Toilet training is often high on the list of training priorities, for obvious reasons. The key to toilet training is combining a dog’s natural instinct with close supervision while in the house. Most dogs will naturally hold on to avoid soiling the area they sleep in*. You can take advantage of that by using a crate with a comfy bed to put them in when you can’t watch them. If the crate is large enough that there is extra space around the bed (such as for a puppy who hasn’t grown into their crate yet), you will need a divider to make the crate the size of their bed, or they will toilet in the extra space. Don’t expect them to hold on for long periods of time in the crate – you still need to take them out regularly.
*Some dogs have learnt to toilet where they sleep, usually due to being confined in a small area for extended periods of time where this becomes necessary. This makes toilet training more difficult but not impossible – you just need to take them out more often, including more regularly when they are in their crate.
When to take them outside
Take your puppy outside to the toilet after:
• Exercise – you may need to take them out even during play
• Waking up
Also take them out hourly in addition to these times – puppies have small bladders and weak sphincter muscles, and can’t hold on for very long.
Signs that they need to “go” include:
• Sniffing and circling – looking for a place to go
• Lingering or whining at the door, or looking at it longingly
• Restlessness – they need to go, but aren’t sure where they can
• Whining or panting (panting can be a sign of stress)
• Absence – they may have disappeared off to another room to do their business
• Posture – they walk a little funny when they need to go – it often looks like the start of a squat
• Farting if it’s a number two
Taking them outside:
Exercise tends to “get things going,” so take them for a walk around the back yard to encourage them. It helps to introduce a command, like “toilet”. Don’t overuse this word at the beginning in an attempt to encourage them to pee – you will just teach them to ignore it as they won’t know what it means yet. Instead, say the command consistently when they are going to the toilet and give calm praise while they’re going (you don’t want them to stop halfway through because they get too excited), and lots of cuddles and praise when they’re finished. Eventually you should be able to say the command and they will go off and do their business quite quickly. If you find this isn’t happening, go back to only saying it when they are actually toileting, to build their understanding of what it means.
If they have an accident
Don’t punish them for accidents inside. Urination can be a submissive behaviour in dogs and if you make them too nervous, you might actually increase the urination inside, or make them go and hide to do their business instead (confusing the punishment with you seeing them go, rather than with going inside the house). Toileting inside is often a sign that you are either not picking up on signals or situations when they need to go, or are not watching them closely enough. Don’t let them disappear to other parts of the house unattended, and keep a close eye on them when they are free in the room you are in. If you can’t watch them, put them in their crate. “Rubbing their nose in it” doesn’t work, and only serves to make you feel as if you are achieving something. The goal is to manage things so that they never have the opportunity to toilet in the house, and therefore always associate toileting with going outside. Dogs live in the moment, and if you find a puddle five minutes after they made it, and punish them for it, they will associate that punishment with whatever they were doing immediately before the punishment; they simply won’t make the connection. Take it as a learning experience, and watch them more closely next time. The more they toilet outside, and the less accidents they have inside, the faster they’ll learn where to go.