If your puppy is asking to go out too frequently, you may be feeling frustrated.
Perhaps, you may wonder whether your puppy is starting to take advantage of the fact that you are so quick to open up the door because you think he may need to go potty.
Puppies though don't really think in these terms. In other words, they don't plot a fake need to potty for the mere fact of driving you nuts.
Rather, puppies, simply learn through cause and effect and make associations.
Fortunately, there are ways to tackle this issue so to make outdoor trips a little boring, so that your puppy won't be constantly asking to be taken out.
However, when in doubt, it would be important to firstly have the pup see the vet, just in case he or she may be suffering from some medical issue.
Ruling Out Medical Problems
Puppies, just like dogs, can be prone to developing urinary problem. In particular, urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cause well potty-trained puppies to want to go outside on a frequent basis.
When suffering from urinary tract infections, puppies will often pee frequently and in small amounts. You'll often see them squat and produce only a few drops at a time.
This shouldn't be confused with the more purposeful urine marking that may be seen later as puppies develop.
On top of more frequent trips outside, puppies with a UTI may also lick their private areas more, and, when they urinate, there may be presence of blood in the urine and the urine may have strong smell.
Although both male and female puppies are prone to developing urinary tract infections, female dogs are more likely to develop them because of their anatomy.
Female dogs tend to have a shorter and wider urethra which makes it easier for bacteria to climb up in the urinary tract and cause a bothersome infection.
For male dogs instead, the trip up is a bit more complicated, but just because of this, doesn't mean that male dogs can't get urinary tract infections too.
So to be on the safe side, it's best to have your puppy see the vet, especially if this is new behavior. Your vet can give you directions on how to collect a urine sample. A bladder ultrasound may also need to be done so to rule out bladder stones.
Please note: if your puppy is over 6-months old and intact (not spayed), and asking to go outside a whole lot, there may be chances she may be going in heat.
Female dogs in heat often want to be taken outside to urine mark so to advertise their "availability" to males.
If you own a male dog, and he is intact too, he may be asking to be let out because he smells a female dog in heat.
The Power of Reinforcement
If your dog is not suffering from any medical issue and is not intact, chances are, the great outdoors (with its whole stimulus package) is what's attracting him the most.
Imagine for a moment, being a child in front of Walt Disney World's entrance. The gate to the amusement park is closed, but every time you go near it, a friendly character opens it up for you.
You wander around this magic world, and have fun, but after some time, you are taken out of there. However, as soon as you approach the gate again, you are granted access to the great world once again.
This is somewhat similar to what your puppy must feel when he's taken out in the yard. There are so many fun sights and smells to explore he can't wait to get there more and more. However, he may feel a little upset every time all the fun ends and he's taken back inside.
Imagine, how happy he may feel though once he realizes how, just by approaching the door, it magically opens and he's let out in the magical yard again.
This is the power of positive reinforcement. After several trials, your puppy learns quickly how approaching the door makes good things happen, (even if you may be annoyed by it). Because of this great consequence, your puppy will move towards the door more and more.
This is the same mechanism behind getting your puppy to sit (or perform any other desired behavior.) If every time your puppy sits, and the moment his rump touches the floor you say "yes!" and hand him a tasty treat, after a few reps, your puppy will soon be eager to sit more and more because of the great consequence (the tasty treat).
Keep in Mind Extinction Bursts
Now, sometimes we may be getting tired of getting up to let the puppy outside, especially when the trips are fruit-less (in other words, the puppy doesn't pee or poop once outside, but just sniffs around and plays).
At some point we may therefore decide to start ignoring the puppy's trips towards the door, especially after haven gone potty recently. However, your puppy won't likely give up easily because of his past strong reinforcement history.
He may therefore place himself repeatedly in front of the door and maybe even do something he has never done before such as vocalize, or paw at the door. This intensifying of the behavior is known as an "extinction burst.'
Back to the child in Disney, what if the friendly character no longer opens the gate? The child may try again and again to approach it, and at some time, may even start crying or maybe even get frustrated and pull at the bars. Even in this case, we are seeing an extinction burst at play.
Now, back to the puppy, if you keep on ignoring a puppy's request to be taken out, you risk him giving up signaling altogether, even when he needs to go potty. Of course, you don't want this to happen.
