How do I house-train my puppy?

If you follow a few basic rules you might be able to house-train your new puppy within a few weeks. However, your puppy will not be able to be trusted to wander throughout the home without eliminating for some weeks and therefore supervision and confinement are very important elements of successful house training.

The most important lesson for your puppy to learn is where he should eliminate. In order to achieve this we need to ensure that he is in the right location when he has the desire to toilet. Puppies have a strong urge to eliminate after sleeping, playing, feeding and drinking. It is therefore beneficial to take your puppy to his selected toilet area within a few minutes of each of these activities.

• During the daytime most puppies need to eliminate every 1 to 2 hours until they learn to hold on for longer, so take them out at least every 2 hours and especially after sleep, eating and a play session.
• Take your puppy outdoors, through the same door, to the same place, and stay outside until she does something to reward her for – this can take some time
• Find an area for the “dog toilet” that is easy to get to for a small puppy and not far from a door.
• Your puppy should be taken to his elimination area and as he begins to eliminate you can give a word or two of verbal encouragement (e.g. “hurry up”). As soon as toileting is finished your puppy should be calmly praised and patted. A few tasty food treats can also be given the first few times your puppy eliminates in the right spot, and then intermittently thereafter. This teaches your puppy the correct place to use, and that toileting in that location is associated with rewards. Some puppies may also learn to eliminate when they hear the cue words (“hurry up”) which can be useful at certain times, for example when traveling away from home.
• Always go outdoors with your puppy to ensure that he has toileted and to make it easier to give rewards that are clearly associated with the act. If you stay inside and give your puppy a reward when he comes back indoors there is no connection with the act of elimination and you may simply reward him for coming back into the house whether or not he has eliminated while he was out in the garden. Yes you do have to stand out in the cold/ rain /dark until they perform!
• Do not just shut your puppy outside alone when you want him to toilet. It is likely that he will be either be anxious because he is alone or be distracted so will not perform. If this happens the risk is that he will come back indoors with a full bladder or bowels and then will eliminate on coming back into the house.
• It is always important to consider what your individual dog finds rewarding. For example, if your puppy enjoys being outdoors and you bring him indoors immediately after eliminating, he may choose not to eliminate immediately to prolong his outdoor time and consequently may also eliminate once inside again. Some pups are so excited and distracted being outside it takes them some time to toilet.
• Pre-elimination signs include circling, squatting, sneaking-off into quiet corners and heading to the door. When you see these signs it is important to take your puppy to her toilet site
• When indoors your puppy must be supervised so that you can see when he needs to eliminate and immediately take him outdoors to his toilet area. Keep your puppy in a confined area of the house so that you can watch for any of these signs- if they have the run of the house you are likely to find wet patches in hidden corners!
• If your puppy begins to toilet indoors and you witness the very beginning of the process it may be appropriate to use a verbal distractor, such as a simple “no” to interrupt the behaviour. You can then immediately take him outdoors to his proper site, so that he can complete the act. However, if the process is already well advanced when you notice your puppy it is best to ignore the accident and act as if you have not seen it. Interrupting your puppy late in the process is likely to be seen as a reprimand and it may be detrimental to the house training process. Whenever you see your puppy in the midst of a mistake it is important that you never smack him, or use any other form of punishment.
When you are not available to supervise your puppy he should be confined to his safe area.
• Although some puppies can control themselves through the entire night this is unlikely to be the case when your puppy is only a few weeks of age. Expect some messes in the early days.
• Be certain that your puppy has had a chance to toilet and has had sufficient play and exercise before any lengthy confinement.
• If the area is small enough, such as an indoor pen or crate, most puppies will want to keep this area clean and it helps to train them to ‘hold on’.
• When you come to release your puppy from confinement, she must be taken directly to her elimination area, try not to make excited voices/fuss or cuddle her, just take her straight outside to the toilet area.

Why does my puppy refuse to toilet in my presence, even when outdoors?

Puppies who are not rewarded for outdoor elimination but are constantly being disciplined and punished for indoor toileting, may soon begin to associate the presence of their owners during toileting with punishment. This can then make them fearful to eliminate in the owner’s presence irrespective of the location.

If this could apply to you and your pup, stop all unpleasant reactions to elimination immediately and speak to your veterinary practice about seeking additional help with house training.

What do I do if I find some stool or urine in an inappropriate spot?

When mistakes occur it is important to remember that human error is most likely to be to blame! There is no point in punishing or even pointing out the problem to the puppy since the moment has passed and your puppy will not learn anything constructive from any such action. Instead you should simply clean the area thoroughly with a biological enzymatic cleaner to remove as much odour as possible so that this does not serve as a cue to use the area again. Consider shutting this area off from the pup if they are going there repeatedly.

How does my puppy signal that it needs to go out ?

By regularly taking your puppy outdoors, through the same door, to the same site, and providing rewards for proper elimination, he should soon learn to head for the door each time he has to toilet. If you recognise the signs of impending toileting and praise your puppy whenever he heads for the doorway, the behaviour can be encouraged further.

When will I be able to trust my puppy to wander loose throughout the home?

Generally, you will want your puppy to have been error free around the house for about a month before you can begin to decrease your confinement and supervision. The first time you leave your puppy unsupervised should be just after taking him outdoors for elimination. Gradually increase the length of time that he is allowed to roam through the home without supervision.
Begin by going out for short periods of time. Of course, if he still chews, then you should continue to use the safe area, appropriately stocked with suitable chew toys, when you go out.