How to toilet train a puppy

Written by Rosie BescobyRosie is a fully qualified Clinical Animal Behaviourist with a degree in Zoology & Psychology and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling. She is an ASAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist, a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (No. 1006), and registered as both a Clinical Animal Behaviourist & as an Animal Training Instructor with the Animal Behaviour & Training Council. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

Toilet training your puppy is one of the biggest hurdles you will face as an owner. Toilet training is tied in with how well your puppy sleeps too because they will wake up in the night needing the loo a lot while they’re young.

Patience, routine, persistence, and praise are all key to toilet training your puppy. Read on to find out how you can toilet train your puppy, and how to handle accidents when they happen.

How to toilet train a puppy

Keep things regular

Puppies only have little bladders and literally can’t hold it all in for long. You need to take your puppy outside regularly to prevent accidents in the house. This includes taking them out at regular intervals even at night.

During the day when your puppy is awake, go outside every hour with your puppy and wait a few minutes to see if they need the toilet. You should also take them outside as soon as they wake up in the morning or after naps because they often only woke up because they need to go and have been holding it in while asleep.

Discover delicious food your dog deserves

Learn more

Regular mealtimes also mean regular potty times, so they must go outside after meals. Eating stimulates their digestive system and most puppies need to pee 15 minutes after eating and poop within 30 minutes.

Keeping a puppy toilet diary can help you to keep track of when they need to go, so log each time they go to the toilet (Whether it’s outside or accidents in the house.) A pattern should soon emerge when your puppy usually has to go and this will help solidify good habits. As you learn what times of day your puppy needs to go to the toilet, you can start to focus on taking them out regularly at those times and phase out the hourly trips outside.

Speeding up toilet training

You must be patient and proactive when toilet training your puppy. Very young puppies do not have the development or control to be able to hold anything in, so they will abruptly stop and go to the toilet without warning so you need to go outside regularly as above.

Take your puppy to the same spot outside every time because they associate their toilet area strongly with location and the texture underfoot. Giving them a single spot to go means they will build that association quicker.

Once outside, plant your feet and don’t move. You can speak comfortingly and calmly to your puppy to reassure them, but the key is to be as dull as possible to avoid stimulating them. By being boring, your puppy will quickly realise they’re there for toilet time, not playtime, and they’ll go to the loo because there’s not much else to do.

While your puppy goes to the toilet give them a cue word like “pee” or “clean”. Say the cue as they do the action so your puppy can begin to associate the two.

As soon as your puppy has gone to the toilet, praise and reward them with playtime or a treat. They’ll soon learn that going to the toilet in that spot is the goal and good things happen whenever they poop or pee there.

Don’t go straight back inside after your puppy goes to the toilet. If you head inside quickly every time, your puppy might think that going to the toilet means outside time ends, so they might start holding everything in so they can stay out longer. Let them stay out to play and sniff around for a bit.

What to do if your puppy has an accident in the house

Stay calm, accidents happen, and at first, they are near unavoidable while your puppy develops bladder control.

Even if you catch your puppy trying to go to the toilet in the house, interrupt them try to get them to follow you outside or carry them out so they can (hopefully) finish their business in the right place. If they manage to finish outside, give them lots of praise. But if they have already gone to the toilet in the house before you could stop them, just clean it up quietly and without drawing attention to it.

Never punish your puppy for accidents

If your puppy has an accident in the house, do not punish them.

Punishing a puppy you catch in the act of toileting in the house doesn’t work because they can’t associate the punishment with specifically going in the house, so they think they are being punished for going to the toilet with you there, or simply for going to the toilet at all.

If your puppy has already been to the toilet in the house and you find some poo or pee, do not punish them because can’t link the punishment back to the accident. It will have no effect on their toileting habits but can damage their trust in you.

Not to mention, punishing your puppy for toileting in the house can lead to them “hiding” accidents, which means they will eat their poo to hide it from you.

Cleaning up accidents in the house

When cleaning up toilet accidents in the house make sure you do not use any cleaners that contain ammonia, such as bleach. This is because ammonia is found in urine and the smell can encourage your dog to pee in that spot because it smells like it’s already been peed on and therefore a toilet area.

Similarly, if your puppy toilets in one area of the house and the smell remains, they might continue to do their business in that one spot.

To help break down the smell of their accident and prevent them from seeking the same spot as a toilet (and to stop any unwanted smell in your house,) try using biological laundry cleaner to clean the area. It helps to break down the chemicals like ammonia to effectively remove the smell, which is good for you and your puppy. After you’ve cleaned the area with laundry powder, rinse it with water and dry it off as best you can.

Avoid puppy pads

As convenient as they are, puppy pads can work against your toilet training routine. This is because your puppy links smell and location strongly with going to the toilet. (Which is why taking them to the same spot outside every time helps to toilet train them.)

Using puppy pads will get your puppy used to going to the toilet inside the house, albeit in the specific spot the pad is placed. But even when the pad is removed, they would have identified that location in their head as their toilet spot. Because of this, it’s best to avoid puppy pads as much as possible and instead keep taking your puppy on routine trips outside.

Signs your puppy needs the toilet

Initially, your puppy probably won’t give any warning signs when they need to go, as young puppies just stop, drop, and go. But once they are a little older, there are a few signals your puppy will give if they need the toilet. If they show any of these signs, hurry them outside to go to the toilet in the right place.

  • Restlessness.

  • Abrupt stops or changes in behaviour.

  • Lots of sniffing.

  • Pacing.

  • Circling.

  • Squatting.

  • Whining or crying.

  • Suddenly dashing into another room or the corner of a room.

  • Going to the door.

Older puppies and dogs tend to start signalling they need the toilet without even being taught. This can include:

  • Repeatedly walking between you and the door.

  • Waiting quietly beside the door.

  • Barking or scratching at the door.

  • Standing or sitting in front of you and apparently “waiting” for something.

Teaching your puppy to toilet on walks

Puppies are creatures of habit and many won’t go to the toilet when having walkies because they’re used to doing it in the garden since that’s where they’ve been taught to go and they know they are safe.

To get your puppy to start toileting on walks, try taking them out at times you know they will need to go such as first thing in the morning or after their dinner. Stay outside until they need to go and praise them when they do.

You can use the same tips you used when teaching them to go to the toilet, it’s just about building their confidence so they understand they are allowed to toilet outside on walks.

How to house train older dogs

If you’ve brought an older dog into your home, even if they are house trained, they will likely have a few accidents. It’s a good idea to do some refresher house training with any new dog, no matter their age or training. Remember to be patient though, as older dogs will have habits to unlearn first, so it can take a little longer for them to learn.

Simply follow the same practices as you would for a puppy. Take them out regularly every hour, first thing in the morning, and after meals, and phase out trips when you get an idea of their toileting routine. Make sure you give them a cue word and plenty of praise for toileting outside.