What having a puppy taught me about potty training

I’m sure many people would find comparing their child to a dog somewhat strange, but their needs are not so different when it comes to toilet training. So why do we approach the two so differently?

It is recommended to toilet train a puppy using positive reinforcement. This means rewarding your dog for desired behaviours and ignoring or preventing undesirable ones. Potty training a child, however, is a very different process for most people.

puppy potty training

Dogs can be highly intelligent. Some authors have suggested they are equal to a toddler (1) . When toilet training a pup, there are no nappies and we expect them to house train early. To do this, we look for signs that the puppy needs to go, we teach them words and places to associate with doing it and we set a routine. We make sure the pup is given regular opportunities to wee and poo in the right place, we praise them for efforts and successes and we prevent them from making mistakes.  We expect accidents and we take responsibility for teaching the puppy the correct behaviour. We assume they are capable of learning the required skills. With consistency, the puppy learns fast.

toddler potty training

Babies can be highly intelligent. Some authors have suggested they are equally intelligent as dogs (1) . When potty training a toddler, we start by using nappies and delay potty training.  We ignore signs that the baby needs to go, and we teach them that the nappy is the toilet. We don’t give them opportunities to wee or poo anywhere other than a nappy. We don’t expect (or tolerate well) accidents and we wait for the toddler to tell us they are ready to potty train. We expect them to take the lead with this process and we worry about doing it too ‘early’. We are often inconsistent with our approach and commonly feel unsure how best to go about things. We have a growing problem with constipation and wetting and a looming environmental catastrophe as a result of using disposable nappies.


Are toddlers and puppies so different? Both are highly intelligent and learn best through experience and positive reinforcement. So why do we take such a different approach to this basic but essential milestone?

potty training is culturally dependent

In mainstream western cultures, parents have different expectations towards what their child can learn and experience and when this can happen. They also have different expectations on how to manage their babies’ needs. However, this is very different in other cultures. Did you know that around the world, 50% of all babies are potty trained by 12 months and in 75 countries, babies do not use nappies all the time? (2)

BABY POTTYINg: the logical approach

There is an alternative: baby pottying (also known as elimination communication). With this approach, potty learning begins as early as birth and is very similar to puppy toilet training, except that most parents will use nappies at least some of the time.  Using this approach, babies can be reliably clean and dry as young as 6-9 months old. Parents expect to take the lead with teaching their child the necessary skills, gradually handing over control to the child as they gain competence to do them independently. There are many benefits to this approach, especially in terms of avoiding bowel and bladder problems that may persist into later childhood.

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