If instead, you give in, and open the door during an extinction burst, you will have reinforced persistence. In other words, your puppy will learn to insist to grab your attention if you ever decide to ignore again. This can get annoying if your puppy is asking to go out for fun.
So what to do if your puppy keeps asking to go out too frequently? Read on for a simple solution.
Turn "Un-Productive" Trips into Boring Trips
Next time your puppy heads towards the door, get the leash, clip it on, take your puppy to his usual potty area and give him the opportunity to go potty. Keep it short, no more than 5 minutes.
If he goes, immediately praise him as if he won the Nobel prize, give him a treat and take the leash off (if you own a safe fenced yard) so he can go have fun.
If he doesn't go, nonchalantly, make an about turn and go back inside. Watch him very carefully once inside, and then try taking him out again in another 10-15 minutes or earlier if you notice any signs your puppy needs to go potty.
With time, your puppy should learn that when he's sent outside, the first thing he needs to do is to potty, and then, only afterward he can have some fun in the yard.
He should also come to learn that asking to go out only to have fun, will lead to a boring outing, without much going on.
While you're at it, why not teach your puppy to go potty on command? Once your dog masters this, a simple "go potty" cue can considerably shorten the time you spend outdoors to get your dog to do his business.
This is a win-win so you don't have to spend time walking your puppy on leash and your puppy can spend more time exploring the yard.
If My Puppy Went Potty, But Still Whines to Go Outside, Should I Ignore?
Now, this is something that will need us to make some judgment calls.
A good question to ask oneself is: when your dog has whined in the past shortly after going potty, and you have taken him out, does he ever pee or poop or just spends time in the yard exploring or playing?
If the latter is the trend, and you are certain that he has already peed and pooped, you can skip taking him out again since he's officially empty, - so unless there's a medical issue at play it *should* be OK to ignore.
Ignoring in this case would mean, zero attention, no looking, no talking, not even attention of the negative type (like reprimanding or telling him to be quiet).
When ignoring a behavior that was previously reinforced, an extinction burst usually takes place (louder whining, maybe pawing at the door), so that should be ignored as well. BUT...sometimes we need to give the puppy the benefit of doubt.
For instance, in some cases, puppies may get diarrhea, so if your puppy is prone to this or you have introduced a new food or new treats, better to go on a boring trip than clean a mess on the floor (which can also risk causing setbacks in potty training).
Also, you need to be watchful for the phenomenon of "incomplete bladder emptying." Sometimes puppies get distracted, so they start peeing, but then interrupt the flow to sniff or play and therefore they come back inside only to finish peeing right after you close the door.
Some other pups are "multiple urinators," they'll pee small trickles 2-3 times in a row rather than one big puddle-so know your pup's normal habits.
Ensuring All Needs Are Met
Ignoring a pup's request to be taken out though isn't without problems. For this reason, I am not too big of a big proponent of ignoring for various reasons.
So more than ignoring, a better approach would be this: when you are certain that your puppy is "empty," meaning he has pooped and peed, take advantage of this time for keeping your dog entertained.
The goal is to pre-empt the behavior of asking to go outside by offering some extra enrichment so that your pup doesn't get to rehearse any attention-seeking behaviors.
So for instance, after your pup eliminates outside, praise him like he won the Nobel prize and give him a treat. Then, you can let him explore the yard off leash or take him on a fun exploration walk.
Then once home, do everything possible to prevent the going-to-the-door behavior in the first place at least until his next potty trip.
If his whining takes place close to his usual potty time, take him out because we want to reinforce whining for a genuine need to potty. Even if it wasn't genuine though, you are doing the boring trip so that has you covered.
This may require some advanced planning such as the moment you take off the leash, engage him in some fun activities like play with a ball or do some fun clicker training, and then offer him something long-lasting to engage with (like a stuffed frozen Kong) so to keep his mind off the going out.
If your pup is crate trained, you can give the stuffed Kong there-he may take a nap afterward. When he wakes up, it's time to potty, especially if he whines, since most pups need to potty after taking a nap.
This is one of those things requiring judgment calls sort of like with babies crying, should I always attend to a baby crying or ignore? But what if we pre-empt all needs so to prevent crying in the first place? This approach helps cover most basis.
So make sure that your puppy gets to enjoy several enrichment opportunities through fun brain games, sniffing adventures, play, socialization and fun training throughout the day!