Q: I rescued an 11-year-old Bichon Frise who was raised in a puppy mill. She’s very nervous and very attached to me. If I make a move in the house, she’s right with me. I can handle that, but I can’t handle that she relieves herself in the house. She’ll go outside, but always watches the door so she can see where I am. Any suggestions? — J.H., via cyberspace
A: Here’s the million-dollar question: Does your dog have separation anxiety (relieving herself indoors mostly when you’re not home), or is this a house training issue?
“If the accidents mostly occur after you leave the house, given what you’ve said, there’s a strong indication that the problem is related to separation anxiety,” says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Valarie Tynes, a contributor to the book “Decoding Your Dog,” authored by various members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and co-edited by Dr. Debra Horwitz, Dr. John Ciribassi and myself.
“Raised in a puppy mill, it’s a real possibility that the dog developed a substrate preference for a hard surfaces, or something other than grass,” she adds. “As the dog may have been forced to do its business indoors — not uncommon in puppy mills.”
If that’s the case, think of your dog as a puppy again, suggests Tynes, and house train her as you might a puppy. Take her outside on-a-leash, pace to encourage elimination, and when she “performs,” offer instant praise and a special treat.
Since this dog is very attached to you, instead of letting her fret about where you are when the she’s outside, Tynes suggests taking the pup out to do her business on a leash, so you’re standing right there. The problem might be solved simply by your presence. Praise and reward your dog instantly for relieving herself.
Some people reward a dog for doing its business as the pet comes back inside. However, in this case you’re rewarding the pet for coming back to you — not for doing her business away from you. For your dog, that would be counterproductive.