As a new puppy owner, one of the essential skills you need to help your puppy learn is toileting. Toilet training a puppy takes time, patience, and consistency, but by using reward-based positive reinforcement you can successfully train them to use the appropriate toileting area. Read on to find out how.
Firstly, you need to choose an appropriate toileting area for your puppy. This should be a quiet, private spot, away from high traffic areas and distractions. Give your puppy plenty of opportunities to go outside to the toileting area.
Remember to supervise your puppy closely, especially during the toilet training process. It’s important to watch them for signs that they need to go to the toilet (such as sniffing around, fidgeting, and beginning to circle before squatting) and take them outside to the toileting area straight away. Be ready to reward them as soon as they have finished toileting in the appropriate place.
It’s important to note that young puppies often do not have full control over their urination until they are a bit older. Urination is a developmental process, so very young puppies can make a toileting mistake without necessarily being able to prevent or control it.
If your puppy goes to the toilet in the wrong place, it’s best to display no reaction. You should clean the area thoroughly with a non-ammonia-based cleaning product (these can be found at your local veterinary clinic or animal supplies store) to take away the scent and reduce the likelihood of the puppy using the same place again next time.
Reward base training is key
To make the process of toilet training successful and as efficient as possible, you need to use reward-based positive reinforcement training. Reward the puppy every time (or as often as possible) that they go to the toilet in the right place.
Remember, the reward must occur immediately after the event (within a few seconds), not when the puppy comes back inside, as the puppy will not make an association between going to the toilet in the right spot and the reward unless it is given straight afterwards. The reward can be in the form of praise (a gentle stroke/pat on the chest or saying ‘good dog’ in a pleasant tone of voice), offering a food treat, or giving the puppy their favourite chew toy. This will reinforce the behavior and encourage them to repeat it in the future.
As part of the reward-based training, you can teach your puppy to associate a verbal cue with toileting, which can help you encourage them to toilet appropriately in the future. Pick a word that you will use as the verbal cue, for toileting and repeat this word every time you take your puppy out to toilet.
Practice makes perfect
Consistency is key when using positive reinforcement. Stick to a regular toileting schedule, take your puppy to the same toileting area, and use the same verbal queue every time. This will help your puppy understand what is expected of them and make the training process easier. If your puppy is successfully toileting, gradually increase the time between toilet breaks to help your puppy adjust to longer periods of time.
It’s essential to remember that every puppy is different, and some may take longer to learn than others so it’s important to stay patient and not get frustrated with your puppy. Instead, focus on rewarding your puppy for good behavior and creating a positive and supportive environment.
If you are having difficulty toilet training your puppy, it may be helpful to consult with an accredited behaviourist or a trainer who uses reward-based training.
In addition to toilet training, it's important to provide your puppy with plenty of exercise, socialisation, and mental stimulation. A well-exercised and mentally stimulated puppy is less likely to become bored and engage in undesirable behaviors, including toileting indoors.
By following these tips and being patient and consistent, no doubt you are on the right track to successfully toilet training your puppy.
For more information you can visit the RSPCA Knowledgebase
This piece was originally published in Australian Community Media newspapers