When the Levee Breaks

Now, cryin’ won’t help you
Prayin’ won’t do you no good
When the levee breaks
Mama, you got to move
- Led Zepplin, When The Levee Breaks

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Orion peed on the floor last week.

I’m not going to say it’s my fault, because I let him out, I saw him go, and I let him back in.  Besides, I’m not a big fan of blame.  I’m surely not going to blame Orion.  He’s a dog. What happened was this:

I took Sparta for a walk.

I know what you’re thinking.  How on earth could taking Sparta for a walk result in a mess on the floor from Orion.  Was Orion trying to get back at me?  Answer: No.  Dogs don’t work that way.  Here’s the blow-by-blow.

1) I know Orion is a super-hyper dog with a lot of energy.  If I don’t help him get rid of that energy in productive ways, it turns into nervous energy.

monkeyboy-oklahoma-oThat’s a bad thing. Orion had a lot of energy that morning.  I’ve been pretty busy, and haven’t been giving him quite enough outlets during the day.  Yes, we still hiked, but he’s a dog who needs a LOT of physical activity to be at his best. And while each day he had enough exercise to skim the energy off the top, I didn’t empty his cup, if you will.  Unfortunately, that builds up over time.

2) Orion has a nervous temperament as well.  He’s like a skittish racehorse. And when he has some shock to his system (like my taking Sparta for a walk before him, which is our usual MO), he literally can’t hold it anymore  Like a 4 year old on Christmas morning.  Yes, the child has been potty trained, but if you add too much excitement, nothing is stopping the flood.

Or as I refer to it, The Fountain of Youth

Or as I refer to it, The Fountain of Youth

3) I forgot who my dog was.  Orion has a bit of separation anxiety, especially with Sparta.  I know Orion initially self-soothed by, uh, eliminating in a high stress situation.  Yes, we worked on that, and he’s been amazing these past few years.  But this is a behavior you manage, rather than cure.  Orion hasn’t eliminated in the house in a very, very long time. I just happened to create the perfect storm for him.

So what should I have done?

1) Paid more attention to his need for activity.  Yes, I was busy, but that’s a reason, not an excuse. If I blow the engine on my car because I was too busy to change the oil, I don’t get a pass from the mechanic who has to replace my engine.  I’m the one who got the car/dog.  It’s my responsibility to change the oil/exercise the car/dog.  No excuses. Figure something out, or, in my case, clean something up.

2) Control the situation. So the amount of activity in our house has been down, meaning I was already setting Orion up for failure.  So I added on top of it.  I know he’s used to going for the walk first, and was ready to go!  Except, I reneged on him.  And rocked his little world.  That merely added to the stress he already had from lack of activity.

giphy (12)


3) Know your dog. This is Orion, not Sparta, who hasn’t gone in the house since, like, ever!  I know his triggers, and as I work with him, they trigger him less and less, but still, he has them.

So this week I’ve been proactive.  His amount of activity per day has been increased.  I’ve gotten him accustomed to being along in the house first, while I take Sparta for very brief walks, (like out the front door, down the driveway and then back) so he gets used to the idea and isn’t traumatized by it.

So now when I’m presented with two dogs who are each waiting for their (separate) walks, each with a lot of energy, I’m able to manage the situation better.  I hold up a leash and let them know I’m ready for my first solo dog walk of the day with one of them.  And rather than this reaction from each of them:

giphy (13)I get this.

giphy (14)Orion knows now that just because he isn’t first doesn’t mean he isn’t skipping his walk.  And I know now that good enough is only good enough for so long.  Now I’m very careful to make sure I get rid of all of Orion’s energy.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio




Faulty Logic

Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos.

Douglas Coupland

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Today I had a conversation with my friend Anne (not her real name), who was having some problems housebreaking her dogs.  I spoke with her for several minutes on the phone.  While I was sitting on my couch with a nice, hot cup of coffee, helping her identify the housebreaking issue, Orion jumped up on the couch, jumped over me, and knocked my arm holding the cup of coffee , spilling it all over my couch.  I pose  question: whose fault was that, mine or Orion’s?

The answer:  Neither and both.

