All dogs are pre-programmed to soil outside their nest, so in this respect puppies already have an instinct to move away from the nest at around 3 weeks of age to go to the toilet. With time, puppies will learn by themselves to be toilet trained. All we are doing is speeding up the process and adding a few helpful things along the way.
Housetraining is one of the first things you will teach your puppy and it is the start of your relationship with them. It is important that the puppy's first experience of his new family is a positive one.
I was told to punish my puppy when he soils inside The old method of punishing the puppy in any way (including rubbing his nose in the mess!) is plainly cruel and will only delay the housetraining process, not to mention the mental damage you will be doing to your puppy. One of the effects of punishment is the loss of control of the sphincter and the bowels and thus the problem becomes aggravated.
But he always looks guilty when I get home
Some people incorrectly believe that their puppy knows it has done wrong, since the puppy seems too look guilty when they come in and see the mess. This is not true, as all the puppy is doing is responding to your body language and displaying submissive/appeasing language in the hope that he will not be punished. The puppy does not know why he is being punished when his owners come home. Human concepts of guilt, regret, spite, etc, or even knowing that the carpet is a covering for the house floor does not exist in dogs. The puppy just did the very natural act of eliminating when he had to.
What are the ground rules for housetraining?
The key to success in housetraining is to be alert and well prepared. Here are a few tips:
Keep your puppy confined to a small play area at first if you cannot keep an eye on him or when you are away from home. This could be the kitchen, utility room, bathroom or a section of the room with a cordoned area using a puppy pen. This area should have a floor that can be easily cleaned. Ensure they have a comfortable bed, a bowl of fresh water, plenty of hollow chew toys. Puppies can get particles of toys stuck in their throats and can die, so the best chew toys are kongs and sterilised hollow bones stuffed with dog food. You will be teaching him to target his chewing at chew toys and nothing else. It is also a great idea to feed your puppy's dinner in Kongs. Create a toilet area at the furthest point from his bed. Place polythene underneath to ensure that waste matter does not leak through. Alternatively, a cleaner and more efficient method is to use puppy training pads such as those by Simple Solution. Make sure that he cannot get to other items in the room.
How often should they be let out to do their business?
Your young puppy should be allowed out once every hour to eliminate. Use a designated toilet area in your garden and let your puppy walk and sniff around the area. Keep it clean to ensure that he will not go somewhere else in the garden that is cleaner. By selecting a specific area, you are helping your puppy understand what you want from him when he is taken to that spot and it will be easier to keep clean. Products such as Swiftie House Training Aid and Simple Solution Potty Training Aid for Puppies are useful to help train your puppy to eliminate in a specific area. The pheromone treated Pee Post from Simply Solution can also help in attracting your puppy to a specific spot.
It is also a good idea to have a keyword for your puppy to let him know that you would like him to go to the toilet. It could be anything you want, for example 'busy'. This will come in handy as he gets older and you need him to relieve himself at an appropriate time and place. Make sure you stay with your puppy when you take him outside (on the lead, if needed), as this will prevent him from getting distracted or upset with the separation and thus forgetting about relieving himself. You only need to take him out for a few minutes. If he doesn't relieve himself in that time, then you can put him back in his play area or supervise him until next time. Don't forget he will be going back with a full bladder, so keep a good eye and try again in half an hour's time.
You should always try to take your puppy out at the following times:
- Immediately after the puppy wakes up
- First thing in the morning
- Last thing at night
- A few minutes after eating
- After playing
After any excitement (e.g. after visitors greet your puppy).
Reward your puppy with calm, happy praise and with your chosen keyword as he is relieving himself (e.g. 'good boy, busy') and give him a couple of extra special treats after he has done his business (e.g. a small piece of dried liver or cheese). Do something very special after he has successfully used his designated toilet; like a game, lots of cuddles and maybe if he has had his vaccinations, take him out for a walk (the ultimate in dog rewards!). The benefit of taking him for a walk after his toileting means that your puppy will learn to be a fast eliminator and you will save yourself from having to clean after your puppy outside your home. By making toileting a happy experience, your puppy will soon get the message, have positive associations and learn quicker.
What signs should I look for?
If you see your puppy sniffing around the ground, crouching down about to go to the toilet or actually going to the toilet inside the house, quickly get his attention by clapping, calling him excitedly and running to the door so that he will follow you out. If he is actually going to the toilet you may need to shout something extravagant to get his attention and stop him in his tracks (e.g. something silly like 'sausages!!!' will help as it is not personal or aggressive). Make sure the shout does not scare him as this will make him nervous and more prone to toileting in the wrong place. The purpose of the shout is to alert him. By doing so, he will shut his bowels and hold it whilst you walk him outside. It is best that he makes his own way out the door rather than carrying him out, as this will help him learn that he actually needs to make his own way to the door when he needs to go to the toilet.
What if my puppy makes mistakes?
You will need to clean the area thoroughly to get rid of smells. Note that household cleaners do not get rid of all the proteins that we cannot smell. Do not use any cleaner with ammonia or bleach, as it will smell similar to the ammonia in urine and the puppy will identify it as a toilet area. Specialist cleaners such as PetSafe Super Safe Disinfectant is a safe ammonia-free solution specifically designed to help with housetraining.
Odour removers (such as PetHealth - Odour Free) are also good at removing all proteins traces that household cleaners do not remove.
How long should it take to housetrain my puppy?
Like all young animals, puppies do not have full control of their bodies. Depending on the individual puppy, the breed and how much effort you put in the training, it may take up to 8 months to have a completely housetrained dog. Accidents will probably happen at night since the puppy may not be able to hold it in for many hours at a time initially. However do not despair; as long as the puppy is consistently going outside during the day he will soon learn that toileting means going outside when he has better control of his body. You can also have your puppy in his crate in your room initially so that you can listen for the signs. If your puppy cries during the night pay attention to him and take him outside immediately. Do not fuss him or play with him, just go outside with him for a few minutes until he eliminates, praise him and then calmly and quietly take him back to sleep in his crate. This way the puppy doesn't think that three o'clock in the morning is a good time to play.
Remember prevention is the key to successful housetraining. Take things slowly, have consistency and keep a routine. Be fair and kind to the young life endowed into your care. You will soon be enjoying happy, mess-free days with your best friend.
But my grown up dog is not yet house trained
If you have an adult dog that is still soiling in the house, then you will need to ensure that your veterinarian has not identified a medical condition. If the dog has not got a medical condition, then you will need to start housetraining from the beginning using an indoor crate. See our article Dog Crates and Crate Training for good advice about using crates. It is worth putting the effort in and ensuring you are constantly supervising your dog. If you do, then it should only take you a couple of weeks to re-train him. Follow the guidelines as with puppy housetraining. However adult dogs have more control of their bodies so they do not need to be taken out as often as puppies. Once the dog has gone outside, he can have the supervised run of the house; until you feel it's time to take him out again.