Teaching Your Dog to Eliminate On Command

Walking the Dog:  Hurry Up, Rover!

BeauLIftsLegMy dogs have learned a lot of commands, but none is more important than “Hurry up.” Yes, that wonderful command prompts them to get the job done quickly so I can return home to a warm cup of coffee on a cold morning. Now don’t get me wrong. “Come,” “Sit,” and “Lie down” are all important, but none of them will prevent frostbite.

Teaching your dog to eliminate on command is a relatively straightforward and simple process. It does take a little work, but the more you go out with the dog and train, the sooner he’ll learn what you want him to do. This means you should start now.  Besides getting yourself and your pet back inside when the weather is miserable, the command is a real time saver when traveling or visiting any new environment where Bubba might easily be distracted from getting the job done.

Those Special Words

The first step is to chose your command words. You can choose anything you like as long as you consistently use the same words. “Do your thing,” “Download,” “Go poop,” or “Go pee” are all fine. But, you may want to follow my uncle Norm’s advice: Don’t use words you would be embarrassed to call out in the neighborhood.  Because, sure enough, someday you’ll find yourself repeating “Go poop” in front of your daughter’s teacher or a group of nuns. For my dogs, I’ve always used the command words, “Hurry up.”

Consistency is Key

The command must be given every time your pet just begins the act of elimination. Say the words a couple of times in an upbeat tone just as the dog assumes the position. Continue this association phase for about three weeks and then test the pet to see if he has learned. As he starts to wander about sniffing the morning scents in the yard, give the command. If the dog begins pre-elimination sniffing and circling and then eliminates, you can pat him and yourself on the back and go for the coffee. If your pet ignores you, continue making the word-behavior association for a few more weeks and then try the test again. The average dog will learn to eliminate on command within three weeks to three months.

A Cautionary Tale

The owners to whom I have taught this command have been quite excited about teaching their pets—all except for one woman. It seems her young sons were always running late.  She was worried that every time she told her boys to “hurry up,” her dog would urinate in the house!

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Don’t Take Good Behavior for Granted

GoldenLeashMouthOne of the most powerful tools you can use to shape your pet’s behavior is positive reinforcement.

All too often, families rely predominantly on punishment to teach their pets. They punish the pets for chewing shoes, scratching the couch, peeing on the bed or barking at the neighbor’s children. Good behaviors, such as chewing the right toy, scratching a scratching post, eliminating in the yard and not barking at critters in the yard are often taken for granted.  A good plan is to make a list of important behaviors you want your pet to display and then actively look for the behaviors to reward. Praise the pet when he is doing a desirable behavior and occasionally give a small treat if the behavior is exceptional – like not jumping on aunt Gladys when she walks through the door.

Parents with young children are quick to brag to friends and neighbors about how good their pets are around the children, when they really should be sharing their pride with their pets. Any and all tolerant or acceptable social behavior around the kids – not jumping on them, not growling near food or toys or when jumped on or pulled by the collar – should immediately be rewarded.

Catching the pet doing something right and reinforcing the behavior is especially important when you’re training against problem behaviors.  Yelling at the dog when he jumps on you just communicates what you don’t want himto do. But more importantly, the pet needs to learn how he is supposed to behave during a greeting. Teaching a solid sit-stay at the door is an important part of training against jumping on people. I emphasize ‘training’ because if you just occasionally attempt to guide the pet into the behavior you want, your progress will be slow. Effectively changing behavior requires practice and repetition. If you really want your pet to behave when you greet him, then you need to practice greetings a dozen time daily, just like you do when you’re teaching the pet to sit or lie down.

Let’s face it, we’re not much different from our pets when it comes to acquiring behaviors and completing tasks. Wouldn’t you rather learn to do something for a tasty dessert rather than because someone is holding a stick over your head?

Do “Invisible” Fences Cause Dogs To Become Aggressive?

IMG_3384I took a call yesterday from a councilman in a nearby city. He had a complaint from one of his constituents who felt threatened by a large dog that was contained in the family’s front yard by an underground fencing system. The dog ran along the edge of the property actively barking and growling in a very threatening manner whenever the woman passed with her pets. She was very concerned for her safety and that of her pets. She thought that perhaps it should be illegal to keep any dog in a front yard using an underground fence.