Let me explain.  There is one mantra I’d like you to chant over and over again.  Something that will help you get through moments like the one I had today.  Moments when your dog chews up your favorite shoes, or leaves a puddle on the floor.  This is important enough to tattoo somewhere (inconspicuously, of course).  Something that explains why you’re having problems with your dog,and what your reaction should be:

My dog is a wonderful dog, who is learning to be human. I am a wonderful human, who is learning what it is to be a dog. 

Ink it

Ink it

It’s a learning curve for both of you!  Cut yourself some slack.  Cut your dog some slack, and understand that you are working on a bond that transcends species!  How many of us can say they have the perfect friendship/relationship/marriage that doesn’t have its ups and downs?  Not me.  And that’s a relationship that’s at least with someone who speaks the same language as you!  That’s why I’m completely, 100% against blame of any kind.  Wait a minute:  let me get Captain Jack to explain.  Everything sounds better coming out of Johnny Depp’s mouth, right?

But you HAVE heard of him?

But you HAVE heard of him?

Look at it like this…what are your goals for your dog?  To be good?  But a good what?  Your dog can only be the best dog he can be.  You can only be the best human you can be.  Leave room for lots of error.

There’s an old saying about how to housebreak a puppy.  Basically:

“A rolled up newspaper can be an effective training tool if used properly immediately after a housebreaking accident or if your dog chews something. Take the rolled up newspaper and hit yourself over the head while chanting the phrase “I forgot to watch my dog. I forgot to watch my dog. I forgot to watch my dog.”

hate that mentality.  Blame.  It’s like ketchup to a kid. It goes with everything.  

"Why yes, I would love a side of blame to go with my piping hot dish of guilt!"

“Why yes, I would love a side of blame to go with my piping hot dish of guilt!”

That’s not to say there isn’t a problem.  But let’s start out in the right frame of mind now, and starting off training by blaming anyone isn’t the way to go.   Here are some simple ways to appropriately deal with a situation that you’ve deemed negative (remember, “negative” doesn’t mean “bad”, merely that you don’t want that behavior again).  Let’s focus on the two problems that occurred today, Annie’s housebreaking problem and Orion’s incident, which we’ll dub Coffeegate:

Be rational.  Orion didn’t wake up this morning and decide to leave a huge coffee stain in the middle of my couch.  Dogs don’t premeditate anything.  The universe isn’t conspiring against me, and my life doesn’t suck.  I have a coffee stain on my couch.  End of story.  Your dog doesn’t hate you when he pees on the rug, nor is he getting back at you.  You aren’t the world’s worst dog owner and your dog isn’t stupid.  You’re trying (as a human) to understand why your dog is acting, well, like a dog!  Understanding the logic of another human is difficult, let alone another species.

Determine if there is indeed a problem.  Orion is allowed on the couch.  I’m allowed to have coffee.  Perfect storm of clumsy dog vs. clumsy owner?  Possibly.  Odds of the same situation happening again?  Minimal.  But that’s not always the case.  Housebreaking issues?  Yeah, you know that’s gonna happen again.

"Deja-Poo", when you feel like you'e pooped here before

“Deja-Poo”, when you feel like you’e pooped here before.    Britany Graham Photography

Have a plan.  My plan for the couch?  I flipped over the cushion.  My plan for if the perfect storm aka “Cofffeegate” starts up again?  The PAW Method.  Answering’s Orion’s questions about whether or not he can jump up on the couch when I have coffee (hint: read this article to see how).  Annie’s housebreaking issues are going to take a bit more effort, but here’s the Darwin Dogs’ method on dealing with housebreaking issues.

Move on.  Yes, come on. You can do it.  Don’t cultivate anger.  As Mark Twain said:

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

Now think about all the times your dog has been angry at you. Or blamed you for something.  Sparta, Orion and I had a pretty terrible day last week.  Within the first 2 hours of waking up I accidentally kicked Sparta in the face while going up the stairs, and then punched Orion in the throat when I reached for my phone.  Do you know how each dog reacted? Without blame.  I felt terrible. That’s because I’m stuck being a human.  My dogs?  They got over it instantly.  How lucky are they who have no word for “blame” or “guilt”.  As Hoagland stated so succinctly:

In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.

Brittany Graham Photogaphy

Brittany Graham Photogaphy

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio



Be grateful for the home you have, knowing that at this moment, all you have is all you need.

