Friday, February 17, 2017

Potty Talk.

Let's talk about potty problems.  I'll start with this ... if your adult dog is medically sound and you have potty issues the problem isn't the dog, it's the human(s).  Potty training is 99% a human problem not a dog problem.  The other 1% is dogs with medical conditions* that may contribute to potty problems. Puppies fall into a different category but ... still, even puppy potty mishaps can be avoided with proper supervision, consistency and diligence.  Read on ...

Dogs (of all ages) have to be taught where to potty appropriately.  This means some commitment and dedication on your part as the dog's owner.  You'll need to take the dog out, wait for potty and then praise after the deed is done.  There really is no other reliable way to get a dog to learn where to appropriately go potty.

The best, quickest and most reliable way to potty train your dog is to crate train it.  The crate is used to keep dog safe and secure so that he cannot run around and have accidents where he shouldn't.  The crate trains the dog (when done properly) to hold it and wait to potty where you have designated as appropriate, not to potty in the crate.

Let's discuss a few myths surrounding potty training and crate training.

MYTH: Limiting water will help prevent accidents. 
TRUTH: Limiting water can actually cause more potty problems (and health problems, possibly) than what you're wanting.  When you limit water a dog will then drink a whole lot when the dog does get access to water.  This then fills up the kidneys quickly and therefore the body will eliminate it more frequently.  When the dog has water at all times (yes even in a crate, safe area or wherever it may be confined to) they will learn to regulate their intake and will then be able to regulate their urine outflow.

Preventing water to some extent can possibly lead to dehydration as well, which can cause a whole hose of issues which will definitely compound potty troubles. Suggestions are to leave water out at all times as well as adding some liquid to the dog's diet if they are fed a commercial diet. You can add some bone broth to the meals, water or even a little bit of canned food.

MYTH: Rubbing your dog's nose in it will teach the dog that it's wrong to go inside the house.
TRUTH:  This has to be the oldest trick known to dog training.  However it's very inaccurate advice and will not help during potty training, often causing your dog to sneak away and potty when you aren't looking.

Rubbing a dog's face in an accident or pointing out and telling them they are bad, really pretty much does nothing towards training goals.  It will likely make the dog run from you when it sees you coming to attempt to avoid having it's face shoved in pee or poop. I mean ewwww, who enjoys that?!  Dogs just don't possess the ability to comprehend, "Ah! I peed here 10 minutes ago and now I'm getting in trouble for it. I shouldn't choose to do this again!"

Dogs learn by association and timing is everything.  So, if the dog isn't literally caught "in the act" then anything after that is pointless, and quite frankly your fault for not paying closer attention to your dog.

What your dog will learn is that every time he goes outside and potties he gets praised.  This is how positive reinforcement works.  You give something to the dog to increase the likelihood of the behavior being repeated.  Therefore, your dog will learn that pottying in the location where you praise her for going is the best course of action!

When you do catch your dog "in the act" just quickly interrupt the behavior, "hey!" and get the dog to the approved potty area you have chosen.  Then praise after the deed is completed.

MYTH: A doggie door and/or another [already potty-trained] dog will teach your dog to go outside.
TRUTH: A doggie door is a way for your dog to get outside and back in, nothing more.  If you have not taught your dog that going outside is appropriate then the doggie door isn't going to do that for you.

If you have another dog that reliably potties outside that doesn't mean your dog will just watch and go as well.  I have heard of this happening from others, but never have had it happen in my experiences. Again, your dog has to be specifically taught where the appropriate location is to potty.

MYTH: Dogs can pee or poop out of spite.
TRUTH: If your dog is going potty as a new behavior and you think this means your dog is "mad at you" then we need to evaluate what's going on.  Dogs don't possess the ability to be spiteful.  The most common reason a dog will start to potty inappropriately is due to anxiety and/or stress to a new situation or one that has manifested into an anxiety-inducing situation for the dog.  However, this could also be due to a medical problem as well. This should always be checked first by a veterinarian and secondly by a qualified behavior consultant that understands dog behavior.

When this occurs this isn't usually even the dog relieving himself but rather anxiety marking.  This can be done by any gender of dog, not just males, as well as dogs that have been spayed/neutered.

MYTH: All dogs should be potty trained reliably by 6 months of age.
TRUTH:  There is no age that your dog will magically be potty trained.  Some breeds take longer than others so to put a blanket statement on a time frame would be inaccurate.

Size often isn't a factor either. I know that Greater Swiss Mountain dogs are a breed that can take some time to potty train according to breeders and owners of these large gorgeous dogs.  They are usually 85 lbs and up to 120 lbs.  So they are large dogs!   While Great Danes are famously known for their ease and speed of potty training.  I recall my Dane was reliably potty trained by 10-11 weeks of age.  I didn't believe all the breeders I spoke with that always told me they were super fast and potty trained so quickly.  However, I had that experience myself.

Smaller breeds are notoriously known for taking longer, some more than others, such as Bichons and Yorkies. I do believe their very tiny bladders don't help them out in this area either!

But even with all that said, each dog is individual and each can take their own time.  Also, owner commitment and consistency are the biggest factors in a reliably potty trained dog.

