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Thursday, 28 June 2012

Potty re-training

Wonderful friend of dogs everywhere, Joanna Mason, has been running Staffie rescue in Sussex for over 40 years and is still involved at the fantastic age of 88. Unfortunately, Joanna now has a condition which means she is prone to blackouts, and is soon to move into sheltered accommodation.

Joanna is sadly not allowed to take her Staffie with her, but has rehomed him to a lovely family. Her Yorkshire Terrier, Danny, however, is allowed to join her in her new home. Joanna rescued puppy Danny after he survived a train crash in which his owner was killed.

Danny is now an older chap and Joanna often needs to let him out to toilet in the middle of the night. He is acustomed to Joanna's large garden, but he will not be allowed outside at night once they move. Joanna is keen to train him to us a litter tray or similar, however as dogs are creatures of habit and are sensitive to their surroundings, this is proving quite a task.

If anyone has any ideas as to how Joanna can train Danny to use an indoor toilet, we would be most grateful and will pass the advice on. Joanna and Danny move in six weeks' time.

Thank you

The Dogs Today team

Karen Wild, behaviourist, advises...

I think we are looking almost at toilet training in reverse for Danny! In other words, he has learned to treat indoors as a clean place where he must not toilet and he prefers the open space outside at present. Instead we need to teach him the toileting indoors is actually now ok -  but only in a small area of our choosing. We do not want to cause him distress by being made to feel like he is being unclean.

First of all the indoor toilet needs to match the same surface that Danny currently uses. If he prefers grass, a roll of turf cut to size on a sheet of polythene will work well. If he prefers gravel, this is what should be used at first. I would take him outside to this specific ‘new’ toilet so that he can go there (whilst on his lead). Go back to giving a ‘toilet’ cue such as ‘hurry up’ followed by lots of praise and a treat when he performs! Keep the treat pot near to the toilet area so he can see it but not reach it. That usually provides ongoing encouragement for a dog to seek out a new specific place.

Once he is reliably choosing to or is happy to toilet there, I would gradually move it indoors and repeat the same toileting command at times he needs to go such as waking, after eating/drinking and so on. Finally I might try to convert the surface to the one I want him to use in future e.g. half gravel, half absorbent training pad, newspaper or whatever you actually want him to use, until he is happily going on the new, but now happily familiar, toilet area indoors.

If Danny is not capable of holding his bladder or bowels in the night then it would be very unfair to put him in a small area such as a crate as this may only result in him soiling his bed. I suggest keeping his toilet area within easy access, next to an outside door (or the one he goes through to reach his normal daytime toilet) and not giving him too much roaming space at night to dissuade him from choosing unwanted areas to toilet in. His new toilet area needs to be well away from his bed or food, as we do not want to cause him distress by having a latrine next to any areas that dogs like to keep completely clean.

Obviously if you know the layout of the new environment he will be living in, there may need to be adjustments made to the above advice and I would also make sure that his Vet has checked him over to make sure he is physically fine with no health problems before this training commences. You’d need to be happy that the new arrangement does not represent any welfare issues for him with regards to him needing to toilet and not being given the opportunity to get outside for this, but I am sure you have considered this already. Eventually it may be that he learns to accept this new arrangement, but if it is too unpleasant for him no matter how kindly or carefully he is trained, then other options might need to be looked at. If you feel you are struggling, it might be a good idea to ask an expert to come in and help you see the situation with fresh eyes –

Best wishes



  1. It sounds like a backwards training programme is needed.
    Start off by putting the new toileting material in his usual toileting place and rewarding him for using it, then gradually bring it in doors.

    Danny might find it easier to transfer to indoor toileting if the new material is as close to the type of surface he is used to going on as possible, if it's grass, try taking up a lump of grass and putting it in something like a cat litter tray, if this insn't possible try grass clippings with a puppy pad underneath. Use the same principle with whatever type of surface he is used to.

    Olwen Turns MAPDT 1093

  2. Hiedi Larter (nee Andrews)28 June 2012 at 12:11

    I would just like to say what a wonderful lady Joanna Mason is. She has dedicated herself to staffy rescue for all these years. I got my first staffy from her back in 1997. He had lived with a family and had become very distressed and begun obsessively chewing his tail. When they finally gave him up his tail was half hanging off, was bleeding and stank. He was so scared in kennels that Joanna let us take him home that day and arranged for the vet to sort his tail out a day later. He ended up being a docked staffy and gave me and my family many happy memories and passed away in 2008 having had a very happy rest of his life. Joanna really does deserve some amazing public recognition for her work.