Advice on problem dog behavior

I got a request for “advice’ recently that I wanted to post. It is important to always remember that this sort of advice can not be as thorough as that given by someone directly involved with the family or the dog. This advice should also not be used in place of veterinary care or professional dog training.

Hi Kristin,

We adopted Jessa three months ago…she was a stray wandering the streets of Aurora. We don’t think she was a stray for very long, as she didn’t really have any physical or emotional scars. She’s incredibly friendly to all people and other dogs. She loves kids. She’s a very happy and lovely dog. The vet says she’s about a year old, give or take a month or two.

We’ve been having a really hard time training her. She knows she’s supposed to go to the bathroom outside and does so most of the time, but in the evenings, if we’re not paying attention to her (i.e. if we’re eating or washing dishes or have company over) she will pee in our house. Often it’s away from us and we find it later…we rarely catch her in the act of it, so it’s hard to scold her. We’ve tried keeping her under close watch and she’ll do really well for about a week and then just when we think she’ll be good and we give her a little more freedom, she’ll pee. Monday night was the week mark since the last accident she had, and we thought she was going to pass it without incident. We were wrong. We had company over and sure enough, while we were cleaning dishes, she peed…not only on the floor, but on the couch as well. She then peed again in the morning after I left to go to work (my husband was still at home). That was three times in less than 12 hours—and she had been out and peed 10 minutes prior to the couch accident.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me if she has a UTI or something and I’ve considered that, but she seriously doesn’t have any other trouble or symptoms of UTIs in dogs. The accidents usually only occur in the evening. I really think this is straight up anger pee.

The pee also comes with some other bad behavior. They come at the same time, usually. The other bad behavior includes disobedient walking and pulling while we’re outside, generally not paying attention or obeying commands, not responding when we tell her not to do something (i.e. take and tear up tissues out of the bathroom garbage). It’s like she becomes a different dog.

To give you a little background, we have taken a seven-week training course, in which she did REALLY well. She seemed to thrive off of the work we did in the class. We’ve kind of gotten the same response when we train at home, but not quite as much…and it doesn’t seem to stick as well (though, admittedly, we don’t train at home as much as we should). When we told our trainer about the peeing problem, she suggested we tether Jessa to the door or someplace close by so she’s in the same room as us, but has limited mobility, so that we could keep an eye on her every time we eat. We have been doing that, giving her her bed and a bunch of toys (and sometimes a fun treat). it’s worked to a certain extent, though she doesn’t seem to like it. We bought a baby gate and tried to use it to keep her in a long hallway we have in our place, but she didn’t really seem to like that either.

The only thing I can think of that is the problem is the crate training. She is crate trained, and she does fairly well with it, but she is in the crate for quite a while during the day. She’s in there for about a five to six hour stretch until the dogwalker comes, and then another five hours until I get home. I take her for a half hour to forty minute walk in the mornings, and then again after work…a few times a week I’ll walk over to the dog park. We want to gate her in the hallway, but don’t want to (and have been advised not to) until she stops peeing in the house. But if she is angry about the crate, isn’t that a catch 22, then? Like, she’s peeing because she’s angry she’s in the crate, but she can’t be out of the crate until she stops peeing. It’s really frustrating! We’ve started letting her sleep in our bedroom in her dog bed during the week so she’s not in the crate all day and then again at night. That also seems to help…marginally.

My response:  Ok, here goes. Remember you asked for help and I really hope you take this to heart. If you want to see changes, YOU (the humans) have to change. The dog’s behavior will follow.

First of all you MUST get your dog checked by a veterinarian. You must rule out any health causes to behavior. And even though she doesn’t show any other “signs” unless you are a vet, you cannot rule out a medical cause. Be a good person. Have her checked out. I know there is low cost veterinary care at PetSmart in Geneva, if cost is a factor.

Ok, next there is no behavior that any dog ever does out of anger. Dogs don’t work that way, ever. They are not built like us psychologically and don’t hold grudges or act vindictively. That isn’t to say that dogs don’t have feelings and I suspect that feelings are part of this story, but she’s not doing it out of spite. She is likely peeing out of confusion about the rules of the house and acting “bad” out of frustration and loneliness.

She likely was not house trained prior to coming to your home. She seems to be house trained because when you watch her closely and read her signs and take her out, she potties outside. To me, that tells me that she is getting it, but the fact that she pees again in a week when you let up your vigilance also tells me that she isn’t 100% clear about the rules of the house. Also, if she returns to the same spot again and again you will need to treat it with a product that removes the protein in the urine…I like Natures Miracle. Just cuz we can’t smell it doesn’t mean they can’t. And if she smells her pee inside the house it tells her that it is ok to pee inside the house…so you’ve got to clean up all her spots with that sort of enzymatic cleaner. Then she has to realize that it is never ok to pee in the house ever, anywhere. This is a difficult lesson for a dog. They don’t get that one part of the house equals the whole house. They are very literal so she needs to learn that each and every space in the house is off limits to peeing. This will take you some time. Much longer than a week! I’d keep up that sort of vigilance for a month, and then limit her access to parts of the house with a little less vigilance for another month. I’d give it a good half a year before I would consider her completely house trained!

