Puppies: Toilet Training!

Toilet training – how to master this:

Above all else, patience is key! Puppies don’t have full control of their bladder until they are at least 6 months of age.  Please don’t expect a young puppy to hold its bladder for too long and always remember to make frequent visits outside with your puppy to keep your puppy’s bladder as empty as possible.

You may have days or weeks on end without any accidents and then feel deflated when your puppy has one, but this is perfectly normal so worry and obviously don’t scold your puppy.  So long as your puppy is toiling outdoors more often than they are indoors then you’re on the right track.

Toilet training is a development area which you and your puppy need to work at as a partnership; if your puppy has an accident indoors then this could have been prevented by you taking them outside 5 minutes before, so remember this next time and make that extra trip outside with them, praise them when they urinate and then bring them back indoors.  Some owners like to write down the times when their puppy goes to the toilet so they can start to realise a pattern and are more in tune with when their puppy will next need to go to the toilet.

With toilet training, we want to:

  • Show your puppy where we would like them to go to the toilet – this means regularly taking them outside and staying outside with them until they have gone to the toilet
  • Reward them for going to the toilet in the right place – this motivates them to want to go in the right place the next time they need to go to the toilet

You’ll soon be in sync with your puppies toileting and will know when they last urinated, how much they’ve drunk since and when they should be ready to go outside again… don’t presume that they will always tell you when they need to go out as it takes persistent training and time for a puppy to learn to always ‘ask’ to go outside… so just give them a little helping hand to succeed!

Key times during the day when your puppy is most likely to need to go to the toilet:

There are several key times during the day when puppies are most likely to need to go to the toilet. Taking note of these will increase your chances of helping them to be successful by ensuring that you take them outside at these times:

  • As soon as they wake up (this includes daytime naps as well as overnight)
  • As soon you’ve finished playing a game with them
  • As soon as they’ve finished eating their meals

If you wish to fast-track your puppy’s toilet training, then remember the take them outside regularly throughout the day. Remember when it was that your puppy last went to the toilet as this will help you to predict when they might need to go again.  Praise them when they go to the toilet in the right place – I always advise rewarding with a treat as this makes the moment more memorable for your puppy… and increases the likelihood of them wanting to go to the toilet outside then next time!

Excitement urination

Does your puppy wee each time you come home, each time greet him or her in the morning, each time you make their breakfast/lunch/dinner or each time visitors come to visit? Well, welcome to the club!

Puppies generally under the age of six months don’t yet have complete control over their bladders and although you may be making good progress with house-training your pup, they may not be able to control their bladders when they are excited or nervous.   Don’t worry, this is something they will grow out of… with a little help from us!

Recommendations if you have an excitement urination issue:

  • Don’t greet your puppy in an excitable way! By doing so, you may inadvertently reinforce the problem. Instead, stay calm – this means no squealing ‘OMG I missed you too!’, no picking up cuddling or petting your puppy if they are excitable and definitely no high-pitched baby talk! Step away from the cute puppy!
  • Ignore your puppy until he or she is calm
  • Take your puppy outside immediately to limit the chances they will excitement wee indoors
  • Once they toilet outside praise them and then make a fuss over them… they did a good thing!
  • If visitors come to your home, ensure your puppy has emptied its bladder very soon before the visitor’s arrival (take them for a short walk to encourage them to do so). Ask your visitors to ignore your puppy when they first arrive and then take the puppy outside where visitors can greet him or her (to avoid any accidents indoors)

Submissive urination

A little less common is when puppies perform submission urination if they are nervous.

You’ll notice the difference between this and excitement urination; submission urination can occur when a visitor enters their home whom they do not know, when they meet an unfamiliar dog or in any situation which they feel nervous about.  So in many ways, this is the opposite of excitement urination and so it is usually very easy to spot the difference.

Recommendations if you have a submissive urination problem:

  • Ignore your puppy if they have an accident indoors. Telling them in a soothing voice that it is ok will only reinforce their feelings of nervousness
  • Never scold a puppy who suffers from submission urination as you’ll end up making the puppy more nervous. Just ignore the mess and clean it up when your puppy isn’t watching
  • Make a note of what situations make your puppy submissively urinate and then try to avoid putting your puppy in these situations. For example, if visitors coming to your home results in your puppy submissively urinate then arrange to greet visitors outside your door with your puppy before entering your home all together.
  • Reward your puppy for urinating outside and constantly give them praise to build their confidence.

Dealing with Separation Anxiety

Most common in puppies, but also exhibited by dogs of all ages… separation anxiety can affect both the lives of our dogs and of us as their owners.  Do you own a puppy or dog who cries, scratches, barks, or toilets in the house when you leave them alone? Do you dread leaving your companion alone because you know you’re going to return to a bomb site? You are not alone!

