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Toilet Training your cat or dog
Adapted by Dr. Francesca Mathews, with permission from Otago Polytechnic School of Veterinary Nursing animal behaviour notes
How do you toilet train cats and dogs?
This section will only include advice on cats and dogs, although other species such as rabbits and pigs can be housetrained too.
It is important to start toilet training a new pet as soon as it is taken home, regardless of its age. There are different methods for toilet training pets, and people have different preferences. The method described here uses reward-based training.
Punishment such as rubbing an animals' nose in their urine, or hitting a puppy or kitten for having an accident, are NOT acceptable training methods. The will not result in the desired affect, as they increase fear especially associated with toileting, which can result in an increased number of accidents. Toileting is a natural behaviour and a puppy or kitten cannot understand what it is being punished for. If the punishment occurs after the event then all the animal learns is that the owner does unpredictable and unpleasant things, whereas if the punishment occurs during the event then all they learn is not to toilet when the owner is around!
Only get a puppy when you have plenty of time, as housetraining correctly can be time consuming!
On arrival home, put the puppy in the toileting area and reward the puppy with food if it toilets. Start training it to go toilet to a command; say 'busy busy', 'be quick', 'wee-wees' (or whatever command you choose) while the puppy is actually toileting. Take the puppy out again after coming home and keep it in the toilet area for 5 minutes, rewarding the puppy if it toilets. If the puppy doesn’t toilet, then repeat every 10 minutes until it does. Take the puppy out again after play periods, straight after eating or drinking, as soon as it wakes, and if it starts circling and sniffing an area when inside. At night, toilet the puppy just before you're ready to go to bed, and then again about 5 - 6 hours later (yes, in the middle of the night!). Some people recommend toileting every 2 - 3 hours during the night, but most pets are able to hold on for a lot longer, and should be encouraged to do so.
This is of course an ideal situation and many owners cannot put this time commitment in. A common alternative is to provide the puppy with a substrate (such as newspaper or litter) to toilet on when it is unsupervised, especially during the night. Puppies prefer not to toilet in their beds and therefore the substrate area must be distinct from the bedding area. The pup must also be restricted to a fairly small area, such as a playpen or laundry, as the time span between the urge to go and the need to go is short. Even if the puppy has been trained to use newspaper, if the pup’s bed is in one room and the newspaper is in another room then the puppy may not reach it in time!
An adult takes longer to housetrain but the procedure is the same as for a puppy, except that it will not need to toilet as often. Dogs that have been kennel dogs can be harder to house train, as they do not recognize the house as part of their den.
Start by bringing the dog inside for short periods only. Give the dog every opportunity to toilet regularly and teach it to toilet on command. Do not leave it unsupervised during the training period.
It is important to note that some dogs are never reliably toilet trained despite extensive efforts by the owner.
To teach a dog to toilet in a particular part of the garden will take approximately 2 -3 weeks provided consistent training is provided..
Kittens have similar toileting requirements to puppies but they are usually trained to use a litterbox before being expected to go outside. Ideally the kitten has already learnt about litter boxes from the queen (that's the mother cat for those not familiar with the terminology).!
As with puppies it is important to have the litterbox within close proximity so that accidents do not happen. Keeping the kitten in a crate, with a bed and litterbox, when unsupervised will help with toilet training.
Older cats should be retrained in the same way.
To teach the kitten to use the garden instead of the litter box, the box can gradually be moved nearer to the cat flap and then outside. Some of the litter material can be mixed with the soil to encourage the kitten to use one particular area.
Why might a cat who has been trained to use a litterbox not use it?
You will find an additional article on this website regarding cats toileting in inappropriate places