One of the councilman’s concerns was whether this type of fencing system should be allowed because using it might actually make a dog aggressive. I told him that this type of fence would not, by itself, make a dog more aggressive. But if a dog is confined on a rope in the yard, behind a window, screen door or any type of fencing system and is allowed to bark and growl at people or other dogs in a threatening manner it usually gets more aggressive over time. The reason for this is that when the dog acts aggressive, the person continues walking down the street or may cross the street. In the dog’s mind this makes aggression a successful strategy for keeping unfamiliar people away from the home. In time, the behavior gets worse and worse.  The pet also may become more aggressive to visitors to the home who don’t heed the initial warning (that works with most people) and continue to approach the home. To the dog, this means that these people are not getting the message and that more aggression must be required to protect the home.

The other problem with allowing dogs to be very aggressive at a boundary is that  in the event of  sudden escape (the rope breaks, the door pops open, the glass window breaks, or the electric fence fails) the dog may suddenly find itself free with access to the passerby. All the pent-up energy may then propel the dog into a very vicious attack.

Underground systems are fine in some situations, but they do not protect the pet from roaming dogs or children that might harm it. They also do not protect people who might inadvertently enter the yard of an aggressive dog. Families need to take responsibility for their pets’ behavior. Permitting a dog to run around the yard barking and growling viciously at people who pass is little different than permitting a son to run about the yard cursing and brandishing a knife at passersby.  It may just be bravado and he may never actually hurt someone but you can’t take the risk, and at the very least it’s just plain rude.

Environmental Enrichment for Cats – More than just providing a scratching post.

As cool as your house might be it can’t compare to the outdoors as a stimulating environment for kitties. Lizards to chase, mousies to eat, tom cat pee-mail to read, flower pots to dig up and more keep an active cat entertained for hours. Unfortunately, the outdoor world is also full of danger. Rude dogs, fast cars, sly foxes, cats with an attitude and swooping owls are all hazards. This makes the indoors the safest place to be. But unless your cat can operate the TV remote control, fire up the stove for a tasty lunch or surf the net, it can be a pretty boring place.

Fortunately there are a number of things you can do to make your home a fun place for your cat to spend time. First, make time for play. Cats love chasing strings, ribbons, feather toys and a variety of tossed objects. Fun for both of you and great for the relationship. And just because Fuzzy is a cat, don’t neglect obedience and trick training. With some patience, cats can be trained to do almost anything dogs can do, and sometimes better. Take that, Mr. Smarty Pants Rover.      Look for a future blog to learn how.

Young cats are usually good at entertaining themselves so providing lots of interesting toys will help keep them busy. Older cats are less inclined to play with toys.  If that is the case, look for toys that dispense small treats or catnip when the cat pushes them around. You can make a treat dispensing toy by simply cutting a few small holes in a plastic water bottle. Place a dozen or so tasty treats in side that will fall out though the holes when the pet pushes it around. Just be careful to watch the pet’s weight. Too many treats can have the opposite effect, turning a playful cat into a couch potato. Ping pong balls make inexpensive toys as do aluminum foil balls (a protruding feather or short piece of yarn will increase interest). For more ideas, Google ‘Homemade cat toys’ on the internet.

You can add vertical perching areas around a small apartment to increase its size. Place a towel or bedding on a shelf, counter top or dresser. A tall ‘kitty condo’ will also provide more area for the pet. Perches can be purchased that affix to a window frame to provide nice perching real estate with a view.  Some cats like to munch on greens. For these kids, you can make a little garden by planting wheat berries (live wheat seed available in health food stores) or catnip.

Scratching a normal part of most cats’ behavioral repertoires so be sure to provide a scratching post. You may need to try several different types to decide which your cat likes. Most cats like the carpet covered posts, while others like sisal or cardboard surfaces to scratch. You might even consider making a ‘natural’ post by securing a fireplace log upright. To make sure the pet uses it, be sure to toss a small treat to it each time it makes contact.

Occasionally have a kitty scavenger hunt. Hide ten small treats in various areas of a room. Place them in obvious places to start, then gradually move them to more out of the way places in the room during subsequent ‘hunts.’ Now the cat’s doing what outdoor cats do – spending time hunting for food.

Kitties are like kids. Keep them busy and they’ll be happy and stay out of trouble – well, at least they’ll get into less trouble.