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Canine Behavior/Potty problems with dog


We have an 8 month old Cocker Spaniel.  We love him dearly.  He is a very sweet, loving and gentle puppy.  However, we are at the end of our rope with him and his pottying!  We take him outside many, many times a day to go potty.  We'll play outside with him for a long time. The frustrating thing is, is that he chooses to poop down in our basement (luckily it is unfinished!).  He will do this after being outside for a long time.  It can be any time of the night or day that he will do this.  Today he jumped up on our guest bed and peed on it.  Almost daily he poops in our basement.  We are really tired of it.  We try to watch him closely after he is done eating, but he doesn't seem to poop then.  He poops randomly, not always shortly after eating.  What can we do?  At this point, after having him for 8 months, we almost feel like we made a mistake in getting a puppy.  We love him dearly .... but.... this is getting very old.  Any suggestions?  Thanks!

Some dogs are quite difficult to house train.  This can be caused by the "breeder".  Certain breeds are very popular (such as your own) and are produced by backyard breeders, puppy mill breeders, and/or people who think they can make money doing it (always wrong unless they are really neglectful such as a puppy mill scenario).  Puppies from ignorant or neglectful breeding situations are not cared for properly by the dam (mother) if she is too young, bred too often (every estrus cycle as in a puppy mill), under nourished, living in cramped and filthy conditions,etc.  The dam will always push the puppies out of the whelping area when they reach an appropriate age and this teaches them to keep their immediate living space clean.  If the whelping area is filthy, if the area surrounding it is filthy (and not scrupulously maintained), the puppies cannot learn this.  Thus, they cannot generalize as older dogs (this means: learn the entire indoor space they inhabit is to be kept clean).  So owners find themselves with a difficult to solve problem.

The solution to this problem is your persistence and preventing the dog from continuing in his behavior.  Urinating on a bed is not a house training issue unless the dog simply lost control because he was not given a fair opportunity to eliminate outdoors - certainly NOT the situation in your case because you are loving and committed owners.  Urinating on a bed is a social statement and/or a sign of separation anxiety (I'm supposing it wasn't submissive urination because he was scolded for being on the bed).  The dog should not be allowed into bedrooms (keep the doors closed) or, for that matter, free run of the house.  When you are not at home, he can be safely and happily confined to the kitchen with soft bed, water and a Buster Cube (this is a "toy" that dispenses food when the dog rolls it around and, of course, that food must be considered as a portion of his two daily meals).  When you are at home, he should be in the room with you so you can observe him.  Since he is not urinating around the home (at least insofar as you know), he's halfway "there": to being house trained.  Pooping can be, and usually is, the last thing to fall into place (boy are there a lot of puns in that sentence or what?)

Keep outings short and sweet for the next month; the dog may really have no idea that going "out" is for elimination.  You do this by walking him on leash for a certain distance (not too far from home) five to six times a day (at his age and while trying to teach him).  He will learn to eliminate ASAP, especially when he learns that going BACK toward home means the opportunity is about to end.  This may take weeks.  Every single urination (and eventually defecation) outdoors must be softly and calmly praised AS the dog does it, then immediately offer a tiny treat (bit of string cheese).  He will very soon connect the praise/reward with his own actions (urinating/defecating OUTSIDE).  INSIDE he will be prevented (to the best of your ability) from deliberately defecating (or urinating) but, even should he do so, he will soon begin to choose the most rewarding behavior (doing it outdoors).  Once you see the dog "gets it" and he begins eliminating at the start of every short walk, defecation should begin to develop outdoors as well.  At that point, food reward ONLY defecation but continue to praise urination.

Regarding the basement: close the door.  If he has no access, or hope of access, to this place then he cannot repeat a behavior that, to him, has become the norm.  If you react with anger or even distress when you SEE his stool in the house, this signals the dog that his stool causes you distress and causes him anxiety and he will not produce it on leash in front of you.  Of course it's only "human" to register dismay and frustration but this may have delayed his training and might make it difficult to change his thought patterns about defecating in front of you.

Should the dog find another spot to defecate (i.e., when you are away, he does it in the kitchen), feed him his meals ON that spot.  If you catch the dog "in the act" of circling to defecate, clap your hands, sing a song to the ceiling, divert his attention, take him out and the stand there and wait for him to finish.  Circling a dog outdoors in a specific spot can stimulate the dog to defecate (since most dogs do circle before doing so.)

Let's just go forward with this game plan and report back using followup feature in about a month.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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