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Puppy toilet training: learn everything there is to know

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Toilet training or house-training your puppy should be relatively straightforward. Learn what to do and not to do while toilet- training your puppy.

By Nick Whittle

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.

Schnauzer puppy toilet training
Puppy toilet training©Shutterstock

When should puppy toilet training start?

The key to toilet-training your dog is to make sure she associates an appropriate place with doing her business. Dogs make this association with odours, substrates and locations of toileting areas as they use them. So you need to make sure your puppy uses a designated area appropriate in terms of smell, substrate (e.g. grass rather than carpet) and location (e.g. outdoor rather than indoor) as much as possible, and makes as few mistakes as possible.

Toilet training should start as soon as you adopt your puppy. She will usually need to do her business after waking up, after eating and after playing. So these are good times to take her out, so that she will do it in the right place.

To avoid unwanted accidents, you should try at this early stage to take her outdoors as much as possible.

Importantly, you must keep an eye out for the signs of her wanting to relieve herself. She may walk around in circles while sniffing the ground and look restless; she may even disappear into another room to do what she needs to do away from your prying eyes. Vigilance is key at this stage of her upbringing!

How long does it take to toilet train a puppy?

It will 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.

That means that desirable behaviour (relieving herself in an appropriate place) is reinforced with praise and treats, and undesirable behaviour is gently pushed to one side by ignoring it. It is important not to punish your dog when she makes a mistake as this is only going to make her anxious about you, and increase the risk that she will be scared of eliminating in front of you.

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).

You will start to spot the signs of her wanting to go out and she may even nudge the door when she becomes more used to the rule.

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
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. 

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.

Preventing your dog from making mistakes and allowing her to repeatedly use the right place will make all the difference.

Know the cues and her regularity, take her outside regularly before reducing the amount of time between excursions. Be patient, understanding and tolerant of her ways and you will soon find her toilet habits become more manageable.