If you’ve ever had great difficulty house training a puppy, chances are you’ve both been ‘up against it’. Fact is that house training starts from birth, with mum doing her bit for the first three weeks and then the breeder doing their bit for the next five weeks. If a breeder does not take due care during this time, then puppy misses out on crucial development phases making the owner’s job ahead frustrating and puppy’s new life confusing.
Most bitches do an outstanding job of keeping their puppies spotless for the first three weeks. I’ve had only one mum (Daffy) many years ago who had no idea of what to do (‘you mean I have to lick their bottoms?!). Daffy was not cut out to be a mum – fair enough! – and found a loving pet home after litter number one. Buy it’s fair to say probably 98% of bitches keep their babies immaculate up to and even beyond the three week mark and with minimal assistance from the breeder.
So if mums’ aren’t at fault in the toilet training stakes, that leads us to the breeder. Namely, how well has the breeder fulfilled their role in the house breaking equation?
In the first three weeks of life, puppy’s food comes exclusively from their mother’s milk. During this time the puppy and his environment are kept spotless by mum as she ‘toilets’ puppy by licking their abdomens to stimulate their gut and then licking up the resultant wee and poo. So from the time they hatched, puppy has been in a clean nest which is free of any urine or faeces.
When puppy starts to eat solids and take their first steps, around 3 to 4 weeks of age, mum stops toileting them and puppy instinctively tries to leave the clean bedding of their nest to toilet on a clean puppy pad or newspaper laid at the entrance to their bed.
This is an important developmental step that occurs at the 3 to 4 week mark. Puppies and dogs are naturally clean and toileting in their bed (for example) is not what they want to do; it’s not what their mother raised them to do.
Breeder’s ‘make or break’ role
This natural developmental step post 3 weeks of age can only occur if the breeder is paying attention to this phase. Specifically, the breeder needs to step in where mum has left off. The breeder must:
- Change the bedding at least once daily (because there will be accidents early on) and the bedding itself should be high quality ‘vet dry bedding’ that draws any moisture away from the puppies.
- Provide flat and easy access for toddling puppies to easily exit the nest.
- Provide fresh clean puppy pads or newspaper, which entails regularly replenishing same.
If the breeder fails to do any one of these things, a developmental phase has not only been missed but – worse still – bad toileting practices are being instilled. The house breaking developmental cues instinctively programmed in puppy before birth have been ‘overwritten’ by an unclean environment that tells them ‘defecating and urinating in the nest is normal’.
And the breeders role here must evolve as puppy progresses through the 3 week to 8 week mark. Namely, as the puppies become more ambulatory (at around 4 weeks of age) the puppy pads/newspaper can start to be progressively moved away from the nest entrance. Such that by five weeks to 6 weeks (around weaning age) the paper can be right near the exit to their indoor area. In our case, all puppies have access to outdoors (except on freezing or rainy days) and by 6 to 7 weeks we are able to dispense with newspaper altogether as the puppies know to go outside to toilet. Taking it one step further, we have sewered 1m by 1m fine gravel areas near the end of each run where they are naturally going to the toilet by 7 to 8 weeks.
Lastly, the breeder has a role in giving full advice at handover regarding how the family can consolidate the good toilet training to date in their family home.
What to do if it’s not working?
Undoubtedly there is the odd puppy who is slow to house train despite all best efforts from birth; but chances are for the great bulk of puppies that this isn’t the case but rather that puppy missed important developmental stages in infancy.
Good news is that most puppies and dogs eventually will learn if you can persist with patience and compassion.
Tips to increase the chances of success are:
- restricting access to carpet/rugs;
- take her for toilet breaks as soon as she wakes up, after a meal, and after playing;
- give her easy and ready access to her designated area so she can get there herself (without having to navigate the entire house or a force open a heavy flap-door, for example);
- lavish praise when she succeeds; and
- always remember she isn’t trying to be annoying and ask yourself what you can modify to make things less confusing for her. She simply wants to please!
Quiz the breeder – a parting thought
Puppies raised with care by the breeder will have a clear idea about toileting before they go to their human family. This makes toilet training a case of consolidating established behaviours in their new environment. Accordingly, if you are considering a puppy then enquire of prospective breeders the steps they take towards toilet training before you decide which breeder to go with.