How to toilet train your puppy
Welcome sleepless nights, profuse floor cleaning, and chewed belongings… but also a barrage of love and joy. Welcome new puppy!!!
Amongst the many things you’ll be teaching your new munchkin as they settle in, is that your entire home isn’t a gigantic toilet. Here’s our comprehensive take on the seemingly impossible task of toilet training your puppy!
At what age should you start toilet training your puppy?
Toilet training should begin as soon as your pup steps paw inside your home – generally between 8-17 weeks old. Each pup is different, and some puppies may not develop enough bladder/bowel control to really start accepting the training until 12 weeks old. Nevertheless, if you start as soon as they arrive, hopefully they’ll begin learning good behaviour from the get-go rather than developing bad habits. If nothing else, you’ll be preventing accidents from happening in the house.
How long does it take to toilet train a puppy?
Some pups cotton on to the training within a few weeks, while for some it can take a few months. It’s normal for accidents to keep happening here and there – these will become less frequent over time. Typically, it takes 4-6 months for puppies to achieve fully house-trained status, but some could take up to a year. Breed, age, size, and personality are all influencing factors and every pup is different.
Should you toilet train your puppy outdoors or on training pads?
You have two options when teaching your pupper to be a civilized pooch. You can either start by training them to go to the toilet outside, or you can use one of several types of indoor potty pads. The ideal arrangement depends on your situation.
If you intend for your dog to poop and piddle strictly outdoors in its adult life, and you have easy access to a private yard during puppy training, it might be most efficient to teach your dog to go outdoors from day one rather than starting on indoor pads.
On the other hand, training with potty pads can be helpful for many reasons, including:
Vaccination safety. Puppies that haven’t completed their full vaccinations are vulnerable to picking up diseases in public outdoor spaces. Not a problem if you have a fenced, private backyard, where no infectious dogs have visited. But for apartment-dwellers or those without their own yard, it might be safer to start your puppy’s training on indoor pads, then transition them to outdoor toileting once they’re fully vaccinated.
Convenience. During training, you’ll be making many, many trips with your pup to the potty spot – every few hours, including at night! If getting to an appropriate outdoor area involves an arduous trek brandishing a furry ticking pee bomb, pee pads might be an easier option until your dog can better hold its bladder.
Puppy pen. You should have a little area like a playpen or fenced off section of the house for your puppy to hang out when you can’t supervise them. It's helpful to provide a potty pad in this area so your puppy has somewhere they’re supposed to go if you’re not around.
- Apartment/indoor dogs. Using potty pads can be a long-term arrangement if your dog will be indoors at times you’re away, asleep, or otherwise unable to take them outside. Adult dogs will happily take themselves to the bathroom if you set up a permanent potty spot for them on the balcony, in the laundry, bathroom, etc. Don’t forget – every indoor dog still needs to go out for a daily walk (or walks!) for their wellbeing, and indoor potty pads are not a substitute for this. A good routine to get into could be going for a walk for poop times and having the indoor potty for pee breaks at other times.
Types of indoor potty pads
There are a few options you can provide for your dog’s indoor ‘business suite’ if required.
Disposable plastic pads are very convenient but not very environmentally-friendly, especially if you’re using them long-term. A dog who uses just a couple of plastic pee pads a day can go through 7000 pee pads over its life, generating a lot of plastic waste.
Fake grass mats are a reusable option, but can be hard to clean, especially if you’re in an apartment with no balcony or hose.
Real grass mats are pieces of actual turf that get delivered to your home on a weekly basis, which is super cool but can be super expensive.
- Washable pee pads are our option of choice, that’s why we sell them! They are machine washable and save the environment (and your wallet) as you can use them hundreds of times over.
These potty mats can be used for both pee and poop. For washable options, flush any ‘nuggets’ down the toilet first, then you can proceed with cleaning. In the long run, we suggest establishing a routine where you take your dog out for a walk at poop times (you’ll get to know your doggy’s schedule) and use the potty pads for pee times as needed.
How often do puppies pee and poop?
Puppies need to pee a LOT. The general rule of thumb is:
number of hours puppy can hold its bladder = puppy’s age (in months) + 1
So a two month old puppy will need to pee every three hours; a three month old puppy every four hours, etc. Adult dogs can generally hold on for 6-8 hours (smaller breeds have smaller bladders!).
It’s normal for dogs to poop between 1-5 times a day (puppies being on the higher end of the scale), usually after meals or when they first wake up in the morning.
Step by step toilet training
Decide where the potty spot is. Either a safe private yard, or an indoor potty pad. Choose just one designated spot to start with, otherwise you’ll confuse your puppy and impede their training.
Stay home with your puppy for as many consecutive days as possible during initial training. Consistency is key to building your dog’s understanding! Plus, you’ll need to watch your pup like a hawk. Keep your puppy in the same room as you, or on a long leash, so you can keep a close eye on them.
Watch for signs that doggo needs to go! Common signals include sniffing around, pacing, circling, and squatting. Whining, barking, becoming suddenly restless or suddenly distracted from an engaging activity can also be indications your pup needs the bathroom.
Immediately pick up your puppy and bring them to the toilet area as soon as you spot these signs. Even if they’ve already initiated the job (!!) do your best to get them to the correct spot. You want them to associate the feeling of needing to go, with being in the spot where they’re supposed to go. As they get familiar with the routine, start leading them on a leash to the potty spot, so they learn to make their own way there.
