How to Potty Train a German Shepherd
Potty training is one of the most dreaded parts of owning a puppy. There are many reasons for this, starting with inevitable accidents and potty training regression. How simple the process is will also depend on your commitment and your dog itself.
Typically, German Shepherd puppies are not among the most difficult to train, and that is thanks to their working and eager-to-please nature. Although GSDs are often associated with adjectives such as fierce and powerful, they are also linked to loyal and brave.
One thing is for sure, if you commit wholeheartedly to potty training your German Shepherd puppy, he will understand your expectations in just a few days. There are certain things within your control that can help speed the process along, and that is exactly what we will cover today.
What You Need To Potty Train Your German Shepherd Puppy
Before you can even start thinking about potty training, you have to make sure you are very well prepared. There are accessories and tools you need to purchase before toilet training can start and maybe even before you bring your German Shepherd puppy home.
Keep in mind that you won’t need all of the house training tools we listed below. It all depends on your method of potty training your German Shepherd pups so be sure to pick and choose what is relevant to you.
Puppy Pads and Holder
The first item is a controversial one, and that is the puppy pad. Not all trainers, breeders, and dog owners suggest using this as a toilet training aid, but we do. Potty pads are ideal for those who want to train their German Shepherd puppies to learn potty training inside and outside the home.
We understand that it isn’t the most popular choice if you intend to train your German Shepherds to go potty outside only. If this is something you want to do, then pass on the puppy pad because it will encourage your German Shepherd puppy to go indoors.
If you are someone that wants to give your puppy the freedom to go both indoors and out, then we would also suggest investing in a puppy pad holder. This is a plastic construct that holds the pee pad in place and it has a grate on top of the pad so your dog’s paws are elevated above the pad. This is super helpful because it prevents your dog from tracking wet footprints all over the house.
It could take some more effort if you do get a puppy pad holder because you will need to give it a wash once a week or more frequently because it could start to smell over time even if you do switch out the doggy pads every day.
Regardless of how you decide to potty train a German Shepherd pup, puppy wipes are a must-have accessory. They come in handy when your GSD pup makes a mess or if you accidentally get your hands dirty. They are a great stand-in for shampooing your dog or washing your hands until you get inside the house.
Leash and Harness
A leash or collar and a harness are necessities for bringing any puppy home, and not just for potty training. When your puppy is younger, some trainers would recommend a collar for more control. This is up to you, but we recommend switching to a harness as he grows older because it prevents choking on walks.
You would also make sure to get the sizing right. Since German Shepherds are large dogs, your puppy will have a lot of growing to do until he reaches his full size. It’s inevitable that you will need to switch out your old harness for a new one as it’s very difficult to find one that can adjust from the size of German Shepherd puppies to full-grown adult dogs.
The right size will allow you to fit two fingers through between the harness and your dog at any point. Any tighter than that will cause chafing and any looser than that will give your dog enough room to squirm out.
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This one is also a necessity for potty cleanups. Poop bags are where you place used puppy pads, poop, doggy wipes, and anything else that is waste-related and needs disposing of. It’s best to purchase biodegradable options as they pose less of a threat to the environment, especially when your pup poops quite frequently. It’s best to understand how often puppies poop normally.
Poop bags also come in rolls where you can clip them on your dog’s leash on a walk. This will leave you hands-free to control your rambunctious German Shepherd puppy.
A poop scoop is mainly used in the backyard rather than on walks because it’s quite a cumbersome tool to carry around. The device is used to scoop up your dog’s poop without having to get your hands dirty, but since it resembles a shovel, it isn’t the most convenient item to tote around.
Not everyone has a poop scoop and many dog owners prefer to just pick up their dog’s waste by hand. A pooper scooper can be a hassle to use and it’s also a good idea to hose it down once in a while.
Lastly, treats are a definite must when it comes to house training a German Shepherd puppy. You want your dog to associate potty training and going in the right area with something positive – this is called positive reinforcement.
Dogs will generally eat most treats, but it’s still worthwhile to figure out what your dog likes so you can incentivize him even more during the potty training routine. Have a bag or a few of his favorite treats handy to speed up the process.
For accidents, an enzyme cleaner is your best friend. It’s the most effective cleaner for doggy messes if you don’t want them to frequent the same spot. Enzyme cleaners break down soiled molecules and remove any odor residue so your pet won’t be tempted to return to the same spot.
Our advice is to clean the soiled area immediately so the urine or feces don’t take hold permanently.
Keys to Potty Training Your German Shepherd Puppy
There are many ways to potty train a German Shepherd pup, and we have outlined them below along with a few tips to help you out.
Set a Routine for Your German Shepherd Puppy
The most important step of the potty training routine is to set a schedule. Dogs thrive on a set schedule because it will help them adapt to their new home and understand what’s expected of them within a few days.