Another thing to remember about dogs is that dogs are social pack animals. You are now her pack. She has an inborn need to be with her pack. No dogs are “loners” so when she is alone for all those hours it is very difficult for her. So, when you crate her or keep her behind gates when you are home that must be like torture for her. She needs time with you. I instead recommend that owners house training their dogs put them on their leash and hook the leash to their ankle or belt and keep the dog tethered nearby at all times. Gives the dog the proximity they crave and you the supervision you need.

The “bad’ behavior you mention at night is all about her trying to expend some of her pent up energy. remember, we breed these dogs to work for us. Most dogs are capable of 10 hours a day of physical exertion. You are doing great giving her a total of 2 and a half hours of walking but for her, it is just a bit of what she really needs. And no wonder she loved obedience training – it was challenging to her mind, she got to hang out with her people, and she got attention and treats! All dogs usually love obedience training. I suspect that she isn’t getting enough stimulation in general. You said she was around a year old. Depending on the breed, she could still be in her puppyhood (very large breeds stay “puppies” much longer than other breeds). But even is she is a small or medium breed, 1 is still way too young to be left alone that much during the day! She must be going absolutely crazy with boredom and pent up energy! I give you tons of credit for hiring a dog walker, most people don’t even go that far, but she obviously needs more than even that. I suggest finding a good doggie day care. I work at The Water Bowl (formerly the Geneva Ruffners) and I highly recommend them. Tell them that you heard about it from me and you’ll get 10% off – here is a coupon you can print at home: WaterBowlCoupon (PDF format). You can get a 5 hour day of day care for $18.00, and if you buy a package it is even cheaper. That will help her immensely.

She needs more stimulation, play, and interaction than she is getting. Dogs have the emotional, physical, and intellectual needs of a human three year old…think of that, a human three year old. Would any of us ever leave a toddler alone in a crate for that amount of time?!? Never. But we think of dogs differently. We need to educate each other about this fact – most dogs need more than what we give them. Even if we just make a small change it can give them so much. Please try something different for her and see how much easier she is to handle.

In a nutshell here’s what I would suggest:

*Have your veterinarian do a thorough exam to rule out any physical reason for her pottying in the house.

*Keep her under close supervision for the next month, then off the leash but confined to the rooms where you are for another month. If she starts having accidents once you take her off the leash go back to the leashing for another week or two. This will take time but she will begin to understand. Your goal is no pottying in the house. It may mean that you need to take her out once every hour. If so, do it. Help her succeed.

*When you walk her, keep her in a controlled position at your side, not chasing all over the place out in front of you. This is basic leash manners and hopefully your trainer covered this and you already do this. Make sure your dog walker does the same. I didn’t talk about this in my response above but it is important.

*Keep walking her EVERY single morning before you crate her. And walk her again on your return home. Every day if you can afford it, or three times a week, have her go to a doggy day care or a neighbor’s house (a neighbor who is going to be home) in the afternoon. See if your dog walker can transport her there, after their walk, and you can pick her up when you get off work. You will feel less guilty and you will see a dramatic change in her behavior (I predict she will sleep most of the evening!)

*Practice her obedience training every day. Have her sit before getting her food. Have her lay down before going out on the walk. Practice all the skills you learned in your class throughout the day with her. Try to make it equal 10 minutes of training a day. Better yet, set aside 10 minutes a day just to train.

Good luck. Please let me know how this works out!!

4 Responses to “Advice on problem dog behavior”

  1. valerie - August 19th, 2009

    aw, cool to see my sister helping out my friend! I think these tips will really help. Jessa is the sweetest dog. There should be a picture to go with this story because she is seriously cuuute.

  2. Rob - August 20th, 2009

    very nice that you are helping out sweet jessa and her wonderful owners. these are great tips that all dog owners can learn from.

  3. Stop dog biting - September 7th, 2009

    Loving Dogs is well , but it may sometimes prove to be dangerous and difficult to deal with them . So the above points are really helpful to me and other Dog lovers to deal with .

  4. Kristin - September 8th, 2009

    Thanks Michael (Stop dog biting comment). Your points on your blog are sound advice. I worry about the “tap on the nose” suggestion, however. In my experience, most people get the timing and intensity of that sort of correction wrong – hitting rather than tapping or doing it too late after the bite that the dog percieves it as a rougher sort of play. If any of you are going to try any suggestion to curb biting, pay close attention to the respose from the dog – does the biting increase in frequency or decrease, does the dog appear fearful, wound up, or something else? Only through good observation can you determine what is working with your particular pup.

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