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How to housetrain a puppy

Updated: Apr 27, 2019

Getting a puppy to toilet outdoors is not difficult - in fact, if you follow these tips you can crack it in a week or so!

Tiny puppy learning to toilet outdoors
Even tiny puppies can quickly learn to toilet outdoors

First and really important, you'll see lots of 'advice' on the internet about using a crate to housetrain your puppy. CRATE TRAINING IS NOT HOUSETRAINING! They are completely different things. Crate training is all about very gradually getting your puppy to feel safe if shut in a confined space. Shutting your puppy in a small space where s/he is forced to toilet on their bed if they really need to go is unpleasant for the puppy, and for you when you clear it up. See my other blog about crate training.

Housetraining, or toilet training, is simply about motivating your puppy to toilet outdoors instead of indoors. By the way, I wouldn't bother with puppy pads as they add an unnecessary interim step. If you live in a flat or your circumstances are such that your puppy needs to toilet indoors, you can set up something like an oversized cat litter tray, with grass or gravel or both in it (since these are typically surfaces your puppy will toilet on outdoors). Otherwise, if you have easy access to the outdoors and your eventual aim is to get your puppy toileting outdoors, concentrate all your efforts on that.

I'm going to talk you through how you get your puppy to pee and poo outdoors, and also how you get your puppy to toilet when you ask.

Take your puppy out regularly at the times he is most likely to toilet - on waking after even short naps, after eating, after a good play session, and last thing at night - plus every 45 minutes in between. Be vigilant and watch for signs he needs to go, such as sniffing or circling. If you see these signs, scoop him up and take him outside.

When his back end goes down, you are going to add a 'cue' (a word, sign or sound), maybe something like 'be busy', or 'be quick', or 'hurry up'. Say the word or phrase once in a normal voice while your puppy is relieving himself. As soon as he's finished and lifts his back end, say 'good' in a happy voice and give him a GREAT treat there and then - maybe chicken, ham, cheese or HotDog Training's nutritious fish treats. Something REALLY fab. It's important at this stage that the very good food reward happens where the toileting happens, rather than waiting until he gets back inside. TIP: also, don't rush back inside as soon as your puppy toilets or they can learn that toilet = no more outside fun. So treat your puppy as soon as they toilet and then play or simply have a wander around together before you return inside.

If he toilets indoors, ignore it (unless you spot he's about to go in which case scoop him up and take him outside). This way he will quickly learn that toileting indoors = nothing happens, while toileting outside = amazing food. Result? Puppy will be more motivated to toilet outside than in.

After perhaps a week of saying your word WHILE he toilets, progress to saying the word when he's just about to go. Look for the signs - sniffing, circling, perhaps running to a certain spot in the garden. Again, when he's finished, say 'good' and give a great food reward.

After maybe another week, progress to saying the word when you let him out and you're pretty certain he needs to go (for instance first thing in the morning, or after eating, or a long nap). This way you start to prompt him to toilet in the garden. If you say your word and see he starts to look for a place to go, you know he's paired word + action.

So, the sequence again

1) Add the word WHILE he's going (say it just once)

2) Say 'good' as soon as he's finished and treat there and then

3) After a week, say the word when you see he's about to go. When finished, say 'good' and treat.

4) After another week, say the word when he's likely to want to go. When finished, say 'good' and treat.

Some puppies will hang around in the garden for ages and do nothing, and toilet as soon as they come back in. Since playing can prompt a young dog to toilet, when you take him out into the garden, try playing with a ball or similar, rather than just waiting around. Also, watch out for the infamous 'double pee'. Puppy pees in the garden then comes in and shortly afterwards, pees in the house. If you've got a 'double pee-er', you'll need to spend extra time outside or come in after the first pee and go outside again almost immediately. I've no idea why some puppies do this but they do grow out of it!

Once you've got it on command, you can start to take your puppy on a walk at times you know he'll need to go (as above) and use your cue if you see him sniffing about in a likely location. Same as in the garden, say cue, when back end lifts, great reward. He'll quickly understand that it's ok to toilet outside his home zone.

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