Yay or nay? Lots to consider! Some toilet training tips at the end too for puppies, older dogs, aging disgracefully dogs and incontinent (IVDD) dogs.
I don’t think it’s a simple matter of black and white as there are a whole host of greys in this question. No pictures for this one, sorry! Fudge is grumpy enough, I don't think he'd appreciate posing in his bedtime pants!
Ultimately, its your decision, but hopefully I raise some things that you may not have considered and will help you with your decision.
As ever, if there is a sudden change in their behaviour or toileting habits – your vets should be your first point of contact.
I’ll start with the simplest – for girls, nappies are a hard no in my opinion. There is too much risk of introducing bacteria to the urinary tract. Nappies cover their bottoms and then if they do have a poo, it will all sit in the same place and can easily introduce bacteria to the places we do not want bacteria to go! They should not be used for seasons or for toileting in a healthy dog.
For a girl in season, their cervix is open which makes it easier for bacteria to get to the wrong places. A womb infection (pyometra) can be fatal. Its not worth the risk!
For a female with incontinence issues the same issue occurs above in regard to bacteria. The E-coli bacteria is the most common bacteria in UTI’s, this bacteria is mostly seen in poop!
The risks of UTI’s are as high as 38% regardless of nappies in IVDD cases, it is logical to anticipate this bacteria can transmit more easily if it is trapped in a nappy.
Expressing incontinent dogs (depending on health issue obviously, I'm thinking more IVDD) in my opinion is still the best way to help with preventing accidents and infection alongside ensuring they are drinking plenty. Recurrent urine infections can impact the kidneys – bladder management is important.
Perhaps for short visits, it might be ok, but I would still worry about the poo situation. There isn't the same concern in regards to this with the boys.
The grey area – elderly dogs…..here there is possibly some justification. I’d suggest discussing with your vets before using nappies, there are some wonderful medications that really can make a difference. If you do use nappies trim their fur if they have a longer coat and talk to your vets about the best ways to protect their skin and prevent infections.
Belly bands for puppies learning to toilet train?
For me it’s a big nay! It’s not training. It doesn’t teach them anything, and they are not likely to learn how to be clean.
If they are wearing a belly band it will mean YOU the owner won’t be quite as observant as the pressure is off. Part of what makes us so committed to toilet training is the worry of them peeing indoors. The belly band removes that concern.
You need to be vigilant with puppies, pay attention to their patterns – after eating, sleeping and playing are key times. Exercise gets the body moving so after zoomies go outside.
Tip: Sometime puppies get zoomies just before they need to poo!
For dogs that mark.
Hmmmmm, I’m on the fence. If you are visiting a friend and its for a short period of time and you know they will mark, especially when they first arrive, then yes, maybe they are ok.
It prevents stress, conflict and embarrassment so in your friends home or in a hotel it can save some stress. BUT…make sure you take them off when they go outside so when they actually do mark, when they turn round to sniff their patch they are rewarded with their scent.
But if they are marking in the home, you really need to identify why. Often dogs do this because they are a bit anxious about something. It doesn’t mean they are anxious as a person, but just something is bothering them and they want to make things smell familiar. Here for me, its a nay. You need to address the reason and try to create a suitable environment to help you help them get it right,
Sometimes its habit too, so restricting their movements around the house whilst unsupervised so you can watch for those not so subtle signs of circling and sniffing, tail up, nose down and take them outside to an appropriate spot. It’s a useful skill to put a cue to as well!
Multiple dogs and secret markers?
Belly bands can also be useful if you have multiple dogs and you don’t know who is the cuprit. The bands don’t stop them marking, they still pee in the pad, so by using them you can physically see who is marking and then you can address the whys and when’s of that particular individual.
Tip: Similarly, if you have one pooing indoors and you’re not sure who. Give your suspect sweetcorn. They can’t digest it so you will see the evidence and know who needs to go back to basics.
For adult dogs that pee
A belly band is only small, if your dog is doing full wee’s indoors then they are unlikely to hold it all. Even with a pad it will likely overflow, luring you into a false sense of security.
The chemicals from the urine will sit against their skin and can lead to urine infections, skin infections, urine scald and so on. Simply wiping them off probably won’t be enough especially if they have sensitive skin.
Here, the only way to resolve things is to ensure there is not an underlying medical issue, or a behavioural issue such as separation anxiety and go right back to basics slowly building up the time between exits.
Keep a diary to identify toileting patterns, staying outside a little longer with them to ensure they have finished, and sometimes increasing fluids can help flush out any irritation in the bladder caused by concentrated urine. There's some more tips at the end of the blog.
There are some medical conditions, some more common than others, which can cause increased urination, urine infections the most obvious, thyroid and cushings disease, diabetes and diabetes insipidus too. It is important to discuss this with your vets.
For dogs with medical issues such as IVDD causing incontinence.
