The big day has arrived - your new puppy is home with you. You’ve been looking forward to this day for weeks - the puppy breath, the fun and games, and of course the pee and poop. Wait…what! House training your new family member is a top priority but hopefully will be done relatively quickly. Getting it right is going to be important for everyones stress levels, yours and the puppy’s.
Some quick background
We recently brought a new puppy, Boris, into our home. For some more details on how we introduced him to our older dog, Nevada, a nine year old Dogue de Bordeaux (French Mastiff), check out this article - Introducing a new puppy to your older dog. What follows is by no means a definitive list of how to toilet train your puppy, but these are things that we have found really useful in training 4 or 5 different puppies over the years and hopefully you’ll find some of these tips helpful.
1. The basics.
If your puppy is younger than 12 weeks, they will not even realize that they need to go to the toilet - they will just go - they can’t help it. You need to think for them and it’s really important to not get upset with them if they have an accident.
A very good rule of thumb for the maximum amount of time your puppy will be able to go between toilet breaks is:
(age in months) + 1 = number of hours they can hold it.
eg. (2 months) +1 = 3 hours
(3 months) +1 = 4 hours
This has proven to be pretty accurate for us during the night which unfortunately means that for the first few months, sleep is pretty much out of the window! We do find that once the puppy is up to about 4 months, this time can start to stretch out a little. Boris is now 5 months and he’s sleeping up to 7.5 hours a night. During the day however, different rules apply.
When you get up in the middle of the night to let puppy out to pee, make sure you’re ready - don’t let them out of the crate and then go to put your coat or shoes on or go to the bathroom yourself before letting them out - you will pay for your mistake!
2. Routine, routine, routine.
During the day we’ve found it really helpful to establish a clear routine:
- As soon as puppy wakes up - take them outside to potty.
- As soon as they finish eating - take them outside to potty.
- As soon as you finish playing with them - take them outside to potty.
- At a maximum, every 30 minutes - take them outside to potty.
Oh, and don’t let them back in until they do their business. This can be really hard work. But, your puppy will quickly grow and you can start to extend the 30 minutes etc., but in our experience it’s still wise to take them out when they wake up and after they eat until they’re able to consistently let you know they need to go.
3. Training pads or not?
We are very lucky in that there’s always someone home to keep up the routine with our puppies. We’ve never used training pads (pee pads) because we feel like that’s training your dog that it’s OK to go to toilet in the house. However, not everyone is home all the time and training pads can certainly be important if puppy is going to be in their crate for a while.
4. Make a big deal of it.
Can’t stress this enough - every time Boris goes to the toilet, we make a big song and dance about it…literally. The ‘Potty Dance’ is a tradition loved by all! Seriously really praise your pup every time they go the toilet where you want them to - pet them, tell them how good they are, act really excited. They want to please you and if you’re really pleased every time they pee or poop outside - that’s what they’re going to do! We still praise Nevada after she potties - and she’s nearly ten years old!
Even though we praise them for going, we don't give Boris a treat when he comes back in - we found out pretty quickly that these dogs are smart! It won't take long for them to pretend to need to go out, only to come right back in and wait for a treat!
Pick a word that you want to use when it’s time for them to go to the toilet (we obviously use Potty) and have everyone stick to the same word. Repeat it constantly while your puppy is finding a place to go so they will quickly associate the act with the word. Later on, you’ll just need to ask “Do you want to go Potty?” and they’ll jump up to go outside with you (hopefully!).
5. Know the signs.
Even though it seems you’re constantly outside with your puppy, in the early days at least, there will be times when they feel the need to go while you’re indoors, and there are signs that it’s imminent. For instance:
- Sniffing. If puppy just stops what they’re doing and starts walking around with a purpose, sniffing the ground - get them outside quickly - pick them up if necessary.
- Circling. Same as above but circling. Get them outside quickly.
- Just stopping what they’re doing and walking away with their head pointed down. Get them outside.
- Sitting at a door. Now Boris is older he’ll let us know that he wants to go out by going to sit at the door. He’s not making any noise yet but hopefully we’ll get there.
You’ll pretty quickly pick up on the signs your dog gives.
6. Accidents happen.
No matter how diligent you are, accidents will happen. Most important thing is to clean up so that no residual scent is left behind which might cause puppy to try and use the same spot again. There are lots of cleaners that do a great job of removing stains and odors.
7. Cleaning up outside.
It goes without saying that picking up all the poop is absolutely essential, especially in the early days when your puppy is going through the deworming process. We use a biodegradable, and compostable poop bag which helps out with the environment.
Don’t wait to pick up that poop, especially at night time. Take a flashlight out with you and get it right away - if you don’t, it’s like walking through a minefield! Also, puppies don’t yet know where they’re walking and you don’t want to be cleaning those footprints up off your nice clean carpet!
Not going to lie. The first six weeks with Boris in the house were exhausting - we had become used to a mature dog that slept a lot and went to toilet only 2-3 times per day. However, keeping him on a tight schedule seems to have worked and honestly he’s done really well with the toilet training. It was only a few weeks of sleep deprivation after all and now we’re able to relax into a more enjoyable routine with him!
In summary then these are the things that worked for us when toilet training our new puppy:
Remember - patience and consistency are the key. Stick with it, establish a routine and before you know it your pup will be house trained. Good luck!