Toilet training your dog

Bringing home a new puppy is such an exciting moment and one you’ll never forget! Although there’s a lot to learn, one thing you’ll want to teach them as soon as they step paws into your home is house training.
Man with puppy by window
Man with puppy by window
Man with puppy by window

You won’t have to wait long to discover that puppies pee a lot – sometimes up to 12 times a day! It’s your job to work out when they need to go outside, and teach them what to do once they get there.

Puppy playing in grass

There are certain times when your puppy is going to need to go to the toilet. These are when they wake up (either in the morning or from a snooze), after food or drinking, and after or during a game. You’ll soon pick up the warning signs when nature calls, but as a general rule of thumb give your puppy the opportunity to go to the toilet at least every two hours. You can usually tell when your puppy 'wants to go' because they’ll look around anxiously, walk in circles and start sniffing in suitable corners looking for a place - that's your cue to take them outside! Pick up your puppy and calmly walk with them out to the toilet area. Wait for as long as you need to (sometimes puppies can get distracted by the excitement of the great outdoors, no matter how much they wanted to go!). When they finally get down to business, use a treat to reward them as soon as they have finished so they know that was the right place to go to the toilet. This is the most important part of toilet training – as the more times you reward your puppy when they get it right, the quicker they will understand what you want and the quicker your toilet training will be. It’s a good idea to introduce an accompanying word request like “busy” or “hurry” as they are going to the toilet so you can encourage them to go if you are in a new place. Once you’ve rewarded them, bring them out of the toilet area and play with them for a little bit, then carry them back inside and continue playing indoors.

When toilet training your puppy, you ideally want your dog to understand the difference between the ‘play’ part of your garden and the ‘toilet’ part. You can help them by fencing-off an area and lining it with bark chippings. This makes it look and smell different to the rest of the garden, so your puppy will soon learn to recognise it.

Most puppies like to go to the toilet somewhere natural, and bark or grass gives them an environment where they can pick up their scent from earlier. The most important thing is to keep their toilet area clean by clearing up any messes every day to encourage them to go back. Leftover mess in their toilet area can put them off, and they may look for other areas to do their business.

Dog sitting by fence
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Once you’ve established a toilet area, take your puppy there routinely to let them use it and then reward them. If they sniff around but don’t do anything, be patient… you might have to wait for a little while. If they still don’t go, pick them up and carry them back inside.

Watch them carefully for their first five minutes back inside (or earlier if you spot any warning signs) and try to take them outside again.

For the first couple of weeks it’s your mission to take your puppy out to go to the toilet as soon as they wake up, as soon as they’ve had something to eat or drink, and every half hour while they’re playing. Remember to use their encouraging word request and always give them a treat and praise them each time they get it right.

You’ll soon start to establish a pattern and get yourselves into a routine, and have a well-trained puppy at home.

Accidents in the house will happen, especially during the first training stages, but if your puppy goes indoors it’s important to stay calm and remember that it’s all part of the learning process.

If you discover a little puddle or a mess, whether or not you were there when it happened, just clean it up without making an issue out of it. Ideally do it when your puppy’s not watching.

Never get angry or shout – it’s unfair to punish them for something that comes naturally to them. If you happen to catch them in the act, calmly take them outside to the toilet area to finish off what they’ve started, then clean the floor thoroughly with a neutralising spray so there’s no smell that your pet can associate with a toilet area. The more work you put into getting toilet training a puppy, the faster they’ll pick it up.

One method you may want to try is crate (puppy playpen) training – and this is especially useful at night. While puppies are still with their mother, she will have taught them not to soil the sleeping area. By using a crate, you are just continuing what mum has already taught your puppy and they will not want to toilet in their crate. This encourages them to hold on a little longer. This will only work, however, if you keep them in their crate for a small period of time so they’re not caught short or left feeling uncomfortable, and you give them plenty of opportunities to relieve themselves. To start with this might even mean getting up in the middle of the night with your puppy as their bladders are only tiny and they can’t hold on for too long but putting in the work now means your puppy will be toilet trained even quicker.

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Of course it’s not just puppies that need to be house trained.

If you’ve rehomed an adult dog, they won’t automatically know where they’re expected to go in their new home. You’ll need to learn their warning signs and make a point of taking your dog outside on a regular basis. Just like with a puppy, when they do as you’ve asked them, offer them lots of calm praise.

If you stick to a consistent toilet training routine, your puppy will soon learn to toilet outdoors. You may still get the occasional lapse, but this is only natural, so don’t panic - just increase the number of visits outdoors for a while until you’re confident your dog’s back on track.

After a while you’ll both get to know the routine – your dog will understand to wait until they’re outside and you’ll pick up on their body language. You can then phase out the routine trips and use common sense and your dog’s signs to guide you.

The information contained in this article is not a substitute for individual veterinary or behavioural advice and is for information purposes only. You should always consult a veterinary surgeon if you have any concerns about your pet’s health. He or she will be able to take a complete medical history and physically examine your pet, to then recommend appropriate individual advice or treatment options. For detailed behavioural advice tailored specifically for your pet, we recommend that you contact a qualified and experienced pet behaviourist or a good local trainer. Do bear in mind that while dog trainers can take you on as a client directly, pet behaviourists will always require a referral from your veterinary surgeon.

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If you’d like more information on toilet training your dog or have any other queries, contact our PETCARE EXPERT TEAM.