Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I have a passion for potty training

A co-worker wrote to the pets list asking for advice. Normally, I try to stay out of non-work email threads because I can get sucked in, but I failed this time.

Here's the email:

My girlfriend and I got another dog so that our dog has a playmate. She’s 5 months old, and the breeder said she was potty trained, but I don’t see this as being the case. We’re having some problems with her:
1. Its hard to pick up a 60lb malamute and carry her outside when she starts peeing on the carpet. The stains are also a LOT bigger.
2. She seems almost determined to go in the house. I took her and our dog for a 6 mile walk yesterday. During the course of this walk she did not go to the bathroom. As soon as we got home and I let her off the leash, she bolted for the bedroom and peed on the bedroom floor.
3. When she does go outside, I treat her. She’s learned how to go in and out the doggy door, but still prefers to go inside the house. I’ll stay outside with her for an hour or more and she’ll sniff around and play, but she wont go to the bathroom.

Any suggestions on:
1. Breaking this habit
2. Carpet cleaner to make sure there aren’t any stains.

(After the initial email, it was established that she doesn't go in the crate.)

Here's my essay:

First, the good news: Given that she doesn’t go in the crate, you probably don’t have to take her to a vet or a behaviorist. Yay!
Second, the bad news: This is might be hard, but you can do it!

RE: Breaking the habit in the bedroom:

Move the crate to a clean unsoiled area of the house. Don’t let her into the bedroom anymore until you have completely cleaned the carpet. Serious cleaning. If you can, rent a cleaner. Run it until clear.

Then, apply an enzyme cleaner heavily. (e.g. Buy at least a gallon of Nature’s Miracle or Simple Solution, and don’t be shy. Petco has both. SS is supposedly better than NM, but NM worked for me with time and persistence.) Put garbage bags and heavy things on top of the sopping wet carpet to SLOW the drying process. You want to really let the enzymes REALLY work before drying out.

This isn’t so much for your landlord but for fixing the behavior. Worry about the stains once you fix the problem. (Renting the cleaner will probably help anyway.)

My experience with repeated indoor urination comes from a confused (and stubborn) cat, but the same principle applies. You have to make the room “new” again. I moved the litter box back upstairs and cleaned and dried and cleaned and dried and cleaned again. Only once ever last molecule of urine was gone would my cat use the litter box downstairs instead of the painted concrete floor. One accident can put you back to step one, so you want to be fairly serious about this process. (BTW, Never ever use kitty litter or sand to stop flooding in your basement with a cat in the house. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Stupid in hindsight.)

RE: When you want her to go:

Go to the SAME SPOT in your yard outside.
Give your command.
Have really, really good treats. (See below.)
Wait 15 minutes AT MOST. This isn’t sniff and play time. It’s business time.
Come inside.
Wait, but watch.

At the FIRST sign of ANYTHING (sniffing, squatting, looking concerned, the faintest whimpering, even breathing a little different), grab cooked chicken or roast beef and lure her to the door ASAP. Run if possible. (BTW, buying roast beef at the salad bar in PacMed is cheaper than most grocery stores.)

Go immediately to THE SPOT. Give your command.
Treat only if she goes. (Again, waiting no longer than 15 minutes.)

Party with the beef or chicken or better-than-gold treats and “good potty” like it’s 1999 and there’s no tomorrow if she goes. Duration of the party is important as well as quality. Tear up the treat and give her praise and treats for at least 5 full seconds. Longer treat parties really make an impression.

If she doesn’t go, tell her “too bad” and go back inside. Wait. Repeat. (The “too bad” is optional. Light negative markers sometimes help.)

Heck, if you’re into clicker training, use a clicker when she goes outside – and I bet you’ll get a dog that goes on command faster than you can say “Do your business.” (NOTE: You have to “charge” the clicker first! Don’t just click outside if she’s not familiar with the clicker. )

Sadly, I would also abandon the doggie door until she really “gets it.” I might also consider leaving Candie inside just to reduce stress and increase focus. Then again, Candie might add to the motivation. You could try it both ways. 

The 6 mile walk should be a reward for when she goes in THE SPOT.

As an aside, I bet she was holding it the whole walk waiting for the bedroom. Not out of spite or anything, but because she just hasn’t grokked going outside at her new home. Somehow she got the idea that pee belongs in the bedroom. It’s in the carpet, I bet. (See cat story above.)

BTW, you’re totally on the right track by leashing her to you. Keep up the good work. It’s all about managing the behavior inside by catching it before it happens if at all possible.

Good luck, and I really hope this helps!

I feel your pain. Really, I do.

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