How to Toilet Train a Border Colle - owner's guide

How to toilet train a Border Collie (simple owner guide)

The excitement of welcoming a new puppy into your life is one of life’s great joys. And if you have chosen the intelligent, energetic and athletic Border Collie congratulations are in order! At the top of your agenda should be house training your Collie to establish good habits early on. Many new owners will find themselves asking, how to toilet train a Border Collie puppy – we’re here to help!

We’ve grown up with Border Collies and currently have two gorgeous Collies of our own, Mila and Izzy. Looking back, we can’t imagine (or even remember) life without one. We first had Mila as a puppy, and went through all of the usual toilet training headaches. We also had to re-train Izzy, who we got as a rescue. 

This is the definitive guide for how to toilet train your Border Collie puppy in a kind and effective way. Follow these steps for sound advice that we wish we had known when we started our toilet training journey.

Are Border Collies easy to house train and how long does it take?

First things first, yes Border Collies are easy to house train. This is because they are extremely intelligent dogs, who will quickly learn what is expected of them. If you combine this fact with positive and friendly training approaches, then you’ll soon see just how easy it is to house train your Border Collie.

It takes approximately 3 weeks before you will start to see the results of your house training with your Border Collie. However, it takes around 4 months before you will be able to say that your Border Collie is fully house trained. This is mainly down to bladder development: your Border Collie may know what is expected of them, but may not always be able to control how and where they go to the toilet.

For this reason, please always keep things nice and positive when toilet training a Border Collie – never use negative reinforcement!

Things you will need to help with toilet training your Border Collie

Before you bring your puppy home there are some essentials that you ideally need to have in place. In order to start toilet training correctly from day one, make sure you have these things to hand:

Toilet Training your border collie infographic

Step 1: Creating toilet areas

First things first. Having made the decision to get a Border Collie puppy, you have likely already decided where you want your pup to to do their toileting business. 

For the majority, it’s outside of the house. But there are considerations for those owners who live in an apartment too, in which case it’s likely to be a combination of using puppy pads until your Collie can hold for long enough to get outside!

Establishing a designated area whether it be outside or in is key. Puppies learn by repetition and reward. By acknowledging a specific area as ‘the place to go’ you will help them learn faster and more easily.

If instead you let your puppy have a full run of the garden, they won’t necessarily associate going out with needing to wee or poop. Starting off the right way by taking them to a specific area of the outdoor space will help ensure they make the connection over time.

You can use these foldaway pens in your garden to help with the creation of this zone. This, for us, had the added benefit of anchoring the place in both of our Collies’ minds. As a result, they now pee and poop in just one area of the garden!

If you need to have an area indoors, you will be establishing the space by using puppy training pads. This is also useful for puppies who normally use the outdoors the majority of the time, but who may need to be home on their own for a period of time that can’t be avoided. 

Don’t cheap-out on puppy pads – better to spend a little more and not get a leak, if you know what I mean!

Step 2: Spotting the signs that your Border Collie needs the toilet

Toilet Training your border collie spotting the signs they need to go

So you know where you want your puppy to go to the toilet when nature calls. The next logical step is knowing how often and when to present your chosen area to your Border Collie puppy so that the association with this spot becomes second nature.

In the beginning, we learned that it was never a case of ‘too much’ opportunity! When you spot the signs that your Border Collie needs to toilet, then take them to the spot.

A key sign that your Border Collie needs to go to the toilet is that they will start to sniff and scoot around in little circles. This is them trying to find a good spot to do their business. 

Another obvious sign is the cocking of a leg (if male); however, this behaviour doesn’t typically develop until around 6 months old, so don’t rely on that as a sign in the early days!

Keep a close eye out for behaviours such as whimpering or barking, sniffing, and circling as those are classic indicators of an imminent need to eliminate.

It’s also important to remember that puppies have little bladders. So take consistent and frequent opportunities to let them go to the toilet. 

At the start, this might be every hour on the hour. If your puppy has to go more frequently and has an ‘accident’ in under that time then offer to let them out sooner than the accident happened the previous time. 

Bladder control develops over time, but you want to encourage the positives.

