Question from : Anne Docherty
‘I have shih pooh bitch shes 16 months she always asks out for pee pee but on the other hand the pooh side shes not good at all i do take her out a lot and she gets into trouble when dirting carpet i never hit her but when she does it she knows ots wrong’
Answer from: Shanika Winters
Thank you for your question regarding toilet training your 16 month old bitch. Toilet training dogs can sometimes be a challenge, some dogs just get the idea and others take longer. It is good that your dog is able to hold her urine (wee) and ask to go out for this but a shame that she is struggling with faeces (poos). Most dogs will be toilet trained for both urine and faeces somewhere between 6 and 12 months of age but some are quicker and others slower. It is really important to always be positive and reward good behaviour rather than punishing them for bad behaviour or mistakes.
What do we expect our dogs to do once toilet trained?
By the time an owner would consider their dog to be toilet trained we would expect them to not pass urine or faeces in the house, to ask to be let out to toilet when we are there and to hold their urine and faeces when we are not there. When you list what we expect of our dogs then you can see that toilet training involves our pet learning a lot, and it is our responsibility to help them and give then the correct cues as to what we want form them.
How do we start the toilet training process?
In most cases the toilet training process has begun before we collect our pet from the breeder, in the case of puppies they may be trained to go on shavings, newspaper and then outside. With older dogs toilet training will be affected by the type of accommodation the dog is used to, some are kept in kennels and will not toilet inside them or may have a designated area in which to toilet in their kennel. So it is really important to ask where your dog is up to and what toilet training has been achieved upon collection.
We then need to carry on from this in our homes and gardens. The most basic thing to remember is that when food and water go in to your pet then urine and faeces are likely to need to be passed. So we should let our dogs out as soon as we can in the mornings, after a meal or drink and before they are going to be left in the day or night. Try and encourage your dog to toilet in a specific area of your garden (corner away from play areas) or on your walk (ideally close to a dog poo bin) as this will make cleaning up much easier and helps build up a routine.
When asking your dog to go to the toilet use a command such as ‘go toilet’ or ‘be clean’, which ever command you use be consistent and make sure all members of your family/household use the same command and routine. When your dog toilets in the correct place reward them, this can be with a small treat initially and positive words and eventually you should be able to just tell them in words that they have been good.
Initially you will have to let your dog out very frequently as they will not be great at holding onto their urine/faeces and also they are still learning. It is also very important to remember that if your dog is suffering from a urine or gut infection this will affect their urgency to toilet. Make sure that the area in which you expect your dog to toilet is kept clean and that your dog does not feel threatened there by other animals.
What cues do dogs and humans use in toilet training?
As the dog owner we can use words or signals to let our dog know we want them to go out and toilet. Signals can include pointing to the door, getting hold of your dog’s lead if they toilet out on their walks, picking up the poo bags etc. It is really important to give our dog clear simple cues then they have a much better chance of knowing what we expect of them.
Cues that our dog might give us indicating that they need to go out to the toilet can include vocalisation (barking or whining), scratching at the ground and pacing around near the door through which they go out to toilet. We as owners need to observe our dog and learn their toilet cues.
How to reinforce the behaviour we want?
I am a strong believer in positive reinforcement that means we praise/ reward for positive behaviour and try not to make too much fuss over mistakes/bad behaviours. I know that it gets very frustrating when lots of toilet training mistakes happen; cleaning up urine and faeces from carpets/floors/furniture is no fun at all. But we need to remember that we choose to keep dogs as companion animals and are asking them to adapt to our home/lifestyle and even the best trained animal at times will have an accident.
So I would advise using treats, kind words and physical contact to praise your dog for good behaviour, try and make things easy for your dog by letting them out frequently and not leaving them alone for extended periods of time.. If however your dog is left for longer amounts of time it is worth seeing if a neighbour or pet sitter can let your dog out to toilet.
Try to avoid negative reinforcement, which involves shouting or hitting your dog when they have had a toilet training accident. Unfortunately negative reinforcement can keep the unwanted behaviour from happening as you are still giving your dog attention for the mistake. As humans we assume that dogs feel the same range of emotions that we do and ‘guilt’ for having done the wrong thing is one such emotion. It is really important to remember that however ‘guilty’ your dog may look for having made a mistake they are not thought to express this emotion (and certainly not sometime after the incident occurred).
So in conclusion my advice would be that providing your dog is fit and well and not suffering from any infections or parasites that may be affecting her faeces that going back to basics as if she were a much younger puppy would be a good starting point to get her to pass faeces outside. I hope that this answer will help you and your dog.
Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)
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