Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Dog Gone Problems,
I have two Yorkie boys — Patrick and Blue — both coming up on 6 years old. They love the family — me, my husband, and our two daughters. Everyone takes them for walks, feeds them, plays with them; it’s really a family effort. So what’s the problem you ask?
If my husband insists the boys go outside to potty, they will often run to my feet. It’s almost as though they are afraid to go with him. But they clearly love being with him. If I sit on the sofa — bam! — they are right there with me. If I’m in the kitchen, Patrick is well known to sit on my feet while Blu likes to join me in the bathroom.
Although he does know to go to the door, if we don’t see him right away, Patrick is known to pee in the house, so we are very vigilant in getting him outside regularly. I just don’t know how to interpret his hesitation when hubby insists they go outside. They are good once they go out, but getting them out for him when they aren’t in the mood ... ugh.
Its hard to say for sure, but if I had to wager a guess, I'm assuming you got the dogs as pups and, during their imprint period, you spent more time with them so they bonded more deeply with you. Also, if you are home with the kiddos and your hubby is off working, you are obviously spending more time with them, which can also create a stronger attachment.
The good news is this is an easy problem to fix. But before I get to the solution to the door, you may want to check out this video that covers how to teach your dog to ring a bell to say it needs to go out to potty.
For your back door, I'd suggest we create a bit of a conditioned emotional response. This is where we create a positive association of an activity or object, and break down exposure to it into small steps.
The first thing to do is come up with a completely new command to go outside, such as ”adventure,” “yard” or “patrol.” I prefer using fun command words as dogs can read facial expressions. If you pick a word that makes you smile, every time you use it, the dog see’s its actions please you, which motivates them.
Have your husband practice this without your presence for the first three to five sessions. You should be gone from the home so there is no conflict about wanting to run over to you.
Have your husband get some high-value training treats. They should have a strong smell (I prefer chicken liver). Have him grab a seat where he normally sits, then toss a treat towards the door. After the dog is going to get the treats at that location right away without any hesitation, then he should start tossing the treats closer and closer to the door. This should take 7 to 15 treats or so.
Once the dog is going all the way to the door, the next step is for your husband to walk over there, open the door and toss a treat outside the door (just two to three feet outside). When the dog eats the treat, your husband should say the command word once in a normal tone of voice. Let the dog run around outside if he wants. When he comes back to your husband, have him repeat this procedure until he has tossed out 5 to 10 treats.
An hour or more later, have your husband go to the door with the dogs in the room and you not present. Let the dogs see your hubby has treats, but tell him not to give any commands to come to the door. If the dogs don’t come on their own, have him go sit down and wait a minute or two before going to the door again. As soon as either dog comes to the door, have your husband give him a treat, then go and sit down. Wait a minute or longer and repeat this process. He should practice this step until both dogs are running over to him any time he moves towards the door.
The next step is to walk to the door, open it and immediately toss a treat two to three feet outside the door while leaving the door open. When the dog eats the treat, have him repeat the command word right after it goes into the dog’s mouth. Ideally he would practice this 8 to 10 times per practice session.
Your husband should then go to the door and toss a treat out as detailed above 10+ times a day (without you present) for three to seven days. After a while the dogs should start running out the door before he tosses the treats. When they do this the first few times, he should give that dog a few treats while saying the command word after he puts each treat into the dog’s mouth.
By the end of the week, your dogs should be racing to the door and running out as soon as he walks over to or opens the door — even when you and your feet are in the room!
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.