Your puppy should be allowed to go shortly after eating or drinking as they will definitely need to! For small puppies, a general rule of thumb is that 15-30 minutes after eating or drinking heavily they will need to go.

By keeping your routine consistent, and taking your pup to the same spot, they will quickly learn that this is the preferred toilet zone.

If you miss the signs and an accident does happen, this is when you will need to deploy that enzymatic cleaner. The proteins left behind even after you think you have managed a respectable cleanup will signal to your puppy that that particular spot is somewhere to toilet. Using an enzyme-based cleaner will properly remove that scent that can trigger puppies to go back and use that spot again and again. 

Don’t use any ammonia based cleaners (think things like kitchen sprays), as ammonia is a chemical also found in urine and this can accidentally make your puppy think that they are meant to go in the spot you just cleaned. 

Bonus tip: Using the back and forth method

This is a practice that works really well for us when toilet training our Border Collies, and it should for you too!

If you start off on a lead when you take your puppy to their designated toilet area, you can  gently lead them back and forth, in a small area. 

If you keep the distances short, this mimics the circling behaviour that all puppies and dogs do when they are ready to go to the toilet.

By doing this, you are helping them sense that this is what they are there for in your designated area. It’s a small trick, but super effective at getting your message across on top of all of the other cues that you will also be employing.

By spotting the signs that your puppy wants to go, and by using the back and forth method, you’ll be providing your Border Collie with lots of opportunities for successful peeing!  

Step 3: Rewarding and reinforcing

One of the very best ways we found to encourage positive toilet training behaviours was through consistent rewarding.

It probably goes without saying that most of you visiting here already know how smart Border Collies are. They are a breed that love to have a job to do, and they love to do it well. They’re natural people pleasers!

But, just saying well done isn’t going to cut it when it comes to house training your Border Collie.

Consistency is key here folks! 

Treats or toys

If you reward with a treat, a great idea is to use that treat (and use that treat ONLY) for when the appropriate toileting behaviour occurs. Don’t use it for any other reward other than when they go to the toilet in the right place.

Another very valid point I would suggest is that we know our Border Collies are clever, that they are very toy driven, with boundless energy to spare! So another option we’ve found that works as a reward that you can use time and time again is a special toy.

If you choose the toy route, again, make that toy something they get to play with only if they demonstrate proper toilet behaviour. By the way, the toy above is brilliant for teaching your puppy not to bite!

Try not so show them the toy before they do their business – you may end up with a pup who’s forgotten all about their need to pee!

Verbal Praise 

Verbal praise is your secret weapon when it comes to house training. If you combine it with consistent treats and toys, your excitement when they’re done will soon become a reward in itself. 

What this looks like in practice is going a little over-the-top whenever you spot that your Border Collie has gone in the zone that you wanted them to. As soon as they’ve finished, you’ll see them look up and maybe scratch around in the grass. THIS is the point where you have to launch into excited cartoon-character-mode. Jump up and down, and use a high pitched well done. 

They’ll bound towards you thinking that they have just conquered the universe, and that’s when you can give them their treat. 

Why this is useful is that over time you can begin to use this method to phase out the giving of treats or toys all the time. This is something that’s super handy when you’re not at your own home. 

Keywords

Something else you should consider is the choice of a keyword or phrase that you use when you present your Border Collie puppy with toilet time. 

It plants the seed for ‘on command’ cues to wee or poop. If you practice this from the beginning the association becomes clear early on. 

Common phrases we have found that work really well (and that won’t likely be uttered in another context!) are ‘get busy’, ‘quick-quick’, ‘go time’, and ‘do your business’.

Repetition is essential here. Say it a number of times as you reach the area and especially while your puppy is in action. 

If you combine this with a constant reward, they will make the connection sooner than you think.

Step 4: How crate training can help when toilet training a Border Collie

One of the key items needed when having a new puppy is a dog crate, and we have a full article about crate training with your Border Collie as it’s quite a big topic in itself. Crates are a really great functional tool to help with toilet training.

The reason for this is that puppies will not wee and poop where they sleep.

