How to toilet train your puppy

Bringing home a new puppy is an exciting time, but it can also be a steep learning curve for any new owner – especially when it comes to toilet training.

How long does it take to toilet train a puppy?

In my experience, toilet training tends to vary from dog to dog and can depend on your pup’s size, age and ability to learn. For some dogs, toilet training can happen within a few weeks, but for others it can take up to a year.

As a general rule, expect a successful toilet training routine to take around four to six months to implement.

How can I tell if my pup wants to go to the toilet?

There are a couple of classic signs to watch out for, such as your pup looking around the room or sniffing and circling certain areas, particularly the floor or near the door they would usually use to visit the garden.

What’s the best way to start a toilet training routine?

A consistent routine is crucial to successful toilet training. Here are a few of the key steps I recommend you follow…

  • Begin by putting your puppy on a lead and taking them outside, making sure you accompany them so you can help guide their actions.
  • When you take your dog out through the doorway, it’s an opportunity for you to use a ‘sit’ and ‘wait’ to encourage obedience. This helps create a calm and attentive dog.
  • You should then take your dog into the garden and to a chosen location. Most dogs like to relieve themselves on a bit of grass but can easily get used to going on pretty much any surface.
  • One of the most important steps is to designate a toilet spot in your garden or an area outside your home. Make sure you take them to this exact spot every time.
  • Puppies have poor bladder control and need to go to the toilet a lot. You should take them outside to their usual toilet spot when they wake, after every meal, after play or exercise, after any excitement such as visitors and every hour depending on their age.
  • Remember to be patient! You can’t make a dog relieve itself on a set basis so you may need to wait a few minutes.
  • Once your dog goes to the toilet, you should mark the behaviour with a treat. By repeating this procedure, it will help your dog understand the right behaviour and that the designated spot is the right place ‘to go’.

What should I do if my puppy has an accident at home?

Let’s face it, accidents will happen! As puppies are yet to gain full control over their bladder and bowels, you mightn’t always make it to your toilet spot in time. If this happens, don’t scold your puppy – this doesn’t teach them not to relieve themselves in the wrong place, but from what I’ve seen it can teach them not to go to the toilet in your presence. This can lead to them hiding and could mean some nasty surprises behind the sofa!

If your puppy doesn’t go to the toilet in the right spot, don’t make a fuss. Just put your pet to one side, tidy things up and take them to the correct toilet spot immediately to maintain consistency.

While most dogs will naturally go to the toilet away from the area they live and sleep in, it’s common for young dogs to have accidents in the home during the first couple of weeks.

What about during the night or if they’re left home alone?

Until your puppy develops an ability to hold on, they won’t be able to make it through a whole night, so plan to go to bed later and get up earlier. You might also need to get up during the night.

If you do need to leave them alone for a longer period of time, I’d recommend putting your puppy in an easy-to-clean area such as the kitchen and understand that they’ll probably have to go to the toilet while you’re away.

Do you recommend using training pads?

My advice would be to use training pads carefully so your pup doesn’t get too used to them.

Putting down training pads can be useful for keeping floors clean, but your puppy might develop a preference for going to the toilet on these surfaces rather than where they’re supposed to. If this happens, transfer the association by putting down pads in the toilet area outside before eventually removing them.

What about crate training?

I get asked about crate training by a lot of new owners. A dog crate can be a brilliant aid for toilet training puppies as it takes advantage of their den instinct. When introduced properly, a crate will be a safe, secure place for your pup to sleep and because dogs rarely soil in their sleeping quarters, it helps mark the distinction between where they should and shouldn’t go to the toilet.

What’s the best way to clean up after a toilet accident indoors?

I recommend using pet-friendly cleaning products to help clear up any mess thoroughly – especially if your dog goes to the toilet in the wrong place. The lingering smell of toilet odours can encourage your puppy to go in the same place again.

The vast majority of household detergents and cleaning products are safe for use around dogs but always make sure that you read the label closely and follow the instructions.

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