 - Sarah Ban Breathnach

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

So you’ve done your research and done a good job of it.  I’ve made an educated decision about which dog you’d like to adopt, and there he sits in the backseat of your car, on your way home.  You’ve got the the dog food, the vet appointment is set up, and perhaps you’ve even made an appointment with a dog trainer to get off on the right paw foot.

So now what do you do?

Here’s a step by step on how to acclimate your dog to their new home. It’s all about stages and not overwhelming a dog at any point.

1) On the way home, in the car, give your new family member plenty of time to sniff you. Give him a positive (a tiny reward or at least some praise and petting) every time.  What you are doing is linking your smell to a positive.  You’re a good thing.  That will translate later when he’s in a house that smells like, well, you.

Scent is a very important thing for humans.  We bond through scent.  We cradle babies by our armpits so they can smell us and be relaxed.  We hug for the same reason – sharing scent.  How often has a crying baby been brought in to snuggle with mom, and then, without nursing or anything, instantly falls asleep?  They smell mom and feel soothed.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

For a dog, nothing smells safer than pack.  Pack is like a security blanket, and the bigger that blanket is, the better it smells.  You are the dog’s new pack.  Familiarize him with the scent as much as you can.  Providing a lot of positive combined with your scent makes it a very comforting thing for new pooch needs.

2) Take your dog immediately into a quite, secluded area of the house.  If you’ve set a crate up for them, put them in the crate and just quietly hang out by them for a while, again, equating your scent with the safety of the crate.  The crate isn’t a bad thing, it’s their “bedroom”.  A place that is safe and entirely theirs.  Allow them to become familiar with it immediately.

3) Give frequent potty breaks.  A lot of shelters will say that a dog is housebroken because the dog never messed in their cage.  While they aren’t lying, the dog may not be housebroken.  A lot of dogs will not eliminate in their cage or crate.  Start off on the right foot immediately by following the basic rules for housebreaking, outlined here.

Don’t get upset if your dog marks in the house.  This can be quite normal for the first day.  A lot of dogs will do it once or twice, and then never do it again.  They are merely adding their own scent to the house, often as a way to self soothe.

4) Put yourself in the Pilot position.  I say over and over again that Piloting is a huge piggy bank, and whomever has the most money wins the position.  Start adding money to your bank immediately, before your dog has any chance to add money to their bank.  Don’t allow them to jump on you.  Don’t allow them to demand your attention (a dog version of “may I please be pet” should always be expected).   Start answering their questions now.  They’re going to want to know the rules of the house, so be kind enough to give them the answers.  Some answers are “yes” and some are “no”.  Read here to find out how to give it to them.

5) Take them for a (calm) walk.  No, not in the Metroparks, or downtown.  Try your backyard.  Somewhere that still sorta smells like pack, but will still require a leash (yes, even if your yard is fenced in).  You are adding even more money to your Piloting piggy bank.  If you need some help with leash walking, read this series on how to do it without drama.  Remember to praise and reward for any potty activity that takes place outside.

6) Put your dog on a leash and walk them around your house, allowing them to sniff and smell.  They are familiarizing themselves with the area, and it feels safer to explore if their Pilot/New Best Friend is doing it with them.  Remember, though, a lot of dogs have never been acclimated to living in a house.  Some may not know the rules.  They’re dogs not humans, so be prepared for some crazy behavior, such as jumping on tables or counters to investigate, etc. You have them on a leash so you can easily answer their question, which is, “Is this acceptable?”  Um….no, Fido.  Not in the slightest.

Do not allow your dog full run of the house immediately.  Start with small areas, and has your trust in them grows, go ahead and add areas of freedom for them.  Baby gates are integral for this.

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

7) Bedtime.  Ah…this can be the hard part.  You’ve set yourself up as Pilot, your dog is (mostly) acclimated to the house.  But now comes the scary part…being alone all night.  If you want your dog to sleep in bed with you, go for it.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  However, if the dog is to sleep elsewhere, you have to help them prep for this.  The worst thing you can do is try to pop the pup in the cage for the night without any prep work.

You are going to do a crash course in separation anxiety.  The first time he’s alone in his crate shouldn’t be for 8 hours while you’re (trying) to sleep.  Put him in the crate for five minutes, leave the room, come back and let him out.  Now try for 15 minutes.  You are creating normalcy out of being alone in the crate. Pop him in and out of the crate all day, focusing on longer and longer periods of time.   Think of it as dress rehearsal for the big show.  Trust me, you’ll thank me for this when it’s bed time.  For a more detailed description on separation anxiety, read this article.

