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 email@example.com.
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Dog Gone Problems,
Our family has just adopted our first dog ever — a 2-year-old German Shepherd mix named Sherwin. He is kind and eager to please. The first day we brought him home, we searched "dog training" and discovered your website. We fell in love with your approach of positive reinforcement, petting with a purpose and the apparent fast results.
We are so pleased with how quickly our training is changing Sherwin's behavior. We have had him for about six days now. After hours of watching your videos, reading your articles and practicing all of the behaviors and training we can absorb, Sherwin respects boundaries when they are set, seems more confident and relaxed, and obeys commands almost every time, immediately.
My question is this: In the six days we have had Sherwin, he has not pooped outside one single time. He occasionally pees outside — and the occurrences of peeing inside seem to be lessening — but he will only poop in the house. He doesn't have a favorite spot and does not hide to do it. He usually doesn't even sniff at all before pooping on the floor. Between the four of us, we make sure he goes outside at least one time (often twice) every hour. From your videos, we learned to keep our trips outside to five minutes and keep him on a leash and attached to us when we come back inside if he did not pee or poop, and try again in 15 to 30 minutes. He always gets a treat when he pees outside and we use the command word "business" as he gulps it down.
I know it's only been six days, but I'm wondering if there is something else we can do to help Sherwin learn to poop outside. You mentioned in one of your videos that if your dog does not poop outside, it can be because he has been disciplined harshly for going in the house. I think this may have been the case for him at his previous home. We are very careful to be non-reactive every time it happens. Most of the time it seems like we should be taking him outside immediately afterward, but now I am wondering if he feels rewarded by that.
I'm hoping you have some guidance to share, or even just reassurance that this will eventually change if we stay consistent with what we are doing. I would very much appreciate an email back, or even a phone call. Kindest regards from your new biggest fans.
Thanks for reading, watching and writing in. I'm pleased to hear that my columns, posts and videos have helped you and your family. It's great you understand that your dog isn’t pooping inside the house on purpose to upset you. Sadly, many people take these mistakes personal and punish the dog, which almost always backfires.
It takes dogs about eight hours on average to digest their food. Liquids are typically digested in about 45 minutes.
I have found most dogs are pretty regular with their bowel movements if we are regular when it comes to feeding times. So step one is to put your dog on a specific meal time. I always recommend dogs eat two or more times a day.
At meal time, offer your dog his food but stay in the area and monitor things. If he doesn’t come over to eat within a minute of calling, try eating something yourself first. Dogs eat in the order of rank, so some dogs may not eat in front of you. It doesn’t have to be a lot; five bites is sufficient. If your dog still doesn’t show any interest, dump the food bowl empty but leave the empty bowl on the floor until this next meal. This is important, as it often helps a dog see and understand that feeding is a special time. Eventually, your dog will eat when food is offered.
The next step is to project when that food will be eliminated, roughly eight hours later. Set a timer for eight hours and, at that time, take your dog out for a long walk or run if it hasn’t had an accident inside before the eight hours is up. Movement can help the process along. If your dog doesn’t go on the walk, hang out in your yard and have someone there the entire time.
You also need to make sure that you have some amazing treats — preferably five or so of them — with you or whoever is watching the dog. Warm chicken and liver treats work great for this. When you get that outdoor No. 2, you want to give the dog such an amazing reward that it is memorable. We call getting this many treats a row a “jackpot,” and this is certainly a situation that calls for that.
It will be important that you don’t let your dog inside until he eliminates outside, so plan accordingly. Do this on a day when you have people who can help take turns watching and walking your dog. If he poops outside and the person misses it, you will have to repeat this process more than you need to.
When your dog does start to go, say the command word calmly once. Many people mistakenly get so happy they say the word in such an excited tone it stops the dog from completing the act. As soon as he finishes, drop to a knee and call your dog while holding that super amazing treat out towards him. Give him the five treats in a row while saying the command word with each treat. After that, spend a few minutes doing whatever your dog absolutely loves — belly rubs, chasing him around pretending you are Frankenstein with locked legs (most dogs love this), a game of fetch or tug of war. You want to follow the act of pooping outside with some fun.
You may have to repeat this a few times in a row. Normally I have my clients start this process on Friday so they can have a few days without work to practice, but with the coronavirus outbreak, many people have time every day of the week.
One other tip: keep a journal of solid eliminations. Write down the times you feed the dog and the time of the solid waste bowel movements — even if it was inside. The idea with the journal is to narrow down the time your pup “needs to go” to make it easier for you to know when to start the walk or time outside until a successful elimination takes place. If you follow this potty-training protocol for a few days, I'm betting you will be able to solve this problem.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.
Meet the 10 (very good) dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest
These are the very good dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest. All are up for adoption as of March 10. For more information on the adoption process and to see all dogs available for adoption, visit nehumanesociety.org/adopt.