Toilet training for dogs

January 24th, 2009

Toileting in the house is one of the most common reasons dogs are excluded from the family home or, worse still, surrendered to shelters. For this reason, it is perhaps the most urgent issue to teach when you first bring a puppy home. Delta behavioural trainer Karin Larsen Bridge, from Get S.M.A.R.T (Successful Motivation And Reward Trained) Dogs, demonstrates the how to in toilet training for dogs as well as teaching your dog to toilet on demand.

Your dog is going to pee and poop, of course. No training in the world is going to prevent that. Its all about Location Location!. As with all training, it is best to think and train in positive terms. What are you actually training your dog to do? For most people the answer is to toilet quickly and reliably in the back garden, ideally on cue. If you know when your dog has toileted you can estimate when he will need to toilet again invaluable information when leaving your dog in the home or before a car trip. To be successful you will need to be both vigilant to prevent mistakes and proactive in providing access to the great outdoors, as well as giving positive feedback to your young puppy or older dog.

Prevention is better than cure

Whether training a young puppy or retraining an older dog, the methods for developing good toileting habits are the same. The dogs free area must be restricted. Unless you are actively playing with or supervising your dog or puppy, it should be confined in a small area. This is so that you are better able to supervise your dog, prevent mistakes, time toilet stops and have the opportunity to reward desired behaviour.

Understanding doggy toilets

Dogs choose a toileting spot based on several factors:

Smell: If it smells like a toilet, it is a toilet. This is why prevention, especially on soft materials, is so important. It is virtually impossible for a dogs nose NOT to be able to smell urine in carpet no matter how well you have cleaned an area.

Surface: A puppy or dog arrives at your home with a surface preference. This may be concrete (if they are use to being kennelled), paper, soft cloths (in a pet shop pen) or grass (if you’re lucky). It is difficult for a dog to learn it must not pee on the tiles in the family room, but it may pee on the tiles on the back porch. The toileting surface should be different from any surface in the home.

If the dog has been brought up in a good, sanitary environment he should prefer to toilet away from food, water and bedding. However, for a dog which was not raised in ideal conditions, this may not be the case.

As well as the above, the toilet is anywhere where the puppy has been rewarded for peeing by relieving his bladder. Nature provides this reward, punishment will not eliminate it.

Dogs may also eliminate to scent mark their territory. This behaviour is most often but not exclusively seen in entire male dogs. Usually there is a small amount of urine and it is placed up against a surface, such as a curtain, chair or bedding or over another dogs food bowl or bedding. This is a behavioural problem rather than a simple training issue and needs to be treated as such.

Products containing ammonia smell similar to urine to your dog. Its better to use diluted white vinegar and wool mix, a washing powder containing bio-enzymes or specialised pet products to neutralise the odour.

Proactive training

Attach a longish, light lead and take your dog or puppy out to the designated area of your garden after every play, sleep, meal or drink. Every hour for a puppy is ideal, although it may be longer for an older dog. The lead is optional but is useful as a context cue that tells your dog you are on a toileting mission rather than just playing or working in the garden.

Move slowly with your dog but don’t crowd him or stare intently dogs seem to prefer a little privacy too. Next, choose a verbal cue that you wont be embarrassed to say in public, such as hurry up. At first say your cue hurry up while the puppy is peeing. Then slowly, move the cue forward to when the puppy sniffs or circles usually the earliest signs that your puppy is ready to squat and pee.

When your puppy does toilet, praise him gently (you don’t want to be too enthusiastic or you may stop him mid-stream) then reward with several food treats. Praise alone works, but food treats work faster and this is one behaviour you want trained as quickly as possible. Repeat this process over and over again. Your puppy will need a long reward history before making the connection that toileting outside is a good thing for dogs.

Appropriate toileting is now providing three rewards to your dog: an empty bladder, food treats and a happy owner. At the same time, mistakes have been prevented and the carpet is not sending fumes of toilet here every time your puppy passes by. Don’t be afraid to make a really big fuss of your puppy once he has finished.

Although he may wonder why you think a natural function is so amazing, pay him big time and hell be happy to oblige you in the future. Eventually, with repetition, simply getting out the lead, heading for the garden and using your cue word will be ample information to trigger a toileting response.

Accidents will happen!

BUT he peed on the carpet right in front of me! Dont be discouraged Congratulate yourself! It may be hard to believe, but if your dog eliminates in front of you, it means your training is halfway there. Your dog has learnt that toileting in front of you is OK and might even lead to treats. Now all he needs to learn is that treats are dependent on the environment or, put more simply, treats only follow outside pees while inside pees lead to gentle redirects, such as oops outside quickly.

It is important that a puppy is not punished when caught in what is a very natural act. A punished puppy will learn not to pee in your presence and the next time nature calls, hell prefer to hide and pee behind the couch or under the bed. Each undiscovered wee creates another spot of carpet that in the future screams toileting spot to your dog. Its easy to see how easily a cycle of mistakes can lead to long-term, entrenched toileting problems.

No more wee worries

A dog which is happy to wee in front of you is a dog whose toileting habits are under your control. You can now toilet your dog before bed, a trip, or a walk. You know when he has been so you are safe to leave him alone for a while, creating great peace of mind.

Wee problems in small dogs

  • Toileting problems appear to be more prevalent in small dogs, perhaps because:
  • A greater percentage of small dogs than large dogs are allowed in the home, therefore a greater percentage have toileting problems.
  • Small dog puppies are often kept indoors on soft bedding and soiling areas, creating a surface preference for soft, absorbent materials as opposed to grass.
  • Small dogs, being lower to the ground, are more likely to dislike cold, wet grass.
  • Small dog/puppy accidents are less easily detected so favourite toileting spots may go unnoticed for some time, reinforcing the spot as a suitable area by smell and practice.
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