How to toilet train your puppy

Toilet training is one of the most common problems that every new dog owner has. The good news is that most of dogs will get toilet trained in their own time but the dog owner should not rely on this fact. In order to manage toilet training properly it has to be understood first.

It is a fact that the young pups are like babies. It is unreasonable to expect a three-monthold baby to be toilet trained. There are many anatomical and physiological issues which are important to remember. The puppy has rapid metabolism and a small bladder which means that an average pup will be “defecating and urinating machine” in the first 2-3 months of life. They tend to go to the toilet all the time and do not care much where they are. When you have to go, you have to go....

Another important issue is that the centre for elimination in the brain is not fully developed either. It is rather hard for a young pup to control itself. There is also an issue of not understanding what is acceptable and what is not for the new owner. When we talk to a pup they won’t be able to understand even one word of what we are saying. Gestures can be
easier to understand but could be also misinterpreted.

The puppy has arrived. Where do I go from here?

It is important to remember that toilet training is not hard but needs time. You can’t expect the pup to behave properly from day one. There will be lots of cleaning involved so you better arm yourself with proper enzymatic cleaners and cloths. Every single accident must be cleaned up without too much fuss while completely ignoring the dog. Some dogs crave attention even if that means urinating all over the place will get it. Any attention is welcome to a pup even if you scream or start kicking furniture...

Enzymatic cleaners eliminate urea smell which is an important trigger for urination. You can use some soap-based cleaners beforehand but avoid using any ammonia or bleach based products since they can be counterproductive and make the pup urinate more.

The best way of training your pet is to follow its natural instincts. While living with mum the pup is looked after by her. She licks their bottoms and triggers the reflex that makes the pup urinate. This is very useful in the area where pups live since the whole area would be soiled with urine and faeces and would not be very liveable... It is not necessary to do all the bits that the mother does but you can mimic maternal behaviour by keeping the timing right. Every time after a meal, play or sleep, take the puppy out for a short stroll. Ideally you should put the pup on a leash so it is easier to confine to a certain area. Try to designate a certain area for toileting and you could leave the grass a bit longer in order to make this area different from the rest of the garden. Once there do not pay too much attention to the dog - stay still or circle in the designated area. Once the dog urinates or defecates it is important to reward the dog immediately with a favourite treat but it does not have to be a treat only; a big cuddle or play is as rewarding as food. Spend some time with the dog outside and then take it inside the house.

It is crucial to give your pet regular breaks every 1-2 hours and take it outside. Once the pattern is established and the pup understands what it is expected to do it gets much easier. Still some pups will be harder to break in and it is important to learn how your pet behaves before going to the toilet. Some start circling, sniffing or walking “funny” and this is the time to take them outside and let them do their own thing. It is impossible to rely on regular toilet excursions only and expect them to work 100%.

What do I do when I am away?

Well this makes it a bit trickier...Once your dog is fully toilet trained it makes no difference if you are around or not. It is necessary to give them access to outdoors e.g. a doggy door and your task is finished. However if this is not case there are many things you can do

  • Leave them outside in a confined and safe area
  • If they have to stay inside, leave them in an area that is easy to clean up e.g. laundry or similar. You can leave some newspaper spread on the floor. There are also quite a few products available on the market including different toilet training pads, sand boxes or even pieces of artificial lawn. The surface they are using for toileting indoors must be different and easy to distinguish from other floor coverings in your house.
  • Crate training is a popular method that can be used. It is often used for the treatment of anxiety since it provides the dog with a safe and quiet area. Since this is the area the dog lives in, it is less likely the dog will go to the toilet. Crate training is of course acceptable for short periods of time only.

I tried everything and he is still doing it...

Some pups need more time than others. What you have to remember is to be patient and do not lose your temper. Punishing your dog by yelling, hitting with the newspaper or rubbing its nose into the urine takes you nowhere because the dog does not understand why you are doing this. He may not make the link between urinating and your punishment.

Some dogs want attention and do not care how they get there. Once they realise that this sets you off, they may keep doing it. The more often they do it, the harder it gets to stop it.

Sometimes you may consider getting an older dog from a friend to spend some time with the youngster and teach him how it is done. The take home message is to be proactive - don’t wait for things to happen.

It is possible to teach your dog to go on command. Many breeders and dog trainers achieve this without too much fuss and it can come in pretty handy in many situations. Once the dog starts doing its business you have to issue the command. The command has to be a simple and short word e.g. wee-wee, empty, hurry up and next time you use this word the dog will
know what he is expected to do.

My dog urinates when we have visitors

Some dogs just can’t help themselves and lose control of their bladder. In some cases it is pure joy and over excitement but sometimes it can be due to submission. In a situation like this you can take the dog outside to greet guests so urination is not a big problem. In some cases you have to ignore the dog initially when you or your guests arrive then once it has calmed down quickly acknowledge the dog and move on with your own routine.

What if everything fails?

If it just does not work you can always contact our vets to look into the problem thoroughly. Some pups may have medical problems and need investigation. A thorough history and exam is a good start. The last resort is to refer the dog to a veterinary behaviour specialist so the best person available addresses the problem.

If you have any questions, please contact your local Vets4Pets practice.