Toilet training 101

Going back to basics is the best way to master toilet training with your pup.

Bringing your puppy home is a special time, however, it isn’t all fun and games. As soon as your puppy is in its new environment, it’s time to start housetraining, a major component of which is toilet training.

Andrew Peterson, a Delta Accredited Professional Trainer from Better Dog Schools, says it’s never too early to start. “It’s important to set reasonable expectations,” he says. “For the first few months of life, puppies may have very little control over their bladder and bowels, and this skill takes time to develop. Puppies may also not even realise that they need to go, so don’t expect them to know how to hold it in.”

Toilet training a puppy takes time and patience, for you and your dog. There is no magic number for when your dog will learn to go on its own. Every pup will learn at its own pace and it needs time to develop its own routine.

It’s imperative that you start toilet training from a very young age. Habits are hard to break, and if you create good and positive behaviours from when your puppy is born, these will last a lifetime.

Tips and tricks

The first step is taking your puppy for a routine vet visit to eliminate any possibility of health problems such as congenital, hormonal or neurological factors, which may contribute to toilet training problems. If you get the all clear from the vet, toilet training is as simple as following the steps. “Focus on teaching your pup when and where to go,” Andrew says, “rather than just expecting it to somehow know the rules or trying to punish it for going in the ‘wrong place’ and expecting that to work.”

Take your dog out frequently, and reward it every time it successfully goes to the toilet where it’s supposed to. Animal behaviourist, Dr Joanne Righetti, says: “Take your puppy out after every meal, every snack, every treat, every play session, every rest, every sleep, or every thirty minutes.” This gives the pup the opportunity to go if it needs to and avoids accidents in places you don’t want your dog to toilet. If your puppy successfully toilets, you can probably leave a bit of a longer gap between taking it out. If it doesn’t go, it’s best to take it out 30 minutes after the original try.”

Andrew advises leading your pup outside, rather than carrying it, “Your pup will learn the habit more quickly if you lead it where you want it to go, rather than chauffeuring it
to the spot.” He also says the walk will help to stimulate the bladder helping your puppy to be more aware that it needs to go when you get outside.

Dr Righetti also encourages getting to know your dog’s habits. “Watch the dog’s behaviour,” she says. “Naturally, they start to circle and sniff. Yes, that may be because they’re about to lie down to sleep but if it has just got up and it starts circling and sniffing, chances are it’s about to go to the toilet so take it outdoors.”

Another tip to reinforce toileting outside is to take your pup to the same place every time. This will create a sense of familiarity. Dr Righetti recommends leaving a bit of faeces in that area to stimulate your puppy to go back there. Dogs rely on scent and if you take it to the same spot each time, its own scent will be there to remind it to go. Andrew recommends making this area as close to the dog’s living area as possible. “Try not to make the trip from living room to toilet area a marathon, otherwise you’ll find your pup may not be able to hold it in all the way.”

However, while you can definitely encourage your dog to go in a specific spot, Dr Righetti says to be happy that your dog has gone outside rather than having an accident. “I say to so many people, be thankful that your dog is going outdoors. Never mind that it’s going on the patio or right outside your deck, it’s going outdoors, it’s great.”

Always remember to praise your puppy when it goes. Nothing works better than an encouraging word and a delicious treat for the dog to associate doing its business outdoors with the correct behaviour. “If it starts to go, you can begin praising it,” Andrew says. “Once it’s finished make sure it feels like the most special pup on the planet, and offer a treat or two and perhaps a short play session.”

Crate training

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that a dog will very rarely go to the toilet where it lives. It’s therefore imperative to create clear boundaries for your puppy to understand. Crate training can be a fantastic way to speed up the process because it teaches your pup the lesson of patience.

However, it’s very important to remember that puppies, much like babies, need time to learn bladder control. It won’t happen overnight. “People tend to expect their dogs to be trained immediately and sometimes don’t realise that they’re little, they’re just babies, and they have to learn to control,” Dr Righetti says. “They have to be taught where the toilet is.”

