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It’s cold and dark outside, but you take your dog out anyway. You don’t want to risk him going on the kitchen floor... again. However, you walk outside for 10-15 minutes but to no avail. You head back inside and head up to bed. Sure enough, you walk downstairs in the morning and what do you find on the floor? A mess you don’t want to be described in graphic terms. Guessing when he actually needs the toilet is just a bit of a gamble.
If you could train him to signal to you when he needed the toilet you could prevent some of these unpleasant experiences. You also wouldn’t need to aimlessly wander around, hoping and praying he’s going to go. It could even make training him to signal to you about a variety of other things easier too.
Many people may not bother with this training because they think it will be too difficult, but in actual fact, it’s pretty straightforward. The hardest part comes from initially conveying to your dog what you want him to do. Then you need to incentivize him to signal to you and reinforce the behavior so it becomes a habit. If he’s a puppy, he should learn swiftly and you may see results in just a week. If his toilet habit has been unchanged for many years, then be prepared to invest two to three weeks into the new regime.
This training will make heading out for the toilet a quick and easy process. No more hanging around and no more playing toilet roulette! You may also be able to train him to signal when he wants you to open a door, and any number of other things, too.
Before you can crack down on your pup's toilet habits you’ll need a few different bits. Poo bags will be an essential, so stock up! You’ll also need treats or his favorite food. They will be used to motivate and reward him throughout training. Some bells will also be needed for one of the methods.
In addition, you’ll need to be able to dedicate some time to training each day around his normal toilet times, for example, after meals and in the morning and evening.
Once you’ve got the above, just bring a positive attitude and you’re ready to get to work!
The Speak Method
Teach him to bark
If you can train him to bark, then you can train him to bark when he needs to go outside for the toilet too. Firstly, you need to monitor him for actions that cause him to bark. Does he bark while your making his food for example?
Introduce the verbal command
Now just before you think he’s going to bark, issue a ‘speak’ command. As soon as he does bark, give him a treat and lots of praise. Practice this every day for a few days.
The command alone
Now try giving him the command even when he’s not in a bark inducing situation. If it works, great news! Keep practicing for 10 minutes each day. If it doesn’t, go back to using it when he’s already barking, it’s not become habit enough yet.
Now each time you take him out to the toilet, issue a bark command just before you open the door. As soon as he barks, open the door and give him a treat. Practice this for a few days, he will soon associate barking with going to the toilet.
The waiting game
Take him to the door, but don’t open it until he barks of his own accord. Be patient, it won’t take long for him to realize what he needs to do. Once he starts barking each time, you can stop giving him treats. If he doesn’t bark on his own, return to the previous step for a few more days.
The Potty Bell Method
Tie some bells to the door handle that leads outside. Make sure they hang low enough that he can easily reach them with his mouth to make a noise. You can get bells from online retailers and a range of local stores.
Each time you take him out to go to the toilet, you’re going to use the bell. Secure him to a leash and then on the way out, hold your hand behind the bell with a treat so he has to knock the bell to get to your hand. As soon as he hits it and it makes a sound, give him a treat and reward him.
Quickly head outside for the toilet and praise him. Be sure to be playful and upbeat, if he think it’s all a big game, he’s more likely to use the bell again and repeat the behavior.
Every time you head out for the toilet, you need to make sure he hits the bell first. Over days and weeks he will associate the sound with going to the toilet. He will soon think of the bell as a trigger and eventually start going straight to the bell when he needs the toilet.
Lose the treats
After a week or so, start giving him the chance to go to the bell first. It will come, so be patient. Once he does start heading for the bell when he needs the toilet, you can stop giving him treats. He will officially have his toilet signal!
The Leash Method
Place in the mouth
Before you take him out to the toilet, play with the leash around his mouth, a bit like a game of tug and war. When he holds onto it, give him some praise and encouragement. Then head outside and let him go about his business.
A couple of steps back
After a couple of days, place it in his mouth again, but now walk a few steps back and encourage him to come over to you. As soon as he does, give him a treat and praise. Repeat this for a few more days.
Increase the distance
Now as before, place the leash in his mouth, but this time leave the room and call him over. Once he finds you with the leash in his mouth still, give him the same tasty reward. You are slowly teaching him to bring the leash to you.
The big step
After several days when you think he’s got the hang of it, it’s time to make him think on his own four feet. Wait for him to bring the leash to you. He will now have made the connection between bringing you the leash and going to the toilet. For the first couple of days, stay close to him around toilet time to make it easier and so you can encourage him. Remember to reward him each time he completes the signal successfully.
Lose the reward
When he’s finally got the hang of it, which may take a week or two, you can stop giving him treats altogether. By this point he’ll understand what bringing you the leash means and going to the toilet will be reward enough.
By James Barra
Published: 10/18/2017, edited: 01/08/2021