1. Be prepared and educate yourself before your puppy first arrives home
A new puppy’s arrival is a very exciting time, and whilst you’ve no doubt done lots of research about suitable breeds, what to feed and bought bedding and toys; have you remembered the puppy house training kit? You will need plastic covers, newspaper, training pads (if you choose to use them), a safe detergent (not ammonia based, as ammonia smells like urine) for cleaning up and rubber gloves. Have you organised a safe designated area in the garden for toileting? Ask the breeder about progress with house training before your bring your puppy home, so that you can use a similar schedule and the same commands. This will provide your puppy with continuity and give you and your pup a head start. Training should start as soon as your puppy joins your household.
2. Be patient and gentle at all times
Puppies respond best to kind and calm handling. By all means be consistent and reasonably firm, but never get frustrated or lose your temper when things don’t always go to plan. There will be accidents, this is perfectly normal. Very young puppies will not be able to hold themselves over-night, so it’s important to provide them with a designated area to toilet. This can be in a crate or puppy pen (if you’re using one) but the crate/pen must be large enough to accommodate a sleeping area and drinking station too; or an area in a specific room where your puppy sleeps. If you seem to be moving backwards, take a close look at what you could personally do to improve the situation. Be honest! Are you allowing enough time for training? Are you keeping to a routine? Are you using consistent cue words? Are you taking your puppy out to the garden sufficiently often? Punishing a puppy for toileting indoors can make him scared to toilet in front of you, and result in him hiding and toileting in difficult to access areas such as underneath furniture.
3. Try to pre-empt your puppy’s needs
Looking at the training scenario from a puppy’s point of view and aiming to work around his needs will make life much easier than working around your own. A puppy should be taken outside in the garden to his designated toileting area as soon as he wakes up in the morning (although there will be times when he wakes up first!), after each of his meals (usually 4 feeds per day for young pups, so that means 4 trips to use the toilet, after he wakes up from a snooze during the day and before he goes to bed in the evening. He probably won’t toilet at every single opportunity, but at least you are giving him the option to go outside. Young puppies can’t tell you when they need to toilet, so it’s up to you to pre-empt him. Eating stimulates the digestive system, so puppies usually will urinate within fifteen minutes of a meal, and defecate within half an hour. All pups are different though, and just as some will pick up toilet training quickly and others will take a little longer, some need to urinate and defecate more than others! Puppies do have a higher metabolic energy requirement than adult dogs so it is normal for them to urinate and defecate more. They don’t have such good bladder or sphincter control either. Small breeds have higher metabolic energy requirements than large breeds, so they may need to toilet even more frequently. Young pups generally need to urinate every couple of hours so make sure there is a toileting area indoors if you are not able to accommodate this.
4. Use positive reinforcement
Encouraging your puppy to urinate and defecate in the place of your choosing is best accomplished using reward based training. There’s no point telling a puppy off if he has an accident. If you’re training him properly, it will be just that – an accident, not a deliberate misdemeanour. If you think he’s being naughty, he isn’t, he just needs a little more encouragement. Be sure to use cue words (e.g. wee time, poo time) just before toileting. Praise comes after the event. Make sure you’re not getting complacent and forgetting to reward your puppy when he toilets in the correct place. He needs lots of approval!
5. Employ good hygiene measures
It’s really important to clear up after any accidents indoors quickly and thoroughly. As mentioned previously, ammonia based detergents are best avoided as they smell very similar to urine. Pups have a good sense of smell, and even if we can no longer smell the mess, there’s a good chance they will. They’ll often return to a “dirty” area to mess again, and by dirty – that could mean retaining the odour of their own urine, that of another dog, or that of an ammonia based cleaning compound! Safe enzyme based cleaners are generally ideal as they remove rather than mask odours. Food hygiene is also really important as it will help reduce bacterial growth and thus the risk of infection.
6. Get the family on board and make sure everyone is consistent
Training is much easier for your puppy if everyone sticks to the same routine and the same rules. Puppies can easily become confused, and if one family member is employing a different approach this can quickly undo all your good work so far.
7. Expect some setbacks and don’t panic
It’s not unusual to have accidents, in fact it’s more unusual not to! Factors such as an unavoidable change of routine or a simple case of the pup not being able to wait are the usual reasons for a setback. Other contributing factors could be curiosity if your pup is so busy exploring the garden that he is distracted from toileting, reaching sexual maturity, as well as getting over-excited, anxious or over-whelmed.
8. Pay attention to your puppy’s diet
Lower quality puppy foods are not as calorie dense and involve higher feeding portions than better quality products. This can result in increased stool volume and / or increased frequency of passing them. The digestibility of the ingredients is also very important, as is the suitability of the food for the individual. The better your puppy can digest and assimilate the nutrients in his food, the less waste there will be. Salty food or treats will make your pup drink more, and increase fluid intake means an increased need to urinate. Never restrict your puppy’s access to water though.
9. Have a routine but be prepared to make amendments if it’s not working
Sometimes toilet training fails to go to plan despite an owner’s very best efforts. If this happens, the best thing to do is keep a log of your current routine for a couple of days and monitor the timing and circumstances of each accident. You should then be able to amend the routine to fit in with your puppy’s needs. This will raise your awareness of the problem, and not just the fact that there is a problem, but the likely reasons why and how to address them. Sometimes you need to go back a few steps before you can start moving forward again.
10. Learning how to toilet on walks
Once your pup has been vaccinated and is old enough to start going for walks he’ll often urinate or defecate on his way without too much encouragement. Other pups may be so interested in the new environment that toileting is the last thing on their minds. This can mean that as soon as they arrive home they’ll relieve themselves. Other pups may simply prefer to use their familiar garden toileting area. To help a puppy learn to toilet on his walk, get up early in the morning and take him out before he’s had an opportunity to urinate or defecate in the garden. This may take some time, so allow lots, and this will need to be repeated for several days if not longer. Eventually though, your pup will be in the habit of toileting on his walks not just in his garden.