Wash, rinse repeat.  Some dogs take 5 minutes to feel comfortable in new home.  Other take a little longer.  Take your time.  Don’t rush them.  They’re worth the wait.


Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Brittany Graham Photography

How To Get Out of The Trouble Urine

Patience is not simply the ability to wait – it’s how we behave while we’re waiting.
- Joyce Meyer

funny_dog_pictures_housebroken_soon-s500x375-220006Last week I did a post about identifying the different causes of improper elimination in the house (I would strongly suggest reading the post on how to identify the problem before reading how to fix it – cart and horse, ya know). Knowing why your dog is acting the way they are can be important in deciphering  how to address the situation.  Again, sometimes there can be a combination of reasons why a dog does their business inside instead of outside perhaps they were never housebroken and they are trying to dominate.  Let’s take a look at how to address each of these issues.  Just remember the three steps to working with a dog in any situation:

Control Yourself.  Anger gets you nowhere.  When you are dealing with housebreaking, it actually tends to put you backwards.  Get a grip, grab some paper towels and cleaner and realize you are dealing with an animal who is trying their hardest.  My kids weren’t potty trained until they were 2-3 years old.  Now remind me, you’re expecting what from a 10 week old animal?
Control the Situation.  You can’t add stimulation to a situation to gain control of the situation.  As it applies here:  if your dog isn’t trustworthy yet to go to the bathroom outside, why are you giving them free reign of the house?  Control what you can, and remove the rest until you are at a point where you can manage a bit more.
Answer the Question.  
Dogs are always asking questions, such as, “Can I go here?” or “Am I going to die if I try to poop outside?”.  Answer their questions.  Read how here.

So, now that you’ve got the groundwork laid, let’s start unravelling this problem.

images3421Your Dog/Puppy Isn’t Housebroken. 

As I stated last week, this one is pretty obvious, but frequently overlooked.  Just because you adopted an adult dog doesn’t mean they have been properly housebroken.  Housebreaking a dog should be done with almost 100% positive reinforcement, (again, read about when to give positives vs. negatives here). You are trying to catch and encourage a positive behavior, and, ahem, eliminate the negative behavior which you don’t want.  So we need to contrive as many positive behaviors as we can get.  Again, remember the steps:  Control yourself; control the situation; answer the question.  We need to catch the behavior of “going” outside as many times as we can, so we are going to make sure that’s the only time they can relieve themselves.  To achieve this follow these simple rules:

No more reign of the house.  They should be either in their crate (or in a small room), outside going to the bathroom, or attached to you with a leash.  I loop the leash around my waist and allow the dog to follow me, freeing my hands.  Yes, the first 20 minutes of this is pure hell as you constantly trip each other, but like all other things, pretty soon you get good at it. Now, I know what you’re going to say.  I can’t go my entire day with my dog attached to me!  But here’s the thing:  nobody said you had to .  If you can’t take it any more, put them in their crate.  Don’t be a martyr over this.  It’s okay to give yourself a break, even for a couple hours.  The key things we’re trying to do it catch when they’re eliminating.  If you can’t see it, you can’t control it.  A lot of dogs will sneak away to do their business, and you never know about it until you stumble upon it hours later.  Give your dog plenty of opportunity to relieve themselves, but keep in mind certain key times:  first thing in the morning and 20 minutes after they eat.

Okay, so now you’ve prevented them from going in the house.  How do you get them to understand that outside is preferable? Every time you take them outside, while they are eliminating, repeat the same word over and over, like a drumbeat, “potty, potty, potty”, or whatever word you choose.  The moment they are finished, start praising them and offer a high value food reward along with a big dose of love.  Congratulations:  you are now on your way to training your dog to go on command.

Gradually you can start to widen your dog’s area inside the house.  Leave them off the leash for 20 minutes while you are keeping a close eye on them.  If you catch them starting to lift a leg or to squat, immediately scoop them up, take them outside.  There is no punishment for miscommunication.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Your dog is stressed.

