My journey with Ben, my 10 week old Irish Setter, has made me realise how much work a puppy really is and toilet training is my main focus with Ben at the moment. Dogs are essentially clean animals, they don’t lay on top of their wee and poo. Usually they don’t even like to wee or poo close to where they spend their time living. They can be trained to ‘go’ outside and this is one of the reasons we open our homes to dogs.
Be aware that if you have bought your dog from a pet shop it is generally harder to toilet train them. These dogs have been spending their time in a small enclosure, weeing, pooing, eating, sleeping and playing all in the same small space. Such dogs tend to get used to living close to their own excrement. If you get your dog from a reputable breeder they will have got the toilet training underway before you even bring your dog home.
Toilet training is often the first stumbling block for people with a new dog, and success relies on vigilance, you must watch your dog while they are inside at all times. When you are busy doing something else, and cant watch your dog, they need to be in their crate or small confinement area. Take your dog to their toilet spot after sleeping, playing and eating. Go out to the ‘spot’ with your dog and wait for them to ‘go’.
When your dog is doing a wee or poo say a word that you want them to associate with going to the toilet. I use ‘toilet’, I have heard other people use ‘quick, quick’. Your word can be anything, as long as it is only used for toilet habits. Over time, you will be able to say your word and your dog will ‘go’- very convenient.
The reason you need to go out with your new dog is so that you can capture the moment as it happens for reinforcement and word association. Watching your dog toilet also means that you can keep a ‘tab’ on their urine and bowl motions, so if ever there are changes, you will know something is not right, and your vet will thank you for the extra information.
Some people like to train using paper, and this is ok if you are happy with it, and it is working for you. If you have a young puppy they cannot ‘hold on’ all night, so unless you are prepared to wake up in the middle of the night and take them out, you may need to use paper until they are old enough to ‘hold on’ all night. At the moment Ben cries in the middle of the night in his crate, I wake up, go out with him and wait for him to ‘go’. Once Ben has been to the toilet we come back inside, and he goes back in his crate. It’s not easy, and I am tired! However, last night he did sleep through for the whole night.
Toilet training takes time, and it can be very tiring having to watch your dog all the time. But, if you put in the hard work now your dog will learn to go to the toilet outside within weeks. You can reinforce your dog with treats when they do ‘go’ outside, I do not always do this, but I always acknowledge that my pup has done the right thing by saying ‘good boy’ and giving him a big cuddle and scratch.
Walking your dog will also help empty their bowel and bladder. The physical activity alone will get their bowel moving. Take your new dog on regular outings, and spend time with them in the back yard. If you see them ‘go’, then at least you can allow them loose inside, under supervision, for a little while knowing they are empty.
Once your dog shows signs of understanding that they need to go to the toilet outside, you can begin giving them a little more freedom inside. You will know when your dog understands when they walk to the door that leads outside. Sometimes this can be really subtle, and your dog may just go to the door, move away and do a wee on the floor. Other times, your dog may just sit by the back door. The point is, you need to notice it. Each time they walk to the door let them out, go out with them and if they ‘go’ give them a huge reward, food and attention. This may have been the first time they have decided to take themselves out- don’t let them forget they did the right thing.
Dog doors are great for allowing your dog to come and go from the house. I have not taught Ben how to use the dog door yet. I have had workmen in my yard, which, for the time being, has made the garden a no-go-zone without supervision. I will get to it in a few more days though.
Dogs’ do not wee and poo inside to punish you. When you get angry with your dog they will often lower their heads and ears and sometimes roll on their backs showing their stomachs, these are appeasement signals to try and diffuse your reaction. These appeasement signals should not be interpreted as guilt, dogs cannot connect a behaviour that has occurred in the past with how you are reacting. All your dog knows is that you are angry.
If you catch your dog in the middle of toileting inside or find a surprise waiting for you, do not get upset with your dog, they did not know better. Take your dog to their toilet spot and look at what happened before the ‘accident’, and resolve to be more vigilant in the future. It’s OK for you to make mistakes too but try not to have any ‘accidents’ from now on in the home. I know, it’s a big ask, but if you can make the effort now, toilet training will be something you can tick off your ‘to do’ list and never have to worry about again.
Remember to be vigilant, and set your dog up for success by taking them out to the toilet spot regularly. After a walk and a toilet outside, Ben’s asleep in his crate, and the house is quiet. I think I’m going to go and have a nap now too.