When the temperatures drop, puppy potty training success can also take a downward slide. Persuading a puppy to face the cold rather than potty in the convenience and warmth of the indoors often requires extra effort and planning.
Some puppies are relatively unaffected by the winter elements; for these dogs, learning to potty outside, even in the worst weather, can be fairly simple. But for sensitive pups, colder weather can turn potty training into a much bigger chore. My Pug, Willy, was one such puppy; he absolutely hated the cold — and still does! When I first brought him home, the only thing that puppy wanted to do in winter weather was curl up in a ball on top of my boots — forget about asking him to step one single paw into the snow, much less relax enough to do his duty. Fortunately, Willy is now very reliable about relieving himself outside, even in the coldest weather, but winter weather made potty training him especially challenging.
If you and your puppy live in an area where extensive rainfall, snow, hail, slush, ice, high winds or cold temperatures have you convinced your puppy will never potty outside, don’t worry! He’ll learn — but it will take a little extra effort on your part. Here are six winter weather potty pointers to help get you and your puppy on track for potty success, even in the worst weather conditions.
Not all dogs need clothing, but for those especially distracted and affected by the elements, it creates a protective barrier, reducing the stress of outdoors. It’s important to pair clothing with the most delectable treats, toys and positive attention. Blanket-style vests sitting on the dog’s back with attachment straps at the chest and belly are often easiest for puppies to adjust to. As your dog becomes more comfortable with outerwear, you can train him to wear a coat or sweater that slips over his head or boots that cover his paws. For dogs who hate getting wet, rain jackets and overalls may help. Prior to the potty breaks, make sure all clothing has proper cutouts for elimination; afterwards check that the clothes remained clean and dry.
Clear the ground.
Shovel snow or slush to create a potty space that is several feet wide. When the ground is clear, it is easier for your dog to pick up smells from prior eliminations, which makes him more likely to see that space as his personal potty. Be sure also to clear a path to the potty, so your puppy doesn’t have to slog through wet or icy barriers to get there. In severe weather, another option is to seek out a covered space protected from downfall or accumulated snow, such as a building overhang or archway.
Teach a cue.
Every time your puppy goes to the bathroom, say a cue word like “be quick” or “go potty.” Say it only once or twice rather than repeating it multiple times to keep the cue from losing its significance. Pair the cue with initial signs of an imminent potty, like circling and sniffing. Once your puppy is familiar with the cue, you can say it as soon as the puppy reaches his potty location.
Turn pottying into partying.
Teach your puppy that eliminating in the right area earns him a puppy party! What constitutes a puppy party depends upon the individual puppy and situation — your puppy may want some time to play outside or go for a walk, regardless of the weather. Or he may prefer to dash back inside and have a tasty treat.
Limit his space.
When you’re cooped up in the house with a new puppy, it can be tempting to let him roam freely, but this will lead to accidents. Start by keeping the puppy in a small playpen, gated area or crate or on a leash at your side. Take him outside to his potty area regularly — once every one or two hours when humans are home during the day and immediately after potty-triggering events, like naps, play, eating and drinking — regardless of the weather. At night, take the pup out as often as needed, ideally every two to three hours for young pups, to prevent accidents. If the puppy has an accident, interrupt with an “oops!” and immediately take him to the right potty area. Avoid punishment tactics, as these can deter house training by teaching the puppy that it’s detrimental to potty near people.
Create an indoor potty area.
If severe winter weather — flooding, ice, snow or dangerous cold — make it impossible to take your puppy outside to potty, a designated indoor space, such as a potty pad, indoor grass area, an easy-clean potty space or litter box, may be helpful as a short-term solution. To train your puppy to use the inside area, take him out of his restricted space and place him in the designated area for potty breaks. Reward proper elimination with a puppy party, just like you would do outside. While pottying indoors can make transitioning to outdoor-only pottying slightly more work, it may be safer than risking a fall or other weather-related injury.