Toilet training your puppy involves a lot of patience, time and monitoring. But once you’ve cracked it, all that time spent is very rewarding.
In the beginning, you will have to work around your puppy’s needs, which can be unpredictable and require you to adapt. They have very poor bladder control and may need to go to the toilet every one or two hours, so while accidents are inevitable, you always have to be on the ball.
They will only really learn to control their bladder from the age of 16 weeks, and it is usually given as a guide that a puppy can only hold their bladder for their age in months plus one hour. So, a four-month-old puppy can only hold it for five hours.
But different breeds can also have their own needs – a toy breed with a small bladder will need more frequent visits than a huge Hungarian Viszla.
This timestamp exists throughout the night, during the day when you’re trying to work, and when you are right in the middle of clearing out the freezer. This is another reason why getting a puppy is a big responsibility.
What you need for puppy toilet training
- Treats (very small and bite-sized for puppies/quick eating)
- Toys or other rewards
- Puppy pads (if they can’t go outdoors)
When to take your puppy outside for toilet training
First of all, remember that a wasted trip outside is better than an accident, so there is no such thing as taking them outside too frequently.
A puppy will need to urinate straight after waking up, so you shouldn’t delay taking them out first thing. This also applies to if they have napped in the middle of the day.
Then, as with pretty much any animal, eating will stimulate their digestive system. As a rough guide, a puppy will urinate 15 minutes after eating and defecate 30 minutes after, but you should be able to see a pattern emerge when it comes to your dog’s individual habits.
At this age, their toilet habits should be ‘like clockwork’.
Use a lead to guide them to the right spot if they tend to wander off or not follow you (even though we always say it is best if they do it themselves instead).
Releasing them off the lead when they’re done can give them some freedom which they can also see as a reward
As mentioned, they will usually need the toilet every ~2 hours, so if you are approaching their average time, taking them outside in preparation would be a good idea.
Puppies can also become excitable from playing, and urinate spontaneously. So, if your dog has been playing, learning or just having some cuddles, take them outside just in case.
How to tell if your puppy needs the toilet
As well as making the toilet visits regular, you can usually also tell if your puppy needs to go to the toilet, even if they don’t come to tell you or go to the door.
They will often start pacing the floor, sniffing and looking around anxiously. They may also navigate towards corners and smaller areas that are a bit more secretive, or towards rugs.
Calmly walk them to the right area – don’t suddenly panic or rush to grab them and disturb them. It may have been a false alarm, but better safe than sorry!
Using puppy training pads
As mentioned, accidents will be pretty inevitable. But going outside could be a bit difficult in some cases. It may be raining or stormy, or your puppy may not be fully vaccinated yet.
So, puppy pads are ideal. They can be used in the home and will absorb any of the mess made, but they also give your puppy that essential ‘marking spot’ to associate with going to the toilet.
You will want to eventually ensure they know to go outside, however. So slowly move their pad towards the door every day until it is outside. You will then want to use smaller pads until they eventually don’t need a pad as a cue at all – the pad will be so small that they go on the ground mostly anyway.
Some professionals will often say that outdoor training is preferential and that pads should only be used in extreme circumstances, but they are still good to have to hand as long as you don’t become too reliant on them.
Try to use words that they can associate with going to the toilet when they go. This could act as a ‘cue’ for future toilet activity.
Vocal cues can include using your keyword for the action when they are doing it, for instance ‘toilet’ or ‘pee’. They will learn to associate this word with what they are doing, and you can then say the word in future and they should let you know if they need outside.
Never use a common phrase such as “good boy” or “good girl” – when you then say this if they have paid attention to another command, guess what they are likely to do in response?!
It could even teach them to go outside and use the toilet as opposed to waiting a bit longer until they are desperate. This is handy if you are making dinner or have to go for a shower and have realised they haven’t been in a while.
Rewarding your puppy after toilet training
When your puppy is outside, you should always go out with them. Never leave them unattended, especially in the early days when they may be confused as to why they are outdoors.
The same applies to if they are using a puppy pad. Don’t walk away and leave them to it while you carry on with the ironing, as they will likely just follow you.
But the biggest reason why you should be with them is that you can reward them when they go, and also use the vocal cue words above. In the early days, edible treats may be best. But you may find rewarding them with toys is also possible later on.
Rewarding is best if it happens straight after they have finished going, not five minutes later, so always have some treats with you.
Teaching your puppy to go to the toilet on walks
Anybody who has previous experience with puppy toilet training may comment that they found the housetraining a breeze. But once their dog was old enough to be taken on a walk, they would never go to the toilet and instead waited until they got home.
This is because they have learnt to go to the toilet in the back garden. So, as creatures of habit, they don’t associate simply ‘being outside’ with being given the thumbs up to go.
So, how do you change this? Well, one option is to take them out before the ‘time’ they usually go. They will go out of pure desperation eventually. This can then be repeated before their usual toilet times. They will hopefully understand that they can then go in either place.
It is worth mentioning that if they don’t go, you will have to rush to let them outside when you get home to avoid any indoor accidents
You should try to walk them on surfaces that are familiar to their toilet habits. For instance, if they go on the grass in your garden, walk them on grass verges or fields. The same applies to concrete.
Another option is to take them to ‘busy’ areas with other dogs. They may smell the other dogs, or even see what they do, and repeat that behaviour.
Puppy toilet training tips
- Reward good behaviour – as mentioned above, give treats or toys and praise when they go to the toilet. You should always reward good actions, and ignore the bad.
- Never punish any accidents
- Keep calm – it can be hard to not feel a bit annoyed if they go to the toilet on your brand new living room rug, but remember to stay calm and neutral so they don’t think that going to the toilet is the issue
- Don’t overdo praise – this also fits into the above point. You shouldn’t get angry, but also shouldn’t over-exuberantly greet them when they come inside or actually go to the toilet as this will further excite them too
- Don’t punish long after the event – did you miss the actual accident? Do you assume that the puddle of water on the kitchen floor is dog wee? Don’t tell them off, as they won’t understand what it is for. They will believe it was for their most recent action, which could be something good
- Try not to carry them to the area. If they walk, they aren’t only stimulating their bladder but also gaining independence and learning about their surroundings. They need to go of their own accord
Common puppy toilet training errors
There are a few occasions where mistakes may be being made to their training and welfare, and changes can be made in order to make things a bit easier.
- They are being fed too much
- They’re being fed the wrong food which is resulting in inconsistent bowel movements
- You’re feeding at the wrong times (ie too late at night)
- You’re leaving the door open for them to go when they want (as they will only see outdoors as a play area)
- They become overexcited when you come home from work as you’re greeting them, which can encourage toilet activity
- Putting business before pleasure. If they have been out for 5 minutes and haven’t been, take them indoors again. Only play with them/reward them if they have actually been to the toilet
- Not separating their sleeping, toilet and eating areas which can cause issues in the future. Dogs don’t like having everything in the same place
- Leaving your dog alone for too long so they are forced to go indoors when you aren’t around (this could cause the same pattern of behaviour in future)