The easy guide to toilet training your puppy

One of the things that worries new puppy owners the most is toilet training. But there's no need to panic - puppies come pre-programmed to be toilet trained! Leading Behaviourist and Trainer Carolyn, explains how...

One of the things that worries new puppy owners the most is toilet training. The good news is that puppies come pre-programmed to be toilet trained - as you'll see if you watch any litter of pups, even as young as four weeks old, when their mum has already taught them to leave their bed to go to the toilet!

So, by following the rules mum has already taught her pups, you can simply build on them when your puppy comes home.

As your puppy should already know not to use their sleeping area as a toilet, one secret of good toilet training is to limit the area the puppy has to sleep in overnight. If they have a whole room, it's too tempting to use a corner of it as a toilet and keep their bed clean.

Crate training your new puppy will simplify toilet training at night. Your puppy won't want to make their bed dirty, as their mum showed them, so they will do their best to hang on until you let them out. If you'd prefer not to use a crate, you can use a puppy pen - although makes sure it's not so big that they can sleep at one end and use the other end as a toilet.

Always remember that a young pup can't hang on for very long – so never expect them to. You have to play your part – and a big part it is! And these are your rules:

  • Do not feed your puppy's last meal too late in the evening – this will limit their need for a poo
  • Take them out as late as you can for their last trip to the loo – 11.30pm or later
  • Get up in the middle of the night – perhaps 3am and take them out again (it might seem tough but it won't last long and it is worth it!)
  • Get up again early in the morning (around 6am) and take them out straight away
  • Whatever time of the day or night, always go with your puppy and don't just open the door to let them out. You need to be able to reward every toilet success immediately with a treat.

Your sleep will be interrupted for a couple of weeks, but this is a small price to pay for your puppy making fewer mistakes. And the fewer mistakes, the more successes you can reward, and the more successful their toilet training will be – the faster you can have a restful night again! It's so worth it!

During the day, always keep your puppy close by so you can keep an eye on them – you can use a crate, a puppy pen, or even a houseline tied to your belt! Just remember not to take your eye off them.

If you're going to use a crate, keep crate time to a minimum. They can be invaluable training aids but are never an alternative to spending time with your puppy, or a way for you to routinely leave them alone.

Usually, it's easy to tell when your puppy needs the toilet. They tend to turn in circles, sniffing, and you will soon get used to the specific things that your puppy does when they need to go! Also, there are obvious times when your puppy will need to go out - after they wake up, after playing and after eating and drinking. 

It is up to you to understand when your puppy needs to go to the toilet and reward them for getting it right. It's definitely not up to them to ask you to go out – especially in the first few months. Don't expect too much! So many owners do, and this creates stress, which makes it much harder for them and their puppy.

At these times, take your puppy outside – and be prepared to patiently wait. Puppies are very easily distracted by sights, smells, movements and anything else, no matter how desperate they are, other things can be more interesting – and they only remember that they needed to go when they get back in!

Choose a special toilet command word, and when your puppy finally goes, say the word, and when they have finished, reward immediately with a treat. That way, they know you are delighted with them!

If you catch your puppy getting ready to go in the house, quietly pick them up, gently take them outside, and let them carry on in peace – then reward them.

NEVER punish your pup for any mistakes. These hiccups are not your puppy's fault, they just don't understand what you want yet. Give them loads of praise when they get it right, and ignore them when they slip up. Make life as simple as possible for your puppy – they are just a baby and they need to feel that life as a family dog is fun – not fraught with potential failure. Toilet training is the first serious thing you teach your puppy, so the more they trust you and succeed in this, the more you are building your relationship for the future.

Good luck! You'll be there before you know it!