Ask A Trainer: Refusing Rain

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"Buddy is perfectly house trained unless it is rainy. Or misty. Or had previously been rainy. Or is even mildly damp outside. I worry when I spill a drink. 

We end up putting a leash on him and we literally drag him outside. He returns the favor by locking his bladder while outside. On those days he prefers to sneak in to my office and pee on the carpet. 

As much fun as that seems, it would be great to have him pee just about anywhere else. Outside is clearly our first choice. We thought he was a sheprador based on the folks at Williamson County Animal Shelter, but a man at Opal Divine's said Black Mouth Cur. That really seems to be it. We got him 1/3/16 and both shelter and vet said he was 2 at the time, so we just celebrated his 3rd birthday."
-Laurie P.

Hesitancy to toilet in the rain is something I see fairly often in our boarders. It sounds like Laurie's boy has taken it one step further...or maybe not.

There are a couple of basic principles that apply to resolving just about any fear related behavior:

1) Emotions First.  Laurie's dog is resisting out of fear/discomfort, not because he's dominant, stubborn, or spiteful. Many problem behaviors are emotionally driven by fear or anxiety, and when we focus on correcting the emotion first, the behavior follows.* Our primary goal is to change the dog's emotional response to the scary thing so they can live fear and anxiety free.

2) Through the stomach. Teaching a dog to love something they previously avoided at all costs involves food.  There's just no way around it. Food is powerful for dogs, and it's typically the best tool for changing your dog's emotional response.

3) At the dog's pace. I'm scared of heights. Teaching me to love heights does not start at the top of the Empire State building; it starts at the second story window. If you repeatedly force me to the top of the Empire State building, I'm going to start to really dislike you, and I'll get spooky anytime we walk down Fifth Avenue.
Even if you bring Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream--one of my favorite treats, the top is still not the starting line. I'll be so concerned about the height, I won't be able to enjoy the ice cream; if I can't enjoy the ice cream, I can't transfer that pleasure to my location.

4) Trigger absence. Training works most effectively when the dog is only exposed to his fear (trigger) during a training session--when you've arranged it and are ready to work. If you're teaching your dog that tall men are nothing to be scared of, but he keeps bumping into tall men and then panicking, you're not going to get very far. Just when he thinks it's safe, he runs into a tall man, and all the training comes undone. It's better for you to plan to avoid all tall men, except when your friend meets you at the park to help train.

 

The principles are universal, but the situations are unique. In Laurie's case:

  • Start by lightly spritzing a narrow patch of ground with water. Have really yummy treats on either side of the patch so that he has to move back and forth to get them.  His mentality should be, "oh this ground feel kind of wet...but that's okay because I'm going for the chicken on the other side!"
  • Gradually (over the course of several days or weeks) make the ground wetter and wetter.
  • Gradually make the patch wider and wider.  The intensity of wetness, and breadth of distance must be increased separately.
  • Do all this in a new location--the driveway might work well. At this point, he has such a history of fear and anxiety in the backyard, that it might be hard for him to get past that and focus on the present. Working in a neutral area (that isn't grass) simplifies things for him.
  • Once he's happily zooming across 10-15 feet of sopping wet concrete, go back to the beginning and work in the grass (front yard may be necessary).

So that's all well and good, but what about her current issue of him refusing to toilet and then having accidents inside?

  • Is it possible to cover a patch of grass when you know it's going to rain?
  • If you know he needs to toilet but hasn't, restrict his access to your office: close the door or keep him kenneled.
  • Pay him with 1-2-3 small pieces of chicken everytime he toilets outside--whether the ground is wet or not. This builds a strong history of good things happening when he goes outside.

*Trainers who feature quick fixes for fear or aggression should be avoided. The dog might look better--he's quiet, still, and apparently compliant, but he's actually worse off than he was before. See "Calm and Relaxed? or Shut Down?"