Puppy Toilet Training Tips

For toilet training of other species, see CatsRabbits or Ferrets.

puppy at vetHouse training is probably the most stressful part of looking after a new puppy. The following tips may help you through this difficult stage. If what’s written isn’t helpful, we’ve written it more simply as Three steps to toilet training a puppy.

  • There is no natural instinct for a puppy to toilet anywhere special- we as humans are creating a habit from scratch. Therefore, we cannot expect the puppy to know what is expected of them.
  • The earlier it is started the better. If the puppy is allowed to toilet wherever they wish, it will be harder later to break a pre-existing habit, rather than create the correct habit from the beginning. For this reason, puppies bought as older dogs (over 12 weeks) are much harder to train unless the breeder has been toilet training as well.
  • The more time that can be put into house training at the early stages the better.
  • Toilet training is no more or less than the creation in the puppy’s mind of a strong habit of toileting on preferred surfaces. This is called a ‘substrate preference’. It is created through habit alone- that is by the puppy toileting on the surface (usually grass) over and over again, until in their mind it feels ‘right’ to go there, and does not feel ‘right’ to go somewhere else.
  • Therefore, the most important message about toilet training is that to be successful, the owner needs to get the puppy to go on the preferred surface for most of the time. If the puppy continues to toilet in undesirable places, he or she will also learn to go there.
  • It is strongly advised to not let an untrained puppy wander out of sight inside the house. It is a good idea to keep them in the same room as where you are, and have someone designated to keep an eye on the pup the whole time. This can get very tiring after a while so it is a good idea to share the load.
  • The best way to get the puppy to go in the right place is to predict the need to go. Every time your puppy wakes up after a sleep he or she will need to urinate, and should be taken straight out. Around 15 minutes after eating, most young puppies will need to defaecate. Defaecation is usually preceded by sniffing in a circle.
  • Every time your puppy toilets in the right place, reward them with praise in a light, happy tone of voice, make a fuss and give them a small treat.
  • If your puppy has not toileted in the past hour, take them out and wait with them. A familiar noise, like the rustle of the liver treat bag or a gentle command helps remind them of what is wanted. Once they are familiar with the routine, they will usually try to go and then come running for praise and a treat.
  • If the weather allows, leave a door open all the time and teach the puppy to walk out by him or herself
  • If the puppy is seen to squat and is about to urinate or defaecate in the house, punishment is not recommended. Instead, you may clap your hands, or make a loud noise so that the puppy is startled and stops toileting. Then take the puppy to the desired place, let him or her relax and they should then go after a short delay.
  • If urine or faeces are found in the house after the puppy has finished, there is nothing that can be done to teach the puppy about it. An old-fashioned and harmful method was to rub the puppy’s nose in it- this only makes them distressed without understanding why. Just clean it up and think about why the puppy was able to do it without being observed or predicted.
  • If the puppy cannot be observed for a period of up to one hour, it is acceptable to use an enclosed bed, such as in a high box, or a cat or dog crate where they can rest. Puppies will do everything possible to avoid toileting in their beds so the bed needs to be the same size as the enclosure. After the busy period is over (eg cooking dinner, breakfast time), the puppy should be taken straight out to the toileting area. In the evening, if they sit on a lap or sleep nearby they can be taken out when they wake up.
  • Do not use the enclosed bed area for discipline at any time; instead it should be a place the puppy is happy to go into to have a sleep. For this reason, it works best when used strategically- having the pup out as much as possible to exercise, play and get tired, then into the crate only when necessary. See more at Crate Training.
  • Once puppies get to 10-12 weeks of age (depending on development) they can often go all night without needing to toilet. Therefore, once you are sure this is possible, as long as they are taken out to toilet at 10-11pm, they can be kept in a bed in a crate or box overnight, and taken straight out no later than at sunrise the next morning.
  • Most puppies have been toileting on newspaper until they are sold by the breeder. If necessary, it is possible to continue offering paper inside, especially if the alternative is unavoidable toileting on the floor. However, this does create an extra step and the paper will at some point need to be taken away when they are also going outside.
  • Puppies only toilet when they are relaxed, so will prefer to go inside where they feel safe and warm. Teaching them to go outside requires someone with much patience to accompany them.

For general advice for new puppies, visit our Puppy Preschool page. For Crate Training advice, click here.

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