How Do You Potty Train a German Shepherd Puppy?


When I brought my first GSD puppy home, I did not use any specific method to potty train him. We figured it out eventually, but it took some time, and there were a lot of accidents.

So the next time I got a GSD, I knew that potty training right from the start was something that I wanted to do. I was getting a lot of suggestions from different people, so I educated myself on how best to do it.

So, how do you potty train a German Shepherd puppy? The most effective way to potty train a German Shepherd puppy is by crate training it. Crate training uses your puppy’s instinct to avoid soiling where it sleeps as part of the training process, thereby making it easy for the puppy to grasp and quickly learn.

Crate training is a process. A simple one, but nonetheless a process. So it’s important that you follow the advice given below if you want your GSD puppy to be potty trained as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Bringing your puppy home

Keep in mind that when you bring your GSD puppy home, it is an alien environment for it. Everything is unfamilair – you, your car, your home, its toys, its, bowls, maybe even the weather, and…a cage!?

My last GSD puppy, at 8 weeks old, came from being surrounded by all of his siblings and running free in a very large enclosure to taking his first car ride ever and into a brand new home.

So when your puppy arrives at its new home, the first thing to do is to allow your it to explore on its own. Don’t try to introduce it to anything new (it’s all new!). Instead, just be present for your puppy and let it sniff around and get a feel for its new home.

Playing with your new puppy is one of the most fun things that you can do, and understandably so. GSD puppies are cute, adorable, and watching them frolic around can make the time fly by.

But do not make the mistake of letting this take the place of immediate potty training. You need to begin potty training your puppy right away, from the first day you bring it home.

Otherwise, they will take as much slack as you give them, and this may develop into other behaioral problems as your puppy gets older.

Understand your puppy’s schedule

The first action that you need to take is to become familiar with when your puppy eats and drinks. Remember that what goes in must come out. And with a puppy’s metabolism, this is usually a fairly quick process!

So be sure that you let your puppy out

  • as soon as you wake up
  • after play
  • after sleep
  • after eating
  • drinking
  • after chewing on a bone
  • before bedtime

Also, it’s important to keep your eye on your puppy at all times. Do not allow the puppy to be alone at all! This will prevent accidents and also get you more in tune with our puppy’s unique patterns.

Crate training and why you should do it

Dogs are “denning” animals. This means that they actually seek out places where they feel safe and enclosed. This is why your GSD may often go under tables or covers. It’s an instinctual behavior.

So training with a crate is actually comforting to your dog. My GSD loves his crate. It’s not a place of punishment for him. Instead, it’s a comfortable, safe, and cozy environment in his eyes.

Your puppy has a few natural instincts. These include:

  • not use the bathroom in its own bed
  • to pee and poop after eating

By using a crate, you are creating a space where your puppy has room only to sleep or lie down, so it will be hesitant to go potty while inside.

You are using your puppy’s instincts to train it, rather than trying to teach it a new set of unfamiliar rules.

Some people speak out against crate training, often suggesting that it’s a cruel practice. This could not be further from the truth. Crate training beneficial for both you and your dog.

So really, ignore the naysayers. Crate training your puppy is efficient and effective.

Choosing a crate

A crate should have only enough room in it for your GSD puppy to stand, sit, and lie down. This does not mean that you need to keep upsizing your crate – as we know, GSD puppies grow up quickly.

Instead, make sure that you choose a large crate that has a divider in it. The divider can be moved back in the crate as your puppy grows.

If you already have a crate without a divider, not to worry. You can place a cardboard box inside of the crate that takes up the space that a divider would have blocked off.

As mentioned above, keep your eye on your dog. Look for signs that your puppy may need to go potty. Your puppy may indicate this by whining or scratching at the gate of the cage. Or your puppy may just give you “the look.” You’ll know it when you see it!

As soon as you notice any sign of your puppy wanting to go potty, it’s crucial that you do not hesitate and that you take it outside immediately.

This is going to build a positive association with your dog between letting you know it has to go and actually going potty. If you do not act on your puppy’s signal immediately, it may confuse the puppy and lead to accidents.

Important note on letting your puppy out of the crate

You need to become very familiar with your puppy’s specific behaviors when it wants to leave the crate to go potty. Because there is a difference between your puppy simply whining because it wants out of the crate and when it needs to relieve itself.

If you know that your puppy just wants out to play, you need to recognize this and ignore these calls for attention. If you don’t, you will actually train your puppy to think that it’s acceptable behavior to throw a fit whenever it wants something.

So pay close attention to your puppy’s behavioral cues. Know whether it genuinely needs to go potty or whether it is just calling for attention. This will save you a lot of stress and it will also give your puppy the opportunity to get used to the crate.

Choosing a potty place

Staying with the understanding that your puppy makes connections to form its behavior patterns, you need to choose a designated outside area for your puppy to relieve itself.

Here are a few rules to follow with this:

  • Make sure that it is a convenient place. And also take the weather into account. You want to make sure that if it is raining or snowing that the spot is still quickly and easily accessible.
  • Make sure that you are consistently taking your puppy to the same area every time.

    This will build the association within your puppy, and its pattern will be to use the same place to go potty each time.
  • Praise your puppy for going potty in this place. Use the same word and the same tone each time.
  • By doing this, your puppy will know in the future that, no matter where it may be, when you say the word it’s time to go potty.

After potty

When your puppy finishes going potty outside, it’s very important that you do not bring it right back inside and put it in the crate. As we know, puppies pattern their behavior and build associations quickly.

So if you take your puppy right back inside as soon as it is finished going potty, it will make the association that going potty = going back inside. This may cause your puppy to hold its bladder. Holding its bladder is unhealthy for your puppy, and may even lead to serious health problems, including:

  • urinary tract infections
  • urinary stones
  • incontinence

Accidents

Accidents will happen. So when they do, do not be surprised. And certainly do not punish your puppy. A firm, yet gentle, “no” will do. And then simply take your puppy outside right away.

And only do this if you catch them in the act. Then your puppy will associate “no” with what it is doing at that exact moment. Never rub their nose in it. Never. (this may actually teach them to eat it!)

You need to also be consistent with your reprimands. Use the same tone and the same word each time you inform your puppy that going potty inside of the house is not allowed.

When an accident does happen, make sure that you clean it up right away. Do not use soap and water. Instead, use an enzymatic cleaner.

Enzymatic cleaners break down the odor and stain using good bacteria. It’s important that you do not use a cleaner that contains ammonia since ammonia is already contained in urine.

And using a cleaner that contains ammonia may indicate to your puppy that the soiled area is actually a place for it to urinate.

Final thoughts

Some dog owners choose to take their dogs to an obedience trainer for all-around training. However, I encourage you to potty train your GSD on your own. You are the best person for the job.

Potty training your puppy yourself:

  • It strengthens the bond between you and your puppy
  • It helps you to understand how your dog learns
  • It helps your puppy to understand how you teach
  • It teaches your puppy that it can trust you
  • It sets the precedent for all future training by building important communication skills between you and your puppy

Remember that your patience and understanding will go a long way in this process, and you will be thankful in the future that you took the time to do this properly now.

Hunter Reed

I've owned and trained German Shepherds for over 18 years now. I'm originally from Indiana, though I've lived in many different states and traveled extensively. The places change, my dogs don't. German Shepherds have been my constant companions. I love every aspect of training them and simply just having them around. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge about German Shepherds with the world, and I encourage all future dog owners to consider one as a companion as well. Read my story here.

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