Written by Amie Chapman
I was reminded on a recent trip to the snow with my personal dogs that sometimes the biggest challenge with potty training a dog is not getting them to stop relieving in the wrong places. It’s the dog refusing to relieve when it is given the appropriate opportunity. Some dogs are often uncomfortable or stressed relieving in new areas or different environments.
“As a puppy raiser, teaching appropriate relieving habits to a puppy is one of the most important skills I can teach and it often goes unnoticed to the public.”
My terrier mix Ozzy who usually will relieve anywhere (and often does even when I wish he wouldn’t) was very uncomfortable and hesitant to relieve in the snow. This made for multiple trips outside in the cold during the night trying to get him to relieve and caused me to be nervous having him in the hotel for fear of an accident.
Ozzy isn’t the first dog that I have had that had difficulty relieving on cue.
My very first puppy Macklin was very particular about where he would potty, and this was both good and bad. He prefered to go only in a place he had already established as his spot. The problem was getting a spot initially established. Home was no problem and neither was my work, but anywhere new, it was very difficult for him to relieve. We could spend all day out running errands and he would hold it until we got home (this could be up to 12 hours), despite giving him opportunities to go.
This proved to be an obstacle when we traveled.
He took two trips away from home with me, to Disneyland and Las Vegas. On each trip, we managed to find he a spot where he would relieve, but it wasn’t always convenient. On our Disney trip the spot he liked was between our hotel and the park, which meant a long walk all the way out of the park while we were there. This was also not exactly the closest spot to the hotel first thing in the morning or right before bed, but we made it work. He did learn to work through this and had a very successful career as a guide.
The other puppy that I raised that was a picky reliever was Prudy.
She wasn’t as particular about needing an established spot, but needed a certain surface. She was fine relieving on cement at my work, but anywhere new, she needed grass or dirt. This wasn’t always the easiest to find in a city setting. I traveled with her as well to Los Angeles and remember having to walk blocks to find a surface that she would relieve on when we were out sightseeing. Unfortunately for Prudy, the need to relieve on a specific surface did contribute to her early retirement as a guide. It caused her to be stressed and she started to not want to work because she was physically uncomfortable and having accidents from not relieving when given an opportunity by her partner.
A couple of years back, when we released our episode of Ricki traveling to Las Vegas we showed us trying to find an appropriate place for her to relieve and got some people questioning our decisions. I chose some bushes just off the sidewalk and got questioned why and that I should have relieved her on cement. It is true that most dogs will prefer to relieve on dirt or grass and some dogs like Prudy will outright refuse to relieve on cement. I do train all my puppies to relieve on cement but sometimes that isn’t an appropriate place. Nobody wants to walk through a puppy pee puddle on a frequently used sidewalk so I prefer not to relieve my puppies there—I think that it is rude. The street gutter is always a great option, but you have to put safety first. A busy city street can be dangerous and stressful for some puppies and dogs.
As a puppy raiser, teaching appropriate relieving habits to a puppy is one of the most important skills I can teach and it often goes unnoticed to the public. It can be hard to prepare every puppy to relieve in all types of environments (like weather) because we can’t control it. I have had puppies refuse to relieve in the rain—living in California sometimes we don’t get a lot of rain and so the puppies I raise don’t always get exposure to that. The same goes with snow—it doesn’t snow where I live so we have to travel to see any. Any puppy I raise can end up living in any type of environment or be required to travel so I do my best to get my puppies comfortable with relieving anywhere I ask them to.
The best way to handle a picky reliever is a lot of patience, encouragement, praise, and rewards when the puppy or dog does finally relieve where you want it to (if that does indeed happen). Having a picky reliever can be very frustrating for a handler and the dog, and can even cause a dog not to be a good candidate for service work.