How to toilet train a dog

When you bring a new dog home, one of the first things you will need to do is to toilet train, or house train them. Young puppies will need house-training from scratch, but even if your new older dog is fully toilet trained, it is often worth refreshing their memory. Any dog will need time to get used to a new environment and routine, especially if they have spent a period of time in kennels.

It is important that you use positive, reward-based training when toilet training or house training your dog. Using this type of positive reinforcement means you and your dog can work towards a positive relationship that will serve as a good foundation for future training. Remember: it’s completely normal for any dog to have accidents in the first few weeks in a new home. Toilet training accidents will happen. Be patient and consistent with your dog, and remember that sometimes a dog will go to the toilet where they feel safest (maybe your bed, or behind the sofa!) or on a surface they like the feel of, such as a particular rug so you may need to put your best furnishings away for a little while as they get the hang of it.

Toilet training your dog in six easy steps

1. Take your dog out regularly

At first, take your dog out as often as every hour and wait a few minutes to see if they go to the toilet. This reduces the chances of them going to the toilet inside and will also teach them where it’s good to go to the toilet. Remember to praise your dog or puppy when they go to the toilet in the correct place. Over time, your dog will start to realise that this means that good things happen when they go to the toilet outside. Once your dog starts getting the hang of it, you can slowly start to extend the time between going outside. This may take a week or a few weeks, or even months, depending on how closely you follow a routine and how quickly your dog learns. Remember, every dog learns at a different pace!

2. Recognise the signs your dog needs the toilet

These are the signs that your dog needs to go to the toilet:

  • Pacing and circling
  • Sniffing the ground intently
  • Going to the door or towards the surface they prefer to use
  • Whining and barking
  • Lower body curved to the ground/squatting

Dogs typically become fidgety or distracted when they need to go to the toilet, often sniffing around looking for a suitable location to go. Keep an eye out particularly after naps, mealtimes, exciting things like playtime, and after periods when your dog has been left alone, e.g. first thing in the morning.

3. Take your dog to the same spot

Try to take your dog to the same place using the same exit every time you take them out to go to the toilet. The exit should be one that is generally visible to you when you’re around the house, so that when they head for the exit, you will know that they want to go to the toilet.

4. Go outside with your dog

It is important that you go outside with your dog when they go to the toilet. Some dogs, particularly those who are fearful or over-excited, may find it difficult to go to the toilet outside. This is because to them the outside world is very busy and full of lots of different sights, sounds and smells. Encourage a nervous or over-excited dog to relax outside by waiting with them and occupying yourself with something else, like a book, to give them time to explore. If they respond well to praise, then gently praise them for doing things like investigating the area. You can also use treats as a reward and to encourage calm behaviour. Be prepared at first to spend longer periods outside as it might take your dog a little while to focus on the task at hand! If you take them back indoors before they have been to the toilet keep a really close eye on them so that you can encourage them straight outside as soon as you see any signs.

5. Continue the walk

Once your dog has been to the toilet, if they are fairly confident, walk them around and play for a bit longer before going back inside. This will make sure that they don’t associate going to the toilet with playtime being over.

6. Gradually cut down on your hourly outings

If after a few minutes your dog is showing no signs of going, take them back inside. As you learn your dog’s toilet routine you will be able to cut down on your hourly outings to the garden and focus on quality rather than quantity.

It’s worth keeping a diary or record of your dog’s activities and when they go to the toilet (both outside and any accidents). This makes it easier to figure out which outings you can cut out and which times you need to focus on being outside with your dog.

It’s worth keeping a diary or record of your dog’s activities and when they go to the toilet

What to do if you catch your dog going to the toilet in the house

If you catch your dog going to the toilet in the house, or you think they are about to go, try and interrupt them by calling them in an excited way or offering a treat or favourite toy, and get them into the garden.

It’s important not to punish your dog if they go to the toilet in the house. If you do, they may come to associate going to the toilet in front of you with punishment, or even just going to the toilet at all. If you punish, or shout at your dog, you could end up with a dog who is afraid to go to the toilet altogether or will only go to the toilet when you aren’t there, which can lead to bigger problems!

Even if your dog initially makes a mistake, make sure you give lots of praise when they go to the toilet outside. The most important thing to do is make sure your dog feels positively about going to the toilet outside.

What to do if you find the evidence of your dog going to the toilet in the house

If you don’t catch your dog in the act because you were out of the room or house at the time, you should simply clean the area and not make a fuss. Punishing your dog after it has happened will have no effect. Your dog will not associate any punishment with the earlier accident, and instead may start to lose their trust in you.

Cleaning up after your dog has gone to the toilet in the house

When cleaning up after your dog’s accident it is important that the area is always cleaned properly. Avoid any household detergents that contain ammonia. Ammonia is a natural chemical that occurs in your dog’s urine and may encourage them to mark the area again as it will still smell familiar. A mixture of soda water and bio laundry detergent works well.

What to do if your toilet trained dog is still having accidents indoors

As well as not being house-trained, there are many other reasons why a dog will go to the toilet in the house, such as stress about being left alone. If you suspect there’s an underlying problem, or the steps above are still not working after a few months, you should arrange an appointment with your vet. Your vet will be able to rule out any potential medical conditions, such as infection, and will be able to refer you to a behaviourist for some more help if necessary.

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