The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" October 2002
Research Theme: "Research into Toilet Training for Household Dogs"
By Fumiko Oda
Graduate School of Social and Cultural Studies
Nihon University
As more collective housing residents continue to keep pets, and as the general trend toward keeping dogs indoors continues, it is clear that thorough toilet training will be increasingly important. Until now, the thinking on the toilet training of dogs has been that items such as the environment of the toilet area and the smell of urine should be used as stimuli for conditioning the desired response. But Fumiko Oda and her group’s studies of psychology have led them to believe that it is worth researching whether excretory behavior can be shaped through the use of added incentives. Based on the theory of behavioral analysis, this research project consisted of carrying out a training program using repeated rewards for desired behavior. The object of the training is to get the dog to suppress the urge to urinate or defecate when it arises, go to the desired toilet, and then urinate or defecate instead of reliving itself on the spot or wherever it prefers. In other words, the dog should be able to go to a specified place to relieve itself.

The five dogs who were subjects of the study were all puppies from 70 to 150 days old, and their owners conducted the training in accordance with the study. The period of the study was divided into a baseline phase, an intervention phase and a follow-up phase, during which the subjects’ excretory behavior was observed and evaluated according to the criteria of behavioral analysis. Since the baseline phase was intended to determine the current state of behavior, the dogs’ urination and defecation times were recorded for several days after the establishment of the desired toilet area and facility, in addition to whether the dog had used the toilet or some other place.

In the next phase, training was conducted in which the dog’s owner would provide it with a reward (reinforcement) for the behavior immediately after the dog used the desired toilet. Owners also led their dogs to the toilet area when they appeared to be about to defecate or urinate (prompting). After the training had been carried out to completion, the follow-up period began, in which the frequency of rewards were gradually reduced.

“In almost all cases, the dogs learned the target urination and defecation behavior,” Oda said. “Among the changes among subjects during the intervention phase were conscious reactions to the reinforcement, such as an increase over the baseline frequency of defecation and urination when the dogs would go to the toilet repeatedly, demanding a reward each time. But when rewards were given as other behavioral training was begun, such as sitting up, the frequency was reduced. This is because as behaviors other than excretory presented new opportunities for obtaining rewards, the likelihood that the subjects would choose urination or defecation as a means of obtaining rewards declined.”

It was determined that the cases in which the subjects were unable to learn the desired excretory behavior were due to a failure on the part of the owner to guide the dog to the desired area or to consistently offer rewards. In other cases, dogs defecated in inappropriate places and then ate their own excrement, which functioned as a reward. In other words, the success or failure of the training can differ greatly depending on the attitude of the owner. Oda plans to continue this research, expanding the variety and age ranges of the subjects.