This is overlooked for by a lot people.  Orion is one of these dogs.  He’s completely housebroken, but if he gets extremely stressed, his first reaction is to eliminate.  How to work with this issue?  Pilot them.  Calmly.  Excess energy is what’s causing the problem.  You can’t add more energy to the situation to control it.  (Re-read the steps to working with a dog at the top of the page).  Think about the stressful situations you may be putting your dog in:  separation anxiety is stress driven.  With Orion, even positive energy can do it, such as excitement over going for a walk.  This is where maintaining calm is crucial.  Positive things happen when your dog is calm.  I will never put the leash on Orion when he’s anything other than calmly sitting and waiting.  I won’t wrestle the leash on a hyper mess of dog.

Think about what might be stressful for your dog, and remove the energy from those situations.  Also, look at your body language.  Sternly standing over a very submissive dog can trigger these kinds of reactions. In these situations, approach your dog calmly.  No yelling.  No high-pitched whiney praise.  Just good old calm, boring body language and calm, gentle praise.  And never discipline them for their accident.  The issue in these situation isn’t their improper elimination – it’s the lack of Piloting.

They are claiming something. 

This one is a bit tricky.  It’s usually done because your dog has more money in their Piloting Piggy Bank than you do.  If they are Pilot, they rightfully own everything, or are allowed right of first refusal.  They are doing what is normal and natural for a pack leader to do: put their scent everywhere.  Favorite places include children’s rooms, couches, your laundry that’s on the floor or even your bed.  This is the one situation you will use very mild negative.

But let’s look at the impetus for this problem:  you aren’t Pilot.  Start Piloting your dog, and usually the problem with naturally abate.  If your dog is no longer Pilot, and you’ve taken all their money out of their Piloting Piggy Bank, a lot of times you won’t even need to address this problem directly!

However, that doesn’t mean that when your dog lifts their leg on your new couch you just sit idly by.  Typically they aren’t doing it because they have to go…they are using their urine to mark their territory.  To claim something.  Well guess what – as Pilot, you don’t have to sit idly by.  Claim it right back!  Use calm, but firm, body language to back the dog off the item they are claiming.   And work on your Piloting in other areas!  If you Pilot your dog on a walk, when company comes over, etc., that transfers over to this issue as well.  Round-about approach and all.  It works.

They know that going outside is good, but they don’t realize that going inside is completely undesired.

Follow the steps to housebreaking a puppy. Again, gentle negatives can be used on dogs like this, gently backing them off from where they just went and removing them to where it’s preferred they eliminate.  You are answering a legitimate question, “Is it ok to go here?”.  The answer is “no”, not the verbal and physical equivalent of an interrogation.

They’re scared to go outside.

Again, this is a Piloting issue closely linked with a dog who’s problem is over-excitement.  A dog can indeed be afraid to go to the bathroom outside, as they are extremely vulnerable at that moment.  So Pilot them through the situation! Initially you may have to go outside with your dog with them on a leash.  Follow the same steps for housebreaking a dog, but remember, this is also at heart a Piloting issue.  If you can’t even answer your own door without your dog going berserk and interfering, then you can’t possibly expect them to trust you that hey, it’s okay to go to the bathroom outside where everyone can see you, including those big scary dogs next door.  Pilot them in other areas, and this will fall in line.

As you can see, Piloting is integral to almost all areas of a dog’s life, including housebreaking.  Work with your dog.  Earn their respect and trust, not your fear and your wrath.  Also remember, you are trying to communicate a very tricky concept to an animal.  Lay the positives down thick every time you get your desired result: elimination outside.

Keep calm and pilot onKerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Urine Trouble – Part 1

No matter what life brings you, always take a lesson from your dog:  kick some dirt over that s**t and walk away.   – Anon

705d9b596a39e4f1092b1e694bdb3504So many phone calls I receive start out with, “HEEEEEEELP!!!!!”.  Then a series of problems repeated quickly, like the small print of a lease option on a car being read by a radio announcer.  Somewhere in the explosion of problems, I hear “not even housebroken!”.

Most people assume that if their dog is going to the bathroom in the house, their dog isn’t housebroken.  But going to the bathroom in the house is a symptom of the problem, not the problem.

Ahhh....but there's a reason for that!

Ahhh….but there’s a reason for that!

