Toilet Training Tips for Puppies and Young Dogs

So You Just Got a Puppy or Young Dog?… Wonderful – Congratulations!

First of all I hope you know that you should not even think of keeping a puppy or young dog if they are to be left alone for very long. Reputable breeders and rescue centres will not contemplate releasing a dog to a home where it is likely they will be left alone for four hours or more. In the case of a puppy, they shouldn’t really be left alone for even as much as an hour!

Would you believe that not all potential owners realise that dogs don’t always come ready trained… and it can take anything from a couple of weeks to more than two months to completely toilet train a puppy or young dog.

If you have the time and patience to devote to this of course it is not an issue, but it is reported that many of the dogs who end up in rescue pounds are there because the owners could not manage to house train them! You cannot be lazy and expect your dog to learn on its own!

Like children, puppies, young dogs and some older dogs have the attention span of a gnat and live completely in the moment… so don’t expect them to remember everything after you’ve demonstrated just a few times.

By the way, never scold your dog for having an accident – apart from the fact that we don’t believe in scolding (it instils fear, which is also a whole other topic) dogs live in the moment and by the time you see what is happening, it is probably already too late (especially if you are dealing with a whole litter). I’m sure you would never scold your child for such a thing!

Like all training this needs gentle, consistent repetition. Ignore the bad behaviour and reward the good behaviour.

What will you need?

During this time you really need to be prepared to give attention to the little one more or less around the clock! We know that sounds a lot, but you’d do the same without question for a baby or child wouldn’t you? We’re not only talking toilet training here but also their safety and security too – of course ‘dog proofing’ your house is a whole other subject.

It is advisable at first if you can to have your puppy restricted to an area in the house that is easier to clean or protected with, say for example, plastic sheeting, newspaper or old towels/cloths – or a combination. You’ll need a good supply of whatever you choose to use and perhaps even be prepared to have the washing machine going almost full-time if you use cloth – you’ll probably need to wash bedding each day anyway.

You also need to have your cleaning materials at the ready because THERE WILL BE ACCIDENTS not only on the floor but on you too! Did you know that some disinfectants actually smell like urine to our doggy friends? So you may need to be selective in what you choose and your usual cleaning products may not be the most appropriate. Pet shops will stock disinfectant that is probably more appropriate (and probably more expensive) avoid the brands with ammonia (you will know that ammonia smells like urine to humans too). We have also read that pine scented disinfectant is not appropriate. The best thing to do is be aware of this issue and use what works for you.

The other thing you need is absorbent material to protect your puppy’s sleeping area. We saved our newspapers for ages and used that to line the bottom of the crate with a bedding pad on top; we’d check under the pad regularly and especially first thin in the morning and change the paper when it was soiled.

Be sure to have a designated ‘toilet’ area outside… this can be on a grassy patch or hard standing, so long as it is the place you want them to go and for your own benefit, it is better if you can clean up easily (see below).

Some people use training pads – these are usually squares of absorbent materials (we bought some about 18″ square) and apparently impregnated with something that encourages a dog to use them. Our experience was that our puppy often wee’d off the edge and rarely poo’d on them. In the end all we used them for was to line the bottom of the crate our little one slept in at night.

What happens now?

Let’s start at the beginning. Just like a baby, a puppy needs to go to the toilet more frequently than an older dog that has a well-trained bladder! It may vary with individuals, but they will generally want to go as soon as they wake up so best to let them out as soon as they wake. They will also need to go 15 minutes or so after eating or having a big drink. It’s a good idea to take them outside frequently anyway.

Your puppy will not be able to tell you when they want to go out for some time – this may take a few months and will happen when you have successfully completed the training.

It is not a good idea to leave a door open so that they can get outside easily, as they also might see the garden as a playground and this will distract them from their training. Having said that if you can provide a toilet area just outside and restrict access to the rest of the garden, then that might work. Use good judgement for this, especially if the door gets closed when the weather is bad.

Be sure that you let your puppy have a few toilet breaks during the night too… just think of it like you would do if you were getting up to change a nappy for a baby!

Know that a puppy and even a small dog will also wee with excitement! A number of years ago I had a miniature Yorkie and she would always roll over and wee when she greeted me! I was less educated in dog behaviour then, now I know to how to keep my dogs calm when I greet them.

When you see your dog start to crouch or you notice they already have, whether inside or outside, immediately pick them up and take them to the toilet area (assuming they are not already there). They will soon get the message but it may take time for them to be able to make it there by themselves so do this for as long as it takes.

Stay with your dog and praise hugely when the act is done – choose a word that will come to be associated with the event and also reward with a treat. If you are a clicker trainer then be sure to click when they do the right thing and reward with a treat. Don’t praise with the words ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’ or you will be training them to toilet on that command!

If you are lucky your puppy will quickly develop the ability to tell you when they want to go out – our youngest is now quite vocal and we have learned to take notice when she comes and ‘talks’ to us – either she wants to play, she is hungry, the water bowl is empty or she wants to go out for a toilet break! Since her bark for any of these is the same, we have had to learn to pay close attention in order to understand which need she is expressing each time.

When your puppy is old enough and has had the appropriate jabs so that you can take them for a walk away from home, don’t be surprised if you find that they still wait to do their toilet when they get back. After all that’s where you’ve trained them to go!

It will help to take them for a walk in the morning before they have a chance to do their business in the garden… then they will be so desperate that they will go when they are out. Hopefully you have somewhere nearby that you can get to quickly and if you have time, it is best to wait to come home until this has happened and be sure to praise as before and give a treat, so that they learn that this is a good thing to do. Of course if you don’t have time and have to return home without the puppy having done its business, be sure to take them straight out into the garden where it will be able to do what it has been trained to do!

The outside toilet area

Be prepared to keep the toilet area clean – more or less constantly, it is just as unpleasant for your dog as it would be for you to have to do your business in amongst those you did earlier!! It is advisable not only to pick up the solid stuff, but also to wash down the area to rinse away the urine too – don’t worry this won’t stop your dog from smelling what goes on in the area. Dogs have a fabulous sense of smell and they can even smell stuff that happened months ago – so they will know where the toilet area is and we need to be prepared to help them stay clean!

We have a large garden and we still go on a poo hunt and clean up regularly. Apart from anything else, even being a dog lover and owner, one of the worst things is stepping in dog poo!

Because of their acute sense of smell, when it is dry for prolonged periods, you may find that your dog is unable find an acceptable place to go to the toilet, so at such times you may need to hose down the toilet area of the garden more often!

There are numerous ways to dispose of the solids – here are some suggestions:

  • use poo bags and put them into your general rubbish container (outside preferably) there are also biodegradable poo bags so that you can easily ‘compost’ the bag and contents (see below)
  • use a small shovel specifically for that purpose (we have a poo shovel that is not used for anything else) and flush it down a loo, bury in a pit dug somewhere at the back of the garden perhaps (be sure to cover over with soil each time)
  • if you are really into composting you can use a purpose made dog poo composter (especially if you add special worms), however, be sure you understand the implications of composting pet waste – here are a couple of useful links on the subject: and

Be aware that because of what we feed dogs, that it takes longer to break down than say horse poo, and it may attract vermin so if you use a pit be sure to cover it up (reminiscent of the latrines we used to dig when we went camping with the Girl Guides or Boy Scouts).

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