Toilet Training

By Sally Bradbury

Toilet training is all about creating good habits. Young pups have very small bladders and very little bladder control, so they need to be in the right place when nature calls. To toilet train successfully in as short a time as possible you must take your puppy to the garden:

  • When they wake
  • After eating
  • After taking a drink
  • Before, during and after a period of activity
  • When you come in
  • Before you go out
  • Before bedtime
  • During the adverts

And every twenty to thirty minutes in between unless they are asleep. During periods of activity change that to every ten to twenty minutes.

Stay outside with your pup. Do not nag or distract him, just mooch about and he will do the same and eventually eliminate. Quiet praise is sufficient.

Once pup has eliminated you can either stay out and play or go back indoors. If you stay out for a game, then he will often need to go again before you go back indoors. So, stop the game and stay out for a while longer to give him a chance to go again. If puppy doesn’t eliminate outside after a few minutes, take him back in and sit him on your lap or tuck him under your arm (small breeds only) as you go about your chores and try again in five minutes. It is imperative that you do this, especially if you have started off with newspaper down or puppy pads because your puppy may prefer to pee indoors and he could simply be waiting to be taken back in.

Give him zero opportunity to go wrong. If your puppy toilets in the house it is because you haven’t toilet trained him yet and didn’t take him outside when he needed to go. When this happens take a rolled-up newspaper and hit yourself over the head while repeating the words “I forgot to watch my puppy. I forgot to watch my puppy” If your puppy laughs at you when you do this – praise him.

Common Mistakes During Toilet Training

  • Using newspaper or puppy training pads
    While it may aid the clearing up process it can be very confusing for the pup that is taught or permitted to toilet in the house to make the transition to going outside. It will often result in a pup that when playing in the garden will simply hold on until they are back indoors because that is where the toilet is
  • Leaving the door open
    This does nothing to teach the pup to toilet outside only
  • Reprimands for toileting in the house
    This will result in a dog that believes you disapprove of what he did not where he did it and is damaging to your relationship with your pup
  • Giving treats for toileting in the garden
    Again the dog is being rewarded for what he did not where he did it. While this is not going to be as big a problem as the reprimand, the clever dog will learn to do lots of little wees and never fully empty their bladder. The insecure dog may wee indoors to appease you if you get cross about something else because they know that this is something that pleases you and gets rewarded. NB using both reprimands and rewards is very confusing for your pup
  • Expecting your pup to tell you when he needs to go out
    Once a pup understands that outside is where the toilet is then he may start to let you know he needs out. However, if you are not there to ask or you fail to notice him asking then the house training will break down. Far better to have a dog go out to the toilet on your schedule once they are toilet trained.
  • Giving your pup an en-suite in his crate
    Do not encourage your pup to toilet in his crate by putting puppy pads in there. If you have to leave puppy for a while and he is going to need to go then best to have the crate inside a larger pen or blocked off area and leave the crate door open so that he can get away from his bed to toilet.

N.B. Areas indoors where pup has had an accident are best cleaned with a dilute solution of biological washing powder. Avoid using disinfectant as this contains ammonia and can encourage pup to pee there again.

No puppy is going to be reliably toilet trained under about seven to eight months old. That doesn’t mean that you have to have accidents in the house, just that they are in training and if there are accidents it is human error.


Young pups will need to go to the toilet once or twice in the night for anything from a few days to a few weeks.

If your pup is sleeping in a crate in the bedroom with you then they will wake and should let you know they need to go out. Carry pup to the garden to eliminate and then straight back to bed again. A few nights of this and it will take you longer to find your slippers because of sleep deprivation and consequently pup is learning to hold on and will soon be sleeping all night. If you choose to leave puppy in the kitchen or utility room to sleep then do not shut them in a crate and simply clean up in the morning without comment.

Why Punishment Doesn’t Work for Toilet Training
A typical morning in the life of an eight-week-old pup:

  • 7:00 am: Puppy pees in the garden – Owner present. Gets praised
  • 7.30 am: Puppy pees in the kitchen – Owner present. Gets a reprimand
  • 8:15 am: Puppy pees in the lounge – Owner not present. Nothing happens except relief
  • 9:00 am: Puppy pees in the lounge – Owner present. Gets a reprimand
  • 9:30 am: Puppy pees in the kitchen – Owner not present. Nothing, just relief
  • 11:00am Puppy pees in the garden – Owner doesn’t notice Just relief again
  • 11:30 am: Puppy pees under the dining room table – Owner not present. Nothing happens
  • 12:15 pm: Puppy pees in the garden – Owner present – gets praise

What we think we are teaching puppy is that it is good to pee in the garden and wrong to pee in the house, but what the pup is actually learning is that sometimes it is rewarding to pee when the owner is present and sometimes it is dangerous. However, it is always safe to go when the owner is not present and that so far the safest place is under the dining room table.

Never deny your dog water in the mistaken belief that this will aid toilet training. It won’t. It will make the urine stronger and may impact on your dog’s health, eg cause kidney problems or urinary tract infections if the dog drinks greedily and excessively when it is available, knowing it will be taken away. Dogs must have clean fresh water available all the time.