- Holly Leake
Bogged Down With Toilet Training
For some, toilet training can be an absolute breeze, but for others it can become a real nightmare. However, it doesn’t have to be a struggle because there are successful ways to toilet train your puppy in a matter of weeks and I am going to share them with you.
How to Begin
Toilet training should begin the moment you bring your puppy home. You can guarantee that after a car journey, they will need the toilet, so its best to take them straight into the garden. Puppy pads have now become the popular tool to toilet train puppies and so its wise to buy these in advance. I confess, I really didn’t want to use puppy pads and was eager to be old fashioned and use newspaper. Why?
I have observed that many pups that are trained using puppy pads can mix them up with similar textiles, such as door mats or rugs and this can continue into adulthood, especially if they are used for too long. Nevertheless, I discovered that Mando had an obsession with shredding paper (he still does), so I had no other choice but to use the puppy pads.
One of the main downsides to puppy pads, is that dog guardians tend to be a bit lazier when it comes to toilet training, which slows the training process. This is because the chance of destroying rugs or the carpet are slightly reduced when using pads, so guardians aren’t as vigilant. It is very common for guardians to leave several pads out for their puppy and then they let their puppy outside when they have time.
The huge issue with this, is that the more a behaviour is practiced, the more ingrained it becomes, so if you are heavily reliant on pads rather than making every effort to prevent indoor soiling, you are making training so much harder for yourself. Thus, if you are using puppy pads try not to use them as a crutch. Make every effort to prevent soiling in the house and then you will make training far easier for yourself and your puppy.
How to prevent your puppy toileting indoors
So in order to prevent soiling in the house, you need to ensure you are regularly giving your puppy opportunities to toilet outside. I’m afraid just leaving the back door open and hoping for the best won’t work as your puppy does not yet understand that he should toilet outdoors and so will toilet in the house, regardless of the door being open.
Unfortunately, you can’t rely on your puppy to follow another dog’s example either. They may observe other dog’s toileting outside and they may imitate the behaviour but this doesn’t result in effective toilet training, as they will still likely soil in the house also.
You need to pre-empt that your puppy will need the toilet at certain times. Typically at 8-12 weeks of age, your puppy will need the toilet every 30 minutes and they will also need the toilet after certain activities. These include following a drink, eating and playing and also when they have been in their crate and when they have woken up. Any experiences that elicit excitement, such as having visitors, will mean your puppy will likely need the toilet.
Obviously you should also take them out for the toilet before bed but this doesn’t mean that your puppy will sleep through without needing the toilet. In the night, your puppy will likely need the toilet every 2-3 hours and as inconvenient as this maybe, it’s important that you set an alarm and take your puppy out for the toilet. If you find your puppy gets distracted in the garden and won’t go to the toilet, it is advised to put them on the lead. You can then lead them back inside if they don’t go and then return to the garden in another 10 minutes to try again. As your puppy grows they will have better control of their bladder/bowels and will be able to hold it for longer periods but until then, it is critical to take them to the toilet every 30 minutes.
The second important factor in your toilet training is regular supervision and limiting your puppy’s access to rooms. If you have all the doors open and allow your puppy to roam around the house, you can guarantee there will be regular accidents. Your puppy may also soil in places that you may not find for days or even weeks. This means that a scent will be left, encouraging more indoor toileting. Therefore, its important to limit your puppies access to rooms by using child safety gates and keeping doors closed, as this will make training so much easier for you.
Before, we collected Mando, we purchased a gate and a pen to prevent access to other rooms. This meant that he was restricted to the dining room and kitchen when we weren’t supervising him, ensuring he couldn’t have accidents in the rest of the house. When we were with him, we limited his access to the lounge, dining room and kitchen and didn’t allow him to go anywhere else in the house until he was older. Although he had a bit more freedom, we watched him like a hawk and regularly took him in the garden. If we saw him looking around and sniffing, we took this as a sign that he needed to urinate and encouraged him to go in the garden.
How to respond to accidents
The internet offers very cruel ways to respond to accidents, many of which have behavioural fallout. One of the main recommendations for toilet training, is to rub your puppy’s face in their own urine as a punishment for urinating in the house. This is incredibly cruel and it doesn’t teach your puppy what they should be doing. Other advice can include shouting at your puppy when they have an accident and even physically hitting the puppy. Why these ways of responding to a baby’s bodily functions are considered acceptable, is beyond me. It’s the equivalent of hitting a baby for filling their nappy!
