Ask Crystal: Puppy Potty Training Troubleshooting

A small brown puppy sitting

A small brown puppy sitting

Hi Crystal,

We rescued a 7-month-old puppy from a friend who couldn’t keep him and we’re having trouble crate training. The puppy loves the crate, goes in and out and doesn’t make too much noise in the crate. We bring him straight to the area we want him to do his business as soon as we take him out of the crate. The problem is even after several hours in the crate, when we bring him to do his business, he doesn’t. We wait several minutes (as much as 15) in the area he’s supposed to go but he doesn’t. Then we bring him into to house and we’re watching him…he gives little warning and starts to do his business.

I’ve crate trained all of my past dogs but he’s the first to not do his business after being in the crate?

Any suggestions? 

Sincerely, Puppy Problems


Dear Puppy Problems,

Housetraining is so simple yet so hard. It’s simple to understand the concepts but difficult to understand when our pups aren’t getting the hang of it. I think we can’t discount the effects of emotions when training our dogs. It is hard for me to know exactly what is going on without seeing the dog but I will offer some suggestions based on what I have seen in the past.

It’s always a good idea to rule out any medical issues that may be going on with him. Puppies can get urinary tract infections and it can cause them to not want to potty or to have accidents inside the house. A trip to the vet may be in order.

A black puppy sitting in grassDr. Katrina Ward created the Hierarchy of Dog’s Needs based on Maslow’s theory of human needs, Maslow’s Hierarchy. The first need is obviously biological like food, water, exercise and shelter. It also includes safety. Above that is emotional needs and then social needs. Once those needs are met the dog can be in a place to begin learning. Many times, a dog is not in a place where they are able to learn because one or more of these needs is not being met. You may be trying to meet all the needs but you could be missing something. Usually in this situation, the need that is missing is safety.

While you may know that your dog is safe. He may not have that understanding. We often see when dogs first go to a new home, they don’t go to the bathroom for two or three days. That is usually caused by the stress and fear of being in a new environment with new people. There are other reasons why a dog may not feel safe as well. If the dog is a little on the nervous side, being outside can sometimes be scary. Especially if there is a lot of noise outside or the area is very open with little cover for protection. Going to the bathroom is a vulnerable position.

Many people miss the subtle signs of fear in dogs that indicate a discomfort in a situation. The first thing I suggest to most people is studying up on body language. People often reply, “Well, I have had dogs my whole life so I know body language.” Unfortunately, just living with a dog is not going to be enough to learn all of the signals because people are missing or misinterpreting them. There are so many signals that dogs are offering. We need to understand what they are saying to help them and to communicate with them clearly. Check out to get started on your learning journey. It even helps people determine why a dog is behaving a certain way and how to help them based on their body language.

A good way to judge how your pet is feeling is to see if they will engage in play. A dog that is feeling fearful is unable to play so if he won’t engage in his favorite games with you then he may be feeling afraid.

A Certified Professional Dog Trainer would be able to come to your house and observe your dog’s body language and watch your routine to help you determine where you can make changes. It probably wouldn’t take more than a couple appointments to start seeing some improvement. Locate a trainer here:

If the issue is that the dog does not feel safe outside, then the first thing to do is stop making him go outside. I know people say you have to be consistent from the beginning but if your dog is not in a place where he can learn you are going to be butting up against a brick wall until he does feel safe. You could build an indoor dog litter box for him for the moment until he feels more comfortable. Dogs usually have no trouble going inside because they feel safer inside the house. There are commercial dog litter boxes that have either real grass or plastic grass that is easy to clean. You can make your own with a cat litter box and some turf.

You may want to put up a pen in a quiet location in the back yard so he has a more enclosed place to go. You can put sheets or towels on the walls so it is more secure and private. Make sure the location is not in the busiest, noisiest part of the yard.

There is also a possibility that his last home had different methods of letting him out to potty. If a dog is used to pottying on leash, then they may have trouble going if they are just loose in the yard and vice versa. If they had him loose in the yard and you are trying to walk him on leash, that could be a hang up he has. I had a dog that was used to being loose in a yard and I had to walk him on leash and it was three weeks of him just refusing to go outside even though he was housetrained.

a fawn colored dog sniffs the grassA long line is a good option if you need to have him on leash but he is used to being loose. The pen idea might work as well because he could feel like he was loose in a yard. Another possibility, is that you have a different substrate than what he is used to. Dogs develop preferences for substrates based on what they have gotten used to at the first home. I had a pup that was used to grass and when I would take him to work, he would not go on the gravel outside. I would suggest asking his former owners what they were doing and what if anything was working.

Another method you can try, is to put him back in his crate when you come in if he doesn’t go outside. Give him 10-15 minutes in the crate and take him back outside and repeat. He definitely can’t be let off leash to run around the house unless you know he has gone potty outside.

If the dog is fearful of going outside, there is some training that you can do to help him feel better about going outside. There is a Train Away app where you can play traffic sounds while you reward your pet with treats. You can work on targeting, name recognition and relaxation exercises to help your dog gain some more confidence. You can work on a desensitizing protocol with a trainer as well.

Once he has a good grasp of the training concepts inside the house, you can start playing these training games outside as well. This can help him develop a more positive association with being outside. You can feed him a kong in his potty area or play training games. Anything that he enjoys doing is a great way to help him feel better about being outside.

Lastly, if your dog is not scared, the problem could just be that they are too excited when they go outside and forget to potty. They get inside and remember they need to go. You may want to extend your time outside to longer periods of time just walking the dog around in the potty area. He may just need a longer period of time to get his excitement out and remember that he needs to go.

I hope these tips help you get to the bottom of your puppy’s housetraining problem. If not, I highly suggest having a trainer come out to the house to help you get on the right track. Good luck!

Until next time,



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