Puppy standing on his back legs on stairs

Toilet training a dog or a puppy

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Puppy toilet training: Everything there is to know

By Nick Whittle Author

Updated on the

If your pup had regular access to an outdoor toileting area when he was with his mother and littermates, then he should be familiar with the idea of toileting while outdoors, rather than in the house. That may seem insignificant to us but to her it is an all-important step.

What is puppy toilet- training?

Toilet- training or house-training is the process of helping your puppy understand where it is appropriate to toilet and where it isn’t. Successfully training your puppy in the ways of the loo will prevent her from treating your house as a big open-plan toilet.

The process involves both taking advantage of her instinctive behaviour and the developing of control over her own body (i.e. become able to hold urine and faeces). Some puppies will take longer to master it and some will do so within a matter of days.

Puppy toilet training©Shutterstock

How long does it take to toilet train a puppy?

Start toilet training your puppy as soon as she arrives in your home. Some puppies will take longer to master it and some will do so within a matter of days. It can, however, take a few months for you to toilet-train your pup, especially because until the age of four months she does not have full control of her bodily functions. It is important to make sure you facilitate this process through training.

As the weeks go on, you should extend the length of time between visits to the toilet area until you have reached what may be classed as a normal period of time between outdoor exercise (i.e. 2-4 times a day).

Would you like to teach your puppy new tricks? Check out these awesome tricks you could teach your puppy

What should I do if my dog has an accident?

If your dog should toilet in the house (she won't do this deliberately) it may be tempting for you to reprimand her with a raised voice. Some homespun corrections also include rubbing your dog’s nose in whatever mess she has produced.

These punishments do not work. They do not teach her what to do, prevent the same thing from happening again, nor give her a stable environment in which to grow up. Harsh ‘lessons’ such as these should be avoided at all costs.

In the first place, dogs (just like humans), respond to praise better than punishment. This is because praise actually tells them what you want them to do.

But more importantly, your pup is likely to misunderstand your scolding. If your puppy has an accident indoors, it’s because she doesn’t know the difference between a place where it’s appropriate to go to the toilet and a place where it isn’t. So if you punish your puppy, she’ll think you’re scolding her for pooing in front of you – regardless of her chosen site.

This can make her afraid to go to the toilet in front of you, even in an appropriate place. She may even continue weeing and pooing indoors, but where she thinks you won’t find it.

Plus, puppies have weaker bladders and may have less control over their bowels as all baby animals do. They also pee when they get excited.

So they don’t really have control over where and when they go. Punishing them for an urge to purge makes no sense.

Preventing your dog from making mistakes, allowing her to repeatedly use the right place, and reward-based training works much better. Find a word to encourage your puppy to go when you’re out walking and you see she’s about to go. Learn to praise your puppy when she performs appropriately. You can also give her a treat when she does her business in the right place.

What is the best way to toilet train a puppy?

Follow these points to build up a routine that works for your dog and for the rest of the family. It is essential that everybody in the household sticks to the schedule.

  • Take your puppy out first thing in the morning for a toilet break.
  • It may help to keep her on a lead until she relieves herself, so she is not distracted 
  • Avoid playing games in the garden with your puppy until she has done her business.
  • Walk up and down the garden to encourage her to smell the ground especially in the spots she likes to relieve herself.
  • Do not leave her in the garden by herself, so you can make sure she actually eliminates.
  • Take your puppy out every 2-3 hours during the day.
  • Take your puppy out after each meal, playtime, and when she wakes up.
  • Whenever possible, take her out during the night too; otherwise keep her in a confined area that she will naturally try to keep clean.
  • If after 5 minutes in the garden she has not eliminated, bring her back into the house for 10 minutes before returning to the garden; repeat as necessary.
  • Supervise your puppy when she is indoors to prevent accidents.
  • Take your puppy outside after each meal. 

Don’t forget to watch out for signs of an impromptu performance. These include sniffing the floor, circling the carpet, or inability to settle. It’s ok to break the routine if it saves a spillage!

Common mistakes of puppy toilet training

Devoting time to her toilet training will save you time in the long run, but there are a few mistakes that may cause troubles.

Some common errors of training include:

  • Punishment of indoor accidents
  • Expecting too much of your puppy (long periods of time without outdoor visits)
  • Leaving a puppy on its own for long periods of time
  • Leaving the puppy on her own in the garden without checking that she does eliminate

Dog toilet training: special tips

You will need to be clear with your dog. Have one word for praising her when she goes to the toilet, and one for general praise. If you have the same word for everything, you may accidentally train her to poop every time you say ‘good girl.’

And also be clear about the back garden. Until she’s trained, don’t just leave the back door open for him to come and go. Use it as a toilet place until your puppy learns that’s what it’s for. To do this, take her outside and stay with her until she goes, then praise her.

Next step? Train your puppy to behave at home

Toilet training an adult dog

If you need to train an older dog, the principles are mostly the same. It should be quicker than with a puppy. Though if you’ve adopted her, keep in mind that she may have all kinds of toilet-based traumas affecting her performance.

Start with regular toilet excursions every hour. Make it more often if necessary. But gradually reduce it to two-three walks a day plus garden visits.

Again, never punish your dog for a transgression, or rub her nose in it. Instead, use praise. If all else fails, consult her vet: there may be behavioural techniques he can suggest for your specific doggo.

Be patient, be regular, be calm, and everything will come up smelling of roses!

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