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How to toilet train a puppy

One of the things that worries new puppy owners the most is toilet training. The good news is that puppies come pre-programmed to be toilet trained. Here’s how it’s done.
How to toilet train a puppy

Toilet training your new puppy - tips from Agria's behaviour and training advisor

If you watch any litter of pups – even as young as four weeks old – you’ll see that mum has already taught them to leave the bed or sleeping area when they need to toilet.

So how do you make sure you get it right when you bring your puppy home? Simple – just follow the rules mum has already taught and build on them.

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Steps to take when toilet training your dog

Puppies should already know not to dirty their sleeping area. So the secret of good toilet training is to limit the area the puppy has to sleep in.

If they have access to a whole room at night, it’s very easy to sneak off into a corner and use that as a toilet area, while still keeping the bed clean.

Crate training your pup will simplify toilet training at night. Your pup will not want to soil the crate, and so will do their best to hang on and go outside the bed as mum taught them.

If you don’t like the idea of a crate, you can set up a puppy pen. But don’t make it so big that he can sleep at one end and use the other end as the bathroom.

You must, however, always be aware that a young pup cannot hang on for very long – and nor should you expect him to. You have to play your part – and it’s a big part! Here are your rules:

     Don’t give them their last feed too late in the evening. This way the amount of poo will be limited.

     Take them out as late as possible for their last toilet visit – 11.30pm or later.

     Get up in the middle of the night – perhaps 3am – and take them out again. That might sound painful, but it won’t last two long. Patience is key with a new puppy.

     Get up early in the morning (6am ish) and take them out straight away.

     No matter what the time of the day or night, go with your puppy – don’t just open the door! You need to be able to reward every toilet success immediately with a treat.

Your sleep is going to be a bit interrupted for a couple of weeks… But you do lessen the chance of your puppy making a mistake. The fewer mistakes the pup makes, and the more successes you can reward, the more successful their toilet training will be. And the quicker you’ll have a restful night.

During the day, keep your puppy close to you so you can watch them. You can use a crate, a puppy pen, or even a houseline (AKA a puppy training line) tied to your belt. Or just watch them like a hawk!

If you choose to use a crate, keep crate time to a minimum. They can be invaluable training aids, but they’re not an alternative to you spending time with your puppy, or a way for you to routinely leave them alone.

How can I tell if my puppy needs to go to the toilet?

It’s usually easy to tell when the pup needs to toilet. They tend to turn in circles, sniffing. Plus you’ll also get used to the special tell-tale signs in your own pup.

There are also obvious times when your puppy is going to need to go out. These are just after they wake up, after they’ve been playing, and after they eat or drink.

It’s up to you to understand when your puppy needs to go to the toilet, and reward them for getting it right… Rather than it being up to them to ask you to go out – especially in the first few months. Don’t expect too much! This is something new owners often don’t appreciate, and so they make things harder for their puppies and themselves.

At these times, take your puppy outside – and be prepared to wait. Puppies are very easily distracted by sights, smells, movements… and anything else. No matter how desperate they are, other things can be more interesting – and they may only remember that they needed to go when they get back in.

Get into good toilet habits

You should decide on a special toilet command word. When your puppy finally settles down to business, give them whatever you’ve decided your special toilet command word is. And when they’ve finished, always reward them with a treat. They need to know that you’re totally delighted with them.

If you catch your puppy getting ready to go in the house, pick them up, take them outside, and let them carry on in peace – then reward them.

NEVER punish your pup for any mistakes. These hiccups are not your pup’s fault. They don’t understand what it is you expect of them quite yet. Give your pup plenty of praise when they get it right, and ignore them when they slip up.

Make life as simple as possible for your pup. They’re only a baby, and need to feel that their new life as a family dog is fun – not fraught with potential failure.

Toilet training is the first serious thing you teach your pup. And the more they trust you and succeed in this, the more you’re building your relationship for the future.

What’s next?

     Teaching your puppy valuable life skills

     Clicker training your dog

     Crate training your pup


About the Author

Carolyn is an accredited behaviourist and trainer with over 20 years experience working with dogs and other companion animals. She has written books, over 500 published articles and trains owners and professionals alike both nationally and internationally. Carolyn is also an experienced broadcaster and presenter, has appeared in five TV series’ and countless radio shows. Her passion is for helping owners build a strong and positive relationship with their dogs and fully develop the potential of the bond between them.

More articles from Carolyn Menteith

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