Dog Retraining Basic Information
During the process of dog retraining, and easing his anxiety, you will have to expect some missteps on the dog’s part. There may still be accidents, and anxiety is not resolved overnight. Patience is key. Punishment is not only useless for correcting a problem that has occurred during your absence, it can also compound the problem by making your dog fearful of your arrival. Fear should never be a part of the owner-dog relationship. What works best is an atmosphere of trust and consistency.
Even as your dog becomes more consistent with going outdoors to relieve himself, he may still be drawn to those places in the home that retain the smell of his urine, or just because of the force of habit. The areas the dog has been soiling will need to be cleaned and deodorized thoroughly. It can also be helpful to douse the areas with scents that will repel the dog from staying. Bitter apple spray works for a lot of dogs, but you can ask your veterinarian for other suggestions so that you have options. In the meantime, while you and your dog are going through the retraining process, do not allow him into those areas unless you are closely supervising.
Dog retraining techniques for house-soiling dogs are very similar to the techniques used to housetrain a puppy. The key to effective retraining is constant supervision, confinement, and crating. Set up blocks to prevent your dog’s access to rooms where he might relieve himself, and do not leave him in any room alone. Keep him close to you at all times as he is being retrained, even if that means keeping him on a leash all the time.
If you must leave the dog alone in rooms, you may want to try a remote indoor leash that is attached to the dog. These leashes are designed to deter the behaviors that lead up to soiling – sniffing, circling or squatting – interrupting the behavior enough so that the dog is distracted. The most effective deterrent is the simplest. Confinement to an area where the dog will not relieve himself, a kitchen or laundry room perhaps, and using a dog or baby gate that blocks the doorway will help your dog to break the habit. Also effective are crates and pens – make sure that the crate is large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around. (See Crate Training Your Dog) If the confinement area also serves as the dog’s bed and play area the dog is much more likely to keep the area clean.
Conversely, you may keep the dog confined to an area in which he is allowed to relieve himself, such as a dog run, a papered pen or room, or outdoors.
Accompany your dog to his appropriate elimination areas and when he has relieved himself reinforce the acceptable behavior with lavish praise and small food rewards. Use a chosen word to cue your dog that it is time for him to relieve himself. “Go” is a commonly used word; it is simple and effective. Begin by using the word before and during the moments that your dog is relieving himself, give a treat and praise after, and over time your dog will associate the action of elimination with the command-reward sequence.
Control Feeding Times – Control Elimination
Some owners find that carefully controlling their dogs’ feeding schedules helps them to control the time their dogs relieve themselves. Dogs usually need to eliminate their bowels around 15-30 minutes after a meal. Dogs that are free fed will often need to relieve themselves at a variety of times throughout the day, making it difficult for the owner to predict when it might occur. It is important to be able to predict your dog’s elimination habits so that you can organize a consistent day for him. Free feeding is discouraged for house-soiling dogs. Instead, feed the dog two to three scheduled meals each day so the dog will be better able to relieve himself at predictable times of the day. In addition, feeding a low-residue diet can also be beneficial; the dog will have less urgency to defecate.
Complications to Dog Retraining
The dog that relieves himself inside his crate poses special problems. In these cases, crates and cages are not the ideal training aids. While this can be overcome with training techniques, it may be better to confine the dog to a room where he would normally play or eat, or where he sleeps.
If the dog is found to have an underlying health issue (See Medical Causes for House-Soiling), the issue will need to be resolved before the retraining can be most effective. However, if the loss of control is due to age or infirmity, you will need to make concessions for him. If the dog cannot control his bladder and bowel movements, he may be as distressed as you are. More frequent trips outside to relieve himself, hiring a dog walker to take him out during the day when you are at work, installing a dog-door if you have a yard that your dog can go out to, or setting up an alternate space where he can be taught to relieve himself – all of these things can help your dog to be more comfortable in his aging body.
When age related cognitive decline is suspected, your dog may not realize that he is having accidents, or he may have lost the memory of his training. In this case, retraining techniques will be unlikely to work. Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe medication, or help you to plan an appropriate diet for your dog – a diet specially tailored for dogs with cognitive impairment.
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