Teaching Ziva Commands and Respect for Rules to Stop Her Accidents in the House

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 13, 2014

ZivaZiva is a three-year-old Morkie. Her owner contacted me for help as Ziva only eliminated in the house and would only remain outside if her owner stayed there with her.

When I arrived for the session Ziva ran across the room to get as far away from me as possible. This is a classic sign of the dog that lacks confidence. The best way to deal with a situation like this is to completely ignore the dog which is how I proceeded.

As I discuss the situation with her owner, I learned that Ziva had no rules, boundaries or limitations to govern her behavior. Additionally I learned the dog did not know any commands and did pretty much what she wanted.

It’s pretty common to run across clients who believe that reducing the structure in a dog’s life is the best course of action when their dog is insecure. The reality is that this is really one of the worst things that you can do. When a dog is isolated, doesn’t have any challenges or rules to govern it’s behavior and doesn’t interact with new people or animals – it’s social and emotional growth is stunted.

During the discussion with her owner, I kept an eye out for Ziva and saw her peeking from around the corner of the couch but still staying across the room.  Usually a nervous dog will gets more curious the longer time goes by if the new person ignores it. However because she had absolutely no structure to her life, I could tell that halfway across the room was as close as she was going to come. I instructed her owner to grab a leash, put it on Ziva and then walk back over to our part of the room.

It was obvious that the Ziva was uncomfortable being this close to a stranger. She avoided eye contact and kept a somewhat stiff body language as she sat a few feet away from me. I had her owner pass the leash to me and pulled the dog a little bit closer but did not try to pet, speak to or interact with the dog aside from that.

To give Ziva some time to get comfortable at this proximity, I carried on the discussion with her owner. I suggested that she start to incorporate some clear rules and boundaries to help his Ziva understand what is and is not allowed.

One of these was not allowing Ziva up on the furniture for a month as dogs can perceive their rank in the pack to the height at which they sit.  Because Ziva was insecure, the last thing she needs is to feel the burden of responsibility that comes with being in a leadership position.

I also suggested that her owner start to ask the dog to sit before it goes in or out any doorway as well as changing from a free-feeding to a structured feeding regimen. While these are small changes to humans, they can have big impact on the dog’s behavior and perception of itself. A dog that lacks confidence is almost always more self assured when it identifies itself in a follower position.

I suggested that Ziva’s owner start practicing some basic dog commands to start building up her confidence. Sit, stay, lie down and recall are commands that every dog should master. Not only does this improve the communication and interaction between human and dog, the acquisition of these new skill sets will help Ziva feel a sense of pride which will lead to confidence.

I also suggested that her owner start taking Ziva out for a walk every day. Most dogs prefer being outside to inside, weather permitting. Not Ziva. Because Ziva had so little experience being outside, and because she is so bonded to her owner, the concept of being outside and away from the humans is almost inconceivable to this dog.

By taking Ziva out for a daily structured walk, she will become accustomed to the ritual and eventually begin to show interest in exploring the outside world. With this curiosity will come confidence as nothing bad happens on these daily walks. Additionally the structured walk will help define the leader follower relationship between Ziva and her owner.

Next I went over a few house training techniques and rules to incorporate to stop the elimination inside. Because dogs are most likely to need to eliminate after waking up, eating and heavy playtime, I suggested that her owner take Ziva outside immediately following any of these activities. If after three minutes is Ziva does not eliminate, I told her owner to bring her back inside and place her inside of her kennel. After 15 minutes I told her to take Ziva back outside and give her another three minutes to “do her business.” By repeating this process until the dog eliminates, we remove the ability for the dog to have an accident in the house.

Dogs usually will not eliminate if they are confined to a small space that prevents them from walking away from the elimination. By repeatedly placing the dog in the kennel after a failure to eliminate, we remove the ability for the dog to have an accident in the house. Eventually the dog realizes it has no choice but to relieve itself when it is outside.

By observing the dog closely during this exercise, we are able to witness the dog actually eliminating. This gives us the ability to assign a command word to the action. I instructed her owner to repeat the command word over and over anytime Ziva eliminates. By repeating this command word every single time that the dog urinates or defecates for the next 1 to 2 weeks, the dog will start to associate the word with the action.

Once this association is in place, the owner can simply say the command word to the dog at any point that the human believes the dog may need to go outside.

It will take a little bit of time and effort by her owner to change is Eva’s behavior as she has been eliminating inside their home for nearly three years. Once the leader follower dynamic has been changed, Ziva builds up some confidence with the new commands and interaction, her fear of being alone outside should subside and eventually disappear completely.

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