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Dog Gone Problems: My dog is still not potty trained

Dog Gone Problems: My dog is still not potty trained

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Dog for 3/10/21

Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at


David Codr (mugshot)

David Codr is an Omaha dog behaviorist. You can reach him at his website,

Dog Gone Problems,

We have an 11-month-old Sheltie girl who we got when she was 8 weeks old. She is still not potty trained. Our other Sheltie, who is 14 years old, was potty trained very easily. We are not sure what we are doing wrong with Lexi.

Lexi has never had an accident in her crate (bedtime and daytime while we are working), so we know she can hold it for extended time. Since we brought her home she gives us a signal (most of the time) that she needs to go outside, however, it can be every 15 minutes. If she can make it one hour, we think that is great. There are also many times she gives us a signal but when we take her outside, she does not go. All she wants to do is be outside (then can have an accident shortly after coming in).

The longest Lexi has gone without an accident is two weeks, however, much of the time she is having one to four accidents in a day. Sometimes she signals us, and then goes before we get to the door to take her outside. We take her out on a leash and never let her out by herself.

We used to give her treats for going potty, but then stopped because we thought she was asking to go out every 15 minutes just to get a treat, however, that has not been the case. We have had her tested for a UTI, which she does not have. We have limited her intake of water, per the vet's suggestion (she does drink a lot of water). Any advice you can provide would be very much appreciated.




Hi Luann,

It sounds like Lexi hasn’t made the connection between treats and going outside. It may be your timing, marker word and how you reward her.

Dogs learn through repetition, consistency and good timing. You only have two seconds once a dog finishes something to reward them and have them make the connection between the act and the reward. That is why being consistent is key. I'd suggest some remedial potty training.

The first thing we need to do is find a way to communicate to Lexi when she does potty how (or in this case where) you like. When we are teaching a dog a new action or behavior, we need to first let them know what it is we want. To do this we first “mark” the action or behavior by saying a marker word (such as "yes," "good," "nice" or "thanks") or a sound like a clicker immediately followed by a reward (treat). After enough repetitions, the dog learns that the same activity is associated with the sound or word, which is then followed by the reward. This reward motivates the dog to do what we want. The order for this is action, marker word or sound and then reward (treat).

Grab a handful of treats or kibble and walk around your house so you can “prime” or “load” this new marker word. Say your new marker word once in a calm and consistent voice, then give her a treat within two seconds. She doesn’t have to do anything other than take the treat — so say the word, then treat. Take a few steps to a new location, then repeat. Do this for 15 treats — three times in one day.

Once you have properly established the new marker, you will need to take Lexi outside to potty. If she runs off as soon as she gets outside and refuses to listen, you may need to bring her out on a leash.

Resist the urge to tell her to go. Instead, just walk to where she and your other dog do their business and wait there. Don’t talk to her, move around or engage with her in any way. If your other dog is a distraction, take her out on her own. Give her five minutes to go while you remain in one place with a loose leash. If she doesn't go on her own within five minutes, take her back inside and put her in the crate, hold her for five to 15 minutes or until she barks, whimpers or otherwise communities she needs to go. Take her back outside and repeat the process. You may need to take her in and out a few times this way.

As soon as she starts to eliminate, say your new marker word in a normal, non-excited voice (an excited voice may cause her to stop going). Only say the word once and when you finish, drop to a knee and give her five treats she really likes. We call this a jackpot and it’s a great way to say, “I really like what you just did.”

Since your dog likes being outside, either take her for a walk or leave her outside after completing her business. Many people bring their dog inside after they go and this can cause the dog to associate going back inside as a consequence for going potty, which might make them to hold it.

Going forward, any time you see Lexi going potty, you need to say the marker word and give a treat or pet right after. Remember, it will take a number of repetitions before she makes the connection.

Once we can predict with a 90% or better certainly that the dog will do the action or behavior, then we can start saying a command word or “cue” for the dog to do the action (in this case, go potty). The order here needs to be command word, action, then reward (treat).

If you currently use an expression to get her to go, such as "go potty," you likely have used it so many times out of context that your dog has adopted something called learned irrelevance. This means she ignores the cue. So you'll need to change it. Let’s say you change it to “business.”

As soon as you see your dog moving in a way that happens before she goes potty — for example walking the ground and sniffing in figure eights or seeing her anus contracting as if she is about to go number two — you want to say your new command cue. Doing this consistently for a month should result in her connecting going outside with the new cue and getting a treat for doing it.

Also, A few more tips: The three times a dog is most likely to need to go is right after waking up, three minutes after eating and 10 minutes after playtime starts. So be sure to take her out during those times. Finally, never get upset or chastise a dog for accidents. This often causes the dog to avoid letting you know he or she needs to go. And never rub a dog's nose in it. This will also make the dog avoid you instead of saying, “Let me go out to go potty.”

Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.


Submit your pet questions to David Codr by emailing a photo of your dog and question to Visit for more from David.

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