All puppies need toilet training. But sometimes even older dogs need to go back to basics if they’re recently adopted or weren’t taught properly at a young age.
Housebreaking can be extremely frustrating. Nobody wants to step in mess on a daily basis or be greeted by a stink bomb every morning. In our hectic lives, we just don’t need that kind of headache.
But no matter how infuriated you become, never push your frustration onto your dog. They’re not doing it on purpose, and shouting or rubbing their face in the mess will only make them scared of you. Or they’ll just learn to toilet when you’re not around.
Always use positive encouragement to reinforce the right behaviour.
Puppies don’t enter the world knowing where they should relieve themselves. We need to teach them where’s appropriate. And that’s definitely not the living room rug, or the welcome mat!
This same training applies to both puppies and older dogs. With our pup Loki, we managed to significantly reduce accidents by 4 months and she was entirely housebroken at 6 months.
There’s no exact time scale for toilet training a dog. Every pooch is different – some will pick it up in a matter of days, others will take months. But the three things you need for pup to succeed are patience, consistency and positive reinforcement.
There are countless articles on the subject all with different methods, but this is exactly how Loki became accident free at 6 months old.
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Get a crate
I’m a complete advocate of crates during those early puppy months. They serve many purposes besides toilet training too. They provide a den-like safe space for pup when it’s time to settle. They also prevent pooch from doing damage to themselves and your home when they can’t be supervised.
And because dogs generally don’t like to mess where they sleep, keeping pup in a closed crate overnight teaches them to hold it. That doesn’t mean you can close the crate at night and toddle off to bed for 8 hours though.
Puppies have tiny bladders.
They will need a toilet break opportunity every couple of hours throughout the night when you bring them home. Yes, that does mean some sleepless nights ahead!
After a while you can gradually start increasing the length of time between breaks until they sleep through the night.
Use a crate that’s just big enough for them to stand up and turn around. This ensures they see the entire crate as their sleeping area and can’t designate a corner for toileting.
The crate you buy will depend on the size of your dog. Here’s a great two door crate that’s ideal for a medium sized dog. They also provide different sizes for smaller and larger dogs.
Don’t use puppy pads
Think of the crate as your toilet training system for night times. But now you’ll need a plan of action when pup’s bouncing around during the day.
Personally, I don’t see the point of using puppy pads. Your ultimate goal is to get pup using your garden, so why add an unnecessary step… If you tell them it’s ok to use pads, you’ll only have to teach them the same process a second time which’ll just take longer.
Save yourself the time and money by getting it right from the start.
Pay attention to pup’s toileting signals
Part of preventing accidents is knowing when your dog is about to go. If you observe their tell-tale signs you can quickly scoop them up and take them outside before it happens.
This not only stops them making a mess in the house, your sense of urgency will help them understand inside is a no-go area.
When puppies need to relieve themselves you may find them sniffing the ground, circling, pacing or heading off to a corner of the room.
If you spot this behaviour or they’re already mid flow, quickly scoop them up and walk quickly to the garden saying ‘outside, outside, outside.’
You should never simply wait for your pup to show these signals before you take them out. This will only help moments before and as accidents inevitably happen. Most times they will have gone before you even realise it. The best method is to stick to a schedule and take them out regularly to set them up for success.
If pup does urinate in the house, be sure to clean it up quickly using an ammonia free cleaner. As dogs tend to repeat offend in areas they’ve gone before, this will ensure there are no traces of the previous mess.
Set a timer
Puppies need to be given ample and consistent opportunity to relieve themselves throughout the day. That way they’re more likely to use the garden instead of your home. Because the more accidents they have in your home, the more likely they are to continue the behaviour and the harder it will be to break the habit.
This means you should set an alarm every hour and take pup outside to their spot immediately.
At this stage, when you’re outside it’s all about getting down to business. This is not a time to play, explore or carry out other training.
Guide your puppy to the spot while on their lead so they can’t wander off and find something to entertain themselves. Do not talk or give your puppy any attention while outside. The key is to be as boring as possible so they’re not distracted from going to the toilet.
Now it’s the waiting game. If pup whines or paws at you, ignore them. I know this sounds harsh but stick with it.
We went through toilet training with Loki in the middle of winter. Believe me, getting up at 4am to stand outside for 20 minutes in the freezing cold while she whined at me was one of the hardest things!
If pup doesn’t go after 10 minutes or so, head back inside and try again in 15 minutes.
Use a cue word
When your pooch finally relieves themselves in the correct spot, use a cue word such as ‘go pee’ or ‘outside’ as they’re going.
This helps pup associate a command with the action. So as they become housebroken, you can tell pup when to urinate or defecate on demand. This is particularly helpful if you’re heading out on a long journey or you’re leaving pooch at home for a couple hours.
Lavish pup with praise and treats
After pup has finished their business, go overboard on the praise and treats. When I say overboard I really mean go all out. Jump up and down, squeal and clap as if they’ve just done the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen.
Give them a chunk of a tasty treat that you only bring out when they’ve done their business in the right spot. I.e. a piece of chicken or cheese.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
To successfully toilet train a dog you need to be consistent. I cannot emphasise this enough. If you start to waver they’ll have more accidents in the home and that behaviour may soon become engrained.
Take your dog out every time your alarm goes off and praise heavily when they go. It’s a simple yet tiresome strategy, but it works. I’m sure you’d rather a couple months of regimented potty training than years of stinky accidents. I know which one I’d choose.
Are you stuck in the accident cycle? Let me know how you’re getting on in the comments below.