Somewhere, in the depths of my closet, is a photo of Cosby, a St. Bernard I used to own, pooping in front of a sign that says “No Dumping.” I thought of it because recently several people have called about house training problems. Winter weather can make it more difficult for dogs to eliminate outside, and create bad habits that can last long into spring and summer. Where your dog potties isn’t a very sexy topic, but getting it right is critical to having a good relationship with your dog. Here’s a primer on preventing (a job that’s never done!) and treating house training problems.
The Nose Knows! Dogs define “the bathroom” with their nose, just as you define it visually. While you look for the sign “Restroom” and that round white thing we call a toilet, dogs sniff for a spot that smells like a bathroom. Ice and snow can make that more difficult for them, so be sure to shovel an area that allows your dog to find the scent that says “This is the Place!”
Here are some basics to keep in mind if your dog starts to go in the house: (For a full description of preventing and treating house training problems, see Way to Go: How to Housetrain a Dog of Any Age.)
Thank You! Reinforce your dog for going outside by giving treats to him or her immediately after the act. Don’t call your dog to come and then give a treat—if you do, the treat is for coming, not going potty. If your dog hesitates because of the snow or rain, use treats to sweeten the pot and lure her outside. I generally avoid teaching dogs to go in a box or on pads in the house, because so many of my clients’ dogs have ended up using the entire house as a litter box. Eeeps, not good.
Stay the Course: Does Ginger sniff, sniff, sniff when you take her outside, but just won’t seem to do her business? Perhaps it’s because you take her back inside right after she potties. Try putting elimination on cue, give her a treat for going, but then stay outside for a minute more, so that she doesn’t learn to delay her bathroom duties to prolong her time outside.
Be better than poopsickles! Ah yes, many dogs seem to love the frozen poop of others; even when they ignore it in summer. (Are you reading this, my Maggie?) Coprophagia isn’t usually a serious health issue, but then, there are those sloppy kisses—Argh! Take treats out with you and be ready to give your dog something much better to munch on when you are outside. Put your dog inside and clean up the yard without competition.
Back to basics: Treat accidents (“Oh no! I dropped my urine!) as if you had a puppy in the house. Neutralize the odor (no carpet cleaners please), “redefine” the area by feeding the dog in that spot, and/or turning it into a cuddle zone.
Be Proactive: Most importantly, don’t wait until you have a full-fledged problem. Change up your routine at the first sign of trouble, before one little accident turns into a bad habit.
If you or your clients have had a housetraining problem for any length of time, I strongly recommend using a resource, like Way to Go! to address the problem once and for all. Then all you have to worry about is fur on the couch… and we’ll just define that as a accent suggested by your decorator.
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