By Sherry Davis
Dogs don't dwell in the past.
Despite suffering deplorable treatment in a former situation, once their fortunes change they just move forward, ever-resilient and grateful that there are kind people in this world. People like Barbara Funk.
Barbara wrote me last week about a dog she has rescued that has a problem that she fears will affect its adoptability.
"A small dog showed up at our farm about a week ago. It had been terribly neglected, its hair was matted and it was starving. It was scratching itself to the point where there was no hair left on its face, only bloody abrasions and scabs. I fed it and decided I would take it to the pound the next day where it would probably be euthanized, which I felt was more humane than leaving it in its current condition.
"But because this dog exhibited such a loving, sweet disposition I didn't have the heart to have her put down. I took her to my veterinarian who shaved and bathed her, started her vaccinations, gave her a shot for the itching and started her on Ivermectin for skin mites. He thought she was some sort of Maltese cross. She is small and about 12 pounds now that she is eating. She has long hair, loves to fetch and just wants to be loved."
"But," Barbara continues, "my problem is that she defecates and urinates almost everywhere except on the grass and dirt. She uses our pool deck, which does not make her popular with my husband, and I have never had a dog before that chooses concrete over grass."
Barbara goes on to say, "She had a piece of twine around her neck, and judging from her behavior I think she was tied up her entire life and really doesn't know how to be a dog. How do I teach her to use the grass and even the flower beds rather than the pool deck? Having a dog isn't in our plans right now, but I doubt I can find a home for her while she has this behavior."
This is not an unusual problem. I often see it unintentionally "taught" by breeders who instead of accompanying their new litter of puppies outside to show them where to eliminate, simply open the door and push them out as they sigh in relief that the puppies have eliminated anywhere outside instead of in. The breeder then praises the puppies lavishly, which re-enforces the behavior, and hoses the patio down.
Of course if the puppies were staying at the breeder's, instead of going to new homes, they might think twice about what they are training them to do, but since the puppies will hopefully be sold in a few weeks, that becomes someone else's problem. Besides, they can proudly advertise them as housebroken!
This also happens with puppies that are raised and housebroken to apartment or condo patios and never walked on grass, which could have been the case with the dog that came into Barbara's life, or it actually may have been tied up and kept on a concrete surface and given no other choice but to eliminate there.
This behavior can be retrained by creating an environment where the dog can only eliminate in the correct area, but it does take effort on the owner's part, which consists mostly of patience and consistency. To achieve this, the owner has two options. One is to provide the dog a pen or kennel in an area on the grass where the dog is taken to relieve itself and establish its scent. The second option is to give the dog the entire grass area, but block off access to the patio or deck area until the dog is consistently using the grass.
In the area where the dog is to relieve itself the owner can place a paper towel or cloth saturated with the dog's urine to advertise it as a potty station. Avoid leaving stool down as some dogs will avoid that area and it does not produce as high of a "calling card" effect as urine. It is especially advisable to remove stool promptly in the case of a dog that has suffered from malnutrition, as those dogs may have developed coprophagic (stool eating) behavior in their effort to survive, or in the case of a dog who has been tied up, simply out of boredom.
Make sure that any places that have been soiled in the patio and deck areas are treated with an odor neutralizer and only allow the dog into this area on leash or under tight supervision.
Any attempt to eliminate in the incorrect area should not be punished, but interrupted with a simple clap of the hands or verbal "uh-uh" and the dog taken to the elimination area.
Leash walks will probably prove unproductive, but the exercise will stimulate the bowels and bladder (especially relevant in small dogs).
After a walk the dog can be placed in the desired area where eventually it will learn to eliminate on the new surface.
Every success should be celebrated with praise, a treat and the promise of a forever home.
Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @csi4K9s. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.