Toilet Training

Toilet training is obviously a crucial part of your puppy’s early learning.  Getting it right is relatively simple, and will make those first weeks so much more enjoyable for you both.  However, like all things, bad habits learnt early on can lead to problems that may take weeks or even months to resolve.

Initially, you will have to build your daily routine around your puppy’s needs.  Fortunately, these are quite predictable when they are very young, and with careful supervision you should quickly establish when it is the right time to go outside and minimise any accidents.  

Like babies, puppies have poor bladder control, and need to go to the toilet several times an hour when they are awake.  They will also usually need to be taken outside first thing in the morning, last thing at night, after each meal, after waking from a nap, and after any exercise, play or excitement.  You may find it useful to keep a record of when your puppy sleeps, eats and goes to the toilet so that you can identify any patterns that emerge.  One

tip is to use a food timer to remind you when it is time to take your puppy outside to relieve itself.  If you find that your puppy needs to “go” every 20 minutes then set the alarm as soon as he has gone and take him outside the moment the alarm goes off.


Always go with your puppy into the garden and establish a regular spot.  Puppies are creatures of habit, so as long as you introduce the garden to the puppy as its toilet area early on, you should be able to avoid most accidents.  Decide on a cue word or phrase to use when the puppy is actually going to the toilet, so that the puppy will start to associate the word with the action and should learn to go on command.  By accompanying your puppy into the garden each time, you will be there to attach cue words and praise to any successful actions.

If toilet training is not going quite as well as planned, some common reasons for why your puppy is struggling are as follows:

  1. Feeding

  • You are feeding the puppy too much.

  • The puppy food you are giving is unsuitable or you are giving too much variety for their age.

  • You are not feeding at regular times.

  • You are feeding at the wrong times (e.g. it means your puppy needs to toilet in the night).

  • You are giving foods which are too salty, causing your puppy to drink more.

  2. Training

Punishing your puppy for accidents indoors may make it scared of going to the toilet in front of you – even outside.  Expecting your puppy to tell you when it needs to go to the toilet is unrealistic.  It is far better to go outside at regular intervals.  Leaving the back door or outside access open for your puppy to come and go as it pleases can cause confusion – particularly when that access is closed.  Do not leave your puppy too long on its own so that it is forced to go indoors. 


Leaving your puppy alone in the garden means that you are not there to praise and reward, or to reinforce the idea that the garden is the correct place to go.  Try to avoid using the words “good boy/girl” when your puppy is going to the toilet - you don’t want your puppy going to the toilet every time it is praised.  Puppies can exhibit submissive or excitable urination when greeting you or others - toning down greetings can help prevent your puppy from becoming overexcited.  Young puppies will not be able to go through the night without needing to go to the toilet.  If they do wake you up, it really is worth getting up to let them out.

  3. Environment

Being surrounded by lots of absorbent or grass-like surfaces, such as rugs and carpets, may confuse your puppy.  Ammonia based cleaning products used around the house can smell like urine to your puppy, and lead to unwanted accidents.  If your puppy does have an accident inside, the scent will still be apparent to the puppy for a long time afterwards, even if you have thoroughly disinfected the area.  Specialist cleaning products specifically designed to mask the odour are available.

Beyond the garden, many owners can be disappointed that their young puppy does not initially toilet when first venturing out on walks.  Often, your puppy will only relieve itself the second you get home.  This is because the puppy has not yet associated going out for a walk as an opportunity to go to the toilet, so will wait until they return home to their garden, which they know is a good place to go.  To break this habit, get up a little earlier in the morning (when you have plenty of time) and take your puppy out on a walk before it has had a chance to visit its usual spot.  Stay out with your puppy for a reasonable length of time until it has been to the toilet, and then give plenty of praise.  If you are not successful, make sure the puppy is taken into the garden to relieve itself or you will run the risk of a large puddle indoors.

Remember, patience and consistency is key.  All puppies take different amounts of time to learn, so don’t worry if your puppy seems to be taking longer to get the hang of things.  Your patience will pay off and you will both get there in the end.

© 2016 Ian Thomas.