Dogs are sociable animals and as such being alone doesn’t come naturally to them.  They have evolved from living in family groups and enjoy the company of their own kind and of us as their family unit.  So puppies need to be trained to be able to cope with being on their own.  It is an essential life skill which is just as important to teach as the usual commands of ‘sit’, ‘wait’ and recall.  However, for some dog households, teaching their pup to cope with being alone isn’t as much fun as teaching them the other more interesting commands and tricks!  Some families will naturally have children at home in the afternoon after school or even a stay-at-home-mum who can provide company for the pup.  However, for those of us who work a full working week and have a pup at home for periods of the day, it is even more important to teach them to be able to cope with this.

My recommendation is to get your new puppy used to your daily routine from the moment you bring them home.  The earlier you get them used to watching you leave and then return throughout the day, the quicker they will realise that you leaving doesn’t mean you are leaving them forever!  When I first brought my pup home at 10 weeks of age I didn’t leave her side for a second… I just wanted to be with this teeny bundle of cuteness 24/7 and play with her, cuddle her and even just watch her sleep!  Big mistake as I found out the first time I attempted to leave for half an hour to go to the shops.  As soon as the door closed she started whimpering, crying, scratching at the door and when I returned she had left me a nice deposit by the back door for me to clean up and greeted me in what can only be described as a state of desparation.  I very soon realised that my puppy wasn’t used to me not being with her all the time and that I needed to do something about it… after all, I had a life which required me to leave my own front door at some point in the not so distant future!

I started very gradually by leaving her in the living room while I stepped into the bedroom and listened to her scratching and barking at the door.  I did this for 5 minutes and then stepped back into the living room and despite her jumping all over me in sheer delight that I hadn’t emigrated abroad, I completely ignored her.  I turned my back each time she jumped up at me and I stood very still.  Once she had calmed down I praised her calmly and gave her some attention.  I continued this several times every single day and increased the time by approximately 5 minutes each time and I noticed that within a few days, she had stopped scratching and barking at the door.  Essentially I wanted to teach her that when I left, I always returned.  I wanted to teach her that when I left, it wasn’t a negative thing and that when I returned it was no big deal.

Dogs pick up on our emotions more than we think and if I had returned and fussed all over her, it would have reinforced to her that I missed her too and that she had a reason to panic when I left her the next time.  So as hard as it was, I had to stay strong and teach her that it was all no big deal.  I made no fuss when I returned and I made even less fuss when I left… I just simply walked out of the door.

As I started to increase the length of time I left her, I began to leave her things to occupy herself with.  I scattered treats around the living room, I hid chew sticks under the sofa cushions and I filled a kong with peanut butter which I had placed in the freezer so it would last longer.  There are many things you can use to help your puppy cope with being on its own and to divert their attention away from your furnishings and onto something more delicious.

If you try this method and notice that your puppy isn’t coping, then go back to the duration of time apart which your puppy was comfortable with and start to build it up again from then.  You should be increasing the time by half an hour over a few days, so it is a slow process and one which you shouldn’t rush.  It also helps if you take your pup for a walk before they are to be left alone as this ensures they are tired and it gives them a chance to relieve themselves beforehand too.

And even if you are home for most of the day and don’t need to leave your puppy then just think… there will be one day when you will need to leave them and then how will they cope? Of course we take on dogs because we want their company, but find me a person who is able to spend 24/7 with their dog and I’ll be surprised! I’m a dog walker and even in my job I leave my pup alone for periods in the day.

So my key points for helping to prevent separation anxiety are:

  • Build it up slowly! Increase the time by 5 minutes and repeat spontaneously several times every day
  • Make no fuss when you leave and make even less fuss when you return
  • If your pup becomes concerned then take a step back, reduce the time they are left alone and then start to build it up again
  • Turn the radio or TV on so your pup has some background noise
  • Give your pup something to do in your absence (frozen kongs are great as they last a long time and hiding treats for them to find exercises their minds)
  • Do not punish your pup for toileting or chewing whilst in your absence… they won’t remember what they have done and they certainly won’t learn anything from being told off for it minutes/hours later. Also, you don’t want you pup to be anxious when being left alone and then also worried about being told off when you do return
  • Once you are able to leave your pup for longer periods, ensure they have had a walk so they are tired and have had a chance to relieve themselves. You may choose to use a crate but always ensure they have access to water… this is a requirement by law


Living with a nervous dog

Each time I go for a walk I spend a lot of my time observing dog behaviour – in my own group but also in other dogs… I just find it fascinating.  I believe you can learn a lot about dogs by just watching their own behaviour and interaction with their owners but also their behaviour and interactions with other dogs, particularly dogs which are unfamiliar to them.  And they always amaze me…

Most dogs meet other dogs quite naturally whilst on their walk… they’re happy to go over and say hello and meet a new friend; their body is fluid and relaxed and they can easily sense when another dog doesn’t want to meet them and will then walk away.  If you think about it, your dog will generally meet quite a few unfamiliar dogs every day on every walk and for the most part, dogs which are used to this routine will cope incredibly well.  However, if you happen to have a nervous or timid dog then just taking them for a walk can be quite stressful.  We’ve all seen those dogs in the park which bark incessantly at our dogs, the dogs which are on a lead on their walk and pull and lunge at other dogs while the owner gets embarrassed and pulls them away, whilst apologising to the other dog owner.  To the untrained eye, most people will wrongly assume this dog is aggressive.  This is a common misconception and I hope everyone can take away some understanding on this topic from this blog post.

