The Tent-tacular Outdoor Potty Tent

November 2021: We have a new fun-sized shed! AND Penelope can take a ramp right into the shed to go potty so she doesn’t have to take stairs or be carried. New photos at the bottom.
December 2020: We added spotlights! New photos at the bottom.
November 2019: I’ve posted new photos at the bottom since we constructed the original Potty Tent a few years ago. We did have to get a new tent for Peanut and were able to reuse the sides. Before Penelope’s first winter in Chicago, we decided to spring for a temporary shed that we could reuse. We went with a bigger and longer size since we had the space. We intentionally bought a rounded top to ease the pressure of snow build up – if that happens, we gently tap it from the inside and it all falls off. It wasn’t cheap and it takes up quite a bit of weekend for Joel to build, but it is 1000% worth it to have the peace of mind that not only don’t we have to mess with shoveling snow but the winds and any cold rain is also a non-issue. Joel got anchor kits and straps to ensure it’s well secured into the ground. This is ideal for people who struggle with shoveling, just don’t want to shovel, or have a dog that struggles with going potty outside in the snow and would benefit from clear, available grass or dirt.  

Last year was one of the coldest winters on record with extremely heavy snowfall; I won’t soon forget it. As temperatures started to drop this past fall, I couldn’t help but fret about what winter would have in store for us this year and how it would take its toll on Peanut’s potty time. Considering how difficult the whole process was for all of us and knowing that her little body would be taxed even further with age, I really wanted to make this season easier to manage.

My first thought was to buy an outdoor dog kennel and cover it with tarps or boards. There was much discussion between Joel and I about the ideal size of the kennel, how much to spend, how much work it would involve, the likelihood of Peanut actually using it, etc. After all, we tried using a bottomless camping tent outside a few years ago but we believe she did not use it because she thought she was still indoors.

I searched craigslist often over several weeks to find used kennels that might fit the bill but we never found anything that stood out as the best option.  Just when I thought this project was not going to happen, Joel proposed boarding up the sides of a pole tent we already owned.

Our project was a go.

Joel in the completed potty tent

A fine-looking potty tent indeed!

It has been over two months since we built the potty tent. I’ll cut to the chase and share that it has been a complete success ! We could not possibly be happier with the tremendous relief from the hassles of winters past. Why?

No snow or ice!* 
No getting knocked over by high winds!!
Instant access to clear, odiferous grass!!!

What We Used

  • 10 x 10 pole tent
  • 9 sheets of medium-density fibreboard (MDF) 97 mm thick; 3’ x 11’ 7/8” (1.21m x 2.43m) These boards were not designed for outdoor use
  • 2-3 boxes of small nuts and bolts
  • Gorilla Glue
  • 13 wooden lawn stakes
  • 12 cable ties
  • Table saw
  • Center support board
  • Truck (rented to get the boards to the house since our cars were not large enough)

Approximate total cost: $180 (excluding the tent which we already had)

The following is based on using the materials above and Joel’s measurements for our particular tent.

Confirming our plan: We put up the tent and picked out what we believed would be the best spot. We considered the distance from the door to the house and direction of wind.

Preparing the boards: This was a weekend project that Joel approximates took about eight hours. This included cutting the boards down two feet each in length so that they would not be taller than the tent. Boards were placed flat on the ground and overlapped about one foot on either side. For our tent, this meant using three boards per side for a total of nine. Joel then glued the overlapped sections together so that he had three full sides for the tent. Lastly, he drilled holes spaced about ten inches apart through the overlaps so that he could add nuts and bolts for extra strength.

close up of tent boards

Close up of glue, nuts, and bolts.

Attaching the boards: We transported the three tent walls around to the backyard where the tent had been erected. With the boards propped upright against the tent legs, Joel drilled holes into the boards where they met at the corners (top, middle, and bottom). This is where we fed the cable ties through, securing the boards to each other.

tent pole corner

 Duct tape secures the tent frame. Cable ties (2 of 3 shown) secure boards at right angles.
Slight buckling is is visible after two months.

 Securing the tent: The last steps included pounding in the wooden lawn stakes. This was meant to help stabilize the walls with the buckling and movement we expected to occur from winds and general outdoor wear and tear. The stakes were added to both the inside and outside for stability and extra strength against wind.

tent and lots of snow

 Two outside stakes are visible. This has to be done before the ground freezes.

The potty tent was completed in the nick of time. It snowed that same weekend. We were deliriously happy that the tent remained completely clear, however, Peanut was not immediately sure what to make of it. We had to keep her in socks since she ambled in and out of the tent for several days. I later added two small leaf piles to the tent when I made the connection that leaves seemed to…inspire her. That’s all it took. Once she went potty in the tent, the rest of the snow-covered yard became completely undesirable.**

view from inside the potty tent

 View from inside.

