Getting Fido to go to the toilet in the right place can be a feat of patience and understanding, but with a bit of both, and some know-how, you’ll have your floors accident free in no time.
Teaching puppies to toilet in a designated place, even if that encompasses the entire great outdoors, is all about consistency and praise. Not to mention, having a clear understanding of what you want them to do and communicating this in doggie language. You’ll also need to set aside time to make it happen – you’ll be doing just as much work in the early days yourself, learning to spot their ‘tell’ and getting them outside promptly for a tinkle and a high five.
Remember that every pup is different. This means they’ll all learn in their own time frame, and they all have their own favourite rewards. While some pups are a sucker for a dog-friendly treat and some a special squeaky toy, others are more moved by praise and pats. Even if you’ve toilet trained before and the basics will still apply, ensure you’re using the best motivators for your new mate.
Also note toilet training is a developmental process, and puppies do not have full control over their urination until they are a bit older, so very young puppies can make a toileting mistake without being able to prevent or control it. Punishing them for accidents will be counterproductive.
When to toilet train a puppy
While you should get started straight away, there is a lot going on for your puppy when they come into your home, so be patient with their mistakes. The first step is deciding where you want your pup to go to the toilet, and what reward will most move them to do what you want. Ensure you have the time to teach them, a reward carrier or place to store them nearby (praise needs to be given as soon as you ‘catch’ them doing the right thing for it to work), and if you wish, a crate to prevent accidents.
Puppy toilet training equipment
If your pup has already started toileting in your home, start by thoroughly cleaning all the spots they’ve been to in order to remove any scents. They’ll associate these smells with toileting. We recommend a purpose made, ammonia-free pet urine remover, which you can pick up from most vets. If they’ve had opportunities for a sneaky wee, we recommend using a blacklight designed to light up urine crystals in the flooring so you can remove all traces.
A training crate can be useful with toilet training, helping you pick up their ‘tells’ far quicker. A pup’s signal that they need to toilet usually includes pacing, sniffing, whining, squatting or turning in frantic circles. As many pups give it away by suddenly abandoning a task or nap and walking into another room, the crate prevents this so they will instead bark or whine to get out.
Puppies are also reluctant to toilet in a confined space, so they may give you more obvious signs in a quicker time frame to avoid it happening. Do note that they shouldn’t spend too much of their day in their crate, so after they’ve been to the loo, it’s a great time for a play and cuddle!
Learning to spot the signs they need to toilet
Even if you don’t use a crate, timing can be very helpful in helping you spot their signals. Puppies will often need to toilet after a nap, a meal, or first thing in the morning. Make sure you give them plenty of opportunities to get to their toilet promptly by popping them outside at these times. Also avoid confusion by not leaving them unattended indoors for hours at a time. This gives them the message it’s ok to go inside, and you may build up those smells, should the soiling dry up before you find it.
It can also be useful in the early days to set a timer and take them out to the same spot every hour, with a simple command “toilet”. Even if they don’t go, give them a minute or so with no playing, so they don’t misunderstand why they are there, to give them a chance, then return inside.
Using positive reinforcement
A soon as your puppy goes to the toilet where you want them to, they should be given praise, and a treat in the early days. This should be done within seconds of them displaying the right behaviour.
As well as providing swift and consistent rewards for the right behaviour, positive reinforcement also involves ignoring unwanted toileting. Rather than rubbing your pups’ nose in it or telling them off verbally, you need to display no reaction at all. Clean the area thoroughly with the ammonia-free product to take away the scent and reduce the likelihood of the dog using the same place again next time.
Punishment can actually delay the learning process. If your pup learns that toileting in front of you is wrong, they may try to hide it from you. This will make rewarding toileting difficult when they do go in the correct place.
According to the RSPCA, helping your puppy form the right associations is a key factor in toilet training. When it comes to going to the toilet, a puppy will associate an area with a toilet because of the following:
The smell of urine, faeces or ammonia.
Location - try to take them to same spot every time so they will associate that spot with going to the toilet.
Commands - when trained, dogs will associate certain words, commands or sounds with going to the toilet.
The importance pups place on association is why it’s important to clean up thoroughly when they toilet in the wrong place, and why it’s important to praise them quickly when they get it right. Teaching them to go on command can be handy for dogs that live in apartments or people on stricter schedules. Whenever you take your puppy to the toilet, use the same word. ‘Toilet’ is an easy one the whole family can remember. Say it before and during their toileting, and they’ll quickly learn when they hear the word, they need to go.
Toilet training a puppy can be time intensive in the early days and weeks, but with consistence and patience, you can help them get the hang of going outdoors!
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