Once Andrew and I decided to get a dog we started researching how to train a puppy. We read several dog raining books, one of our favorites was Cesar Milan’s, How to Raise the Perfect Puppy.
Learning how to properly train a new puppy is critical, and I strongly believe owners need to read and research about how to do it properly. Toby is the way he is because we learned how to train him properly. We gathered our information from books, puppy school, our local vet and good old Google. Training a dog is hard, and often frustrating. But, like so many things in life, the hard work pays off in the end, ten fold.
A well trained dog will be an adorable loving companion for life, that will bring boundless joys to it’s owners. A poorly trained dog will be a burden. The most common reason for dogs ending up in the pound is because the dog hasn’t been well trained. There are no such thing as bad dogs, just bad owners. This is why good training is so important.
When people get a new puppy the first and most important training goal is to toilet train your dog, this will help eliminate so much stress and frustration in the future.
In this post, I will talk about crate training as part of your toilet training strategy. Crate training involves keeping your puppy in a small confined space for periods of time. Crate training may initially sound cruel, however for many reasons crate training is not cruel at all if done properly.
When toilet training a puppy, owners must understand several points about the physiology and mental capacity of a puppy, which I will expand on:
1) Puppies have small bladders
2) Puppies under a certain age simply do not have control over their bladders
3) Puppies tend to pee where ever they can smell pee
4) Puppies have a very limited attention span
5) Puppies will often go to the toilet just after waking, after a big meal/drink and after playing
6) Puppies respond much better to positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement
7) Puppies like having a ‘den’ which is a crate
8) Puppies will instinctively avoid relieving themselves in it’s ‘den’
How to Toilet Train Your Puppy
Step one – Choose a ‘go to the toilet command’. Such as ‘go wee wees’, ’empty’, we use ’empty the dog’ with Toby. You will use this commend for rest of the dog’s life to instruct it to go to the toilet. Even when Toby is at my sister’s place, before bed she will take Toby out and use ’empty the dog’ and Toby will wee on command.
Step two – Choose where you want your puppy to eliminate themselves, a certain corner of the garden, for example. You may choose to start on newspaper in the house, but the sooner you get your puppy peeing where you want the better. If you start on newspaper, you should gradually move the newspaper towards the place where you want your puppy to pee. Also, whenever your puppy pees in the wrong place you must clean it up immediately with special urine smell eliminator. You will go through many bottles of this in the first few weeks. Dogs have a very good sense of smell, and simply wiping pee up (even off tiles or polished wood) is not good enough, your puppy will still smell it and want to pee there again. So, whenever your dog makes a mistake clean it up promptly and with the special urine smell eliminator solution (available form your pet store). Also, for this reason if you are using newspaper you should leave a soiled piece of newspaper in the place where you want your puppy to go, in the selected corner of the garden for example, or underneath the new clean newspaper. This greatly helps the puppy identify where it should be going to the toilet.
Puppies have small bladders, thus they pee all the time. So you must keep a very close eye on your puppy so you can encourage it to pee in the right spot. Whenever you puppy wakes, take it to the designated pee spot and use your ‘toilet command’. You should have something that smells of wee in this area as mentioned above. Stay with the puppy and keep repeating the ‘toilet command’ until it goes to the toilet. You’ll be surprised how well this works straight away, puppies nearly always go to the toilet after they wake. Puppies take many little naps so you must watch them almost constantly, it’s a lot of work (Andrew took 2 weeks off work when we got Toby to watch him constantly.) Also do this after your puppy has had a play session, eaten or drank. Also, do it periodically if you realise your puppy hasn’t been to the toilet in an hour or so. Sometimes the puppy will simply not need to go when you take them to the pee spot, that’s fine just let them go and try again in 30min or so.
When your puppy goes to the toilet in the right place and/or in response to the command you must praise them instantly, within 10 seconds. It’s preferable to also give them their favourite treat straight away. Toby’s treat of choice is cheese! Puppies have very short attention spans, if you praise them a minute later they won’t link the treat and praise with the act of going to the toilet. Really, really praise them, lay it on really thick, as if they have just come back from a space mission to the moon. And keep it up, praise your dog for the rest of it’s life when it goes to the toilet in the right spot or on command.
