Hurricane season is upon us, and I have been wanting to write this blog since last year, when we had numerous phone calls from clients who were evacuating as Hurricane Irma approached the St. Pete/Tampa area. The majority of their worries centered around one thing: how to get their pet to pee on command while on a leash. While this may not seem like a big deal at the moment, it can be extremely important when you are trying to get out of town quickly and don’t have time for your normal, leisurely walk. Dogs can be picky about where they like to potty, making this type of forced travel extremely stressful.
Let’s take a moment and breakdown this process. Dogs typically have two main issues in these situations. The first is that some dogs simply do not like to go to the bathroom while on a leash. The second, is that dogs tend to get too comfortable with a particular surface. For example, if a dog typically only goes to the bathroom in the grass, they may have trouble going on rocks and mulch (and won’t care if that is the only surface available at the gas station). This second issue is even more true when dogs are pooping versus when they are simply going number one.
So, now that we have identified the roots of the issue, how do we go about the corresponding training? Honestly, teaching a dog to pee on a leash is easier than pooping which makes it a good first step. However, the goal needs to be for the dogs to not only potty while on a leash, but to do so on cue. This is true even in non-emergency situations. For example, this was personally helpful for me when travelling with my competition dog, Genghis. As any competitor in dog sports would agree, knowing that your dog pooped BEFORE walking into the competition ring allows you to enter the ring with confidence. For those of you who do not take your dogs into competitions, another bonus to teaching your dog to potty on cue is so that they don’t continually use the same spots in your yard!
My adventures with Genghis have led him to potty in a variety of places. From the Tampa airport to the balcony at a hotel. Although some might say that training a male dog to go on command is easier than a female, I would disagree. Male dogs have a tendency to “mark” more often which means that you must pay attention and make sure they are completing emptying their bladder when they go.
Here are the best steps to help your dog learn to potty on a leash, and on command:
- Try to set aside time for this particular training in the mornings. Put your dog on their leash (even if it’s just in your backyard) and take your dog directly to the spot you want them to “go”. Say the command you have chosen to use as a potty “trigger” and continue to repeat this until your dog does his or her business. If the dog is not sniffing around then stand still and repeat the command, or pace back and forth in the immediate area while pointing to the grass.
- Once the dog does its business, reward them in a low key manner. For example, with a small treat or neutral praise. Be careful not to reward them until they have finished going to the bathroom. If your dog has only peed, they likely still need to poop (especially in the morning). Therefore, do not give them a larger reward until they have pooped as well as peed.
- If you are still waiting for them to poop after they have peed, continue to repeat the cue for potty while following the cycle in step one. Once the dog poops, you can give them a greater reward such as multiple treats, greater praise, or play time. If you have a “traveling pooper” (a dog that moves while pooping) you may want to try holding them on a shorter leash to limit their movement. If this doesn’t work, simply be mindful that you may need to catch it as they go to avoid your dog stepping in their poop.
- Once your dog has mastered this process during their morning potty time, it is now time to apply this training at other times during the day. Use the same method described above and, over time, begin shortening the leash or vary the length. At this stage of the training, you should still be taking the dog to the same spot that you want them to go. Remember, dogs typically only poop once or twice a day so they might not poop every time you take them out. Over time, you should become familiar with their potty routines.
- The last step is to begin exposing your dog to many different surfaces, while repeating steps 1-3. Though you should have been taking your dog to the same spot during the initial phases of this training you should now vary both the spot and the surface (grass, sand, pavement, etc.)
Traveling can be stressful, especially in emergency situations! The goal of this valuable skill is for your dog to quickly adjust their potty routine so that they become adaptable to changes in both your routine and your environment. Relax, and take your time as your move from step to step.
We at The Doghouse are always here to help guide you as attempt new obedience training, so feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.