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How to toilet train a puppy

Toilet training a puppy can be one of the most challenging aspects of puppy ownership as it requires patience, effort and vigilance. However, teaching them where and when it is appropriate to relieve themselves is highly rewarding, and sows the seeds for the remainder of your puppy’s development. Some may take longer than others to learn, but perseverance will ensure your puppy will eventually be toilet trained. Have a look at our guide on how to toilet train a puppy.

Before you bring your puppy home

You need to consider where the best place is for your puppy to go to the toilet, and keep this consistent so they will learn to return to the same area. Remember to think long term when making decisions. For instance, it probably isn’t wise to designate a corner of your home for your puppy to go whilst they are learning as they will continue this behaviour into adulthood, where the mess will only increase. An outdoor area such as the garden is probably the best place for them.

There are certain essential items you need to buy that will help with toilet training, before you bring your puppy home. A collar and lead can be used to direct them to the designated area until they know where to go for themselves. Also, consider whether puppy training pads may be beneficial. These can be placed around the home to encourage your puppy to eliminate on them instead of on the floor. You will need a pooper scooper to get rid of any mess either in your home or garden, as well as disinfectant to spray on affected indoor areas. However, ensure it doesn’t have ammonia in it, as this can smell similar to urine and therefore confuse the puppy.

When you bring your puppy home

The first thing you should do when you arrive home is take your puppy to the spot you have chosen so they can relieve themselves in that area. Praise them when they go to show they need to return to the same place each time. For the first few attempts make sure you lead your puppy there, but after a while they should know where to go unassisted.

You need to accept that there are likely to be some mistakes, so don’t punish them if they go somewhere they aren’t supposed to. They won’t understand why they are being shouted at, and may become afraid of eliminating. Young puppies in particular can have very poor bladder control, but they will eventually learn how to hold everything. If you notice your puppy looks like they need to go to the toilet, quickly redirect them to the appropriate place.

Signs a puppy needs to go

A really young puppy will struggle to exercise any control over their bodily functions, but as they get older, they will start to exhibit some signs of needing to go such as sniffing, circling, whining, barking and restlessness. Eventually they will learn to go to the door, if this is where you usually take them when they need to relieve themselves. Reward them if they manage to wait after notifying you of their needs.

Establish a routine

Successful training is dependent on a strong routine, which needs to be established as soon as you bring your puppy home. Immediately take them outside when they wake up in the morning, after every meal and before you put them to sleep. Eventually there will be no need for this because they will learn how to show you they need to go. A young puppy’s poor bladder control might mean they need to urinate every hour or two, so be prepared to take them out regularly. Activity or excitement may also cause them to urinate, so take them out after any over-exertion. Too many toilet breaks is better than not enough, and it further reinforces to your puppy where they need to be. Keeping a diary of when they have been may help you to keep track and maintain a routine, whilst using a word that your puppy will associate with going to the toilet might make training easier. When they successfully respond to the word, ensure you praise them.

How to avoid irregular toilet habits

You need to firmly maintain your routine to get results. Failing to take the puppy to relieve themselves is irresponsible and cruel, because it inhibits their training and forces them to go indoors. They will become confused by eliminating both indoors and outdoors, and won’t be able to distinguish the difference between the two unless firm boundaries are set out. Likewise, leaving a puppy on their own for long periods of time could also delay their training, as they will have no choice but to relieve themselves indoors.

Maintaining a firm routine is important in all aspects of the puppy’s daily life, including feeding. Make sure you continue to feed them at the same times every day, so they will get into the habit of going to the toilet at the same times every day as well. Otherwise they may need to go during the night, which can lead to whining and indoor elimination. It is not uncommon for a young puppy to want to relieve themselves during the night to begin with, but establishing a routine will eventually help to reduce their need.

Leaving the door open at all times will not encourage your puppy to associate the outdoors with elimination because they will be free to come and go as they please, leading to confusion about where they can and can’t go. Also, don’t leave them alone in the garden at first, as they need your praise to know they are doing the right thing.

After successful training, if your puppy seems to revert back to relieving themselves indoors, consult your vet because the behaviour could be due to a medical problem.

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