At birth a newborn puppy is unable to eliminate its own waste – Mum licks the puppies to stimulate elimination and in doing so, cleans up as she goes (the equivalent of nappies on our babies). Around three weeks of age the puppies begin to soil for themselves – Mum continues to maintain cleanliness in the nesting area. It is innate for dogs to avoid soiling their sleeping or eating areas.
As the puppies become more physically capable, they will attempt to move away from the nesting area to toilet. This can be further assisted by providing the litter with a different floor surface outside their bedding. The puppies will instinctively seek an absorbent area to toilet, such as grass/soil or carpet. As the puppies continue to mature, they will attempt to move further away from their own living area. However, like our own toddlers, the puppies will have accidents – Mum will continue to keep the nest clean and will not scold or reprimand a puppy for any mistakes.
If we allow the puppy to practice toileting on wrong surfaces in wrong areas, it is likely to become the puppy’s preference for toileting requirements.
Introducing the Puppy to a New Home
The following program for hurrying toilet training along is suitable for all physically sound puppies from eight weeks of age:
- The puppy cannot possibly understand that your entire house is its family’s living area, to be kept clean – so do not give him full access to your home to allow toileting in inappropriate locations.
- Restrict the puppy’s access by a combination of any of the following means:
1. Crate training;
2. Condition the puppy to be on lead, secured to the leg of a table; or 3. give the puppy your full and undivided attention.
You will need to take the puppy outside, on lead, to the grassy area where you would like him to toilet, every 30 minutes to begin with. If he obliges, reward with favourite food treats reserved for this occasion and/or a game. Our aim is to minimise the number of mistakes and to reward toileting in the appropriate location. The container of treats kept at the toileting location can assist in reminding the puppy that an opportunity for a reward is now available.
- If the instructions in the above paragraph are followed precisely, the puppy will not have the opportunity to make mistakes and we will be constantly rewarding the correct behaviour. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?If a puppy under twelve weeks of age, does toilet in the wrong location, do not reprimand or show your disapproval in any way. You will not teach the puppy not to toilet in the house, you will simply be teaching him not to toilet in your presence – then when you go to the grassy toilet spot, puppy will not want to toilet while you are watching for fear of reprimand. Furthermore, when you return indoors, the puppy will take the first opportunity to find an appropriate spot (your bedroom or the living room – anywhere away from his own sleeping and eating areas) to eliminate, when you’re not watching!
- Watch for the obvious times that your puppy will need to toilet, such as after a meal or a big drink; upon waking up; after a play session; and any other time in between! Ensure that the puppy is guided to the correct toilet location at these times.
- If, while watching your puppy in your house, you observe the pre-toileting behaviours such as sniffing, circling, etc (it will vary from one puppy to the next), rush the puppy to the correct toilet location, keeping him close to floor level so that he can see how to get there himself.
- Thoroughly clean the areas where the puppy has had accidents. The scent of previous droppings will stimulate a puppy to stop and toilet then and there. Use this fact to your advantage by collecting up any droppings and placing them in the grassy area where you would like the puppy to toilet – he will believe that this area is his chosen toilet.
- Ensure that your puppy is kept clean of faeces. Long coated breeds, in particular, can get themselves in a mess. If a puppy is permanently soiled, he has no reason to keep his living area clean.
- Feeding your puppy indoors and locating water bowls indoors will hasten the understanding that these areas are not suitable for toileting.
- Take the blame for any mistakes yourself: you were not paying sufficient attention. Remember, your puppy’s Mum cleaned up without scolding – attempting to reprimand the puppy for a bodily function will only create anxiety. NB: the puppy is not suffering from guilt when you walk into the room where he has had an accident – he has simply learned that the presence of a puddle or pile and you in the same room is bad news!
Most puppies will be showing a vast improvement by 12 weeks of age, though still having occasional accidents. There will be a wide range of ease or difficulty from one pup to the next. Try to remain calm and tolerant – your stress will be obvious to your puppy and may undermine his confidence and trust in you as a consistent, reliable natured carer, capable of taking care of his needs and providing protection.
You can implement the above procedures for older dogs experiencing toilet training difficulties. However, the problem maybe occurring for a range of possible reasons and specific assessment and an individual program maybe required.
Copyright Steve and Vicki