If you’re unable to watch your puppy every minute of the day, it’s recommended you create a small space for it to call its own. This may mean closing off certain doors in your home and creating a section of the home for the dog to use. It can also mean using a crate. However, you must make sure the crate is the right size for the dog.

It must be big enough for your puppy to turn around comfortably and lie down, but not so big that it can create its own toilet in the corner. This can help to housetrain your puppy as it won’t go in its living space, it will rather give you signs that it needs to go, and wait for you to let it out. Signs that your pup needs to go include whining, circling, sniffing or barking.

If you need to leave it for longer, Andrew advises creating a slightly bigger area where you don’t mind an accident if it occurs. “Confine them to a different, larger area that’s easier to clean up, perhaps with a pee-pad in the corner. This will let it sleep in one area of the space and toilet in the other without feeling stressed that it’s soiling its den.”

Puppy problems

Your puppy may run into some problems along the way. What’s important is the way you deal with them. Andrew says that problems are usually caused by high expectations of owners. “We often forget that toilet training is a skill puppies need to acquire, and like everything it’s learned gradually,” he says.

A puppy may urinate due to excitement because it is unable to completely control its bladder. This can happen when you walk through the door after you’ve left it for a little bit or if new people enter its space. Andrew recommends training your puppy to be calm by being calm yourself. “The best thing to do is keep greetings calm rather than revving up the pup.

Acknowledge it when you first walk into the room, but don’t make a fuss, and instead head straight to the toileting area and wait for it to go – then you can greet it properly and play with it.”

Generally problems occur if there’s been a gap in applying toilet training 101. Andrew advises to have patience and go back to basics. Alternatively, if your puppy is still having problems and you believe you’re doing everything right, you can call in the experts.

Dealing with accidents

All dogs will have accidents, no matter how young or old. How you deal with these accidents, especially when it’s a young pup, will definitely impact on the way the dog reacts and learns from the experience. Do not punish the puppy. Effective toilet training is all about positive reinforcement rather than making the dog feel guilty or naughty because it made a mistake.

Accidents can also be a sign of anxiety. Punishing the dog will only reinforce any anxiety or nervousness the dog may be feeling and this can force education backwards. The first thing to do when you find an accident is to thoroughly clean the area to remove any smell. Dogs are creatures of habit and they thrive on their sense of smell. If dogs are given the opportunity to go indoors, they will continue to gravitate to that spot and it will become habitual. They will also follow the scent of their previous toilet stops. It’s therefore crucial to completely clean up after any indoor accident.

Dr Righetti advises dealing with accidents calmly and efficiently. “What is leading the dogs to go back to the same spot, is habit and comfort,” she says. “But there’s also a smell attraction. We need to remove the smell and we do that by using an enzymatic cleaner.” This can be bought or created at home using an enzymatic washing powder.

Another suggestion from Dr Righetti is playing or laying down treats in the area that the dog keeps going back to. “Dogs don’t like to go to the toilet in living areas. So if you start living in that area where they’re toileting, that will stop them,” she explains.

It’s also important to realise that there are other options to taking your dog outside. If you’re immobile, in a 20-storey building or on a boat, it may be impossible for your dog to toilet outside. “A lot of countries accept that their dogs will need to go indoors,” Dr Righetti says, “you can provide a toilet.”

This can be done by laying down paper, creating a litter tray, putting down pee-pads or investing in a pet-loo.

Training in this situation is still as important. Instead of training your puppy to go outside to toilet, you need to train it to go to the specific spot in the house where you’ve created the toilet. Use all the methods you would if you were taking it outside, but instead of taking it to the garden, take your puppy to its toilet.

Keep up the praise

Remember that just because a dog is trained doesn’t mean it won’t have the occasional accident. These can be brought on by stress or other emotions and it’s up to you to remind your dog that it’s okay.

