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Tried & Tested: Behavioural Therapy & Dog Training for Toileting Issues Part 2

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Yesterday we shared details of Basil Barkarama’s pre-disposition to peeing and pooing wherever he fancied in our home and how, with the problem showing little sign of going away, we enlisted the help of our local Bark Busters’ behavioural therapist and dog trainer Jo Milgrew. Today we take you through how we’ve ended toilet-gate. 

***Doggy disclaimer: if you’re a new pup parent or are experiencing similar problems with your dog, feel free to try this approach but please note this is not a ‘how to’ guide. I’m not a dog trainer, Jo is and this programme was designed bespoke to my dog Basil. 

Here’s the approach we took …

Commitment & patience: as Basil was already past early puppy-dom, this process was about retraining and rectifying behaviour so we already had our work cut out. We were advised that it could take up to six weeks to come into full effect, we needed to stick to it and Basil was not to be told off if caught doing his business somewhere he shouldn’t. 

Deodorise: to avoid him going back over old ground we needed to wash away all traces of previous misdemeanors. We used an odour remover spray from Pets At Home but a warm solution of biological washing powder has the same effect, as the biological enzymes neutralise the odours. 

Establish his spaces: during the day Basil spent most of his time on the middle floor where our lounge is situated but stayed in the kitchen at night in his crate. However, due to past issues of him toileting in it, the crate door was always left open. Given that Basil viewed the downstairs as a giant toilet, Jo advised that we move the crate to the lounge and establish this as his safe space. This was to be his place to sleep, eat, drink and play to encourage positive associations and ensure that he kept it clean. We were also told to scent the area so that he built an association with cleanliness – in our case a water and lavender oil mix. Until he got the hang of things, Basil was also not allowed access elsewhere in the house or garden without being on the lead. 

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Getting reacquainted with the crate: our goal was for him to feel comfortable sleeping in his crate overnight with the door closed, learning to hold in his ‘business’ until he was let out. Given that young dogs can only go up to six hours without the toilet, this was my least favourite part of training. For the first few nights, I slept on the sofa next to his crate later switching to a baby monitor once I went back upstairs. To begin with he’d manage until 5.30am before he’d stir and start to rattle the crate door at which point I’d take him down to the garden standing around like a crazy woman in my PJs, bathrobe and wellies flashing a torch and praising any activity that passed out of his lower body! I’d then catch my last few hours of sleep curled up with him on the sofa. A couple of weeks in and sleep deprived, I realised that these early morning wake up calls where partly because he wanted me so in act of tough love I started to ignore the rattling and haven’t looked back since. Basil uses the Savic dog crate as shown above.

Getting into a routine: hardly rocket science but we clearly hadn’t got the hang of this prior to training. In short, if Basil wasn’t sleeping then there were lots of things that would make him need the loo – waking up, after lively play or vigorous toy-chewing, shortly after mealtimes and before bed. We were also told not to offer Basil water after 8pm in a bid to reduce middle-of-the-night mishaps.

The verdict: slowly but surely Basil started to get the hang of things and the ultimate reward came after the first time we’d left him alone since the start of his training. Petrified of him messing his bed, we’d left him in the kitchen with the crate door open placing a couple of puppy pads by the back door. We returned to a waste-free zone, and as soon as we took him outside he relieved himself. We were elated! Thanks to this stricter regime, Basil has also been more responsive to other elements of his training. He’s fully mastered recall meaning he’s now allowed off-lead on country park visits and he’s happy to go into bed on command to name but a few.

After finding so much contradiction between advice that I’d found online and from people within my circle, working with Jo was definitely the right approach for us. Jo summed up my conundrum in our first encounter: “When there’s a problem, everyone becomes a dog trainer.”  She’s established a one-to-one plan in our home, where it matters the most. On reflection the training wasn’t that difficult to get to grips with but for those times when we felt like we were flailing, Jo was at the end of the phone and email to offer advice, words of encouragement and tweaks when required. 

We signed up to Bark Buster’s Silver Class Service, which gives 12 months access to your trainer – handy seeing how Basil’s still got a few more kinks to iron out, chasing his car brothers a lot being one of them. Jo Milgrew is a Bark Buster’s behavioural therapist and dog trainer for the South Essex area. For more information and for details on her services visit Jo’s page on the Bark Buster’s website. To find your local Bark Buster’s representative, visit Barkbusters.co.uk.

Have you ever experienced training or behavioural issues with your dog? How did you tackle the problem? We’d love to hear your experiences.

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