You should definitely give your dog a potty break when he wakes up in the morning and before he goes to bed. You will be required to insert potty breaks during the night as well, depending on how old your German Shepherd puppy is – this is all part of basic training.
It’s also important to have potty breaks after mealtimes and during and after play sessions. It sounds like the potty training schedule is every minute of every day, and to be honest, in the beginning it can seem that way. However, once your GSD puppy gets a hang of the potty training process, you will no longer have to follow him around and worry about accidents all day.
The Potty Routine
Regardless of how you potty train your German Shepherd puppy, the first step is to take your pup directly to the potty area whether it’s indoors or out, right when your pup wakes up. Do not give them a chance to get oriented because they might squat and go right away. Do not give up or let your pup roam until he relieves himself. There should have been some time between his last potty break so he will definitely need to go.
Whether your dog goes indoors or out, remember to reward him handsomely with his favorite treat to show him a job well done. You don’t have to give your German Shepherd puppy a treat until he finishes his business, but it’s important to shower him with verbal praise while he’s doing it so he knows exactly what to do to please you.
The same potty training concept applies to any time of the day. Take your dog to his potty spot and supervise him until he goes. Give him praise while he’s eliminating and reward him with a treat after. Do not give up until your dog goes.
However, there will be times when your dog simply doesn’t need to go. If he only went 20 min ago and didn’t drink any water since he may not need to potty. In this case, try for about 10 minutes and if he doesn’t go, place your German Shepherd puppy back in his crate and wait for around 15 minutes before trying toilet training again.
The key to success is repetition, consistency, patience, and praise. With time, your German Shepherd will be fully potty trained.
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How Often Should You Take Out Your German Shepherd Puppy to Potty?
How often you take your GSD puppy out for a potty break really depends on his activity levels, his water intake, and the time of the day. However, we have outlined the most crucial times for a potty break below.
- Take them out after a nap.
- Take them out after a play session.
- Take them out after a meal.
- Take them out after any time of stimulation.
- Take them out after they drink a large amount of water.
- Take them out first thing in the morning and the last thing at night..
- Know how to read the potty signs! (we’ll cover this later)
In general, an 8-week old German Shepherd puppy needs to go every 2 hours regardless. A pup can hold it for his age plus 1, which means an 8 week or 2-month old pup can hold it for 3 hours at the most. Keep in mind that this is just a guideline, and you need to tailor the house training routine to fit your GSD.
If you plan on crate training, we don’t suggest crating your German Shepherd puppy for longer than they can hold it. You should also find time to let your pup out more frequently if he ate a large meal or drank large amounts of water.
The nighttime potty training routine is the most difficult, and no one wants accidents you need to clean up in the dead of night. To avoid this, limit your dog’s water intake to around 2 hours before bed.
You may need to wake up your pup for a potty break once or twice during the night, but don’t worry because at 3 or 4 months old he should get the hang of it and get closer to holding it through the night.
Accidents happen, and this is an unavoidable fact when you potty train a German Shepherd puppy. The important part is how you deal with it and how you avoid t in the future.
How to Prevent Accidents in Your Home
- Limit your dog’s space. Enclose him in an area or room for the day so he isn’t free to wander off and do his business elsewhere for you to find later. You can also consider attaching your German Shepherd puppy to you with a short leash. The most vital way to prevent your German Shepherd from soiling the wrong place is to keep your eye on him at all times.
- Keep them in the crate when you need to take care of things or aren’t able to keep an eye on them, but only for however long they can hold it.
- Consider using a doggy pen with a designated potty area inside if you allow your dog to go indoors.
- Always keep your eye on your German Shepherd puppy. We understand that most of us are busy and have things to take care of, so refer to points 2 and 3 when you’re occupied with other tasks.
Crate training is the not-so-secret solution to potty train a German Shepherd quickly and successfully. In general, dogs don’t “go where they sleep or eat”, and the crate is a dog owner’s method of maximizing this natural instinct. You will only achieve successful potty training with a crate if you do it right.
There are plenty of dog owners out there who have accidentally created a negative association with the crate. The crate is supposed to function as a German Shepherd puppy’s den or safe space.
It’s where he can retreat whenever he’s feeling tired or anxious. To do this, you have to make the crate somewhere your German Shepherd puppy wants to be.
Make the crate very comfortable with blankets, his favorite toys, crate liners and covers and anything else your dog likes just as long as it’s safe. Do not use it as a form of punishment, such as shutting your dog in the crate when he had an accident or did something bad. Doing this will only put a damper on your German Shepherd potty training.
Once your dog has taken to the crate, your German Shepherd puppy won’t protest being in there when you need him out of the way or secure while you’re not at home. It will give you a lot of control over accident prevention.