To reinforce your dog’s training throughout its life, continually praise it
for doing the right thing. “As owners we sometimes take toilet training for granted, which means we stop rewarding our dogs for toileting success once they’ve grown up, and assume that the habit will just stay with them for life,” Andrew says. “Toilet training can lapse because it didn’t get reinforced enough. So it’s a good idea to still reward toileting success occasionally, for the whole of your dog’s life – even if it’s just with praise or play – to help maintain the habit.”

Download Toilet training 101

Kindergarten pup

While a dog’s personality can vary depending on the breed, early socialisation plays an important role in its development. Puppy preschool is the ideal place to start. 

Socialisation is the process where a dog learns to relate to people of all ages, other dogs and other animals. It is during this development where a puppy begins to understand its individual and wider environment.

The nature verses nurture debate relates to animals just as much as humans and it’s important to remember that the process by which a puppy develops and learns will greatly shape the way it acts its whole life. Dogs that fail to receive sufficient exposure to other dogs, people of varying ages, other animals and new environments during the optimal socialisation period may develop irreversible fears. These fears can subsequently lead to timidity or aggression when the dog is faced with unfamiliar circumstances.

Socialisation most easily occurs before the puppy is three months old and starts in the home, as you develop your relationship as owner and pet. However, from three months onwards your puppy should be ready to leave the house and meet other dogs, and puppy preschool is the perfect place to begin.

Life lessons

Lucille Ellem has been a professional trainer for 45 years and is an Obedience judge. She runs a Kindergarten Puppy Education course and says that socialisation teaches a pup the skills its needs to cope as it grows.

“If a puppy is sheltered and protected and not shown what’s in the future, it doesn’t learn the skills it needs to cope with loud noises and things in the everyday world like wheelie bins, traffic, people and dogs,” says Lucille. “They’ll never be sure of themselves and will not gain what they need to become a well adjusted dog.”

Lucille, who specialises in teaching people to have a relationship with their dog, strongly believes that a puppy’s socialisation process is as much about the owner as it is about the dog. “If an owner doesn’t have a relationship with their dog, the dog won’t understand where it stands and where it is placed in the family unit; it gets confused.”

A puppy generally learns what is right and wrong from its litter, but when a puppy is adopted, it becomes the owner’s responsibility to teach these lessons. Taught incorrectly, the puppy will not be socialised properly. “Socialisation does not mean that puppies need to be forced into social situations. As long as it is surrounded by everything it will learn by hearing, smelling and seeing,” says Lucille.

Biting etiquette

One of the most important lessons that a puppy will learn at puppy school is bite inhibition, which refers to a dog’s ability to control the force of its biting. Bite etiquette is usually learnt from its mother and siblings, however, when a puppy is brought home its new family becomes its litter and its natural learning process ends abruptly.

For most young puppies, biting is a natural and essential part of growing up. However, puppies need to be trained to regulate and minimise biting. Puppy school and the socialisation process is where a puppy learns to control its bite. During play, a puppy’s playmate will react according to the force of a bite. If a puppy bites too hard,

its playmate will generally yelp loudly and back away, signalling that playtime is over. This can only be done through trial and error. A puppy will learn the strength of its bite and how hard is too hard. This will then be reflected in its playtime with other dogs and in its attitude towards humans.

Terrible teens

It is important to remember that socialisation does not end with graduation from puppy school, but continues well into adult development with a dog’s personality changing as it grows.

Much like a teenager, a dog can experience sudden personality changes during adolescence, which can happen at any time between six months and two years, depending on the breed and size.

A dog’s adolescence is that awkward stage between puppyhood and adulthood, and hormones significantly impact a dog’s personality. If you adopted your dog as a puppy and organised suitable training, you have an advantage.

“Dogs aren’t robots, they have a right to challenge you. They have a right to suss you out and if you get caught in the trap, then the dog will walk all over you,” Lucille says. “However, if the foundation is there in the beginning, the owner can go back to the dog’s initial training to remind it who is the leader.”

