Puppy toilet training: How to toilet train your puppy

September 14th, 2016
Puppy toilet training: how to toilet train your dog

Toilet training a new puppy can be a messy business. Dogs Life’s handy guide can help you toilet train your pet in just two weeks.

Amid all the cuddles, cuteness and goofy antics, there’s one aspect of bringing home a new puppy that few dog owners enjoy: toilet training.

Just like human babies, puppies have small bladders and limited bowel control. They can’t simply hold on and must be taught where and when to go to the toilet. While most of us are prepared for a few weeks of indoor ‘accidents’, it can be frustrating when toilet training drags on and on.

“People often expect too much too soon,” says professional dog trainer and behaviourist Brad Griggs. “If we can consider a similar approach to the one we use when toilet training toddlers, we will generally have a more realistic expectation of the process.

“As the dog’s body matures and it gains more control over its bladder and bowels, it becomes more reliable and we can gradually increase our expectations of the puppy.

“Toilet training a puppy really is not difficult, so long as we remember that we have to think like dogs and ensure it’s easy for the dog to make the right decision.”

The good news is if you adopt that canine mindset, you could have a toilet-trained puppy within two weeks.

Minimise mistakes

While some puppies get to grips with toilet training more quickly than others, Griggs says all young dogs will respond to a simple and consistent training plan. “When teaching our puppies new skills or behaviours, the focus should be on the quality of the training rather than how quickly we can get it done,” he says.

“For a dog to become reliably house trained, it needs to not only have the right habits encouraged but for any mistakes or bad habits to be prevented.”

The biggest mistakes that dog owners make with toilet training include:

The wrong loo

Many dog owners don’t realise that puppies develop preferences for toileting on certain surfaces. Check with the breeder or shelter to find out where your pup has been doing its business.

“The surface that they learn to toilet on from four or five weeks of age will remain in their memory,” says dog trainer Louise Ginman. “Breeders who provide access to grass once pups come out of the whelping box will help them to learn to toilet on grass rather than on carpet, tiles or floorboards.

“If pups have been allowed to toilet on bedding or carpet, your job will be much harder.”

Returning to the same outdoor area is also important, advises Griggs. “Especially in the colder months, people tend to take their pups to the back door and stand inside in the warmth while the dog does its business,” he says.

“While it saves your socks getting wet, no one wants an adult Labrador pooing right outside the doorway. Select an area that you would like the dog to toilet in and take the puppy there every time.”

Crime & punishment

“Sadly, there are many people out there who still believe that the most efficient way to train a dog not to mess in the house is the use of punishment,” says Griggs.

In fact, punishing your puppy won’t stop him toileting inside — it will only stop him doing it where you can see him.

“If you catch the puppy in the act of elimination, mark the behaviour with a firm, calm “no”, then pick up the dog and, without further fuss, place him outside to complete his business,” advises Griggs.

“If a puppy is having trouble making the right decision to toilet outside, the problem almost certainly lies with the owner.”

Inappropriate supervision

If you can’t see your pooch, you won’t notice the signs that he needs to go — such as sniffing and circling. “In addition to this, dogs that have the full run of the house often sneak off and eliminate in a quiet corner,” says Griggs. “Confining your dog to a single room enables you to watch him closely and manage the toilet training process efficiently.”

Perfect timing

Naturally, the more opportunities you give your puppy to do his business in the right place, the quicker he’ll get the message. This means taking him outside at five key times:

  • After waking
  • After playing
  • After emotional arousal
  • After eating
  • After drinking

In between those times, especially in the early days, it can be helpful to take your puppy outside every hour — just in case. Once outside, wait for pup to go to the toilet. Be patient, as this may take some time.

When he has finished, praise and offer several treats one at a time. Once your puppy starts to toilet fairly quickly upon being brought outside, add a verbal cue such as “toilet” or “wees”.

“Make toileting the best trick ever and puppy will be sure to repeat it,” says Ginman.

Accidents happen

It can be very frustrating when a puppy that appears to have grasped the idea that toileting happens outdoors suddenly slips up and eliminates in the house.

“Accidents are always our fault and never the puppy’s,” says Ginman. “Never, ever punish your puppy for a toilet accident.

“An accident means you were not diligent enough at getting puppy outdoors or you haven’t carefully mapped out his toileting habits.”

Griggs advocates a back-to-basics approach if your puppy is having indoor accidents regularly. “We simply need to re-examine the habits and patterns we are teaching him,” he explains.

“If a mistake is made, be sure to back-track a step in the process and help the puppy to get things right next time.”

It’s also important to clean up any accidents with a commercial enzyme-based cleaner, as they are the only products that remove all traces of urine and faeces odour. “This will help to prevent a pup from learning to mark over and over again on your favourite Persian rug,” says Griggs.

Ideally, your puppy will be fully toilet trained by the age of 16 weeks (four months). If he is still regularly weeing and pooing in the wrong places at six months, consult your vet or a professional trainer.

Puppy toilet training record

Keeping track of your new puppy’s toilet habits will help you address potential problems.

Date Time Urine Faeces Accident Location/situation
(y/n) (y/n) (y/n) (eg bathroom/left door open)
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