Did you know that the loudest dogs are often the most fearful? Did you know that dogs who are on a lead may actually be on a lead for a reason? Did you know that the reason may be because they can’t cope with meeting unfamiliar dogs and so the lead acts as a support and barrier for the responsible dogs owner?  This is why when you see a dog on a lead you should always place your dog on a lead too… or at least ensure that your dogs recall is reliable enough to keep your dog from approaching the on-lead dog.  It saddens me when I see dogs on lead who are clearly fearful and other owners allowing their dogs to charge over to them to say hello and who always say ‘don’t worry, my dog is friendly!’  That may well be the case, but what about the fearful dog who is on a lead and has nowhere to escape to?   Do you think it wants to meet your dog?  This can be an incredibly daunting experience for them… and for their owner who is responsible enough to place their fearful dog on a lead in the first place, they are just hoping for a quiet and enjoyable walk with their dog.

Some dogs are genetically born with the predisposition to be nervous and some dogs become this way because of a bad experience with another dog or group of dogs.  From my own personal experience, I took home the ‘runt’ of the litter – tiny, nervous and who needed a lot of nurturing.  My puppy was terrified of absolutely everything and simple things like going out for her first post-vaccination walk, which should have been a milestone and something to celebrate, left her petrified to the point of shaking and drooling.  Now this is not ‘normal’ but it was certainly an eye-opener and having come full-circle with her I am now especially sensitive when I see other dogs behaving in a nervous way and want to help them too.   They are just crying out for help and guidance.

Everyone who has owned multiple dogs in their life will know that each and every dog is different, no matter what breed they are and if you’re ‘lucky’ enough to have a nervous dog, they will teach you so much if you really pay attention to their body language and behaviours.  I say ‘lucky’ because these dogs will teach you more than any ‘normal’ dog ever will.  For those of you who own a well-balanced and sociable dog, don’t take this for granted… in my experience it is a rare thing!

I spent a considerable amount of time and effort (and still do) managing my dogs nervousness and building her confidence to the point that I engrossed myself in canine behaviour and actually quit my job and made a career change focussed on dogs.  Everything I did was for my dog to ensure she was happy and within her comfort zone… the last thing I wanted was to have a fearful dog who then became aggressive as there is a very fine line between the two.  Each walk was focussed on watching her body language and helping her to move away from things which she was nervous of (plastic bags in hedges, dogs charging towards her, people running in florescent clothing… the list was endless!) And by doing this, I built up an incredible bond with my dog.

I attended several seminars and undertook courses in canine behaviour so I could understand and recognise potential ‘threats’ and the right way to manage this and now I use this in my every day life working with dogs.  The good old ‘flight, fight, freeze, avoid’ theory is just a start but it’s so true… how many times have you observed two dogs meeting and one of them freezing while the other sniffs around it?  The ‘frozen’ dog then shakes and runs back to its owner?  This is not a nice meeting for the dog who froze and they didn’t take anything away from this meeting… they were just put in a really uncomfortable situation and the more this happens, the more the dog will learn that freezing doesn’t help the ‘scary dog’ move away and so they try a new tactic of either flight; running away or fight; where they may bark or scowl to tell the dog to move away.  The problem here is that if they realise that barking and scowling actually works then they will use this again and again… and here we have ‘the aggressive dog’ who is then placed on a lead in the park.  Most people won’t recognise that these dogs aren’t actually aggressive but that they have just learnt to use aggression as a way to avoid situations which they find uncomfortable or daunting and it’s the owners job to help to recognise this and to remove their dog from the situation.

The amount of dog owners I know whose dog has been attacked and then become fearful afterwards is overwhelming.  These are the owners who now get up very early in the morning to walk their dog so that they can enjoy their walk and not worry about encountering other dogs which may set their fearful dog off.  For those of us living in London, this is no mean feat… dog are everywhere and many owners don’t recognise that just because their dog is friendly, all other dogs don’t want to meet it.

When I’m out walking I always watch the body language of other dogs to ascertain if they are indeed friendly and if they want to meet my dogs.  If they look stiff and uncomfortable as we approach, then I change direction and move my group away… why would I knowingly put my group into a situation which may result in them being snapped at? I just wouldn’t.  So whether you have a nervous dog or a super sociable one, when you’re out on your next walk, be a little sensitive to the dogs you may meet and please place your dog on a lead, or call them back to you if they start running up to a dog on a lead… your dog may be friendly but the poor dog is on a lead for a reason and the owner is clearly trying to work on its confidence levels.  And if you have a nervous dog, don’t force them into situations and really take the time to understand their coping thresholds and what their triggers are… and then avoid putting them in fearful situations and work (at a distance) to build their confidence and their recall.  Because every dog deserves to enjoy their walk and being able to read canine body language and understand it is truly an incredible thing.