Repeat a cue word like ‘pee-pee!’ or ‘toilet!’ while your pup is evacuating. Getting them to associate the word with the act helps in the future when you need to get your dog to go!
- If your puppy pees or poos on the designated spot, make a huge fuss over your good boy or girl! Shower them with praise and pats and spoil them with a little treat. Dogs are very responsive to positive reinforcement, especially when food is involved. Keep the treats within quick reach as it’s important to reward your puppy straight away, so they associate the reward with what they’ve just done. With repetition, your pup will learn that good things happen when they toilet in that particular spot, making them keen to do so.
Take your puppy to the potty spot at all critical times, including just after eating, drinking, waking from a nap, or finishing a big play session. Puppies naturally need to relieve themselves after these activities, so they’re a great cue to get into position.
Make sure you’re taking your puppy to the potty spot every few hours using the guide mentioned above (months of age + 1), even if they aren’t showing overt signals. Set an alarm for regular intervals if you tend to forget. Note: some pups may need to go more or less frequently than this rule – you’ll figure out what works best for yours.
- If you take your pup to the toilet and nothing happens, wait there quietly with them for a couple of minutes. Gently lead them back to the right spot if they wander off. If still zilch, let your pup go back to whatever they were doing and try again in 15 mins.
Do not hit your puppy, scream at them, or rub their nose in excrement if they have an accident in the house. Accidents will definitely happen, it’s best to just accept that now! Frightening your puppy when they make a mistake can be counterproductive, making them scared to do their business in front of you and more inclined to slink out of sight (e.g. to your closet!) to piddle in peace.
If you catch your puppy red-handed going in the wrong place, a stern ‘No!’ will suffice, then quickly move them to the correct spot.
If your puppy has already left the scene of the crime, you’ll just have to let them off the hook. A puppy’s brain can’t comprehend consequences in retrospect, so they simply won’t understand if you try to reprimand or correct their behaviour too long after it’s happened. Just clean it up and try to catch them in time, next time.
Clean up all accidents very thoroughly, ideally with an enzymatic spray that breaks down urine odour. Dogs are drawn to go again in a place that retains smells from a prior ‘incident’. Avoid ammonia-based cleaning products, as a dog’s nose can confuse these with the ammonia smell in pee!
- Gradually extend the time between scheduled bathroom visits by half an hour at a time as your pup starts to understand the training and gains better bladder/bowel control.
Toilet training during the night
Unfortunately training doesn’t stop when the sun goes down! Puppies can last a bit longer between bathroom trips during sleepy night hours – probably 1.5 times longer than during the day – but they’ll still need to go! That means you’ll have to set an alarm two or three times during the night to wake up and take your puppy to the loo.
Tip: Give your pup their last meal for the day no later than 2-3 hours before bedtime (so it has time to settle and digest), then take them for a bathroom trip to empty the tank right before bed.
The main difference between day and night bathroom trips is you don’t want to get your puppy too excited during the night, because they need to learn that night time is for sleeping not playing.
Take your pup quietly to the potty area, give them a chance to do their thing, then offer a gentle pat, soft praise, and posssssibly a tiny treat, before taking them straight back to bed. No rowdiness, no playing. Cut out the treat altogether if pup is getting too hyped. You don’t want to get your dog into a habit of waking you up during the night just to have a fun time.
If your puppy is crying or barking for attention during the night, but you know it’s not time for a potty break, and they are otherwise warm and comfortable with all their needs met, resist the urge to go to them. Going to comfort your dog whenever they make noise reinforces the idea that barking at night gets results. To help your pup feel less lonely during their first nights in a new home, try putting them to bed with something that smells like you or their mum/siblings, play some quiet music/TV, or consider putting their night time set up somewhere close to your bed for the first few nights so they can smell and hear you nearby.
Unsupervised set ups
During the night or at other times you aren’t able to supervise your untrained puppy, pop them in a contained area so you don’t end up with accidents all over your house. This could be a puppy playpen or a fenced off tiled area. Depending on your set up, you might be able to give them access to their actual potty area, or offer an extra potty pad in their enclosure. As your puppy starts to understand the training, hopefully they’ll end up using the pad without you.
Crate training can pair very well with toilet training. Ensure you’ve invested adequate time in familiarising your puppy with their crate before closing them in for any amount of time. Once a puppy has embraced their crate as a safe, snug bed and den, they’ll be averse to soiling it – hence minimising the chance of unsupervised accidents. Just make sure you always get them out on time for their required potty breaks, and don’t abuse the crate system by leaving your dog crated for too long.
Tip: Washable pee pads can make great liners for playpens, crates, or beds; but only if you’re not already using them as a potty! Using the same material for bathroom and bedding could confuse your pup and make them think it’s ok to pee anywhere in their enclosure.
Transitioning to outdoor toileting
So you’ve trained your pup to use indoor pads and now want to expand their bathroom horizons to include the great outdoors. You might find that some dogs will naturally gravitate towards going on grass, bark, leaves and other natural substrates, especially if laced with the bathroom scents of other doggie passers-by.
If your dog doesn’t quite take to the idea, you can set their regular indoor potty pad outside and encourage them to go on it. Gradually reduce the size of the potty pad until you can remove it altogether.
With consistency, repetition, and patience, your hard work will all pay off in the form of a happy dog and happy floors! These early days of puppy parenthood are among the most challenging but also the most rewarding – remember to enjoy them 🥰
What was your experience like with puppy toilet training? Have any other tips to share? Let us know in the comments below!