How to Get Your German Shepherd to Love His Crate
- Do not force them in and do not trap them. Crate training is a slow and gradual process that will take time and patience.
- You can try feeding your pup in the crate. Dogs usually like to eat, so he will take a liking to his feeding spot. You can do it in a fun way, such as stuffing Kong toys with his daily meal or treats.
- Reward them with treats for positive reinforcement when they go in willingly.
- Teach them verbal cues that signal you want them to go into the crate and reward them when they do.
- Don’t shut the door immediately and do it for small increments at a time. Remember to give your German Shepherd puppy plenty of praise!.
One more very important point about crate training that we must stress is the size of the crate. You cannot potty train a German Shepherd puppy in a crate that’s too large, because he will end up going in one corner and sleeping in the other end. The purpose of the crate is to give your dog no room to poop and urinate without laying on it after.
A crate that’s too small will be excruciatingly uncomfortable and inhumane for your dog. It will also be very difficult for your dog to like the crate. The best size is a crate that allows your dog to stand up, turn around comfortably and perhaps take one or two steps, and lay down.
Potty Training Without a Crate
House training without a crate will definitely involve puppy pads. If that’s something you are hesitant to do and allow your pup to go indoors, then we advise you to use a crate. Instead of a crate, you can try using a baby gate or a pen.
A baby gate is only advised for a completely potty-trained pup. This is because a baby gate closes off a portion of the house or at least a room, and that’s way too much space to potty train a German Shepherd pup.
A pen will work similarly to a crate, in which you give your German Shepherd puppy a gated area to call his own. Either way will call for the use of puppy pads, whether you choose to use a pen or a crate. You need to have a designated potty area within the pen or room where your GSD puppy can go to relieve himself.
Place one puppy pad on the ground, preferably on tile or linoleum, something not susceptible to water. You can place a few more in the beginning, because a puppy usually has a poor aim, especially the males. You can gradually remove the pads one by one afterward.
It’s crucial not to lay down too many pads in an attempt to not clean up the mess for as long as possible or to avoid one altogether. Placing more than one pad will give your dog too much freedom and too much space to understand the importance of a potty area.
Using Puppy Pads Successfully
For those who want to use puppy pads in depth, we have a few tips to ensure success during house training. Change the puppy pads as soon as you can. You don’t have to change it after your German Shepherd pup goes to the bathroom just once, but it’s a good idea to change it before it becomes soaked.
Not only will your dog be hesitant to go potty in a dirty spot, but having a pad sit out for days won’t do you any favors with the odors. In the beginning, you can leave a smelly pad out that’s lightly soiled just so your pup understands that this is the potty area and let the smell attract him back.
How to Train Your German Shepherd Puppy to Go Outside After Puppy Pads
For those who plan on using puppy pads as a temporary solution and want to eventually transition outdoors, we have a few tips that will make it easier.
- Set up the puppy pads near the door.
- You can also choose to transition the puppy pads closer to the door as time goes on.
- Don’t make any sudden moves. By this we mean every transition should be done slowly and gradually with enough leeway for your pup to grow accustomed to the new potty area until you move it again.
- When your puppy pad is right next to the door is when the permanent change can take place. Watch out for the telltale signs of your dog having to go potty and move him swiftly from the pad and out the door. Remember to reward him well when he does a good job.
- As time passes, you can add verbal cues instead of physically ushering them out the door. When your GSD pup gets the hang of that, try to monitor him and see if he can make the connection to go out the door himself.
Know the Signs
As we have mentioned a few times, a crucial step to a fully potty-trained pup is to know when they need to go so you can preemptively strive. There are certain signs a dog exhibits when he needs to go, which we will cover down below. Learn to understand their body language to know when they need to eliminate it.
- Stops whatever he is doing and starts wandering around as if searching for something
- Sniffs around on the floor
- Digging, circling and sniffing
- Wanders to and sniffs around an area where accidents have happened
- Whines while doing any of the above
- Paces around the door (if he is house trained)
If your dog is displaying any of the above behaviors, don’t wait for a second longer or you may miss your chance to usher him outside. Every pup is different so it will take some trial and error before you learn to recognize your puppy’s unique signals. Don’t come down on yourself or your German Shepherd puppy for any misses. Each error or accident is another learning opportunity.
Adding Potty Training Verbal Cues
Adding in a verbal cue is very easy when you know when to introduce it, what to say, and when it’s done repetitively. Before you add any verbal cues, you should first learn your dog’s potty signs. Once that is done you can add a code word such as “pee pee” to guide them.
You want to do it as you’re showing them the potty spot, or pee pad and guide them onto it. Once he has done it, remember to shower him with praise and maybe even his favorite treat.
Keep at it until one day he understands your words and goes right to his potty spot on cue. This will happen sooner than you think with everyday repetition. Don’t yell at your pup if he doesn’t master it right away because he will get it eventually. Scolding your German Sheperd puppy will actually have the opposite effect and set you back.