There is no way to fast track potty training.  Also, intelligence has no bearing on potty training. I often hear from clients that their dog must not be "smart" because the potty training is taking so long.  Usually other factors are hindering the process not a low doggie IQ!

I always ask my clients -- Where do you want your dog to be going to the potty in say a year from now? This is where you need to take your dog each time during the training process to eliminate.  

1) Crate train, crate train, crate train. 
This is the best way to reliably house train your puppy and even your adult dog.  The crate is used as a tool to help your dog understand that she has to hold it until let out to the appropriate potty area.  The crate is used as a tool to help the puppy have a safe, warm and dry place to sleep and be put away when supervision isn't possible.
(Crate woes? Contact a trainer ASAP for help!)
Safe Area with grass patch.

2) Never put potty pads or a potty area inside the crate.  
Never put something that encourages a puppy or dog to go potty inside of a crate. The crate is not a potty, it's a home!  I've seen some people section off the crate with a potty pad/area on one end. Nope. Nope. Nopety. Nope.

3) Don't use potty pads.  Ever. 
This is a controversial one as some trainers do recommend these in some circumstances. I don't. Ever.  Potty pads have never, in my almost 18 years of training dogs, been a successful tool for potty training.  Often they work for a very short time until the dog either starts to use the potty near them but not on them or eats them.  After the potty pads are removed more often than not the dog will still go potty where the pad was, religiously too!  So, if you have pads in your home on the floor somewhere that will become your dog's regular potty area.

4) Use a Safe Area if needed.  
If you cannot get home to let a dog out every 4 hours (especially if you have a puppy under 5-6 months of age) or you live in an apartment/highrise you may want to look into a Safe Area.  This is a space blocked off by an x-pen with a potty patch of grass on one end and a bed, toys and water on the other.  Similar to the one in the pic above (I'd have the bed further away from the potty patch.)

My all time favorite potty patch is Fresh Patch.  It's real grass that they send new rolls of grass to you when yours needs to be replaced.  More realistic [than fake grass] for dogs that need to learn to transition to outdoor potty habits or that go outdoors as well as in the x-pen.
bulldog puppy with Fresh Patch

5) Go out to potty area with your dog. Every. Single. Time.
Far too many times this is where the potty training fails, completely.  This is the make or break rule right here! You must go out with your dog to be able to witness and praise when your dog goes potty.  This is the key to teaching your dog where to go appropriately. Watch, wait, then praise. 

6) Supervise like a helicopter mom (or dad!)
Don't let a puppy out of sight.  Stop a puppy during play (about 10-15 minutes in) and take out to go potty regardless of behavior.  Take puppy out upon waking from any type of sleep, before leaving the house and before going to bed (even naptime).  This is especially critical for really small dogs (under 15 lbs) and/or puppies under 5 months of age.  If you cannot supervise a puppy (even for 10 minutes) put the puppy in the Safe Area or crate the puppy.

For adult dogs that need to learn to potty in an appropriate location, take them to the designated potty location every 30-60 minutes for the first few weeks of being in your home. Gradually increase the time between potty breaks as they become more accustomed to it and/or show reliability.  Crate when unable to be supervised.  Follow the rules for a puppy with adult dogs as well -- Take dog out upon waking from any type of sleep, before leaving the house and before going to bed (even naptime).

7) Be consistent. 
Every single person that interacts with your dog must be consistent with the potty habits you've started.  If someone cannot supervise a young puppy or maintain the routine you've put into place then be sure the puppy or dog is crated so that no accidents or setbacks can occur in their care.

8) Setbacks might happen.  Medical issues might too.*
Be prepared for setbacks and accidents in the beginning.  Keep your cool. Just stick with it. If it's taking longer than you feel it should or your dog starts to have potty accidents out of character then always seek the help of a veterinarian to rule out a medical cause for potty problems.

This applies to puppies and dogs of all ages.  UTIs are not uncommon and can be an easy fix.  There are also other medical things that could be a reason for doggie potty problems.  Discuss with your vet and don't assume that a young puppy cannot have a medical cause or a middle-aged-already-potty-trained dog cannot have a medical cause.  Some have little to no symptoms other than potty issues.  So always err on the side of caution with that before jumping to behavioral conclusions.  If medical problems are totally cleared by a veterinarian then seek the advice of a professional for help.

If all else fails, you are losing your mind [or your sleep] then please contact a trainer near you.  Potty issues are often a cause for people to relinquish their pets to a shelter.  This is very disheartening given that potty problems are totally fixable. So, when all else fails call in the pros!  

Can't afford a pro? Then go back to the beginning.  Start small, keep a potty journal, remain consistent and don't allow time for error.

Happy potty training!  Oh and don't forget to go read my next blog post, "Crate Training Truths & Tips".
*It is always recommended that you clear your dog of any and all medical problems if you are having a heck of a time with potty training.  Ask your veterinarian for a urinalysis and/or sterile urine culture.  If needed maybe even blood work and/or an ultrasound of the bladder.  You and your vet can figure out the best plan of action to take. 

Stacy Greer
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

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