Have you ever found yourself standing outside in the rain or snow waiting and waiting and waiting for your dog to potty? Some dogs seem to make a habit of taking a long time to find just the right spot to “go,” but if you’re frustrated with waiting, you can teach your dog to potty on cue.
Pottying on cue is an extremely useful skill for all dogs to have. Not only does it come in handy during bad weather, but it’s also beneficial when traveling, before entering a building, as well as if you plan to show your dog in Conformation or any performance event. Additionally, pottying on cue is a valuable skill when bringing your dog to the vet in case a urine or stool sample needs to be collected or if you have an indoor potty for a senior dog.
It might sound too good to be true, but it’s completely possible to teach your dog to pee or poop on cue virtually anytime, anywhere. To make the desired behavior clear, it’s best to have a different verbal cue for peeing than for pooping. You can pick any cue you want. Common examples include the obvious “pee” and “poop,” as well as the slightly more subtle “showtime” and/or “business.”
Teaching Your Dog to Potty on Cue
The great thing about teaching your dog to pee and poop on cue is that you are adding a verbal marker to behavior that your dog already does regularly. This makes training the behavior much easier because you know you have multiple opportunities to practice each day.
Starting to teach your dog to potty on cue is a little bit like going back to when you potty trained them as a young puppy—you’ll need lots of treats and patience. The easiest way is a training methodology known as capturing, where you add a verbal cue as your dog is already going potty. To do this we will be combining an audible marker and a reward, such as a treat, with the behavior your dog is naturally doing, which in this case is peeing or pooping.
Step 1: Anticipate when your dog is going to need to potty, such as after play or naps, and be prepared with treats when you take your dog out to go.
Step 2: While your dog is looking for the right spot to pee or poop, don’t say anything.
Step 3: When your dog starts to go, get ready to cue, praise, and treat.
Step 4: As your dog is finishing up, start to praise/click and introduce your verbal cue of choice. It’s important to only use your cue when your dog is actively peeing/pooping, but it’s a good idea to wait until they are nearly done to prevent them from stopping early when they hear the click/praise.
Step 5: As your dog starts to make the association between the verbal cue and going potty, you can start to use it right as your dog starts to go. For example, as your dog stops circling and squats to potty, say “showtime” or whatever cue you have selected. When they finish, praise again with something like “yes showtime” or pair with your click (if you’re clicker training) and a treat.
Step 6: After several days or weeks of building understanding with your new cue paired with knowing your dog is about to start or is actively going potty, it’s time to use the new cue. Get your dog to a quiet spot and cue them to potty. When they pee/poop, give lots of praise and rewards.
Keep it Consistent
Consistency is always important with dog training, but especially when teaching your dog to potty on cue. You need to be extremely consistent when pairing your dog pottying with your verbal cue of choice and a reward. To make it easy, try to keep treats next to your door so it’s easy to grab some any time you take your dog out to go potty. When they fully understand the cue, they will “try” to potty anytime they hear the cue (even if they don’t really need to go) by lifting their leg, or quickly squatting and trying to squeeze out a small amount of pee or poop. Be sure to highly reward these efforts, as it’s a clear sign that your dog understands potty on cue behavior.
Keep Training Fun
Although most people’s motivation for teaching their dog to potty on cue is to avoid spending a long time outside waiting in cold or wet weather, it’s important to consider why your dog might have previously been taking their time. Being outside in the yard or on a walk is likely very enriching for your dog and so they want to spend more time doing it.
As you’re teaching the potty on cue behavior, keep rewarding your dog with treats and praise but don’t rush back into the house right after they pee or poop. If you do, your dog may decide that, even though they get a treat when listening to your cue, it stops the fun of being outside and having the opportunity to walk or sniff. This can give the new cue a negative association or make your dog reluctant to perform the desired behavior. To prevent this, in addition to praise and treats, be sure to give your dog access to environmental rewards like cueing them to go sniff, continuing your walk, or throwing a toy for them to fetch after they go potty.
When you’re teaching your dog to be reliable with their potty on cue, it’s important to work the skill in as many different locations as possible. Start in your dog’s usual easy potty spots like your backyard or on the sidewalk in front of your apartment building. Then try it in new places like when you’re walking in a new neighborhood or are at the park. Dogs are situational learners, so unless you practice a new skill in different places, they may struggle to perform that behavior in a novel situation in the future. By practicing the potty cue in a variety of circumstances, your dog will begin to generalize the skill. That will be especially helpful if you ever need them to go on a potty pad inside because of weather or illness, or in another place that may seem strange to them.