How to house train your puppy
I recently received an enquiry asking me if the puppies I produce are sent to their new homes fully toilet trained. Er, no. At 8 weeks of age, puppies are still babies and do not have full bladder control.
Over the years, as I have had litters of puppies and watched them grow, I have realised that they will try and toilet away from their bed almost before they can walk. Their mother cleans them up completely for the first few weeks and you rarely see any mess in that time. Then they stagger and stumble away from where they are feeding, feeling a different texture underfoot and toileting there.
As they grow, puppies become weeing and pooing monsters! It’s one of the hardest parts of having a litter of puppies in your home – it’s a constant mess. Once they are up and about, they will toilet anywhere. I have newspaper in the run, which I change regularly. Other people use different materials. Many puppies are kept on sawdust or straw, in outside runs, or sheds, simply to help manage the mess.
Dogs don’t care
Dogs do have very different toileting behaviours to us. Because they are ruled by their noses, they use their urine to scent, or mark where they have been. They also urinate on top of where other dogs have been. Once one dog has urinated in one place, every other dog in the world will want to go there! So if you have a male dog who marks something, you must expect every other male to also add their scent. Beware cleaning with normal household cleaners – they are likely to make the problem worse, as the ammonia just smells like wee to a dog! And they can still smell traces of wee for years – trust me.
Dogs will also poo in particular places. My dogs do toilet in the garden, which I clear every day. I know that each dog has one or two places they go, every day.
So they do care where they go. But they don’t care what you think about where they go! In other words, in makes no real difference to them if it is inside or outside, on a walk or in the garden.
Dogs won’t go to the toilet in their bed, if they can help it. But a bit of wee doesn’t really bother them and they will happily lie in it if they have to. They also eat poo! The Kennel Club recently produced this great article: Why does my dog eat poo? We might find it disgusting, but for them, it’s no big deal.
I think understanding toileting from a dog’s point of view does help us to manage their behaviour. As I’ve said, I know that dogs move off their bed (usually) to toilet from a very young age and I do try to keep their run clean.
When they are up and about, I ensure they can go outside as soon as possible. They have access to grass, which they much prefer to poo on. I also start to take them all outside to wee as soon as they wake up, or after they have eaten, or after they have been playing… I call them, “Puppy, puppy, puppy” and they all come running! Of course I can’t do that all day every day; six week old puppies are particularly trying!
When they go off to their new homes, this is how you get started – every hour, after a sleep, after food, after play, go out with them. Go onto the grass and say “Do you want a wee?” Or “Be quick!” or “Be clean”. It’s up to you what you say, but then as soon as they have toileted, REWARD!
Reward every time
It’s really about consistency. The more effort you make, the less ‘accidents’ you will have to clear up. If you can’t be bothered to be with your puppy and pay attention to its behaviour, you can expect to step in the odd wee!
Naturally we can’t be with our dogs every second of every day. When we get a puppy at 8 weeks of age, they will need to toilet at least every hour during the day. They can’t go through the night without needing to toilet. They poo four times or more.
For me, I prefer to give my dogs space to toilet, in a run either outside or inside.
Dry at night
Puppies can usually last all night from around ten weeks of age. They can then go into a crate, to stop them rampaging, playing and chewing all night long! Crates are a great way of helping them to learn bladder control and managing when and where they do toilet.
You may still have accidents in the crate, if you leave them in there too long, or if they get an upset tummy. Border Collies are a breed that are prone to sensitive digestion, so you need to feed them something consistently.
If you get your puppy in the summer, it’s tempting to just leave the door open and let them find their way outside. Dogs prefer to toilet on a soft surface, so if you don’t have any rugs or mats, they should go outside.
However, if you do that, your puppy might then be confused when it gets colder and you shut the door! So you might then be back to square one. Go out with them, wait for them to go. REWARD! If they find the garden too exciting and rush around playing and exploring, you need to put them on a lead and just stand with them and wait.
Of course they might not always want to go when you want to take them. This is when is good if you can be around your puppy for a while. If they are wandering around a bit restlessly, that is probably what they want. Some puppies are kind enough to stand by the door and wait for you to open it, but they won’t wait for long! You can teach them to ring a bell on the door, with time and patience. Be careful though, or your dog will have you at their beck and call, ringing every five minutes just to go into the garden and play!
Should you tell them off?
In the old days (a very long time ago) we used to show our dogs their wee or poo and shout at them (I won’t mention rubbing their noses in it). Thankfully we don’t do that any more. But it’s not unreasonable to say ‘NO!’ sharply if you catch your dog in the act of toileting in the house. They can understand when you’re not happy, it just needs to be very clear what it is for.
Above all, praise them for toileting in the right place. If you keep going, patiently and consistently, you’ll get there in the end. I’m writing this post when Quin is over four months old. He’s pretty good, on the whole. We caught him digging a hole in the lawn the other day and got cross, so he came in the house and weed everywhere. Silly us! And he tends to leak a bit if we don’t let him out when he needs to go.
When you greet a puppy, it wees. They just can’t help being excited and they don’t have enough control. This usually sorts itself out by the time they are six months old. You can help by being less exciting, or by letting them out before you greet people. Or by saying hello to them outside, when it doesn’t matter so much.
Toilet training your puppy is a challenge. Like everything else relating to your dog, it requires effort, patience and persistence. Oh and don’t forget the REWARDS!
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NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.