Look at it like this:  imagine you have a headache, so you go to the doctor.  The headache is the symptom of the problem, not the problem.  You could have a sinus infection, head injury, or cancer.  Or did you drink too much last night?  Do you have allergies?  So many reasons for the same problem – a headache.  Sometimes it could be more than one of these issues.  Maybe you have a cold and drank too much last night.  Same thing with housebreaking.  So what causes a dog to do “it” in the house?  Let’s take a look at common problems:

The dog isn’t housebroken.  This is rather obvious, but sometimes overlooked, especially in shelter dogs.  Most dogs will naturally refuse to eliminate in their cage, crate, den, etc.  Most shelters dogs are either in their cage or taken outside for breaks.  That doesn’t mean they are necessarily housebroken simply because they never go in their cage – it means that they were never given an opportunity to do otherwise.

The dog is stressed.  Scent is a very important thing for humans.  We bond through scent.  We cradle babies by our armpits so they can smell us and be relaxed.  We hug for the same reason – sharing scent.  How often has a crying baby been brought in to snuggle with mom, and then, without nursing or anything, instantly falls alseep?  They smell mom and feel soothed.

For a dog, nothing smells safer than pack.  Pack is like a security blanket, and the bigger that blanket is, the better it smells.  A dog’s own scent is mingled into the pack scent.  In times of stress (read: separation from pack) they may try to self-soothe.  That’s why you frequently see dogs urinating in their crate.  It’s the equivalent of an infant sucking their thumb – they need to be soothed, and their doing it the best way they know how.

They are claiming something.  Yesterday I had a training session with two gorgeous whippet mixes, Wyatt and Willow.  About five minutes after I walked into the house, Wyatt (the dominant being in the house) lifted his leg and peed on a chair nearby.  His owners were horrified!  He had never done anything like that before.  What happened?

Well, Wyatt was in charge of his pack, humans included.  I walked in with strong, confident body language which he (correctly) read as my taking over the pack.  This was his last ditch effort to claim something from me.  It was, in essence a pissing contest (no, I did not participate).  It was the same reaction a guy will give if he sees another guy across the bar eyeing his girlfriend – what does he do?  Calmly places his arm around his girlfriend, stating to the world:  she’s mine.

They know that going outside is good, but they don’t realize that going inside is completely undesired.  It’s a simple mistake.  They think that outside is merely preferred to inside.

They’re scared to go outside. So many of my clients tell me that their dogs will go No. 1 outside, but No. 2 is done in the basement or some unused corner of the house, almost exclusively.   Why?  Well, let me ask you this:  why do you close the door when you go to the bathroom?  “Privacy” is the answer I usually get.  But what is privacy?  Privacy is when you are doing something that leaves you slightly vulnerable.  That’s why (ahem) certain activities typically take place at night with the lights off.  That’s why we close the door when we shower or, even more likely, go to the bathroom.  We’re vulnerable.  A dog is so much more vulnerable when they are going No. 2 rather than No. 1.  Think about what they do the whole time they are going No. 2:  scouting for threats.  Looking all around to make sure there’s nothing about to pounce them while they are indisposed.  Typically dogs who are not very self confident, or small dogs who are so much more vulnerable than their larger counterparts, have this problem.  Orion 7 lbs. of nightmare to housebreak for this very reason.  Sparta (all 100 lbs of her) was a dream to housebreak).

These are just a few of the many reasons why dogs will eliminate in the house.  Your dog may have more than one reason for going in the house.  Just remember, your dog is a dog – perfect!  They are trying to live, as a dog, in a human world.

Part 2 – How To Get Out of the Trouble Urine.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs LLC
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

Potty Problems

  Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.

  – William James

Um....yeah.  You're doing it wrong

Um….yeah. You’re doing it wrong

So you’ve taken the plunge.  You’ve gone to the local shelter and adopted an adult dog  who seems to fit your lifestyle perfectly.  Sweet disposition - check.  Good with your children – check.  Housebroken - check?

The shelter may have told you that your new dog is housebroken, typically what that means is the dog didn’t soil his/her cage frequently.  But here’s the rub: dogs won’t usually soil the space they are confined to.  Also, there’s more to housebreaking than just letting them know that the unsavory happens outside.  There are a bunch of nuances attached. For example, they may know that they can go outside, but that’s different than being forbidding from going inside ever.