The way crate training can be utilised is by putting your puppy in the crate about 15-20 minutes before their next scheduled toilet time. Given that you are giving them ample opportunity at a regularly scheduled interval, this will then help them learn that they are about to get their next pitstop.

This also helps them learn to hold their bladders until the appropriate time and place. They will be discouraged from soiling their crate until it’s time to go.

If the crate is huge, they may actually use the crate to toilet at one end and have room to be comfortable at the other, so size is important. Personally, we always opt for bigger crates for our puppies to grow into, but fill it with lots of comfy bedding to make it seem smaller than it is. 

Another point to note is that you should avoid put training pads in the crate at any time. Doing so will only encourage the behaviour to happen where it normally never should naturally. Puppies instinctually like to keep their dens clean.

Crates are also useful for when you absolutely cannot keep an eye on your Border Collie during the toilet training phase. There will be those times when you’re cooking dinner and helping your kids with their homework, and you just need 20 minutes free from watching the puppy. Try to keep these instances short though, and only do so when necessary. 

Signs that your Border Collie is fully house trained

So your puppy is doing really well and hasn’t had an accident in a few weeks. You’re pretty sure they ‘get it’. But how do you really know if your puppy is fully house trained? Signs that Border Collies are fully house trained include: 

  • Them asking you to go to the right area to do their business
  • No accidents in your own home, or someone else’s, for at least a month
  • A general sense from you as an owner that you don’t have to watch your puppy that closely anymorebor

If these three tests are met, then you can be pretty sure that your Border Collie is fully house trained. 

That said, for most puppies it’s a good idea to assume that although they seem to get the process, a little leeway too soon can sabotage your efforts. They can get the concept, but until most are between 6 or 9 months, they can’t hold it for very long. 

As a result, you may think that your Border Collie pup is toilet trained at 4 months, but there’s always the risk of an accident. If there is, please don’t worry! Just ignore it, mop it away and carry on with your toilet training. Have faith in the process and remain consistent!

What asking to go to the toilet looks like

how to toilet train a border collie back door

A key sign that your Border Collie is toilet trained is if they show signs of “asking” to go to the right area without you needing the way. With Mila, we saw this when she gave a little whimper by the back door. Now, that’s her cue to go potty (Izzy, on the other hand, will try to open the back door!)

When you see this start to happen, you can allow your puppy more freedom in the home, but watch them like a hawk. Signs of needing to go need to be met with instant action on your part to ensure you avoid steps backward with your progress.

Patience along with consistency in your training schedule are the two most important things you can use to get your Border Collie puppy toilet training on the right track.

The different house test

Another thing that we use to tell us that our Border Collies are fully toilet trained is the different house test. You need a sympathetic friend for this one! Basically, when we think that they are fully toilet trained, we take them round to a friends house and leave them to settle down by themselves. We obviously still watch them, but try not to make it seem like we are watching them! 

If they repeat the same behaviours they do at home (e.g. whining at the back door), then we know that our Collie understands the general concept of needing to go-outside to go to the toilet. 

Some final thoughts on house training your Border Collie

We mentioned a sense of humour at the start, because having a puppy is supposed to be a fun and exciting time in your life. If you get upset and frustrated and turn toilet training into a chore or something that makes you tense up, it will be telegraphed to your puppy.

You really want to have a positive mindset and attitude to the process, because the one thing you want to avoid is have your puppy pick up on the stress. Our Border Collies are clever and sensitive canines. Keep it light!

Then there is the old adage that punishing your puppy by rubbing their nose in it’s own mess is a surefire way to stop them from doing it again. Well, that’s a surefire way to have your puppy fear you and even more likely to make them hide when they need to go in future. 

Kindness is always best in any training process. And this gives the best foundation for a happy relationship with your new four-legged member of the household. 

We hope these tips on toilet training your Border Collie puppy will give you a head start to a long and wonderful companionship full of love and trust. 

So what are you waiting for? Pick your designated spot, choose your ‘keyword’, grab that treat or toy and have fun toilet training! Want more fun with your Border Collie? Check out this article about some fun ways to entertain your Border Collie to stop boredom!