This in particular is a grey area for me, and if I said nay I'd be a hypocrite! So I am going to share what I do with Fudge. Fudge after 4-5 years of paralysis is regaining continence slowly. He suddenly becomes aware and will pootle off and sometimes go outside and other times stimulate himself to go (gross I know, but its a win that he knows!) I am convinced because he has access to his whatsit this has helped him relearn what it “feels” like to need to go. He has ongoing skin issues and when he first arrived, he had urine scald, his skin is very fragile. We also had the complication where his whatsit wouldn’t go back in its house and had sores and ulcers, which meant without a band he could get sore. It was a fine balance. I’ll save you the details on how we resolved that particular issue.
However with Fudge I only use bands if a) its bedtime (he sleeps in my arms) and b) we’re going to a friend’s….just in case. I use pads inside to ensure the excess is soaked up and warm water too gently wipe him off. These days they are usually dry when I remove them which is awesome! I also use barrier creams on any exposed areas to protect his skin. Its quite the routine! During the day I am observant. He doesn’t just release anymore so I can spot the signs and help him. It’s been a while since he’s pee’d on me thank goodness! I pop washable puppy pads under vet bed on the sofa for those just in case moments. They’re quick and easy to wash and dry quickly too.
For the girls I express regularly, and then use washable pads underneath them. They rarely have accidents and using this protocol means they are included in sofa time without me worrying about getting drenched! I have never used nappies with females. UTI's affect recovery alongside other issues, and can be painful. I'd rather the washing.
Again expressing for either gender is the key for incontinent (IVDD) dogs. It helps prevent infections, saves washing and helps them feel more comfortable. It can take a minute to get your head around it, but after a few successful toilet breaks, it comes much more easily.
I know everyone will have their opinions, and I’m not trying to guilt trip anyone. Whatever you decide to do is completely up to you. The purpose of this blog is to help you consider things that may not have even crossed your mind and to give you ideas on resolving your issues.
Finally, just to end on the question your going to ask. How do we toilet train them then?
First, try to remember how long humans take to toilet train. To really get it. To go from peeing whenever, to peeing in a nappy, to learning to use a potty, to a toilet and then they still regress at different ages for different reasons. Dogs are no different, except maybe we lack the patience we have with our kids.
If you teach them correctly, as a general rule, they do not have full bladder strength until they are about 1 year old.
Keeping an activity diary is really helpful, this helps you follow your dog (of any age) natural patterns. When do they need to go? What do they do before they need to go? Can you spot the signals. Once you know this, you can create a toilet training routine around your dogs needs.
Don’t just wait for those signals, still go outside with them and walk around with them.
When they inevitably go….DO NOT RUSH BACK IN! Let them sniff for a little longer. You suddenly rushing off may be perceived as a punishment for peeing outside (those dogs that rush in and pee on the mat?). They are really sensitive to these things, some more than others.
Pay attention to sniffing, circling, going to a door, whining.
Take them out after playing, sleeping, eating, drinking, even walks. Stay with them.
When they begin to toilet, use a verbal cue they can associate with the correct behaviour e.g. 'go wee’s'.
Reward them quietly and calmly – I’m not really a fan of using treats for toilet training. I have found some with be so keen for their treat it actually interrupts them emptying fully. I quietly, verbally praise them and then let them trot off to sniff. Nothing like using the environment to reward them after all!
Sometimes a scatter feed of lower value foods can encourage sniffing behaviours - which preceeds toileting.
Some dogs like privacy and shelter, try creating a space using wind breaks surrounding a table (you'd be amazed how many like that one!)
Stay outside a little longer and move around calmly with them and let them sniff.
If you spot they are about to go in the wrong place indoors, call their name calmly and give them your "lets go outside" cue and calmly take them to the right place. Try not to shout, you don’t want to scare them. This can lead to anxiety around toileting in front of you….and result in secret toileters!
Start building up the length of time to educate the bladders, don’t suddenly expect them to go from 1 hour to 3 hours without needing to go. It is very different being awake versus being asleep. I don’t need to pee at night (yet) but I couldn’t hold it that long when I am awake – don’t expect them to.
The aging hound
If your dog is aging, start reversing your training, go back to more frequent visits outside, calm praise for going and if they have an accident, just ignore it. They can’t help it. Make sure any pain is managed and if their mobility is going start putting easy to wash non slip mats down especially around areas where they sleep. My big old girl Lyka is terrified of slippery floors, and at the minute she is still solid on her legs! Humans develop a fear of falling too as they age. This fear may prevent them from going to the door,
If it is related to cognitive decline research has found gentle increases in mental stimulation alongside medication can have a huge impact on them in a positive way.
Do they only when you go out or leave the room?
If your dog is toileting when you are out of sight and/or they are left alone, this is more likely related to a separation related disorder. Please seek professional support. I try to run one off group sessions regularly and do 1-2-1 zoom sessions regularly with people to work on this. Please do not wait until the behaviour becomes unmanageable as it can be hard to resolve and can often lead to rehoming. It is best to address it as soon as you become aware of an issue.
I hope this blog has been helpful and got you thinking. I know its a hot topic, and as I said before I am not passing judgement. As with everything, there isn't a quick fix. And sometimes what appears to be a quick fix can cause you further issues down the line. It's best to get help now before it becomes a habit.