Unlike humans, pups are not born able to pee and pooh without their lower abdomen being stimulated by a firm but gentle stoking or licking motion. This is usually carried out by their mother, who will often swallow what the pup produces in order to keep the living area clean.
Provide a potty area with the same feel underfoot as what your pup used when with the breeder, shelter or pet shop. Most commonly used are grass and newspaper. If you have shag rugs please put them away until your pup is reliably toilet trained – the texture is too similar to grass for most pups to resist.
Control of the bladder and bowel starts to pass to the pup shortly after they stop breast feeding and move onto mushy food. However they will not have reliable control until about 6 months of age! The sphincters, which release or hold back pee and pooh, are a kind of muscle whose
strength is built up slowly.
Initially your pup will be lucky to get 3 seconds warning that they need to potty. If they were resting or have little legs or are still learning the layout of your home, they probably won’t make it to the toilet area without your help. This is why I always recommend you limit the amount of space in the home your pup can be in, or you provide a potty area in each room, or you keep your pup on harness and leash and keep the leash attached to you at all times so you notice when your pup needs to go – fidgeting, whining, pulling on the leash.
Improve this set up by covering the entire floorspace with pee pads or newspaper!
Most pups will wander into a corner area to potty, or sniff the ground while walking in a circle before squatting – these are your cues to quickly and calmly get your pup to the potty area.
Pups, and most adult dogs, will need to potty after waking up from an overnight sleep or a short nap. They will also potty after drinking, and also after eating. At these times take your pup to the toilet and leave them there until they are done, you may have to stay with them at first. Be patient, you have temporarily distracted them from the job at hand it might take a while for them to relax enough to go. Keep a bottle of water and a book for yourself near the potty space as you could be there for half an hour. If your pup does not toilet at this time, take them inside and confine them for ten minutes to a play pen, with the floor of the pen entirely covered with newspaper or pee pads. Once the time is up you can take them back outside to try again. If they still do not go, repeat confinement. Do not give your pup freedom to move about the house until you know they are empty!
TIP: Make sure you have your dog on their potty space or outside on the grass when greeting visitors. If they meet people at the front door and have an excited wee this could quickly become a habit. Try putting your pup on leash and take them out onto your front lawn to greet visitors, or better still put them in your backyard and have visitors meet them out there.
One simple way of helping to toilet train your pup is to only put their food down for up to 20 minutes and if they haven’t finished eating by then take what is left away. Pups up to 4 months should ideally have 3 small meals a day, but as most people work away from home giving your pup a breakfast and dinner is fine but leave a stuffed Kong toy or dry biscuit bone or carrot for them to snack on during the day – they can chew on safely and may help prevent them chewing on furniture and plants.
If you have an extra tiny pup please try and feed them 4 or more small meals a day, even if that means a very early breakfast, a small morning tea before you leave for the day, an afternoon snack when you return home, and then dinner or supper. While I’ve called these meals by different names you only need to give your pup the same food at each of them – ideally a good quality dry food.
The other times when pups need to toilet include:
- When they see a family member after a break, eg first thing in the morning, after school.
- A visitor arrives.
- If something exciting happens, eg a knock on the door for a delivery, the phone rings.
- During or after playing with you or a toy (this includes training) – so do as much play as possible outside on a grassy area near where you want your pup to toilet.
TIP: Keep in mind that some pups will only use a pee pad once. Others will pee in one spot and pooh in another - so put down several pee pads until their toileting habits become predictable.