By Adrienne Farricelli
If you are in the process of potty training your puppy, most likely you have heard about the practice of rubbing a puppy's nose in pee and poop as a form of punishment. This practice though is not only not ineffective but can also lead to several side effects that can actually put your puppy's potty training process several steps behind. Fortunately, nowadays there are much better ways to potty train puppies. Following is some information about the negative implications of rubbing a puppy's nose in pee and poop and why you should never do that.
From a Puppy's Perspective
When potty training a puppy, it's important to see the world through the puppy's eyes. Young puppies are just like babies, they do not have sufficient bladder and bowel control until they reach a certain age. You can think of puppies as human babies who don't wear diapers. Now, think of a human baby having an accident while not wearing a diaper, would you ever think about scolding the baby? Most likely not! Actually, if one were to ever witness a parent scolding a baby for having an accident, that would appear quite inhumane!
In order to better understand puppies, it's helpful to understand some secrets behind the physiology of potty training. In normal adult dogs (or for that matter, any adult living being equipped with a bladder), urine keeps accumulating up until it reaches a certain threshold point of its capacity, during which special stretch receptors in the bladder wall activate.
When these stretch receptors activate, the destrusor muscles of the bladder wall contract giving the dog the urge to urinate. This triggers housetrained dogs to go to their potty area, through the doggy door or towards the door so to bark to be let out. Control of the muscular sphincter found around the neck of the bladder is what allows dogs to hold the urine, preventing it from seeping out. Once in the potty area or outside, dogs can finally relax the sphincter and urinate.
Now, in young puppies, by the time the bladder wall contractions take place, their bladders are already emptying! This is because they are unable to control the muscles of their sphincter. At what age do puppies attain sufficient muscle tone to allow them to control things a bit more? Stanley Coren, in his book "Born to Bark: My Adventures with an Irrepressible and Unforgettable Dog" claims that full control isn't reached at least until the puppy is 5 to 6 months old.
A Lesson on How Puppies Learn
There's one little caveat that many new puppy owners miss when potty training their puppy and training dogs in general: puppies and dogs learn by association, and these associations need to be as closely timed as possible in order for learning to occur.
So, if say for example, you come home from work one day and walk into a puddle of pee in the middle of the room and you scold your puppy, your puppy will have no clue what he's being scolded about. How fair is that?
Actually, even worse, most likely your puppy will think he's being scolded for just looking at your or greeting you for coming home! If this happens often enough, your puppy will start viewing you as a weird lunatic who lashes out for no particularly reason. Your puppy's trust towards you is negatively affected. This, once again is because your puppy cannot associate the scolding with any wrongdoing.
Research on animal learning has shown that if you fail to reward a desired behavior as it happens, or within a second, or even better, half a second, there are chances that the dog will not associate the behavior with the reward The same goes with punishment. So if you scold your puppy, or worse, rub your puppy's face in pee or poop that you found laying around your home, your pup will have no clue why you're acting that way!
"Success of behavior modification depends on the timing and relevancy of the punisher or reinforcer.... Inappropriately applied rewards can result in problems such as rewarding the incorrect behaviors and potentially increasing anxiety. However, poorly applied punishment does not just result in poor efficacy, but also becomes a welfare concern."~Dr. Darryl L. Millis, David Levine
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Unwanted Side Effects
On top of your puppy not having a clue as to why you are rubbing his nose in his feces, there are several "side effects" that can really put a dent in the potty training process and your bond with your pup.
After being punished by rubbing his face in accidents several times, the puppy starts associating the presence of feces (or even worse, your presence!) with a negative experience. What can this lead to? It can lead to the expansion of behaviors that may turn out being even more troublesome than the actual pee-pee accident itself!
For instance, puppies that start associating the presence of their feces with punishment, may learn to start eating their feces as a way of hiding their presence. This bad habit is called coprophagia, and if not tackled early, it can turn into a long-lasting problem that persists into adulthood.
And even if the punishment is properly timed, (say dog owner rubs puppy's face in pee immediately after the fact or swats the pup's derriere with a newspaper) another big problem consists of secretive voiding habits. In other words, the puppy has learned to associate the owner's presence and the act of voiding with punishment and therefore the puppy urinate and defecate in areas that are out of the owner's sight (like under the couch or bed or behind furniture).
Not to mention the fact that the puppy's owner is also associated with punishment. The puppy may therefore learn to lack trust in the owner which leads to several maladaptive behaviors such as avoidance, tentative approaches, fear of being handled, easy startling (and often even submissive urination which is misinterpreted as a puppy being difficult to potty train!) when the puppy instead should be comfortable near the owner seeking the owner for guidance and security.
What to Do Instead
As seen, rubbing a puppy's nose in feces leads to problematic side effects, the puppy doesn't learn anything other than possibly fearing the presence of urine and feces! Additionally, the puppy can develop fear of voiding in front of the owner, seeking secretive places and potentially fear of the owner himself.
When a puppy becomes fearful of peeing in front of the owner, once he has attained better sphincter control, as mentioned, he may start voiding in secretive places. The moment he therefore feels the urge to potty, he will head under the bed or couch or behind some piece of furniture to potty. This can put a big dent in the potty training process. Why is that?
When your puppy has to potty, rather than hiding, you want your puppy to give you clear pre-potty signs such as sniffing around, whining or heading towards the door, so that you can take your puppy promptly out and set him for success.
So therefore, please stop punishing your puppy for having accidents around the house. Instead, focus on rewarding your puppy for telling you he has to go potty by quickly praising him and gently escorting him outside. You can even train a cue so that your puppy follows you quickly outside such as "let get out!" as you rush together towards the door and go outside. Practice it and make it a fun game so that you can put it to good use when needed.
When your puppy goes outside and empties his bladder and bowel, lavishly praise and reward. Behaviors that are reinforced, repeat and your puppy will be soon on his way to being successfully potty trained. A win-win situation for all!
Did you know? Education is important! Spread the word about the implications associated with the practice of rubbing puppy noses in their pee and poop. In a study published in 2000 (New et al.) involving owners of puppies relinquished to a shelter, almost 32 percent believed that rubbing a puppy's nose in its mess was helpful, while 11.4 percent indicated they were not sure whether it was beneficial or not. Most likely, this is because dog owners mistakenly thought the puppy had learned not to potty in that specific spot, when in reality the puppy was instead just picking a different spot, possibly out of sight!