Granted, puppies, develop and mature faster than human infants, however, just like babies, puppies are reliant on us to teach them how to appropriately toilet. Thus, we shouldn’t punish them when it’s likely our own fault for not putting in enough training or not taking them out as regularly as they need.
Punishing a puppy, following indoor toileting, can worsen the behaviour. As mentioned, aversive or punitive methods always have a behavioural fallout. For example, I knew a lady with a lovely little Yorkshire terrier that particularly struggled with toilet training. Every time the dog soiled in the house, the lady would shout at the dog, rub the dog’s face in her urine and then lock her in a crate. This Yorkshire terrier became terrified and anxious every time she needed the toilet and this caused her to eat her own faeces the moment she opened her bowels. You see she didn’t understand why she was being punished but she was desperate to avoid the experience and so was getting rid of the evidence.
Punishing your puppy, wont toilet train them, it will just teach them to hide the evidence. They learn that toileting in front of you results in a negative consequence and so to avoid such consequences, they toilet in secret. This makes training incredibly difficult because not only is your puppy still toileting indoors, now you have to try and find where they have done it.
So avoid punishing the behaviour at all costs. When you find your puppy has had an accident, refrain from shouting at them and just calmly lead them into the garden and then clean up the mess straight away. Its critical to use special spray that eradicates the odour, especially if you have a male puppy and want to avoid indoor scent marking. This will ensure your puppy won't smell his urine and continue to mark that area. To prevent an accident occurring again, determine the reason this happened and how you can change your approach to ensure your puppy only toilets outside.
How to toilet train your puppy
The key to effective toilet training is patience, consistency and supervision. For the first 4-6 weeks of having your puppy, your routine will be dominated by toilet training. I am not going to lie to you, it’s boring and exhausting, however, the more determined you are, the quicker your puppy will be trained.
With Mando, I began training by allowing him to urinate on a puppy pad, which I then took outside into the garden. Every time I took Mando out for the toilet (every 30 minutes) I took him to this pad because it had his scent on and would encourage him to toilet outside. On the first day, he learned to urinate on the pad outside, but then I needed to transfer him from the pad to the grass, so to do this I rubbed the soiled pad on the grass, to leave Mando’s scent, and sure enough he urinated on the grass.
I now needed to reinforce the behaviour by praising him and rewarding him with a treat the moment he finished. I opted to use high value treats, such as hot chicken, as I knew this would speed up Mando’s learning. I made a habit of leaving treats by the back door so that I always had quick access to treats to reward the toileting. Now its important to get your timing right. If you praise and reward your puppy during the toileting, they may run into the house, have their treat and then finish their toileting on the carpet. On the other hand, if you wait too long after your puppy has toileted outside, then the association between outdoor toileting and a lovely treat will be broken, slowing the progress of your training.
You should also continue your toilet training on your walks. Going for a walk naturally stimulates dogs to scent mark, so you should make the most of this opportunity and carry treats with you so you can reinforce the behaviour. It is common for many puppies to avoid toileting on their walks and limiting themselves to their garden, where their toilet training began. This happens because dogs don’t generalise well and may believe that the only place they can toilet is the garden because that’s where they have been trained and rewarded.
To address this, I introduced a toileting cue with Mando so that I could ask for him to go to the toilet both in the garden and on walks. It doesn’t matter what the word is as long as its consistent. Start this training by regularly saying the cue word during the toileting and then reward your puppy with a treat. Keep repeating this for several weeks and eventually your puppy will learn what the word means and you can use it to cue the behaviour. Then you can begin using the cue word on your walks.
It took us 6 weeks to toilet train Mando but it was not a linear process. Some days he would have no accidents and others he would have a couple. His toilet training was influenced by how he was feeling and what happened during the day. For instance, when he was poorly he urinated twice in the house, even though he’d gone weeks without any accidents. Also, he would sometimes urinate if we had guests because he was excited and distracted.
So don’t be disheartened if your puppy is great some days and struggles on others. Your puppy will soon mature and learn to only toilet outside. If your puppy starts to toilet indoors again go back to basics and up the value of your treats. Many skip steps and try to phase out treats too soon, so avoid phasing out treats until your puppy is around 6 months old and they are toileting outdoors reliably.
So with all this guidance, you no longer need to be bogged down with toilet training. You can successfully train your puppy, as long as you are willing to put the time and effort in now. I promise it will be worth it!
Puppy Training- This is the way
If you want help training your puppy, check out my 1-2-1 Puppy Training | Paw Chores