Toilet Training

Learning how to toilet train your German Shepherd Dog (GSD) puppy doesn’t have to be stressful or worrisome BUT it does take some time and persistence. When you bring your puppy home, the first house rule it should learn is not to poop and pee in the house. If you do it right, you’ll see it’s easier than you think. I’ve had the pleasure of toilet training many GSD pups and the key is to teach your puppy that eliminating inside is out of bounds.

When pups are born, they eat, poop, and pee in the den. Thanks to mum their den is never smelly or unhygienic. Part of mum’s job is to clean up the mess. The benefit of this conditioning to keep their living quarters clean has already commenced. So, IT’S UP TO YOU to teach your new GSD puppy where the appropriate places to relieve itself are. Dogs are context-bound. This means that once they learn a habit, they’ll keep doing it. For example, if a puppy learns to poop and pee on the grass instead of your beautifully paved driveway it will always go on the grass.Your GSD puppy’s digestive system is ‘well oiled’ and efficient. This is great news for you! Anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes after eating your pup will want to go to the toilet. All you have to do is feed at regular times and clock watch.


At approximately 20 days your GSD puppy is able to control its bodily functions. In other words, it will eliminate when necessary. At 8 to 16 weeks your pup can only hold its pee for approximately 2 hours. Take the pup out every hour to be safe. By the time your puppy is 16 weeks, it will be able to hold its pee for at least 4 hours. And from six months it will be able to hold its pee for up to four hours. Remember, use only positive methods and never punishment.

How to potty train a GSD puppy is influenced by your attitude in a BIG way. Attitude will influence how long it takes and how successful the training will be. Puppies and adult dogs take a lot of cues from our voice and body language. Rushing your puppy or distracting your puppy with your voice could make the puppy nervous and prevent it from ‘doing its business’. Stay relaxed and avoid verbal encouragement. 

Your GSD puppy will need to go potty first thing in the morning, after eating, when waking up from a nap, and usually after playing. Set a routine according to these needs and it will learn the process in no time. Rewarding your puppy each time it gets it right will encourage your puppy to keep doing the right thing. You can reward with a treat or affection. This depends on which your pup wants more of. I use a mixture to avoid my part from becoming too attached to treats. If your puppy does have an accident inside, DO NOT PUNISH IT!  This means, no raised voice or shouting. Punishment will cause negative feelings about natural bodily functions. It may even encourage the puppy to find sneaky places inside to use as its toilet, which you want to avoid at all costs.

  • If you catch your puppy in the act, the trick is to interrupt its ‘flow’ by saying the word outside (or any word you like) just be consistent.
  • Then pick the puppy up and take the puppy to where you DO want the the puppy to eliminate itself.

Although you can easily teach your GSD puppy to use pee pads or paper, it only complicates potty training. Why you ask? Well, because at some point they will need to be transitioned from pee pads or paper to outside. So essentially, you’re adding an extra step to potty training. This can cause confusion and potty-training accidents. Rather go for gold and get your puppy condition to using their toilet outside!

YOU WILL need to sacrifice some sleep for a walk. You can’t expect your puppy to keep it in for longer than they can. If accidents are happening at night, you should take your puppy out more often. Accidents will happen, but the more your puppy has potty accidents in its personal space, the more comfortable it will be in doing it. Therefore, you really want to avoid this at all costs.

Access to new spaces depends on whether your puppy is performing well with potty training. If the puppy has had accidents around the house, allowing access to other areas is setting the puppy and yourself up for failure. In general, with training if a puppy does make a mistake, it’s an opportunity to learn. But with potty training, you really want to avoid giving your puppy the opportunity to eliminate inside.

There are some common mistakes that could make potty training your German shepherd puppy go less smoothly than you intend watch out for these little things:

  1. Feeding your puppy too many different foods on a given day.
  2. Overfeeding or allowing free feeding and watering.
  3. Feeding too close to bedtime.
  4. Feeding salty foods like process meats.
  5. Feeding too many treats in one go.
  6. Expecting your GSD puppy to know instinctively how to let you know it needs to go on a potty run.
  7. Leaving your puppy alone for too long, which will force it to eliminate inside.
  8. Not teaching your puppy a specific cue so it will understand that is now time to ‘take care of business’ and not for play. I use the phrase ‘go potty’,
  9. Allowing the puppy access to lovely, soft absorbent rugs- which are very comfortable to pee on.
  10. Not being around when your puppy does eliminate outside. YOU are responsible for teaching your puppy that YOU like what it has just done, and YOU must be there to REWARD it.
  11. Not cleaning inside accidents with appropriate cleaners to remove the smell.

Training should not be stressful; it is a time of bonding. Your puppy is learning house rules to ensure the happy coexistence of both you and puppy for a very long time to come. The puppy is learning to trust you, which forms an important foundation for future and further training. 

The keynotes to take away here are:

  • Work with nature and build on the conditioning your puppy has already begun to learn from its mother.
  • Be consistent and rely on your puppy’s natural context-bound nature. Teach your pup where its toilet is. It will learn fast and make the connection.
  • Rely on your GSD puppy’s predictable digestive tract and bladder by setting a routine.
  • Reward your puppy when it gets it right. This will encourage the pub to do it again and again.
  • Remember that a mistake is a learning opportunity for your GSD puppy, so stay positive and relaxed.
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