'The full scale of awfulness' is the memorable phrase used by this week's beleaguered correspondent, who is desperate for an answer from Ben. But perhaps not quite as desperate as her long-suffering mother is...
Most of the questions I’ve been asked for this advice column have been about getting your four-legged friend better trained: getting a dog to walk to heel, for example, or training your dog to sit on command. There have been some specific problems to fix, too: persuading a reluctant dog to play fetch, for example, and helping a dog who feels anxious going places in the car.
Today’s problem is a bit different — and one that’s been a rare one to come across in my decades of experience honing my Beggarbush (BG) methods.
‘I have a one-year-old cocker spaniel, and while he’s been good as gold pretty much from the start, a recent change of jobs has meant that I’d had to rely on my mother as a dog sitter for weekends away,’ writes AF from Hampshire. ‘My mum loves him, and he gets on well with her own dog — a female fox-red lab aged 1 1/2 — but the problem is that our dog has started going to the toilet all around her house. I won’t go into too many details… but will say that it’s the full scale of awfulness. He doesn’t do it at home, ever. He doesn’t do it when we’re around. Is it a protest? Is it territory marking in a house of female dogs? Help! ‘
This is one you wouldn’t wish on anyone. Cocking of the leg is not uncommon and understandable, but the — ahem — ‘number twos’ are a different matter. It’s an extreme case, and something we just can’t accept. But that’s what I’m here for: please do get in touch via email@example.com with all and any of your problems.
We’re dealing in this scenario with a dog used to being dominant who has gone into an environment with new smells, with another dog of the house in charge, and it’s seen it as a challenge. Some dogs would go in and be submissive and happy, and quickly relax into their new environment. Others, like your cocker spaniel, will go in and see the whole thing as a challenge. It’s like having two children starting a new school: one might go into the classroom and quickly adjust, fitting into the structure and the class; the other might not want to conform or fit in, and will respond by being loud and dominant.
AF says elsewhere in her letter that cocker hasn’t yet been neutered, which makes it more likely that a dog will embark on this sort of dominance display, scenting around the house. The dog feels that leaving its mark in both ways is important — it needs to leave its presence in that environment.
It’s not a nice scenario, nor is it an easy fix — but here’s how to go about dealing with the problem.
1. Go back to basics, as if you’re toilet training from scratch
When you arrive at your mother’s house, take your cocker spaniel to a specific area of the garden and give him the command to go to the toilet. When the dog has been finished, reward him with praise or kibble; then hand him over to your mother. She should take him in to the house and put him into a crate in a calm, quiet area of the house, and — this is crucial — away from the other dog. You can bring some bedding or a blanket from home to bring familiar smells from the dog’s home environment, just as you would do if dropping him off at boarding kennels.
Keep the cocker in the crate for now, and take him out for regular toilet breaks, just as you would with a puppy who you were toilet training. Every hour or so is fine.
2. When you take the next step, keep the two dogs apart for now
After a couple of days doing this — and assuming there are no accidents in the crate — you can start to leave the crate door open, but continue supervising the dog closely. At no stage should the two dogs be together in the same part of the house — but they can begin to interact with each other again when they’re out in the garden.
The idea is that you give each dog a period of time with both dogs having their own areas in the house, but interacting outside together. They should start to see the house as an area to relax, sleep and chill out in, while outside is the area they can play together, and sniff and scent to their hearts’ content.
3. Take your time, and be ready to step back
You need to give step two a decent period to work – ideally at least a week, which might mean leaving the dog with your mother longer than you planned. But stick with it, because you’re effectively doing some fairly fundamental retraining to reset the cocker’s system here. Once the dogs are used to the new patter, you can let them come together again in the house, but maintaining a very close eye on them. Any signs — in any way — of the cocker deciding to scent should be met with a firm leave command, and then the dog should be taken straight outside to the toilet area.
4. When you’re back home, make sure he doesn’t become dominant
You mentioned the dog is fine at home, but make sure you stay on top. Does the dog jump up on people? Does he bark excessively at the door, or overreact towards visitors or delivery people? If not, great. If so, then while you might not have been worried about such things while he was still a puppy, these can be signs that the dog is a dominant type looking to assert itself, rather than being your loving friend and partner. Up the ante at home in terms of stronger training foundations, improving commands and improving the trust and respect between you; the stronger that relationship is, the more you and your dog will love, understand and have fun with each other.
For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit www.ledburylodgekennels.co.uk
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