Recently I had someone ask me if she could “train” her dog not to piddle every time someone greets her and wants to pet her. My answer was: “yes, you can, but it will require some time and patience on your part”
A dog that pees when she gets attention is likely a shy dog, that gets excited and intimidated when people come into her space. Most of the time people that love dogs want to pet them immediately and give them lots of verbal attention, like: “Oh, you are so cute. Come over here. You don’t have to be afraid, I like dogs!” They keep going after the dog, trying to pet her. Since the dog is in a submissive state, and likely excited for all the attention, she will crouch down and squeeze her body to make herself smaller, and in the process might pee a little, or even a lot. Now there will likely be some verbal exclamation from either the dog owner or the guest: “Oh no, she peed on the floor!” and some excited hustle about cleaning it up quickly. The dog senses that she has done something wrong and associates this greeting ritual with a state of anxiety and confusion.
A quick fix to address this situation is to instruct your guests to ignore your dog and please don’t try and pet her. The suggested exercises that follow will show you how to help your dog overcome her state of confusion and fearful responses, and gradually teach her to associate meeting new people with a positive experience. It will take repeated short sessions of the exercise to change her current behavior with the new behavior. You will need to enlist the help of a friend or neighbor, and will need to find a high value treat for her.
You are looking for a treat that has a good scent. I like to use turkey or chicken meat, but you can also use a dog treat that she likes. Use one that you can break up into smaller pieces. You will not use the treat as a reward to feed to her, but rather use the scent to redirect her attention from the scary situation. I store my treats in an airtight container, so the treat container does not give out the scent.
To start, we want to remove much of the stimulus, so I want you to be sure to set aside some quite time to practice with just one guest. Choose an area with an easy to clean up floor and have a roll of paper towels nearby, so you can be prepared to clean up any accidents. When an accident occurs, please be sure to not say anything, but just simply use the paper towel to clean it up calmly and without much commotion. Walk your dog prior to the training session and let her empty her bladder, this will help prevent some of the accidents.
Ask your guest not to speak to the dog and not to touch her during this exercise. You will also ask them to completely ignore the dog when they first come in. I know this is hard, but be sure to instruct the person to be calm, quiet and non-intrusive toward the dog.
To start the exercise, greet the person at the door, as you normally would when a guest comes in. If you are training outside, to meet people on a walk, walk up to the person and just have a short verbal interaction between you and them. Make sure the person does not look at the dog and don’t use her name during your conversation. Now hand a small piece of the high value treat to the person. Instruct them to hold it in their lightly closed fist. Ask them to crouch down, but not talk or look at the dog directly.
The dog is likely at a bit of distance, assessing the situation. She may be excited and trying to decide what to do. Have the person just offer the scent to the dog by waiving the closed hand with the treat in front of themselves. The scent will redirect the dog’s attention and she will likely start to sniff in the direction of the hand, or come closer to investigate. Don’t offer the treat at this time, only the scent. Once she becomes interested, calmly have the person get up. Wait a moment and then get back down to repeat the exercise. The goal is to engage the dog with the scent.
Repeat this a few times, then have the person put the treat down on the floor, stand up straight and see if the dog will come and get it. If she does, end the exercise here, if she doesn’t, just have the person walk away and leave the treat.
Do this several days in a row, you can even do it several times per day. After the dog becomes more interested and reacts in a more relaxed way to the stranger, extent the exercise to giving a treat by hand at the end of the exercise. If your dog is highly toy motivated, you can eventually have the stranger come in and pick up a toy and throw it for the dog. This helps as the guest is now interacting with the dog.
As you can see, you will over time reconditioning the dog to associate meeting new people with the scent and reward of the treat, thus removing the anxiety. Be sure to watch your dog's reactions and body language closely, and only move forward if the dog is feeling secure and relaxed. Gradually over time you can see if the dog becomes comfortable and starts to come over to people to be touched, but don’t force the issue. Not every dog is wanting to interact with strangers in this way.
I hope you find the information helpful. We'd love to hear about your experiences, so please comment below. Please share our post on Facebook or other channels if you feel someone can benefit from it.
Until next time: Keep your Paws on the Road!