What to Do about Potty Training Regression or Setbacks
Puppy training regression is something that can happen no matter what you are trying to teach your dog. If you house train your GSD pup and he seems to be doing well within the first month or two, you should still be prepared that regression could happen.
We already know how to deal with accidents when you house train a pooch, but regression is something different. It’s almost as if your pop forgot what to do.
Not all dogs will go through regression, but what should you do if yours does?
Before you get upset with your dog for going to the wrong place, keep in mind that the problem could be medical. For example, if your German Shepherd puppy is made to hold in his urine for too long much too frequently, then he could very well be at risk for a UTI.
More serious issues could include bladder stones and infections that will not only may your pup extremely uncomfortable but could be very serious if left untreated. If you are also noticing that your pup has lost his appetite or is less playful and energetic than usual, you can take him to the vet for a checkup just to be safe.
Get Back to the Routine
Once you’re sure it’s not a medical issue, you can take steps to guide your German Shepherd puppy back on track to become fully potty trained once again. Take this time to reacquaint your German Shepherd puppy with the routine once more by using cue words, prompting him to go after meals and before bedtime, etc.
Take this time to also review your dog’s potty dance so you know when to nudge him towards his potty spot. Remember that regression may happen and it doesn’t take as long as the full potty training process to train a German Shepherd pup to get things right again.
Use positive reinforcement! We can’t stress this enough. It is the best way to train any puppy to understand what to do and to get back into the swing of things. Aside from treats, we would also encourage you to give your GSD plenty of praise. You don’t want to overfeed your dog on treats and have them add to your dog’s daily caloric intake.
Sometimes positive rewards for young puppies can be something as simple as a pat on the head and an encouraging word or two.
Potty training regression could happen just a few times or it could be a continuous period, and this usually happens around the 6 month time frame. However, if you notice your adult dogs are having trouble with potty regression, then we would lean more towards taking them to the vet just to get things checked out even if they do still exhibit an appetite and high energy levels.
After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry! Senior dogs may also have potty regression, but it wouldn’t be classified as that. As your dog ages, it may lose the ability to contract the muscles needed to hold in its urine, which could lead to incontinence. This is an issue with age and will need to be addressed medically.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it usually take to potty train a German Shepherd puppy?
How long does it take to train a German Shepherd puppy will depend on y our puppy and your method of training. In general, after just a few days of consistent house training during crucial times, your GSD will understand the basics of what to do. However, that doesn’t mean you have an officially potty trained pup on your hands.
There will still be accidents, but your German Shepherd will be able to get the hang of things within a few weeks. The time between potty breaks will gradually lengthen over time as your puppy gets older.
How do I stop my German Shepherd from peeing in the house?
Is your German Shepherd still having accidents in the house due to potty training or is your male GSD starting to mark the house and lift his leg? Spaying and neutering problematic marking and peeing in the house is a common solution recommended by vets and trainers.
If you have trained your GSD with puppy pads from a young age, then marking and peeing with his leg raised in the house will be less likely. This is because even male dogs at a young age do a little crouch to urinate, and it is a tendency they won’t break inside the home once they’re used to it.
It is still possible that he will have the urge to lift and pee, but if you gently dissuade him, your dog should be able to understand that lifting his leg to urinate indoors is not allowed.
What is the best age to start training a German Shepherd puppy?
You can start to train your GSD pup from as young as 8 weeks, in other words, the earliest when you bring them home. It’s best to start as soon as possible, but keep your expectations for the low the younger they are. A younger GSD puppy will have a harder time holding it, so be prepared for accidents. It’s not until about 4 months of age when your GSD is able to have better control of his bladder.
Anytime before that, it’s more the concept and idea of potty training that you want to instill in your dog instead of shooting for perfection.
Are German Shepherd puppies easy to train?
Yes, training your German Shepherd is considered easy compared to many other dogs. They may look intimidating, but GSDs are very obedient dogs that are eager to please their humans. They are one of the breeds that have worked side-by-side among mankind for centuries. In fact, it’s due to their obedient, loyal, and brave nature that they are the top choice for police dogs and service dogs.
Of course, we can’t forget their strong bite force and keen sense of smell, and intuition for danger, but don’t discount a GSDs love for their humans. It’s for all these reasons that training your German Shepherd is easier than you would think.
Now you are completely equipped with all the basic knowledge needed to train a German Shepherd puppy. Dogs are den animals, so crate training is a recommended form of house breaking as long as you make it a comfortable space.
Before your dog is able to have full bladder control, please remember to keep training positive and not get over frustrated with your dog. Dogs are sensitive creatures and can sense when you’re emotions are in distress, which will most likely prolong the process. Be patient, because your dog will get there eventually!