Mark Vette – Internationally renowned Animal Behaviourist, Educator, Author and TV personality

House Training: The dos and don’ts

TOILET TRAINING YOUR PUP

House training or toilet training is one of the most important behaviours to teach your pup. In the wild, dogs don’t have ‘a house’. They do, however, have dens, which are treated as a home of sorts. Once puppies are seven weeks old, they no longer do their business in the den and learn to go outside for that sort of thing. We use this instinctive behaviour to our advantage when house training.

The key principle for this toilet training process is texture discrimination. We try to establish that some surfaces or materials are okay to toilet on and others aren’t. To help with this, there are three common methods for house training, each with their own benefits.

I have outlined all three, then given an overview of my ideal set-up for house training a pup which is a combo!

Method 1

The first method is to use disposable material like newspaper in a small penned area with the dog’s bed in the corner. Ideally, this fenced off area would lead out to an external door to a safely fenced area, but I understand this is not an option for all owners. The entire floor of the fenced area must be covered in newspaper for the first two weeks. After two weeks, we can begin shrinking the area of paper down. By the third week, the newspaper should only cover one corner of the pen. By now the dog should know this is the correct material to go on and we can start to move the paper out of the house. Over the following week continue to make the paper area smaller until eventually there’s no paper at all – by this stage the dog should be going outside to go toilet on their own accord. For this to work smoothly, independent access to an outdoor area (like a dog flap/door) will help immensely.

Method 2

The second method is what we call crate training. The principle here is to use your pup’s instinct to not want to go toilet in their ‘den’ area. To do this, create a contained nest for them, something like a small crate big enough for them to lie down in comfortably and filled with nice soft bedding. If you put your pup in the crate during nap and night time, they will naturally hold on until they are removed as they won’t want to soil in their “den” space. For the first few weeks, they’ll likely be able to hold on for 4-5 hours at a time, so you’ll need to let them out just before you sleep and as soon as you wake up, and possibly one more time in the middle of the night as well. Making sure you take them out often during the day will also minimise risk. If you do catch them in the act, it’s important to calmly grab them and take them outside to finish their business.

Method 3

This is what we call the pick and drop. This method is simple, but requires someone to be around the pup more often than the other two techniques. The logic behind it is that you take the dog outside whenever it would naturally need to go. So typically after feeding, drinking, playing, exercising and sleeping. Also, if you’re unable to supervise the puppy, the puppy should be placed outside. This way, the puppy begins to learn it should only go to the toilet when outside.


The best method – a combo of all three!

We believe the best way to house train your pup is to use a combination of all three methods.  Here  is a breakdown of how this would work.

Set-up

Set up a small crate filled with soft bedding, within a bigger play pen. The entire floor of the play pen should be covered with newspaper. This play pen should ideally provide direct access to a safely fenced outdoor area  through an external door or a dog door, so that your pup can let himself out to toilet as he needs to.

Method

  • Keep your pup in the crate/play pen or in a safely fenced outdoor area as a general rule, making sure to give them an appropriate level of play, exercise, stimulation and attention. Ensure they have plenty of stimulating dog toys within their crate/play pen area too.
  • As your pup will not want to toilet in his den space (the crate filled with bedding), if he needs to toilet he will either go outside or do so on the newspaper.
  • Pop your pup in the crate with the crate door closed for blocks of time throughout the day to teach him to hold on. Start with just a few minutes, then increase up to a couple of hours at a time.
  • When you open the crate door to let him out, take him straight outside and wait until he is toileted before bringing him back in.
  • During the day and overnight while you’re not watching him, leave him in the crate/play pen area with the crate door open so that he has access to his bed to sleep, and access to newspaper on the floor of the play pen to toilet on if he needs to (or, ideally, an open external door or dog door).   After a week, reduce the amount of floor area in the play pen covered by newspaper, and continue to shrink the area of newspaper until you just have a small section in the corner for your pup to toilet on (as per Method 1).
  • When you’re with the pup, take him outside at all the appropriate times noted in method three.
  • When your pup is roaming freely in the house or spending time with you in the living area, if he shows any signs of wanting to toilet (such as sniffing around on the ground or circling), take him immediately outside.

The combination of the three techniques generally produces faster results than just one method used independently.  I also recommend you use Clip Station training when house training your pup!

FAQ

Can I let my pup roam free in the house?
While toilet training, I only ever let a pup roam freely in the house when he is under my direct supervision. That way, if he shows any sign of wanting to toilet, I can calmly take him outside. I usually allow this for short periods of time (10 – 15 minutes), straight after he’s just been to the toilet outside. I then put the pup back in the crate/play pen area with plenty of toys to keep him occupied.

What if my pup toilets inside?
You are bound to have some accidents inside when house training a pup. I recommend you only give your pup access to areas of hard flooring in the house while toilet training so that clean up isn’t so difficult. If your pup does have an accident, it’s important never to blame them. By growling or rubbing their face in it, it will only confuse and scare them – they won’t understand what you’re trying to say. If you catch them halfway through, always calmly take them outside and encourage them to continue on the grass.

Cleaning up messes
If your pup does toilet anywhere inside, it’s important to clean the area thoroughly. I use a solution of 1/4 white vinegar to 3/4 water as this neutralises the smell of the urine. This is important, as if a pup can smell urine on carpet, for example, he will attracted back to toilet in the same area again and again.

How long should I use the crate and play pen set up for?
Once your pup is having no accidents in the house and no longer toileting on the newspaper within the play pen (i.e. always going outside independently or holding on until you take him outside), you can give him more free access to the house.

Extending the “den” space to the rest of the house
Once your pup is toileting outside reliably, you can begin to give him more free access to the house. Start by allowing him to roam freely in one room (e.g. the kitchen/living room area). Once you are confident that he is not toileting in this space, open up one more room and so on.

Clip Stations
Clip stations are an incredibly tool for so many aspects of training, but especially for house training (especially if your pup is having accidents inside). How to set up and use a clip station is covered in my Virtual Puppy School (along with more detailed house training instructions, and everything else you need to know to raise and train your puppy!).

 

Good luck with your house training, and if you need any further guidance with raising and training your puppy, join my Virtual Puppy School – we cover it all, and you get access to me and my dog training team to ask questions as you go!

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