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Getting dogs to change their business habits
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Dear Didi:  My husband and I adopted a 4 year old dog from the animal shelter and we named him Max.  He is very sweet and calm.  He has one issue, however, that is putting a kink in our lifestyle.  He will NOT, under any circumstances do his business in the backyard. We have to take him for walks three times a day to get him to “go”. Is there any hope?  -getting in our steps in Manteca

Dear Steps:  You are definitely getting your exercise and there is always hope!  It is oftentimes impossible to know the background of an older dog acquired through a rescue or shelter.  If Max was living in an apartment type situation he was most likely taught that he gets put on a leash and taken for a “walk” as part of his party training.  Some dogs really love a routine and will become steadfast about the scenarios in which they will urinate right down to the texture under their feet.  They may refuse to pee on gravel because they have always gone on grass or visa versa.  

Luckily, dogs generally are more flexible with changing their habits than us humans!  Choose a time in your schedule where you can be dedicated for 2-3 days. It may be important that you don’t go anywhere during this program.  Select an area of your yard that you would like for Max to use the bathroom.  Start your new routine first thing in the morning.  Put a leash on Max and lead him out to the “facilities” in the backyard.  Then just stand there.  You must be boring in his eyes.  Don’t talk to him, don’t stare at him, and don’t move or walk around.  Be a post!  Don’t allow him to pull you to other areas of the yard. He will only have the distance of your leash to wander around.  

Some dogs can hold out pretty long so this is HUGE patience game on your part.  Don’t get frustrated and say anything to him or you set yourself back to square one. There is never a place for anger or scolding in this type of training situation.  Max will just become paranoid if your body language or tone of voice conveys anger. He should get bored and begin sniffing around. Give him 30 minutes.   If he doesn’t relieve himself you can go back in the house but do NOT let him off the leash. He must stay with you on leash or he may resort to running off somewhere in the house to have an accident.  Take him out again in an hour.  If he appears agitated, pacing around or whining you certainly can try sooner.

Getting over the hump of having him overcome his discomfort and use the backyard the first time is the hardest. Once he has done it, he will likely go easier  and faster the next time.  When he finally gives in and goes, you must wait until he finishes and then burst out with massive praise. Play with him, give him a treat, run back to the house. Make it a major event in Max’s mind. I have personally seen one of my foster dogs hold it for 3 days before giving in. If you give in first and take him for a walk, you will have to start over. It reinforces his idea of out waiting you.  If you plan ahead before you start your behavior modification plan, collect Max’s stool in a baggy on one of your walks. Instead of tossing it, dump it in Max’s new bathroom spot in the backyard.  The smell of his own poop may help encourage him to go in that area.  Max will happily convert his routine to the new place in the backyard if you stick with it and reward him.  You will thank yourself and your neighbors will be happy too. Many of them may not be thrilled with dogs using their front yards as bathrooms. Good luck! -submit questions at