How do I toilet train a puppy?


Nothing illustrates how much we love our puppies like the commitment we show when toilet training. Imagine giving any other visitor to your house the benefit of the doubt when you spot a little ‘mistake’ on the carpet!

There are many reasons why a puppy may toilet indoors; maybe they haven’t learned the best place to wee and poo yet; maybe it’s just physically impossible for them to hold on as full bladder control may take up to 20 weeks to develop; or maybe the indoor toileting isn’t purely a case of needing ‘to go’, but simply a symptom of pure excitement when visitors come to the house.

Puppies have tiny bladders, so of course, they are going to empty them regularly, no matter where they are. However, don’t panic too much. Their urine is pretty harmless and doesn’t have the odour that an adult dog’s has. Puppies also haven’t learned to control their bowels yet, so pooing can occur randomly.

If your puppy makes a mistake, never scold him. You can end up with a fearful puppy who wees and poos when you are not around or hides and does it anyway (behind the sofa, for example)

Control and Management

As much as possible, until the puppy is fully toilet trained, he or she should be under the supervision of a designated ‘watcher’, or in their small den area.

The watcher’s job is to watch the puppy like a hawk, for any body language signals that indicate the puppy needs the toilet, such as sniffi ng and circling the fl oor. This behaviour is sometimes considered a throwback to when dogs used to check the ground for snakes, and to soften down the grass, before they eliminated!

If you can’t keep your eyes on puppy while indoors, pop him in a nice, small, safe area, such as a puppy pen in the kitchen, ideally on a hard surface and not an invitingly absorbent one, which dogs love to wee on.

If you can, make sure puppy receives his meals and gets plenty of opportunity to sleep in his pen, as, like all of us, given the choice the last place he’ll want to toilet is where he sleeps and eats, so the puppy pen is the perfect location for these short, unsupervised sessions.

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Outside Option

The best method is to be there when your puppy gets it right and reward him; this means regular garden trips. Allow him into the garden every hour; be calm and wait. If he wees or poos, give him calm praise during the act and a treat directly after. You must be out there with him to deliver this praise and reward. This reinforces the correct behaviour meaning he is more likely to get it right next time. Give your puppy a huge window of opportunity to get it right and to be rewarded for doing so. As he gets older, the hourly trip can become a two-hourly garden visit and then a three-hourly trip.

Your windows of opportunity to heavily reinforce toileting outside are:

● First thing in the morning.

● After eating.

● After waking.

● After play.

● After a visitor arrives.

● After any excitement indoors.

● If you see puppy sniffing and circling the floor.

● Last thing at night.

The lesson from the pup’s perspective is: toileting inside = nothing; toileting outside = the best stuff in the world. Who among us isn’t prepared to cross their legs a little longer and ask to go outside to earn the best stuff in the world?

If, however, you’ve taken puppy outside and he hasn’t ‘splashed his boots’, then simply give it a quiet fi ve minutes, take the puppy back inside again, and pop him back in his den. Give it another go in 10 minutes. Repeat as necessary and as soon as puppy does ‘go’ outside… it’s party time!

Toileting Overnight

As mentioned, puppies won’t want to toilet where they eat and sleep; however, those little bladders and bowels can only ‘hold on’ for a certain amount of time, so commit to getting up early at the start of your toilet training regime to limit mistakes as much as possible. If done correctly, you can soon start adding an extra 10 minutes in your bed each morning as the toilet training develops.

Other Toileting Issues

GREETING WEE: Have you ever been so-oo happy to see someone that you’ve weed yourself a little? No, definitely not me either!

However, some puppies get so overexcited to see their family or visitors that their little immature urinary sphincters just cannot hold on, and they unwittingly wee as they say ‘hello’. Some pups get so excited that they run around the house in glee, leaving a trail of urine for you to clear up. The good news is, as the puppy’s sphincter gets stronger with age, the behaviour usually improves. If you have an overly excitable greeter, make sure visitors meet the dog initially outside, and keep greetings pleasant and kind but low-key, to limit that over-arousal.

SUBMISSIVE URINATION: Sometimes known as an appeasement behaviour, this is when the puppy may lack confidence or is a little fearful of the human they are being greeted by. As already mentioned, this is a perfectly normal behaviour, and with maturity and a development in confidence, the problem behaviour will usually extinguish over time.

To help accelerate the process, always look to develop the puppy’s confidence in people and new environments.

In the short term, try these tips:

● Greet your puppy in an area such as the garden or an area where, if mistakes do happen, it’s not the end of the world.

● Appreciate it’s not the puppy’s fault; he genuinely cannot help it.

● As ever, avoid the temptation to tell him off or punish him as this will only make him more frightened and submissive next time, which will exacerbate the problem.

● Keep greetings as gentle as possible. Crouch down, and let pup come to you. A tickle under the chin is far better than a big scary hand reaching over the puppy’s head.

● Be aware of your own body language; be small, be sideways, and be slinky. Don’t lean over or stare directly at the puppy; instead divert your eyes and face to the side and let puppy set the pace by coming to you.

The use of positive reinforcement training, and the development of trust and relationships within the family home, will help improve and eliminate the submissive urination over time, but, as with all problems, if it persists contact a good trainer or vet.