Probably the most important training task
There are a number of different methods for puppy toilet training. My personal preference is a method which uses a cage/crate. Now, over the years I’ve found some resistance to using crates with dogs, with some owners considering it to be cruel. This is far from the case, as dogs are naturally den animals, and a young dog who is introduced to a cage from an early age (or indeed later in life) in the correct manner will grow to see the cage as a safe haven where he can rest away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the household.
First off we need to choose the right size of cage and, if it is for a young dog, there obviously needs to be consideration given to the size that it will grow to as an adult. However, for the purposes of toilet training the cage mustn’t be too big – big enough to stand up and turn around in and not much more. This could mean buying something to suit the adult dog, but putting a piece of board or something similar half way across to make it smaller whilst the process of toilet training is underway. This is because the method I am going to describe works, in part, on the principle that the dog will not want to soil the area he is going to sleep in – a large cage may offer the opportunity to toilet in one corner and sleep in another, hence the need to make it temporarily smaller.
Making the crate a good place
Once the cage is bought, it is important that the dog is introduced to it as a positive thing. To begin with, place the dogs bedding inside and leave the door open. The dog’s curiosity may well help here as he might go in to see what it is all about, if not, coax him in with a piece of treat and let him eat it whilst inside the cage, but don’t close the door. Once he is happily going in and out of the cage you can progress to closing the door, only for a moment at first, again with lots of verbal reward and a food treat.
Gradually build this up until the dog is spending longer periods of time in the cage with the door closed and receiving lots of reward for doing so – you can also provide a chew or toy to keep him occupied whilst in there. Gradually build up so that you leave the room for a moment or two whilst the dog is in the cage, building up the time over a couple of days, and then where you go out of the house altogether. This whole process should take a few days and each session should last no more than a few minutes, but plenty of repetition throughout the day will reap faster rewards than one long session less frequently. The cage should never be used as a punishment – don’t send the dog to the cage as punishment if it has misbehaved, as this will only serve to create a negative association with the cage, which is not what we are aiming for.
This early association with the cage can begin as soon as the pup comes home to live with his new family and provides a good sleeping place for the young dog, also preventing chewing and soiling around the house in the early weeks, at times when the owner is not around to supervise. However, a young dog should not be left in a cage for long periods of more than a couple of hours.
Timing is crucial
The time to start toilet training should be considered carefully. Dogs don’t develop full control of their bladders and bowels until they are around 10 – 12 weeks old, so a strict training regime before this is pointless. Having said that, you can still reinforce good behaviour as soon as the dog comes home, if you give the dog plenty of opportunity to go out in the garden in the area where you want him to toilet and he happens to go then don’t waste the opportunity to reward him, however don’t punish any accidents, as at this stage he is unable to control what he is doing, so it will be fruitless.
As well as considering the dog’s age when training begins, I would also recommend that owners take account of their own time commitments. If training can start when someone is going to be around to let the dog out in the garden regularly throughout the day for a couple of weeks then progress will be much faster than if the dog is to be left for longer periods than he is able to ‘hang on’ for.
Before starting the training, the owner needs to consider which command to associate with going to the toilet – eg clean, empty, etc – but make sure it is something you are happy to be heard saying in public! You also need to agree on one consistent reward word, eg good, clever. It is important that both commands are used consistently by all the people who will be involved in the dog’s toilet training.
Go with the flow
The dog is most likely to want to go to the toilet straight after eating, sleeping, playing and greeting you, so this training method is designed to work with these natural routines. On the first day feed the dog and immediately take him out to the place you want him to ‘go’. If he does then say the ‘toilet’ word while he is going and follow it with lots of verbal praise and then a food treat. If he doesn’t go just take him back indoors after a few minutes and place him back in his cage. Repeat the exercise ten minutes later, and again if necessary another ten minutes later until he goes. Once he has been he can have some free time perhaps having a game with the owner in the house or garden, or a walk. Once back indoors if there are any accidents do not be tempted to punish the dog – even verbally, simply take a deep breath and thoroughly clean the area with a non-ammonia based cleaner so that the smell does not linger and encourage him to go there again. Punishment will simply make him wary of going to the toilet in front of you, and you may later find little parcels or puddles hidden around the house.
This routine needs to be repeated each time that the dog is likely to go to the toilet, so after each meal, sleep or playtime, provide five minutes so he has the opportunity to go to the toilet and make sure that all successes are rewarded. Try to keep to the same routine in terms of feeding, exercise and toileting each day and the dog will learn what to expect and will, in time, know when his opportunities to go to the toilet are coming. Observe how quickly the dog eliminates after eating, playing, sleeping, etc, then you will be able to adjust your trips outside to match his natural routines.
This method can work very quickly if you are able to put in the time and patience in the early days. A quick learner might be 90% clean and dry by daytime within seven to ten days, though some will take longer. Night time is a different matter, as a dog under the age of around three months will simply not be able to last all night without going to the toilet. One solution to this is to have the dog’s cage in your bedroom so that you can take the dog out when it wakes up, but if this is not possible or convenient then you will need to accept that being clean all night will take a little longer until the dog has developed the necessary control. The cage is crucial, get yours here.
I’d love to hear your stories about this method and how it works for you. I have used it with all except my first dog, and it really does produce amazing results. Drop me a comment below to share your experiences.