by Samantha Catalano
When a puppy joins a family, one of the biggest problems, if not the biggest, is the fact that it may do its “business” anywhere in the house.
Teaching a dog to pee and poo outside is the main goal of every new dog owner (and every dog trainer). In reality, it is very simple to reward a puppy when it has done its “business” in the right place by implementing something called “positive reinforcement.”
Positive reinforcement requires patience and promptness, especially considering that up to age 4 months a puppy cannot control itself. Therefore, when it has to go…it has to go!
As a veterinarian, I occasionally find myself with new dog owners who are exhausted from constantly cleaning up their puppy’s messes. I understand their exhaustion. I also understand how easy it is to become discouraged and how unpleasant this task can be.
Some people believe the puppy is not smart because it does not immediately understand how to do what it is being asked to do. Others believe their puppy has peed in the house out of spite because, after having taken it for a 30-minute walk in the park with no “action”, they return home and the puppy proceeds to pee on the Persian rug. Then, after having had the “accident”, the puppy hides in its kennel with a frightened look on its face. This can make the owner think that the dog knew perfectly well it did something wrong, but went ahead and did it anyway just to annoy the owner.
The behavior of the puppy/h2>
Having experience as both a veterinarian and a dog trainer, I can explain these behaviors. First, I usually ask a discouraged owner, “Where do you want your dog to pee?” It is surprising how many people have to think about it before they respond. Some, being unable to give a specific answer, exclaim, “Not in the house!”
Imagine you are a guest at someone’s home. You have never been to that house before. At some point, you ask to go to the bathroom. The home owner tells you that you can go to the bathroom, but does not tell you where the bathroom is. So, as you start to search for the bathroom and open a door the home owner yells, “No, not there!” You open a second door and the home owner yells again, “No, not in there either!” So, you open a third and then a fourth door and the scene continues to repeat itself. In the meantime, your need is increasingly urgent and you feel uncertain about what to do. After all, you have already been mistaken several times and so expect to make a mistake again. Think about it…what would you do in that situation?
This is what your puppy experiences. However, for a puppy, every place is a potential bathroom (unless it’s right by its bed). In the example above, behind every door we opened we expected to find a bathroom but we didn’t.
So, what to do? First, choose an appropriate place for your puppy to pee and poo and be clear and consistent in making your puppy understand where that is. Then, use positive reinforcement whenever the puppy does its “business” in the right place. That is, each time the puppy pees and/or poos in the right place, reward it promptly. Treat your puppy as if it had just won the Oscar for being the best puppy in the world! “And the Oscar goes to…”(I took some liberty and added this. Please delete it if you don’t like it.)
At first, it may be best to find a patch of grass near the house so you and the puppy can get there quickly when it appears your puppy may need to “go”. Then, reward it every time it’s successful in going in the right spot so the puppy has no doubt it has done something good. I must say, seeing the spark in a dog’s eyes that comes when it understands it has done something right excites me every time! Your puppy just wants to understand what is right.
As a veterinarian, I can also advise from my office so please do not hesitate to contact me. Together, we can help your puppy learn!