Poodle owner Stan Saw describes how he taught his pets to go to the loo when it's time for their doggy do.
I’ve always liked poodles, not because of the crazy haircuts or the big ears, but because they’re usually very intelligent little dogs.
My poodle pals Whisky and Brandy recently showed off skills that took me totally by surprise. If you’ve never met them, you should know that Whisky and Brandy, aged eight and two, are toy poodles who live with Stan Saw, a rep from a pet food company.
Whisky and Brandy are very social pooches, so last week when I went to their office, I was greeted with the usual wild excitement. If you think a kindergarten can be noisy, just wait until you hear two pint-sized poodles say hello.
Brandy acted as if she hadn’t seen a human being for a year. She went careering around the office, barking her head off. Of course, she ran straight into Whisky who was busy barking hello, too. Upset by Brandy’s dreadful manners, Whisky rushed off to chastise her, and both ended up yelling and racing around. It was complete pandemonium.
The barking stopped when I sat down. Whisky likes to have his ears rubbed, but he’s not fond of being picked up. Brandy is a complete cuddle bug. She hovered around my feet, looking up and giving me the full power of her pretty black eyes. When I patted my lap and invited her up, she soared into the air, landed and made herself at home.
Cats and toy poodles are about the same size, but it’s curious how differently they jump and feel. My cat Guido is about Brandy’s height and length, but when he comes for a cuddle, he leaps like a mountain lion and you know he’s landed on your knees because my boy weighs a hefty 5kg or so.
Brandy jumps with a snap, like a bunny rabbit, and she feels like a puff of air. If she weren’t rubbing her nose into my hands and demanding compliments, you wouldn’t notice her.
Brandy and Whisky look too small and delicate to be rough-and-tumble street dogs. They’re ideal for sofas and manicured parks, but not for industrial estates or busy city streets. And this is where the surprise comes in: Whisky and Brandy use the bathroom, just like people.
Brandy was trained by her home breeder to use a “wee wee pad”, and Whisky was taught to use a bathroom by his “dad”. While I’m there, both dogs do their business neatly and without fuss. Whisky goes for a pee in the loo, peeing very nicely over the drain so that all his humans have to do is run the hose over the spot. Brandy then demonstrates how to use a wee wee pad – a soft square thick absorbent mat placed in a corner.
I’m used to cats and rabbits using litter trays, but to see a dog doing it is unusual. Stan insists it’s a simple thing to do, but as he’s a very dedicated and knowledgeable dog-lover, I got him to lay it out for me step by step. And you know what? It is simple!
“You’ve got to work with the dog’s instinct,” Stan explained. “Dogs tend to be tidy and they want to please. So you’ve already got a willing student. All you have to do is get the message across. First, you have to assign a toilet space. That means your dog has to learn what to associate with toilet. I worked with newspaper.”
Stan covered the floor in layers of newspaper. Whenever Whisky went to the loo, Stan praised him. Then Stan began removing small sections of newspaper.
“A dog prefers paper to no paper,” he explains. “So naturally, he’s going to stay away from the small open space and move to the large newspapered area. I took one small section of newspaper away from the middle of the room after one week. When that went well, I gradually removed more and more paper. After a few weeks, we were left with a small papered area in a corner, perfect for a poodle potty.”
It took Stan a month to get Whisky from using a bedroom-sized space to using a space covered by an open broadsheet. He points out that Whisky was unusual. First, he’s a very clever little dog, even for a poodle, which makes him easy to train.
Whisky was already an adult when Stan adopted him. Also, Whisky had been kept isolated in a crate so he wasn’t properly socialised. Usually puppies are super-easy to train, but adults can be a much bigger challenge. Even so, Stan thinks it’s possible to train any dog this way.
“All you need are the three Ps: patience, patience and patience,” he maintains. “Remember that it’s you doing the training and that the dog wants to please. It’s not going to be perfect right away and it’s probably your fault for not communicating properly.
“If your pet doesn’t get the ‘newspaper is toilet’ association, watch carefully. When you see him begin to squat, rush over, gently move him into the right space and praise like mad. Ignore accidents. Don’t yell, scold or beat.”
Training the dogs to use the bathroom was an extra step that Stan says was simple. “We just slowly relocated the newspaper to the bathroom and Whisky got the association pretty quickly. I think because drains smell, he knew what was wanted.
“Brandy was wee wee pad-trained as a pup, so when she came to live with us we kept that system for her. However, she also uses the drain in the bathroom because she sees Whisky doing it. We like our dogs to use the bathroom because it’s tiled and very easy to clean. However, you can also use a wee wee pad or a litter tray.”
Curiously, Whisky will go and use the bathroom if his dad says “shi-shi”.
“This is something he picked up because I was saying it when he was being trained,” Stan laughs. “It can be very useful if you’re going out, you know. You can say, ‘Let’s go to the bathroom at home before we hit the road’. We use the same word always, so if you’re going to try this, help your dog associate a word with an action, like shi-shi, pee pee or wee wee.”
Incredible, right? Poodles – underneath those fancy cuts and sweet ways, they’re really brainy.
NEXT PAGE: Should You Get A Poodle For A Pet?
SHOULD YOU GET A POODLE FOR A PET?
Some of the earliest poodle-like dogs appeared alongside Roman nobles some 2,000 years ago. However, the modern poodle breed became widely known in the 1600s in Western Europe.
Standard poodles were popular country dogs because they’re easy to train for hunting, and have lovely house and carriage manners. The smaller breeds were popular city pets as they’re clever and easy to exercise.
Poodles feel different to most dogs because they have curly hair instead of fur. They shed hair just like other dogs shed fur. Good news if you’re sensitive and prone to allergies: The poodle’s hair is less likely to trigger an allergy attack.
The poodle’s hair is also easy to clip, that’s why pets like Brandy are commonly seen sporting pom-poms and ribbons. Pretty but pricey. White poodles are particularly hard to maintain. It seems there was a short-lived craze for bear cuts that make poodles look like teddy bears.
Because of their looks, the poodle is much sought after. People buy them like soft toys, then later discard them. Great if you’re making money from pet sales; not so good if you’re the pet. Last month, SPCA Penang reported they had no fewer than three poodles up for adoption.
There’s another flip side: Being highly social and intelligent, they must be kept occupied and amused. A lonely poodle will howl and pine, and can be destructive.
If you’ve got the time and the love, and you want a bright dog, check out the poodle. If you love dogs but don’t have the resources, buy a stuffed toy – and visit poodle friends. They’ll be delighted to see you!