Canine housetraining challenges - Veterinary Medicine
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Canine housetraining challenges
From dogs soiling in their crates to dogs afraid of eliminating in front of people, this behaviorist gives you tips to help owners handle their difficult-to-housetrain dogs.



Most behavior problems are easiest to treat early in their development. Veterinarians who are proactive and inquire about behavioral issues, such as housetraining, are in the best position to diagnose and initiate treatment of a problem before the owner wastes time and money attempting techniques that do not help or even make a problem worse, possibly resulting in relinquishing the dog to a shelter. Veterinarians who can treat these cases save patients' lives and further bond clients to their practices.


Adapting a dog's elimination habits to a new environment

A change of owner lifestyle, such as moving into a houseboat, does not have to mean giving up a pet. Even old dogs can learn new tricks!
Changes in a dog owner's lifestyle can often present challenges for dogs that already have well-established substrate and location preferences for elimination. But moving from a house to a houseboat or an apartment does not have to result in a dog's being re-homed. With patience and some basic knowledge of normal canine elimination behavior, most dogs can be taught to adjust to their new circumstances.

First, create a cue

If there is time before a move is completed and the dog has not already been taught to eliminate on command, teaching this new trick is the first step. When an owner accompanies the dog outdoors for eliminations and repeats a cue such as "Go potty" or "Do your business" immediately before or just at the moment the dog begins eliminating, the dog will learn to associate the cue word with the act of eliminating. Once a dog knows what is expected of it when it hears the cue, it will be likely to eliminate. Initially, when the owner is teaching the word cue, the dog can be rewarded with food treats, praise, or play every time it eliminates on cue.

Smooth sailing

Because most well-housetrained dogs have a substrate preference for grass, the first step in teaching a dog to eliminate on a boat will require providing a few feet of sod. Sod can be purchased during warmer months from most home repair centers or nurseries. It can be much harder to find during the winter. The sod can then be laid on a heavy plastic tarp in the location of the owner's choice such as on the foredeck. Safety for the dog needs to be considered if it has free access to or will use the area while the boat is at sea. The owner can then take the dog to the area at routine intervals during the day and repeat the command for the dog to eliminate. When the dog eliminates, it should be praised and can also be given a small food reward to reinforce the behavior.

A small amount of sod soiled in this manner will not live long, so it may have to be replaced regularly until the dog becomes accustomed to eliminating on it. Feces will need to be removed regularly since the dog may not want to eliminate in a small area that is heavily soiled with feces.

After the dog becomes accustomed to eliminating on the sod, the next step is placing a section of indoor-outdoor carpeting or artificial turf, such as that found at most home repair centers, under the sod and on top of the plastic tarp. Over several days to weeks, the section of sod can be cut away and disposed of in small increments, allowing plenty of time for the dog to become used to walking on the artificial turf. Eventually, the sod can be completely eliminated, and most dogs will continue using the artificial turf. At least two sections of the artificial turf should be kept on hand so a clean, dry section is always available to replace a soiled one.

Apartment living

This sod technique may also be useful, depending on the size of the dog, for teaching a dog to eliminate on papers or pads after moving to an apartment. Newspaper or commercially available housetraining pads can be placed under the sod and on top of a plastic tarp instead of artificial turf.


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