An easy way to deal with adolescence is to go back to basics. Emphasise everything a puppy learnt during puppyhood. An adolescent dog often reverts back to puppy behaviour, so it’s usually a matter of going back and revisiting the things you did at home with your puppy during training.

Keep it active, take it to parks to socialise with other dogs, pay attention and spend time with the puppy. This not only assures the puppy that it has your attention, but it also asserts your dominance, reinforcing your superiority.

Behavioural problems

When it comes to managing a puppy’s socialisation process, it’s important to recognise whether the puppy is exhibiting problem behaviour or behavioural problems and deal with the issue accordingly. Dr Kersti Seksel from Sydney Animal Behaviour Services deals with behaviour problems in animals.

“There is a big difference between a behavioural problem – which is what I call mental health issues – and problem behaviours, which is where training really comes in,” says Kersti.

Socialisation is a process that may help with the management of a genetic predisposition disorder. While a mental health issue in a dog cannot be cured, it can be managed, and with the right approach a puppy can lead a healthy, normal life.

Anxiety is a disorder that can significantly affect the way your puppy grows up and, without the right training and care, can lead to many behavioural problems including aggression. Kersti helps dogs to deal with anxiety through the 3M Program – behavioural modification, environmental management and medication. “What we do know is that any harsh methods, even yelling at the dog, can increase the chances of aggression by 25 per cent,” Kersti explains. “If your dog is anxious, the kinder and nicer you are, the better that dog is going to behave.”

While socialisation can’t cure a mental health issue in your puppy, avoiding the process can do much more harm than good.

Dogs are inherently social so it’s important to continue socialising your dog outside of any formal training. Take it to public parks or dog-friendly beaches, let your dog play with other dogs and become familiar with different environments. Give your dog the chance to understand that meeting new people and new dogs is a positive, playful experience.

If a dog learns that strangers and other dogs should be met with trust as a puppy, then it will carry this lesson into the future, meeting new encounters with the same positive, playful attitude.

Download Kindergarten pup

Puppy love

How do you handle the change of lifestyle heading into retirement? Filling your days with loving a little furry friend could help! Jessica Goulburn caught up with animal lovers and experts to get the lowdown on how to find the perfect pet. 

Companionship. Loyalty. Unconditional love. Most people who own a pet will list these as three of the main reasons for having an animal. Animals do not judge, they don’t expect anything but food, water and love, and they make their owners feel needed. A pet can also provide a range of health benefits.

With 33 million pets registered in Australia, it’s clear that animals have a significant impact on our

lives. According to the Australian Companion Animal Council (ACAC), of Australia’s eight million households, 2.9 million or 36 per cent, include
a dog, 1.8 million house a cat, and there are approximately 18.4 million fish, just over eight million birds and over one million other pets including horses, guinea pigs and rabbits.

Healthy pets, healthy lives

Research has shown that there is a direct relationship between owning
a pet and improved overall health, which can be exceptionally beneficial to people as they get older. Experts believe that the impact companion animals have on owners’ health is largely the result of lower stress levels, meaning the impact or incidence of any condition that is caused or exacerbated by high stress levels could be lowered by pet ownership.

In the early 1980s, a study found that pet owners were less likely to die in the 12 months following a heart attack than non-pet owners. This was tested again in the 90s, finding the initial results accurate.

The act of petting a dog or a cat has a calming effect. Dr Peter Higgins, veterinarian and Dogs NSW spokesperson, was involved in a study that looked at how pets can help their owners medically, as well as help people in hospital recovering from surgery or illness, and people in nursing homes.

“Petting a dog can decrease your blood pressure quite significantly,” Dr Higgins says. “The study also found that people had an increased zest for life after they had spent time with a dog.”

A 1992 study revealed that pet owners had lower levels of risk factors for heart disease, including lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, while an English study has also shown that minor illnesses and complaints were reduced in people who owned pets, and that owners of dogs were more physically active.

