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House Training Tips for Dog Who is One Potty Girl

February 14, 2012

Dear Poncho,

Could you tell me why my 13-year-old lab, who has never had an accident in my house, will sometimes discreetly pee in my parents’ house when she’s there? Help!

Cheers!
Deena

Dear Miss Deena,

Been there myself. And I must say, when you aren’t given a heads-up on the rules, then you just go with the flow. Unfortunately, in this case the flow is on your parents’ living room floor. Bummer. Allow me to give you the help you’re asking for.

Here are the four tenets of my Mutt Model:

Know Your Animal!

Unless we’ve been taught otherwise, we dogs eliminate when we feel the need, no matter where or when. And, similar to you humans, we have preferences as to where we prefer to do the deed. Two main triggers that get us going are surface texture and scent. The feel of dirt or grass can be appealing to one dog but not another. This goes for tile and/or cement. And wet grass? Hah! Fahgettaboudit! Do you like a wet toilet seat?

As for scent, again each dog has his or her own favorites. You may have your “31 flavors”, but for us the entire world is one giant perfume counter. Observing one of our buddy’s go potty, wanting to update our status by “marking” territory, and previous learning are a few other reasons we’d get the urge. So be mindful of any smells and surfaces that might be sending a mixed message.

One other point I’d like to make is that, like yours truly, your lab is more on the senior side of life, so having her examined by her vet to rule out any medical issues is a good place to start.

As for the “discreet” part, well, you know we canines are behaviorally similar to a human toddler: we understand “safe and dangerous,” not “right and wrong.” There might have been a time that she had an “accident,” then got in trouble, so she’s learned it’s safer to go when no one is around. You know, like those times you might be driving over the speed limit when the cops aren’t around. Yeah, I thought so…I know a little something about human behavior, too!

Whaddya Want?

You and your folks need to determine what you want from your dog. Do you want her to go potty in a designated place outdoors and ignore the urge indoors? If so, you’ll need to take the time to teach her what you want, and manage her environment to help her make better choices.

Reward, reward, reward.

When you arrive at your parents’ house, put your dog on leash, take her to where you want her to go potty, and wait…wait…and wait some more until she does. Then, throw a party!!! Give her a “Whoo-ho,” a chin scratch and/or a treat, followed by the big reward of being allowed inside. Once she’s indoors, keep an eye on her and hustle her outside if she seems to be feeling the urge to wet the carpet.

If her motivation is to mark her territory, you’re going to want to follow the same plan as basic house-training: keep a watchful eye on her, and provide rewards for eliminating outside. You can also take her to areas she’s allowed to mark. This helps provide an outlet to fulfill her doggy needs and wishes, while having fun together.

Set the stage for success

Make sure you allow for extra time to settle your dog in when dropping her off at your parents’ house. Go over the plan with your folks, who might need a little training themselves. If your parents are easily distracted, they might want to keep her on leash or in a comfy crate. Your dog shouldn’t be allowed to walk around aimlessly because something might trigger her to go potty again. This wouldn’t be fair to her.  Set her up for success, not failure.

Paws and Reflect
So again, the best plan of attack is to use house-training basics: teach, reward and manage the situation. Dogs don’t magically know the right thing to do any more than do humans. For example, if you were to come to my house, I’d have to show you where the bathroom is. If I forgot to do that, and left all the bathrooms available for use, you might meander off and choose whichever one you liked. I’d have no one to blame but myself if you went potty in the “wrong” place.


Poncho Mayer is a 10-pound inquisitive canine who knows a lot about human and canine behavior. He and his mom work together running the family business, providing dog-training services to other inquisitive canines and their humans. For additional training and behavior tips, subscribe to their blog.

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