Toilet training will be the first bit of ‘training’ you do with your new pup. If you have cats you’ll know how easy it is with kittens. In fact normally by the end of their first day home they know where their litter tray is and how to use it. Of course there are occasional accidents, but it’s pretty much a doddle.
Dogs are another kettle of fish! The only place puppies really know not to pee, is their bed or anywhere they sleep. Everywhere else is fair game. What’s more, they can’t hold their bladder and bowels for very long and will pretty much need to go the minute they have a drink or something to eat and every 20 minutes or so in between!
The key to toilet training is learning the signals that your puppy needs to go and putting them outside quickly. But also putting them outside every half an hour even if they don’t show you those signals, just in case! So you pretty much need eyes in the back of your head to make sure you are on it!
Sounds easy right? Nope. Your new puppy will have lots of accidents in those first few weeks. And it’s important to remember that word, ‘accident’, because you it’s the only way you will temper the frustration when you think you’ve nailed it and then step in a little gift left for you! Toilet training takes time and patience, and when these accidents occur it’s important not to reprimand your puppy – they didn’t do it on purpose.
The flip side is praise, and lots of it. Every poo and wee they do outside should be met with a fanfare of praise and even a treat! But one of the best pieces of advice I received was not just to praise after the event. While they are peeing or pooing, have a phrase you intend to use in future when you let them outside and want them to do their business. Ours is ‘Go potty!’ which we said repeatedly while she squatted to pee. She now knows when we open the door and say ‘Go potty!’ that it’s time to ‘go’! It can be any phrase, but whatever you choose, be consistent and repeat it until they have stopped peeing or pooing and then follow with praise.
So now let’s talk about puppy training pads. We started using these as we had been advised to by quite a few dog owners. The idea is that you put the pad on the floor and train your puppy to go on the pad to avoid the mess. But here’s the issue (which, once explained to me, made perfect sense): if you want your puppy to pee outside, why are you training it to pee inside on a mat? Good question, right? It’s only going to prolong what for some new owners is already a long process. So, my advice would be not to use puppy training pads.
Next up, night time toilet trips. As mentioned before, puppies cannot hold their bladders for very long, so you will need to get up in the night to begin with to let them out to pee. We found that Ivy could hold for much longer at night, so the 20 minute rule does not apply at night. Within a week Ivy was sleeping through, however this does not mean the frequency during the day got less. I am not sure why that is, although puppies do hate to make a mess in their bed more than anything. And we found that crate-training was what nailed the night time bladder control. If she had been able to wonder round, she would have had accidents. But because she was all cosy in her crate, she didn’t.
So the secret is consistency, patience and taking ownership of the process. Potty training is your job, not your puppy’s. You need to realise it will take time for this little bundle of fluff to understand that his or her human wants him to go to the bathroom outside rather than inside. And it will take you time to recognise the signals that tell you your puppy needs to go.
So, what are those signals? When Ivy needs to pee, she starts turning in circles and when she needs to poo, she sniffs the floor while walking around. If you see your pup doing either of these things, pick them up and take them outside. When you take your puppy outside, again, you need to be patient… and boring! Puppy will instantly forget it needed to pee when faced with all those fabulous smells and sounds and the expectation that you are going to play with them! So stand still, don’t speak and wait. When she starts to go, you start saying your chosen phrase, ‘Go potty! Go potty! Go potty’ (seriously, you don’t need to say that particular one, it just makes us laugh for some reason!) And then when she has gone, lots of praise.
You will hear tales of some puppies being trained by 9 weeks. Don’t listen. Yes, it can be done, but very few people manage it that quickly. Every puppy is different and some take longer than others. Ivy was getting the hang of it by 22 weeks, but unusual circumstances or forgetfulness on our part still results in the occasional accident.
One aspect of toilet training that isn’t often discussed is the ‘clean up’. It’s really important to clean up thoroughly when your puppy has an accident. Puppy wee doesn’t really smell strong to humans, but to your puppy, even the tiniest residue will mark a spot where they will look to wee again. So, make sure you find a good cleaning solution to get rid of the scent of wee or poo.
And on that sweet note… we would love to hear of any top tips you have learned through your experience with toilet training, so feel free to leave a comment below!