puppy toilet training

How to toilet train your puppy

Toilet training: how quickly can you stop the mess?

I am tempted to start by saying ‘it’s a dog, it comes with mess. Permanently.’  Of course it’s not that bad.  However if you have carpet downstairs in your house, you might want to re-think getting a dog, or keeping your carpet.

Let’s start with the basics – how soon does a puppy toilet purposefully?  Amazingly, this happens within a few weeks of birth.  As I have continued to have litters of pups, I have become astonished with how soon they move in order to toilet.  At birth, their mother licks them clean, which stimulates them to toilet.  This ensures that the bed stays pretty clean, although there will still be accidents.

puppy toilet trainingWhen they are born, puppies are not able to see, hear or walk properly.  That doesn’t stop them from wriggling around and they can travel quite a distance if you forget to put the side of the whelping box back on!  After just a few days, I started to realise that if they had vet bed to sleep on and then newspaper to crawl onto, they would crawl onto the paper and wee, then crawl back onto the bed.  Pretty impressive huh?

Once they are around three weeks old, they start to be introduced to some solid food. Their eyes are open, they are up on their feet and beginning to interact with each other and their mum.

Making choices

As puppies become more mobile, they start to be able to make choices about where they go to the toilet.  However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they will make those choices.  Sometimes they are too busy, or too tired to be able to stop and go and find a ‘suitable’ place to go.  More often than not, they aren’t that bothered about where they go, as long as it isn’t in their bed.  NB: if they have vet bed to sleep on, they won’t even notice if they have had an accident, as it is super absorbent and comfortable.

While the puppies are with me, up to the age of 8 weeks, I try to make sure that they always have newspaper to toilet on and that this is changed frequently.  I also try to give them plenty of space to run around and the opportunity to spend time outside. They will have access to grass as early as possible, weather depending.  It is remarkable how soon they obviously prefer to toilet on grass.

puppy toilet trainingHaving control

Choosing to go outside is quite different from being able to wait until a suitable place is available.  Bladder and bowel control take longer to develop and this varies from breed to breed.  It is unrealistic to expect an 8 week-old puppy to wait any length of time to go to the toilet, or to know where you would prefer them to go.  It takes a good few weeks to develop these things and the success of this depends on how hard you are prepared to work.

Top tips for toilet training

  • Establish a routine – the more consistent you are with your dog, the more likely you are to prevent accidents.  If you feed them at the same time and then take them outside, you should be successful.
  • Provide frequent opportunities – puppies have small bladders!  You will need to encourage them to go to the toilet around every hour during the day. They will also usually need to be taken outside first thing in the morning, last thing at night, after each meal, waking from a nap, and after any exercise, play or excitement.  Often, in other words!
  • Get up at night – by the time they are around 10 weeks old, Border Collie puppies generally go through the night without accidents.  However before this they either need to have space and paper to toilet on or you need to get up and take them out.
  • Reward good behaviour – as with all areas of dog training, please reward the behaviour you are looking for?  With toileting, this means waiting till the dog starts to go, then saying ‘yes’ in a really positive way.  Then give the dog a treat.  Once you have this established, try saying ‘wee, wee’ or ‘go toilet’ or whatever you fancy saying, as the dog starts to go.  This then becomes a prompt for the behaviour. which is incredibly useful on a long car journey or if you are going out, as you can prompt the dog to toilet.
  • Study their behaviour – dogs usually show signs of wanting to go to the toilet, even if they don’t come over to you and say ‘can I go outside please?’  If you pay attention to your dog, you will start to realise when they need to go.  They will become restless and fidgety, may whine or try and come up for a cuddle.
  • Do NOT punish – puppies will always do their best to please you; they are not being naughty or lazy, so please don’t tell them off if they have an accident, especially if they wee because they are pleased to see you.
puppy toilet training
helping in the garden

You might want to give them free access to the garden.  However, this makes it harder for them once that is removed.  It also allows them to do plenty of ‘gardening’ which you might regret!

Just a note about toilet training using a gravel tray, or similar.  I have not tried this but some people swear by it, saying their pups never have accidents.  This is similar to a cat’s litter tray.   Be aware that rugs and carpets make great places to toilet, as they resemble grass.  Ammonia-based cleaning fluids also smell like urine, so will not stop dogs from going in that spot again.

Patience pays off

Overall, it takes time, but it will happen. The more effort you put in, the more quickly and effectively your puppy will learn.


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