How to toilet train a puppy or dog

Whether you’re training a new puppy or wondering how to house train a dog, toilet training is essential. Here’s what you need to know about how to toilet train a puppy or an older dog.

Toilet training might seem like a daunting task, but get it right and it sets the tone for smooth running for the rest of your dog’s training. This step-by-step guide, plus answers to your frequently asked questions, can help you get off to a great start.

How to potty train a puppy or dog

Whether you’re starting to toilet train your puppy, or looking for tips on how to house train a dog, here are the steps you need to follow:

  1. Put your puppy or dog on their lead and take them outside.
  2. As you go through the door, ask your dog to sit and wait. This helps encourage obedience, calmness and attentiveness.
  3. Take your dog to your chosen location outside. Many dogs like to relieve themselves on grass but can easily adapt to almost any surface. Make sure you take your dog to the same location each time.
  4. Once at the location, be patient. You can’t make a dog relieve themselves on a set basis, so you may need to wait a few minutes.
  5. Once your dog goes to the toilet, mark the behaviour with a treat and verbal praise. By repeating this procedure, it helps your dog understand the right behaviour and that the designated spot is the right place to go.

Toilet training FAQs

How long does it take to toilet train a puppy or dog?

Usually, toilet training takes around four to six months. But this varies from dog to dog and can depend on your puppy or dog’s breed, age and ability to learn. For some dogs, toilet training can happen within a few weeks; for others, it can take up to a year.

How often should I take my puppy to the toilet?

Puppies have very poor bladder control and need to go to the toilet a lot. You should repeat the above steps every 30 minutes, plus:

  • As soon as they wake in the morning
  • After every meal
  • After play or exercise
  • After any excitement like visitors
  • Before they go to bed at night

Once your puppy starts to understand the process, you can build up to only letting them out every hour, then every hour and a half, and so on. 

How do I know if my dog needs the toilet?

Learning the signs that your dog is ready to go to the toilet is an essential part of toilet training. Look out for:

  • Fidgeting
  • Whining
  • Sniffing
  • Squatting
  • Turning in circles
  • Going to the door

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

Let’s face it, accidents happen! Most dogs will naturally try to go to the toilet away from their living and sleeping areas, but it’s normal for young dogs to have accidents during the first few weeks in their new home.

Never punish your dog for an accident. It doesn’t teach them not to go to the toilet in the wrong place, but rather creates anxiety and undoes the trust you’re trying to build. It may also teach your dog not to go to the toilet in your presence, which can lead to some nasty surprises behind the sofa!

If your dog has an accident, don’t make a fuss. Just take them to the correct spot immediately, then tidy things up. Avoid using bleach to clean up any accidents inside the home, as it may encourage your dog to pee again in the same spot. Instead, use a purpose-made enzymatic cleaner or a 20% solution of biological washing powder and water.

Does my puppy need to go to the toilet overnight?

It takes puppies a while to develop the bladder control needed to sleep through a whole night without going to the toilet. That means you might need to stay up later and get up earlier. You might also need to get up during the night.

Can I leave my puppy at home alone during puppy dog toilet training?

If you need to leave your puppy at home for longer than normal, it’s a good idea to keep them in an easy-to-clean area, like the kitchen, and understand that they’ll probably need to go to the toilet while you’re away.

Does crate training help with toilet training?

Crate training can be an excellent aid for toilet training, as it takes advantage of a dog’s natural den instinct. When introduced slowly and carefully, a crate is a safe and secure place for your puppy or older dog to sleep. Because dogs rarely go to the toilet in the same place they sleep, using a crate can help mark the distinction between where they should and shouldn’t go to the toilet.

Are there any training aids I can use?

Training pads, or puppy pads, can help keep your floors clean, especially if you live in a flat or house without easy outside access. But some puppies can 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 placing the pads in the area outside where you’d like your puppy to go to the toilet. Once they’re comfortable using this location, you can remove the pads.

Some owners hang a small bell on their door, which rings every time you let your dog out to go to the toilet. Eventually, your dog learns to associate the sound with going to the toilet, and many dogs start to hit the bell with their nose or paws when they need to go outside.

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