Dogs also urinate and defecate for reasons entirely unrelated to actually having to go.  As previously discussed, dogs have an incredible sense of smell.  To them it’s probably their most important sense.  Compare it to how humans use sight: it’s that important to them.  So they do send signals and communicate occasionally using scent.  Urine can be used to claim things (you know That Dog who pees on everything).  They use it to send up a white flag of surrender, showing that they are not dominant at all  (this is usually done belly-up while trying to submit).  They do it because they are too excited (piddling).  Finally, they do it to self-soothe.  Nothing smells more like safety than your own scent.  It can be a combination of these reasons as well. Frankly, the reason doesn’t matter.  You pretty much handle the situation in the same way.

First, you must be Pilot.  If a dog has a calm, confident, benign Pilot, they are less likely to claim things because they belong to you.  They are less likely to need to self-soothe because they have Pilot to guide them through scary situations. The Pilot can “claim” their energy when they are winding themselves up to the point of almost piddling, and soothe them so they can calm themselves down. Piloting isn’t just a momentary thing…it’s an all the time thing.  So by Piloting the walk, you are putting money in your Piloting Piggy Bank for the next time Rover considers claiming your child’s bed. By claiming the door and guests when they arrive, you are helping your dog feel calm, and averting the piddling.  So in essence, by Piloting your dog in every day situations, you are actually helping to housebreak him.

Photo courtesy of Brittany Graham Photography

Photo courtesy of Brittany Graham Photography

But, down to the nitty gritty, how does your dog learn to only go to the bathroom outside, because even if we eliminate (ha!) all of the other variables, they still have to answer the call of nature. A couple of simple steps.  Your dog’s age will play a huge role in how long it takes to housebreak them.  A puppy can take a lot longer than an adult dog over 1 year (generally speaking, anyway).  But here are the steps no matter the age:

  1. Control yourself.  As with anything else, anger, rage, feeling the need to punish….none of these help, and in fact, will make the issue worse.
  2. Control your environment.  In other words, unless you can actually have eyes on your dog, put them in a contained environment.  A cage or crate will do just fine (your dog should have just enough room to stand up comfortably and turn around to adjust their position).  Sparta was trained to a specific mudroom (hey, she’s huge!).  We simply put up a baby gate.  You can also use a “monk lead” so your dog isn’t quarantined for their entire life.  Take the latch end of the leash, slip it through the hand part.  Now put the leash on like a belt and attach the latch to your dogs collar.  You’ve just created a hands-free leash.  Wear your dog around the house!  Your dog can bond with you, interact with you, but you don’t have to worry about him going off and doing his business in an unsatisfactory manner.
  3. Teach him that going outside is good!  Take your dog outside, to the same spot, frequently.  Eventually, they are going to have to do 1 or 2.  The entire time they are eliminating, repeat a word over and over (potty, potty,potty, potty,potty, potty)You are naming a behavior.  When they cease with their elimination, you cease with the word, replacing it immediately with Touch, Talk, Treat (praise, coupled with a gentle pet and a treat).  Pretty soon your dog will eliminate on command when you say Potty.

Some nits some of my clients have asked me about:

My dog will only go to the bathroom in the basement when nobody is home. Why?

Your dog is very submissive and/or nervous.  Remember, a dog’s defecation can be used in conjunction with claiming things.  If your dog is choosing to go where it absolutely can not be mistaken for his claiming something.  Dogs like that will choose to go wherever there is the least amount of competing scent: the basement, a rarely used dining room, etc.  They don’t want to cause a rift by covering your scent with theirs.  Keep calm and Pilot on.

My dog will go on my child’s bed!  How do I stop this?!

I see this a lot with adolescent dogs who are trying to find their pack order.  I saw this with Orion.  For a period of about a month, he would try to go on everyone’s bed (think about it…it’s the place that smells the most strongly of us).  Except mine.  He would try to pee on my husband’s side of the bed.  The kid’s bed.  You get the drift.  Since I had poured so much Piloting into Orion in every other instance of his life, he never bothered to try to challenge me.  We resolved this by my claiming the children’s rooms, and bed and my husband claiming our bed, by using the negative body language. We also kept Orion either on a lead attached to us or in his crate during this very trying time.  The behavior ceased with just a little time and a lot of patience.

Keep at it.  Keep a sense of humor.  And realize, just like with potty training children, accidents happen.

Photo courtesy of Brittany Graham Photography

Photo courtesy of Brittany Graham Photography

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio