit the bell to let you know she needs to go outside to relieve herself.  Now open the door and take her to the potty pen. Give the command for going potty every 30 seconds for five minutes; I like to use the term "Hurry Up".  If she tries to leave the pen block her exit and use the leash to keep her in it.  If the puppy goes then click the clicker, praise, and give her a piece of kibble. If she doesn’t go then pick the puppy up and put it back in its crate for 10 minutes. Then try again. Keep this up till the puppy goes. No punishment and lots of praise to help the puppy gain confidence.

Once the puppy or dog goes, the pup can have supervised free time until the scheduled crate time. In doing this, I learn their potty schedule and they also learn to go when I want them to, which is great. I can take Sheena out at 3 pm and if I suddenly have to go out I can take her back out 10 minutes later and she will go and then we can go wherever I need to go.  Since she is a service dog in training, being able to leave the house with an empty bladder is a must.  She has never had an accident in any place of business because of this schedule.

As you can see, your dog will be learning several different behaviors. First, to alert you that they need to go out, which means you won’t have to worry about forgetting to take the dog out.  Second, to go potty on command.  With the command “Hurry Up,” I can ensure that when Sheena is out for a long period of time working in public with me, I can take her to a proper potty area and have her go on command without having to wait.

You have to be consistent. At first, you can't leave them alone in the yard. If you see them while playing start to sniff around or squat, then clap your hands loudly and shout "NO". Take them immediately to the pen. And follow the procedure. If they don’t go then put them in their crate, and so on. Don’t just let them back out. They will learn that great things happen when they use the pen. Don't get frustrated either. Some dogs can learn in a few days and some I have know to take as long as a month. Sheena had already been started on her house training before I got her from her breeder, Debra A. Britch of Debbie’s Dixieland Kennels.  Thanks to her starting Sheena on her house training Sheena was house trained in 2 days and learned the concept of the potty pen in a week.

Now we don't even have to go outside with her.  I just open the door, she runs to the pen, goes, then runs back in.  Same thing when she is playing outside. She will stop playing and run to the pen, without command, go, and then go back to playing.

One last thing. If they do have an accident in the yard, immediately clean it up after putting them in their crate, and spray the spot down well with a hose. I have used this technique with many dogs: rescued, abandoned, abused, adult, teenager, and puppies. And I have not once had this not work. But like I said, some do take longer than others.

Nicole Johnson
Gift of Grace Kennels

Edited by: Kerri Kadow

Back to Chicago Canine