Pros and cons

There are definite positives of owning a pet, however, there are other things to consider when deciding whether a pet is the right addition to your life.

If you travel a lot, you must consider how your pet will cope in your absence or, if it is to accompany you, how it will cope with being away from home. “There are a number
of pet-friendly hotels now around Australia,” Dr Higgins says, “so even if you do go on a trip, in some cases you can take your dog or pet with you.” Either way, you need to assess the extra costs you may incur.

There is also the daily commitment you have to make to a pet, including being home to feed it, groom it and entertain it. Falling in love with a gorgeous pet is one thing committing to its needs is what is really important.

So, which pet?

As long as the pet you choose interests you, the therapeutic benefit is there. However, it is important that the pet you have selected fits your personality, lifestyle and living space.

“If you’re active, then by all means get an active dog,” says Dr Higgins. “Take it out for a run with you. But if you’re not active, there are over 200 breeds of dog in Australia, and then there are cats too, so there are plenty of options.” If you choose a pet that suits your lifestyle you’re not going to go wrong.

Most pets, especially dogs, need structure in their day and space to spread out and play. However, don’t be deterred just because you live in a small space or a rental property. Often, it is not the size of the backyard or the apartment that matters, it is finding the right pet – dogs and cats successfully live in highly urbanised areas – and making sure you care for and manage it well in the space that you have.

“If you’re living in a unit, you could get a small dog, a cat or a budgie,” Dr Higgins advises.

There are also certain expenses that accompany a pet and the initial purchase is probably going to be the least amount of money you pay.

“The cost of a pet is ongoing for its entire life, so you need to be able to factor that in. You have to get pet food, there’s medical attention with veterinarians, bedding, there’s ongoing care,” Dr Higgins says. You need to be able to care for your pet financially for an extended period of time.

Another consideration is how much time you have to commit to your pet. A dog, for example, requires lots of attention and activity. You need to be there to feed your dog, walk it frequently and keep it entertained. A cat, on the other hand, is usually quite content to keep itself amused. If you don’t have much time to spare, you may also want to consider the bird, reptile or fish option. These pets provide companionship, just in a different way. They are mostly dependent on you for their livelihood and they need your love and care.

Bringing your pet home

There are so many places to find a pet that it can be hard to know where to start. Buying a dog or cat from a reputable, registered breeder gives you the opportunity to visit the facility and gather all relevant information including where your pet comes from and what the future holds.

“You know the size [a purebred animal] is going to become, you know its temperament, you know how hairy it’s going to be and how much it’s going to eat,” Dr Higgins says.

Puppy mills or puppy farms are not the things of gruesome fairytales; they do exist, and they represent both horrible lives for the animals kept to breed and questionable – at best – health standards of the puppies. Without visiting the actual breeder of a dog, you cannot know whether they are breeding loved and health-tested pets or caged animals.

Adopting a dog or cat from a shelter gives it a second chance at life. Many animals end up at shelters because their owners can no longer care for them, or they are lost, injured and abandoned. The RSPCA receives more than 150,000 animals every year and aims to rehabilitate and rehome each one.

On top of that enormous number are plenty of animals with other rescue organisations such as Monika’s Rescue – one of Australia’s earliest and best known no-kill shelters – Pet Rescue, Australian Working Dog Rescue, and a wide range of breed-specific rescue programs run by breeders and breed clubs.

This means that even prospective dog owners who want a purebred can find their perfect match and give a home to a grateful furry friend.

While breed-specific rescue organisations will be able to provide the pedigree details of some surrendered dogs, when it comes to adopting a pet from a shelter, you will usually not have all health records of the animal available to you. It is also possible that, even though your new pet may have undergone health and temperament checks, you will never know exactly what breed the animal is or whether it is at risk of genetic conditions.

If this is a risk you are willing to take, adopting an animal from a shelter is a win-win situation. You give the animal a much needed home, while the animal repays you with unconditional love and devoted affection.