Dog Training: Dog Training: Common House Training Problems

In terms of dog training, house training is one of the areas of dog ownership and one of the most common dog training problems that is most subject to misunderstanding, confusion, and just plain dread boy dog owners and even dog training experts.

In today’s dog training article we are going to examine and learn how to deal with two of the most common problems surrounding the issue of house training your dog:

– Submissive and excited urination

– Scent marking behavior

Common house training problem #1: Submissive and excited urination

What is it a ‘submissive urinator’?

A ‘submissive urinator’, in dog training terms, is a dog that urinates on the floor and himself (and sometimes on you or any guests you may have!) in situations of extreme excitement or stress, like when you return home at the end of the work day or when the dog is being told off for some bad behavior.

Why does this happen?

Puppies are the most usual candidates for submissive/excited urination, but it is also not uncommon to see this behavior in adult dogs as well. Usually, these are highly sensitive and timid dogs, and/or ones from a shelter/with a history of abuse (often these last two go hand-in-hand and one of most common things we see as dog training professionals.)

When does it happen?

Situations which are likely to trigger an excited/fearful dog to urinate:

– Greeting time after a prolonged absence of owner

– Play time where a dog gets too excited

– The arrival of guests (particularly unknown guests)

– Stressful situations at home, eg arguments involving owner

– During a behavior correction such as you’re telling him off

– Sudden and unexpected loud noises such as thunder or fireworks

What can I do about it?

Luckily as dog training experts will tell you, it is not difficult to prevent your dog from doing his submissive or excited urination.

Firstly and most importantly, you should take him to the vet to make sure there is no unknown medical reason for the issue (such as diabetes or a hidden bladder infection.)

Next, it’s time to take use good dog training techniques to control the problem:

– Try to limit his intake of water to help him control his bladder more effectively, this is very important. Don’t restrict his water intake over a prolonged period of time, but if you know there is a situation coming which would normally result in a loss of bladder control, for example, you have guests coming over, or are planning on a play session soon, take his water bowl away for a period of time (maybe half an hour to an hour) before the event.

– When greeting your dog, keep it calm and mellow. The more excited he is, the harder it is for him to control his bladder, so don’t encourage him to get worked up: ignore him for the first few moments, or give him a very neutral “hello”, a quick and gentle pat, and then go about making yourself at home.

– It’s important that you DO NOT punish or harshly correct your dog for this behavior. It is not something that he can easily control, and he’s certainly not doing it on purpose. Punishing a dog for this behavior can cause emotional distress and lead to more problems for you and the dog in the long run. When you catch him in the act, you can interrupt him (a firm “No!” followed by praise when he stops should suffice) but don’t punish him. Keep your cool, and try to be sympathetic: he doesn’t mean to do it, after all!

– If he urinates out of fear (submissiveness) when scolding him for another offense, try to take the stress levels down a notch by keeping a firm, authoritative, but not angry tone. Remember, you’re dealing with a sensitive, highly-strung dog: if you get angry or worry him further, the problem will worsen.

Common house training problem #2: Scent marking

In dog training terms ‘Scent marking’ is where a dog ‘marks’ his or her territory with urine. Technically this is not actually a house training problem, since it’s based on the dog training issues of dominance and territoriality rather than insufficient house training. A dog can be perfectly house trained but still feel the need to mark inside the house.

However, because – since the problem centers around the unwanted presence of urine in the house – it seems logical, in a way, to link this problem with house training. Since this is one of the most widespread problems among dog owners, we as dog training professionals thought it worthwhile to include some practical advice.

Scent marking and lack of house training: how to differentiate between the two

Your dog is most likely scent marking their territory, rather than genuinely relieving himself, if:

– The amount of urine produced is relatively small, and tends to be directed against vertical surfaces such as doors, walls or furniture.

– If your dog is an unneutered male and at least five or six months old. Unneutered dogs are much more territorial than neutered ones. If you have an unneutered dog in the house, you can pretty much expect a certain amount of scent marking as he defines his own areas. It should also be noted that unspayed females also mark, but it is much less common. Spayed and neutered dogs can also exhibit marking behavior, but it’s relatively rare but should not be discounted.

– It makes little difference how often he is taken outside for a toilet break

– He frequently targets items that are new to the house such as new possessions, guest clothing/footwear, etc that do not carry some form of his scent

– You live in a multi-dog household and there is conflict between two or more of the dogs. In this case it is a dominance issue between the two and they may both mark.

– There are other, unneutered or unspayed pets in the house

What to do about the problem?

From a dog training perspective the first thing you need to do is spay or neuter your dog(s) as soon as you possibly can. If you can do this early enough, ideally, at six months of age, this often halts marking altogether. If this is not possible or if your dog’s been marking for a prolonged period of time, he or she may continue to do so after being spayed or neutered, since a pattern of behavior will have been established.

Ensure you clean soiled areas thoroughly. Use a non-ammonia based cleaner, because it smells just like pee, and stay away from vinegar too, it smells similar to pee as well. Oxi-Clean mixed with warm water is particularly effective on these areas and there are also plenty of commercial cleaners designed specifically to lift pet stains and odors, which you can buy from pet stores and some supermarkets.

Because dogs tend to re-mark the same places, you’ll need to redefine the places that you know he’s marked to prevent repeat offending.

Many dog training experts will recommend the following ways to do this:

– Feed him next to or on top of the spot

– Play with him there

– Groom him there

– Put his bed over or next to it

– Spend time there yourself: hang out with a book or sit down and work

Finally, one particular aspect of dog training that is often overlooked is if there is rivalry between dogs in the household. In this case you will need to take steps to resolve it. Any conflict is likely to be hierarchical in nature (a ‘power struggle’), which means that all you have to do to stop the tension is pay attention to which dog seems to be more dominant than the other one (which one eats first, gets the toys he/she wants, ‘stares down’ another dog), and reinforce this position to establish the hierarchy.

So how do you do this? From a dog training perspective it is relatively simple. First, feed the dominant dog first. Pet him/her first. Give him/her a toy before anyone else gets one. This makes it clear to all dogs in the house which one really is the dominant dog. When this hierarchy’s been recognizably established, territorial and dominant behaviors like scent marking often vanish overnight.

Phil Donahoe
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