How to toilet train a puppy

How to toilet train a puppy

Posted by PetDirect on 26th Apr 2022

Toilet training your puppy is one of the hardest things you’ll do as a pet parent. You’ll need lots of patience, kindness and consistency as your puppy gets to grips with going to the bathroom outside. Puppies (usually aged between 6 and 18 months, depending on the breed) have short attention spans and have smaller bladders and bowels, with less control over them, than older dogs.

But knowing how to toilet train your puppy, including the signs that they need to toilet, will help you and your puppy master outside toileting.

How long does toilet training take?

Most puppies are house trained by the time they’re 4 to 6 months old. Some puppies aren’t 100% reliable until they’re 8 to 12 months old. It’s normal for a puppy to seem like they’ve got to grips with it, but then get worse. It does take time for your puppy to develop their bowel and bladder control - they have to be both mentally and physically capable of doing it.

How often will my puppy need to go out?

As a general rule, puppies can normally only last for the same number of hours as their age in months. For example, a 3-month-old puppy can cope with not going to the toilet for 3 hours, tops. Most puppies can last longer at night because they’re not doing much other than sleeping. Most 4-month-old puppies can make it through the night without having to go toilet. Each puppy and dog is different, and as you grow with your puppy, you'll learn the signs of when they need to go.

How to begin toilet training

The first step to toilet training your puppy is to choose a suitable area where they can toilet. Ideally, this will be a safe area outside or it might be a training pad inside or a grass mat on a deck. The biggest thing to consider when choosing their toileting area is whether you and your puppy can get there in time.

Introduce them to their toileting spot by popping them on their lead and taking them straight there - this is all about the business so don’t distract them with a fun adventure via their favourite sniffing spot. Using a lead helps your puppy learn that toileting on the lead is totally ok, which will be helpful as they grow up. This is the time to establish a command too. As soon as your puppy starts to go toilet, give a command. Think ‘go toilet / wee-wees’. Do this consistently every single time and they’ll come to associate your words with the act of going to the toilet.

Each time they do, heap on the praise (and a treat or two) as a reward for successfully going toilet. This positive reinforcement training helps your puppy learn to go toilet in a safe, happy, stress-free way.

Signs your puppy needs the toilet

Watch out for signs that your puppy needs the toilet, like:

  • Circling.
  • Sniffing the ground.
  • Whining.
  • Finding somewhere to hide.

If you spot any of these signs, put them on their lead and calmly take them to their designated toilet area. Wait until they go to the toilet and give them a reward when they do.

If they don’t go toilet, don’t let them run around outside or in your home. If you’re crate training, put them back into their crate for 5 to 10 minutes then try again. This helps them learn that if they don’t go toilet, they don’t get to run around and have fun. Toileting them on your terms, rather than when they’re desperate, is really helpful, especially as they age and when you’re going on long car rides.

5 toilet training tips

To help make toilet training a little smoother, here are some quick tips:

1. Use their crate
Using a crate with your puppy gives them a safe, happy spot to call their own. It's in their nature to consider the small space of a crate their den or home and even young puppies don’t want to toilet in their home. Feed your puppy inside their crate and fill it with their favourite toys. This helps them learn that their crate is a good place. Keep your puppy in a crate at night and when you aren’t able to supervise them (but not for longer than 4 hours at a time during the day) to help encourage them to hold their bladder and bowels. Using a crate also helps restrict your puppy’s freedom. A toilet training puppy that roams around your home will go to the toilet whenever they need to. This trains them that going indoors is ok. Restrict their freedom by shutting off doors in your home and keeping them with you at all times, whether that’s on a lead or in a crate or exercise pen.

2. Establish a routine
Having a routine for toileting helps your puppy learn the right time and place to toilet, while helping you keep your home clean. Feed your puppy the same times every day, and take them outside for the toilet afterwards. A quick walk outside within 1 hour of eating can help move their bowels along. As well as taking them to their toilet spot after they’ve eaten, take them when they wake up or when you take them out of their crate, and after they’ve played, had a drink or some cuddles. Remember that young puppies can’t last more than a few hours without going to the toilet: try to take them outside every 2 to 3 hours. If you’re away from home during the day, ask a friend or hire a pet sitter.

3. Praise, don’t punish
Positive reinforcement is the best way for a puppy to be house trained. When they go to the toilet outside, pile on the praise. Tell them how good they are, in your most enthusiastic voice. Maybe throw in a few tasty treats. Make sure you wait until they’re fully finished, otherwise they might get distracted halfway through. Praising good behaviour and ignoring mistakes is essential when it comes to toilet training. If you catch them going toilet inside, make a noise to startle them and stop them. Then immediately take them outside to their designated toilet spot, wait until they’re done and then praise and reward them. Physical punishments or putting their nose in the mess is never ok. It’s completely natural and to be expected that accidents will happen when your puppy is learning.

4. Toilet them on different textures
Once your pup has got the hang of going toilet outside, it may help to expose them to different textures. By exposing them to going toilet on other surfaces like artificial grass, leaves, or dirt, they won't struggle with change in textures if they are at a dog daycare or another house. It also helps your puppy understand where they’re allowed to toilet when they need to, even if it isn't their usual at home surface.

5. Use enzyme cleaners
When accidents happen, use enzyme cleaners rather than ammonia-based cleaners. Wee contains ammonia so cleaning with ammonia could attract your puppy back to the same spot to wee again. A proper stain and odour remover will help fully remove any smell. If it’s not properly cleaned, your puppy might be able to smell the pheromones left behind and think it’s an acceptable place to toilet.

We hope your puppy toilet training experience is successful and stress-free! If you need any further help or have a question we haven’t answered, contact our friendly Pet Direct Customer Care team on 0800 200 240 or email support@petdirect.co.nz.

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