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Puppy Toilet Training – The Ultimate Guide

So you’ve got a new puppy? Congratulations! It’s going to be a lot of fun, but there’s plenty of work to do too. You’re probably wondering how to stop a puppy from peeing in the house, for a start. You’ll be glad to know it’s pretty easy, it just takes consistency on your part… and a little patience, too. But with those big puppy-dog eyes staring back at you, the odd accident along the way really won’t seem that important.

So, let’s get started with the basics!

How often do puppies pee?

A general rule of thumb is that your canine companion can hold her bladder approximately one hour for every month old they are. Most puppies find their way to a new home at 2-3 months old, so can go 2-3 hours between toilet breaks. Some estimates add another hour onto their age in months; it will vary depending on your puppy. It’s not an exact science, so don’t assume that the moment they turn another month old you get an extra hour of pee-holding – it’s all about learning as we go! Puppies under 16 weeks of age are really not able to control their bladders, but they can learn the rules, so do your training early and you’ll see them progress quickly once they’re past that age.

Naturally, the first thought to cross your mind will be “Should I wake my puppy up to pee at night?”. Good news! Puppies can hold it a little longer while they are sleeping. You will still need to make (at least) one trip halfway through the night for puppies under 4 months old, and maybe a little after that for some pups. Remember to set a (gentle) alarm for 4-5 hours after your puppy’s bedtime. If they wake you up in the night, make sure you take them outside even if you don’t think that’s what they are asking for.

🐾Top tip: leave some cosy slippers (for you) and a high-value tasty treat (for your pupper) somewhere easy to grab during those night-time loo breaks. For puppies under four months, try tiny pieces of plain, cooked chicken. Older pups can enjoy a wider range of treatos; delicious Chicken Bites, anyone?

What if my puppy has an accident?

It’s also important to remember not to scold your pupper harshly for mistakes. First because it’s hard for them to get their fluffy little heads around what it is that you want, and second because it can make them nervous to pee in front of you… and that could lead to them hiding away to do it. We hear that behind the sofa is an excellent hiding place!

There are a couple of different ways to train your puppy, so read on to see which one will work best for you and your new best bud.

How to potty train your puppy with pee pads

This method requires a little more thought on your part, but could help to reduce the number of full-blown accidents as your puppy learns the ropes. It uses pee pads, or puppy pads, as an intermediate step between peeing anywhere they like and learning to only pee outside. This means you can set up an area of your puppy play pen or their crate (if you’re crate training) with some nice absorbent pads that reduce the mess caused by little accidents. 

This is a good option if you live in a flat and have a very young puppy, as it means fewer trips up and down the stairs/in the lift until they are old enough to hold it a bit longer. If you only have shared space for exercising your pooch, use this method to limit their time in that space until they have had all of their vaccines.

So, here’s how to stop your puppy peeing inside:

  1. Set up some puppy pads where you want your furry friend to go to the toilet. 
  2. Take your pupper to the toilet area regularly – and definitely more often than just when they are getting desperate! This includes first thing when they wake up, after every meal and every two hours (or however many is right for your puppy’s current abilities!).
  3. When they get there, give them plenty of time to toilet if they want to and give them lots of praise and healthy treats when they go.
  4. If you spot an accident and the furry culprit is nowhere around, just clean it up and forget about it. They don’t ‘get’ learning from past mistakes, so there’s no benefit to showing them what they’ve done, however unhappy you might be about it!
  5. If you spot them mid-pee, pick them up gently – they should stop – and then set them down on the pads to finish their business. Praise and treat!
  6. On the occasions you do take your puppy outside, try to time it so you know they will need to go to the toilet and go crazy with praise. This will give them an idea that peeing outside is a great way to make you happy.
  7. As your puppy gets better and better at going to the pads when they need to pee, move the pads a little closer to the exit each day. This will help prepare them for the eventual move to outside-only!
  8. Finally, and when you know you will have plenty of time to take them outside lots of times during the day, get rid of the pads and start taking them out a little more regularly than you think they need to go. This is to help them get used to the transition and to allow for the extra time it will take you to get them out of the house! You may need to bring a puppy pad with you and place it on the grass, and if your little one struggles when you try without the pad after that, try cutting the pads down in size until he works it out!

If your puppy doesn’t go when you’re outside for a pee break, bring him in. Don’t play with him or make a big deal about it; just take him back outside in 15 mins and try again until he decides to oblige! Otherwise, he will associate waiting by the door with you taking him outside for playtime.

🐾Top tip: learn to recognise the subtle signs that your fluffy friend is ‘crossing his legs’, so to speak! Some dogs circle or sniff the ground, looking for just the right spot! Others might move towards the door or start pawing at the exit.

How to house train your puppy without using pee pads

This method is the one-and-done way to train your puppy not to pee in the house! The advantages are that the way you train stays the same all the way through – no moving pads around – and that you don’t have to buy lots of puppy pads. The disadvantage is that any little accidents go directly onto your floor/carpet/whatever else little Fido happens to be sitting on at the time, and you do have to get yourself and your canine companion outside at all hours, whatever the weather.

Here are the steps you need to follow:

  1. Take your puppy out to the garden as soon as they wake up, straight after a meal or vigorous play, and every one/two/three hours depending on their age. The idea is to get them outside before they have to pee!
  2. When they go to the toilet outside, give them lots of praise and healthy treats so they know they have done well, and to encourage them to go outside next time they need to do it! Do this even if they were already outside, for example during a walk.
  3. If you catch your puppy mid-pee and they aren’t where they should be, pick them up gently – they should stop peeing – and take them outside. When they finish their pee outside, more praise and treats! 
  4. If you find an accident in the house but you didn’t catch your pupper in the act, just clean it up and move on. They can’t understand past actions the way that children learn to, so there’s no benefit to showing them the mess and telling them off. Have a think about why it happened; was it too long between toilet breaks, or did they get over excited playing? Make a mental note to step in and scoot them out the door next time that happens.

🐾Top tip: as with all training, keep the treats on hand. You need to reward behaviour as it is happening, and not a moment later – particularly in puppies – so running to the cupboard or spending a minute rummaging in your pockets can lead to less effective results (or no results at all).

Over time, you’ll be able to leave them longer between toilet breaks, and they will start to develop their own way of showing you that they need to go. Most dogs will head to the door, and when they’re a bit older you can teach them how you want them to get your attention. You can even get a little bell on a rope that they can ring for breaktime!

You can also use the same word when they are mid-flow and lots of praise to teach them to ‘pee on command’, which can be useful if you’re taking them out in the car and want them to pee before you set off, for example.

🐾Top tip: don’t use a command that you will say to your puppy on other occasions. For example, the phrase ‘do a wee’ is in the sentence ‘do you need to do a wee?’ – and if you’re just asking your pup that, it probably means you’re not outside yet! Similarly, ‘Good boy/girl’ could result in a lot of accidents! ‘Go toilet’ and ‘Do your business’ are good options, or pick something else that works for you.

So there you have it! Our simple guide to getting your good boys and girls house trained. If you’re doing your research but haven’t picked up your puppy yet – and ‘How do I stop my puppy peeing inside?’ was just your first question – you’ll love our article about surviving the first 24 hours with your new canine companion

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