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It's a dark wet night in the middle of winter. You've changed for bed and the last task of the day is to let the dog out to toilet. However, he can be a bit precious about bad weather and get distracted from the job at hand. This means you stand for ages with the door open, the wind whistling past your ankles, while you peer out into the darkness wondering whether he's been yet . Since you don't want to be woken at 3 am by a dog with a full bladder whimpering, you go outside to check on him. Nope. He got distracted and is trying to steal peanuts out of the bird feeder.
Hey ho. Now your pajamas are soaked, your slippers muddy, and the dog still hasn't been to the toilet....
Imagine instead a dog that's trained to go on command. By issuing a cue word such as "Toilet" or "Empty", he understands what's expected and goes right away. Bliss!
It's not as hard as you might suppose to teach a dog to pee or poop on command. It just requires an additional step to the general potty training, which is to label the action with a cue word. Once the dog links the word to the action and understands he gets a reward, then the battle is won.
Don't be afraid to start this training hand-in-hand with potty training a puppy. As long as you are patient and just ignore any mistakes, the proverbial penny will eventually drop. And as for older dogs, well it's never too late to learn, so start incorporating the cue word into his walks and the next wet windy night you'll be thankful you did.
Start out by deciding on your cue words. These should be words the dog is unlikely to hear regularly, so he builds a strong link between the cue words and the expected action. Examples of good cue words are "Get Busy", "Empty", "Go Potty", or "Abracadabra"!
You may also wish to have different words for peeing or pooping, in order to fine-tune the toilet training on command.
Other supplies you'll need include:
- Collar and leash
- An umbrella (for those wet days!)
- A toilet spot or place the dog is encouraged to relieve himself
- Treats and a treat pouch on your belt
- Time and patience
The Praise and Reward Method
Understand the idea
When the dog happens to toilet, you praise him and offer a treat. Over time you add a label to his action, so the dog understands what is being rewarded. Ultimately, the dog will hold onto his toilet in order to 'spend' it on command in return for a treat.
Know when the dog needs to go
Identify those times the dog is most likely to need to toilet, such as after sleep, after eating and drinking, or if he hasn't been out for a while.
Use a collar and leash
Take the dog to the toilet spot, but make sure you have him under control on a collar and leash. This stops him wandering off and getting distracted. Let the dog sniff around, but ignore him and don't interact.
Praise the happy accident
You may need to wait for 5 - 10 minutes, but when the dog does go, praise him and say an enthusiastic "Yes", as he reaches the end of his toilet and give him a tasty treat.
Now add the command word
Once the dog is watching you while he toilets in anticipation of a treat, start adding the command word. This labels the action and helps him understand what's being rewarded.
Build a solid association
Once you have built a firm foundation whereby the dog recognizes the cue word and knows which action is required, try giving the command just ahead of him toileting. This reinforces his learning and is the final step ahead of you telling to go on command.
The What NOT to Do Method
Don't immediately return inside
When training your pup to pee or poop on demand, don't rush back indoors as soon as he performed. A hasty retreat means he doesn't get to play outdoors, which is a disincentive for doing as he's asked. Instead, praise him for peeing and then indulge him in a short game so he doesn't link going to the toilet with going straight back inside.
Don't distract the dog
There's a lot of waiting involved in training this command. You have to wait for the dog to feel the natural urge to empty his bladder or bowel, which can take a while. During this time, be sure to ignore the dog so that you don't accidentally distract his mind from the job in hand. Praise, play, and interaction comes after he's gone, as part of the reward.
Never punish accidents
Imagine you cue word is "Go Potty" and a friend's toddler visits and asks to "Go Potty". Your partially trained dog recognizes the words and squats on the lounge room carpet. Do NOT punish him, as this will confuse him and put training back. Instead, congratulate yourself on making good progress and be sure to work on the location for toileting as well as the cue words.
Don't leave the dog loose in the yYard
Yes, it's boring standing with your dog on a leash, but at least you'll be there when he toilets. Don't give in to the temptation to leave him out in the yard unattended as he'll learn nothing and may play, forget to go, and return indoors to relieve himself.
Don't praise too early
When the dog toilets, don't praise him straight away or he may get so excited he stops midstream. Instead, wait until he's nearly finished, and then make a big fuss.
The Clicker Training Method
Understand the idea
Clicker training involves learning that the clicker signals he's earned a reward. The beauty of the clicker is that you can label the exact moment he does the desired action, which makes things clearer in his mind. Then you progress as in the method above, clicking when he toilets as a 'down payment' or 'promise' of a treat.
Introduce the clicker
The first step is to link the noise of the clicker to get a reward. To do this, scatter some treats on the floor. As the dog eats each one, click. The dog soon associates the clicker with a treat.
Click then reward
Now the dog links the sound of a clicker to getting a treat, switch the order of things around. Click and when the dog looks at you or the floor for a reward, then toss him a treat. The dog learns that the clicker means he gets a treat.
Click peeing or pooping
The next step is to label peeing and pooping as a rewardable action, by pressing the clicker as he goes. Now he realizes his bodily functions are a currency which he can spend for a reward.
Label the action
Now when he toilets, add the command word and then click. Again, he is learning that he earned a treat and the name of the action required that hit the jackpot.
Phase out the clicker
When he is regularly going toilet on command, phase out the clicker. Do this by not clicking (but still rewarding, as this reinforces the command word) every single time he toilets.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 10/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021