Puppies (and humans… and pretty much any living creature) respond much better to positive reinforcement. Never yell or scold your puppy for going in the wrong spot. This will lead to anxiety in your puppy, and can also lead to your puppy learning to pee inside just to spite you if you do something they don’t like, like leave them home alone for too long. Scolding your dog for demonstrating negative behaviour is never EVER as effective as positive reinforcement of good behaviour. If you puppy makes mistakes, which it will, a lot, just quickly clean it up and ignore it, do not make a big deal about it at all.
These tips alone so far will go a long way to toilet training your puppy. Eventually your puppy will only pee in that spot and will eventually pee on command.
Step 3 – Crate training. Puppies like having a ‘den’ and a puppy will instinctively avoid urinating in its den. A den is like a little cubby house where the puppy fells safe and at home, modern dog crates are essentially dog kennels that can be locked, most crates available today are kind of like dog kennels made of material that can be zipped up. Begin by choosing a crate that is large enough for your puppy to stand up and turn around in. If it’s too large the puppy may choose to use one end as a bedroom and the other as a bathroom. The crate should be able to be closed so the puppy can be locked in there (it takes weeks before you should lock your puppy up in the crate, this is a great article of how to get to that stage, of zipping or locking up the crate).
First you must make the puppy accept the crate as its den, just like a kennel. Keep the crate in an area where puppy spends most of its time, usually in the main living room of the house. Keep the crate open, put the puppies toys in there, give the puppy treats in there, feed the puppy in there, leave the puppies water in there and encourage the puppy to sleep in there. If you move the puppy to an area at night to sleep move the crate in there so the puppy can sleep in the crate. Initially DO NOT lock the puppy in the crate.
It’s important to understand that before about 6 months puppies do not have control of their bladder, so crate training before the age of 6 months is cruel. If you lock your young puppy in the crate before this age the puppy will not want to go to the toilet in there but obviously doesn’t have a choice.
The idea of the crate is to teach your puppy to learn to hold on to it’s pee. After the age of 6 months your puppy will have the ability to hold on to its pee, but it won’t have learned how to do it or have the motivation to do it yet. Once the puppy has accepted the crate as its den it will instinctively avoid going to the toilet in there. The idea is to gradually lock your puppy in the crate for longer and longer periods of time.
At first start by only locking your puppy in there at meal times when you feed them in there. When they have finished eating unlock the crate. Gradually wait longer and longer after they have finished eating until you let them out. If your puppy whines to come out of the crate, do not let them out. This will initially break your heart. Your puppy needs to learn that whining is not a way to get what it wants. They may whine for extended periods of time, DO NOT give in. As soon as your puppy stops whining let them out and give them lots and lots of praise and a treat. They will quickly learn that when they stop whining they will get what they want. DO NOT give in, not ever, not even once. This is very important and the hardest part.
When you let your puppy out of the crate take them to the designated pee spot and use the ‘toilet command’, and be ready with a treat and praise.
Gradually increase the time spent in the crate. For example, if you are leaving the house to do some shopping leave your puppy in the crate while you are gone. At night lock your puppy in the crate. We also gave puppy treats whilst Toby was in there such as a pigs ear to keep him occupied in case he got bored. You will find they quickly get used to being in the crate and they will learn to hold on to their business whilst in there. If they ever make a mistake in the crate, clean it up with the urine odor eliminator. When your dog is toilet trained you can get rid of the crate completely. Toby’s crate is under our bed now and never gets used anymore.
Please note, that if the crate is not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated. Never use the crate as a punishment. Your dog will come to fear it and refuse to enter it.
If you follow these strategies I guarantee you will have a perfectly toilet trained puppy very soon. Toby was fully toilet trained within 3- 4 months.
Happy toilet training!
Tell us your story in the comment section, do you have any other toilet training tips?