After two months’ time, the boards have buckled a bit but it’s not bad. We made it a point to brush off any snow that would collect on the top of the tent because the cover is only a thin canvas material. Because we grew concerned about just how much snow the cover could take, we added a tarp over the tent draped down at an angle from our deck for added security. I’m not sure how we would have reinforced the canvas top if we didn’t have this option.

potty tent is holding up in extreme snow falls

View of inside. Several wooden stakes support the walls on all sides.

We’re delighted that the tent has provided an excellent barrier from snow and wind; it’s exactly what we hoped for and then some. The benefits we have all enjoyed have far exceeded the cost of materials and our efforts to build it. We don’t intend for this tent to be up year round, only for winter. It would be great if we could reuse these same materials, but if not, we will absolutely consider investing in sturdier components for future use.

Hopefully others who have similar problems can use this idea to create their own wintertime potty oasis!

Peanut in the potty tent

Peanut gives the potty tent two dew claws up!

*A little snow collected in the corners when winds were extremely high.

**Peanut also made the connection that being in the potty tent equaled treats. Because she is so food-motivated and a bit too smart for her own good, she would go in there and do somewhat of a curtsy while staring at me like she did her part and now it was my turn. We had to once again start rewarding potty anywhere she went outside, just so long as she knew that inside the tent area was also an acceptable choice.

UPDATE: My suggestion to anyone interested in researching options would be to also check out fabric sheds (aka temporary or portable garages) from big box retailers like Home Depot and Menards.

Read the reviews for various sizes. You’ll likely find mixed reviews that some did and did not hold up in high winds and snow; I think a lot of it has to to do with how the shed/portable garage is set up, secured, and maintained. If you want to set-it-and-forget-it you have to get something really substantial and durable. Read what some folks did to strengthen and secure the structures. Notice how our tent has a wooden board dug slightly into the ground, centered in the very middle and secured to the top/center of the tent, providing extra stability against high winds.

November 2019

Purchased from Shelter Logic:

Joel and Pen in the tent for perspective.

We’ll leave this side open – hang a right out the door and we’re in!

December 2020

We’ve moved! We are now in a ranch which has eliminated stairs to get outside, however, we traded them in for a long walk to the tent. Here is the potty tent that now has remote controlled spotlights! Two spotlights (outdoor rated!) set on the ground are plugged into an outdoor extension cord that plugs into the remote-controlled power hub. Turning the lights on and off from inside is a snap.

November 2021 – The new 6×6 Shelter-Logic shed used as a covered potty area. Cost was under $200 from Lowe’s.

Took a few hours in the afternoon for Joel to build. We lucked out having a little nook of the house to tuck it into. Not my first choice since it’s in the front of the house, however, it works the best for us since it’s protected from the west, there are only 2 stairs that we can cover with a ramp, and we don’t have an HOA to tell us we can’t have it there.
I have to duck a bit to get in there, but at 5’3″, I can stand upright. Joel will probably stand outside the shed when he takes Pen out.

Check out the ramp from the top stair! One of my concerns between last winter and this one was Pen’s issues with her back; she re-tweaked it late summer and didn’t want to be picked up. She also had CCL surgery in 2020 and has had intermittent shoulder issues, so I didn’t want her taking stairs. I purchased ramps for the back deck so she could walk herself to the big tent but it would be a lot of maintenance, about 4 times a day, to keep the path clear and make sure the ramps weren’t slippery. We’ll cover this one with a non-slip rubber mat cut to size, which is easy to brush frost off of or shake out any ice chunks. Otherwise we can quickly and easily move the ramp to the covered porch if it’s going to snow a lot since the front door is right there on the left.

The natural cedar shreds we bought turned out to be various sized toothpicks that make their way on to her coat and into the house. We need to find a different substrate for next year.

5 thoughts on “The Tent-tacular Outdoor Potty Tent

  1. Thank you, that is SO sweet of you to say! Because she has always been fantastic about going outside all these years, we feel badly for her as a senior with achy old bones trying to do the right thing in nasty weather. I’ll never understand it but she has to find THE right spot. Even when we do our best shoveling we can tell she gets exasperated that there aren’t any good spots. YES, the tent held up even after 20″ of snow!! WHOO HOO!!! 🙂

  2. Pingback: The Dogged Battle of Frosty Paws | The Fickle Feather

  3. How does this area get “disinfected” over winter? Obviously pick up the poop instantly but what about the urine? Do you spray it with water or some other agent?

    • We don’t do anything different about the urine in winter. In the large tent, it’s going into grass and the dirt below, as it would be anywhere else in the yard. Because the front of the house didn’t have grass, just dirt that will freeze over, we added mulch so it has somewhere to go. Because it’s outside and the tent stays open, there’s been no issue with smell or any particular area getting too overloaded with urine (or poop that’s easy to clean up). Since the mulch process is new for us, we’ll probably replace that little area with fresh mulch in spring even though we’ll remove the shed.

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