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

How to house train your puppy

THE BEST WAY TO TOILET TRAIN YOUR PUPPY

House train your puppy with my easy and proven method

One of the first things you want to teach your new puppy when you bring it home is house training. No one enjoys having to clean up messes like that from the carpet!

The technique I’ve outlined below works for puppies and adult dogs that aren’t potty trained, but if you have a problem with your dog marking (micturition), that requires a different approach so I’ll write about that next. 

Origins of toileting behaviour

Wolf packs create a den for the mother to birth her puppies in, where she’ll reside after they’re born. Initially, infant puppies will toilet in the den and the mother will lick up the faeces and urine to keep the den clean (be grateful you aren’t a wolf!). 

As the puppies approach 6 – 7 weeks old, their instinctual desire to not want to soil the den kicks in and they’ll naturally want to go outside or to the edge of the den and away from their sleeping space to toilet. This is called ‘nest site inhibition’. Puppies learn the difference between their den and the outside world through texture discrimination – the floor of their den feels different under their feet compared with the ground outside. Using this natural learning process, we can teach our dog to discriminate between indoor surfaces that are not appropriate for toileting on (such as carpet, tiles, lino or floor boards) and surfaces that are appropriate (newspaper, puppy pads or grass).  This gradually teaches our dogs that inside the house is the “den”, and once the house is established as the den, the dog will not want to toilet inside.

How to house train your puppy

Set up a puppy pen laid with newspaper or puppy pads or astroturf, also containing a small crate with soft bedding inside (just big enough for your pup to fit in, around one and a half times the length of your dog) and food/water bowls. Ideally, situate the pen by an external door or dog door with direct access to outside, so your puppy can learn to let itself out. Often a laundry works well as it’s a restricted space with an external door (a dog door is even better).

Keep the puppy in the penned area when she is not under supervision, taking her outside to give her an opportunity to toilet on the grass as often as possible. However, if she needs to toilet while in the pen area, she will do so on the newspaper as she won’t want to toilet on her bed. Take the puppy out for intervals of play time, but always return to the crate for sleeping and eating or whenever you’re not directly supervising her.

  • Pop your puppy in the crate during nap time and night time, gradually increasing the amount of time she’s in there, and she’ll naturally want to hold until you let her out.
  • In the first few weeks, a puppy will hold for about 4 – 5 hours, so you may need to take her outside before you go to bed, maybe once during the night, then again first thing in the morning.
  • Take her outside at regular intervals during the day to limit the chance of accidents, especially after food, sleep, exercise or play.
  • During the day when you’re not supervising her, leave her in the pen area (ideally with free access to a safe, fenced area outside). She will avoid toileting in the crate so will choose to go on the newspaper or outside.
  • Slowly shrink the area of newspaper inside the pen over a couple of weeks, moving the newspaper square closer to the external door, then eventually right outside. Your puppy should continue to go on the remaining newspaper as you fade it out to the grass area.
  • If you do catch your pup in the act of toileting inside, immediately pop her on the grass until she’s finished her business. Don’t punish her, just do it quickly.

Do

  • Always give your pup the chance to go outside. If they have to go inside, they will do so, so don’t blame them for that. 
  • I use a “be quick” command and click and reward the dog after it goes to the toilet in the right place. Wait until the dog has finished its business before clicking and rewarding, don’t do it during – you wouldn’t like to be interrupted either, I’m sure!
  • Crate training by itself (without the newspapered area) can be effective if you are around to let them out often enough.

Don’t

  • Never growl at your pup or rub its face in its urine or faeces. This will only confuse and scare them. If you catch them midway through a toilet, just pick them up and pop them outside calmly and encourage them to continue on the grass.
  • Soiling is largely involuntary so punishment has little or no effect. In fact, because dogs urinate to indicate submission, if you as the dominant pack member tell them off for urinating they may urinate further – setting off a vicious cycle that just gets worse.

FAQs:

My house training has gone backwards / puppy is toileting inside after being house trained?

Some pups do go backwards in their toilet training after you think you’ve nailed it (unfortunately!). This can be related to having more freedom and being given more access to the house, or your pup might have just had an accident inside but then built a habit after having this accident.

To change this, the best thing to do is go back to the basics of house training and restrict your pup’s free access to the house again. Ideally, have her crate and play pen set up with direct access through an external door so your pup can take herself out to toilet freely. If this is impossible, ensure you take her out very regularly throughout the day. When she is inside, she should either be in her crate/play pen area, or on a Clip Station on top of a dog bed. Doing Clip Station work will assist with getting back on top of toilet training (see my blog about the Clip Station and why you should be using this amazing tool!). 

You can give her short periods of time free in a particular area of the house (e.g. a lounge/kitchen/dining room space). This should be done for just a short amount of time directly after she’s been outside to toilet. You’ll need to monitor her very closely during this time and take her outside immediately if she shows any signs of wanting to toilet again. Keep this to less than half an hour while you’re building confidence in her toilet training back up. 

Any places that she has urinated inside, clean them thoroughly with a solution made of 1/4 white vinegar with water to eliminate the smell (the smell will attract her back to toilet in the same area, so we need to get rid of this).

Once you’re progressing successfully with this, you can slowly give her access to one room in the house for short periods of time e.g the kitchen (or non-carpeted space). Once she’s successfully spending time here without toileting, open up another room then again ensure she is not toileting here before opening up another.

Going back to basics and starting over is really the best way to make sure you get this right as the longer she is able to toilet on carpet, the more ingrained this behaviour will come and the harder it will be to change.


Pup won’t toilet while out on walks, only on my property

To encourage your pup to toilet outside of your property, you could try giving her a decent amount of water before you go out (you could add some chicken stock to it to encourage her to drink it!). Then leave the house for a long period of time, e.g go for picnic at a local park after your walk or spend a decent amount of time on grass away from your house. This way she’ll be forced to wee away from her usual spot, you can then click and reward her for doing so. The more often she is forced to toilet away from her usual spot, the easier it will become.


How long should a pup be able to hold its bladder through the night?

At 8 weeks old, it can range from 6 hours through to about 8 hours but sometimes a bit shorter. Put your pup in the crate, cover most of it up with a blanket or towel so it’s nice and dark and cosy, leave your pup alone and aim to get to 6 hours before you let your pup out to toilet. From there you can then stretch it out slowly – an extra 15 minutes every few nights. 

You could also try the technique of leaving the crate open with access to newspaper or pee pads within a pen area, so that if your pup needs to toilet in the night, they will toilet on newspaper or pee pads. Then you don’t need to get up in the night at all, as you know they can toilet if they need to. Once the puppy pads or newspaper have been dry in the morning for a few nights in a row, then you can start closing them in the crate (perhaps around 10 weeks).


At what age should a pup be able to last through the night without toileting?

About 10 weeks usually but it varies considerably!

How do I clean up accidents?

Clean any accident sites or soiled rugs or bedding using a solution of 1/4 white vinegar in 3/4 warm water. This will neutralise the urine smell so it doesn’t attract your puppy back to toilet in the same spot again. 

 

If you are raising a puppy, join my Puppy Zen Virtual Puppy School, where I show you exactly how to raise and train a happy, healthy, well-behaved puppy and how to create a lifelong bond with that pup. The school follows me as I train two Border Collie pups, so you can train alongside me! Find out more here.

     

     

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