Keeping Training a Service Dog Simple
A dog that can step over a series of rungs without knocking them over.
A dog that is careful with where his body is in space no matter what situation he is in.
When I take my adult dog out to the yard, and lead him around on a long line, he will sniff for a half hour before going potty. As my mobility decreases, I need him to potty sooner and of course, i don't want to stand out in the rain or snow either. How can I change this?
It sounds like he has learned to withhold his potty events until he's ready to go in. This is common when the outdoor time is not reliant on him pottying first. In other words, he needs to potty first and go sniff outside after after as the reward.
To change this, you will need to choose a new potty location in your yard. For example a 15 foot square defined area in your front yard rather than the back yard where he has been previous doing this behavior sniffing. (Changing the environment changes the behavior expectations). Don't worry this physical location change is only temporary until he understands the new way to do the behavior.
Starting first thing in the morning when you know he has to go pee, get dressed as if you are going for a walk, take him out on a leash (not a long line) and stand in the middle of the defined area and wait until he goes. Let him move and sniff around only in the defined area. It helps to anchor yourself on the spot. You can turn around on the spot but not step away. A six foot leash actually give him about a 15 foot radius which is plenty of space to explore to potty.
As soon as you get out there, set your phone timer or watch for 5 minutes. If he does not go in 5 minutes, then bring him back in and confine him to a small area in the house (X-pen or crate for example). Take him out again in an hour and repeat. Repeat for as many times as it takes for him to go in that 5 minute period. When he does, wait until he's done, then mark and praise him and take him for a long sniffy walk - at least his 30 minutes. If you repeat this each time you take him out (at least 4 times each day for most dogs-after meals, after training, play or sleeping, and before bed), he will start to understand that he must go potty first, then the play and walk comes afterward.
Once he is reliably going potty right away in the new location (10 times in a row), then you can start to take him back towards the previous location where he was pottying. The same rules apply in all locations of your yard now, including the the old location once you get there. Take him out, if he doesn't go in 5 minutes, back in the house and try again in an hour in the same location. If he does go, he gets a walk or playtime afterward. Later you can phase this into a yard or in-house training session if he enjoys those. What comes after the potty must be rewarding for him. Over time, you can shorten the activity or only go for a walk once or twice a day.
Since you are already out there with him, you can also add a cue to the potty and teach him to potty under "stimulus control" so later, you can cue him to go whenever and wherever you need him to.
While you train, make sure he is getting enough mental and physical stimulation each day. Do indoor training sessions, or ask a friend or hire a dog walker to supplement his walks 3 times a week. Good luck!
Did you know that Service Dog Training Institute offers a WHOLE class on selecting a service dog or assistance dog candidate?
It so important to start with the right dog that:
1. We created a whole class looking at how to determine your needs, puppy or adult, finding a breeder or rescue. Also included is key information about life stages of a dog (so you know and can prepare for each).
Here's an overview:
- Introduction to Choosing Your Service Dog Candidate!
- Lecture 1 General Points
- Lecture 2 Basic Biological Development of a Puppy
- Lecture 3 Social Development of Puppies
- Lecture 4 What Do You Need in an Assistance Dog?
- Service Dog Selection Homework 1
- Lecture 5 Selecting a Reputable Breeder and Puppy Buyer Etiquette
- Service Dog Selection Homework 2
- Lecture 6 Selecting an Adult Service Dog Candidate
- Service Dog Selection Homework 3
- Lecture 7 Preparation for Puppy Arrival
- References and Resources
2. We offer it for FREE!
Yes, choosing the right dog is key to success! While there are stories about miracle dogs rescued from bad situations becoming successful service dogs, those are celebrated by the media and such dogs are few and far between. The reality is that you need to start with a healthy dog with a great temperament that has been socialized from birth and living in a home environment. Those can be hard to find in today's world! Even in litters that are specifically bred for assistance work, only 3/7 successfully make it to the working stage. Even then, some of those dogs are retired early due to health issues that appear, temperament issues that occur later or trauma that occurs on the job. A well-bred dog shouldn't cost an arm and a leg. Many of the mixed breed dogs of unknown parentage do cost an arm and a leg (up to $3500!) and may result in high medical bills and a very low success rate as a service dog. If you go in educated you can avoid the costs and heartache involved in a failed service dog.
Here's the link. No gimmicks, no signing up for email lists!
Access it as often as you like! Share it with friends, family and colleagues.
Smaller dogs have traditionally been used for hearing alerts. Recently, more people are choosing small dogs and toy breeds as their service dog for other disabilities. Owner-trainers are selecting them for diabetes, seizures, PTSD and Anxiety. The benefits are easy to observe but examining the concerns are also worthwhile to make sure dogs of the smaller size are actually a good fit for the handler, the family environment and their resources.
A dog's small size means they may:
- be cheaper to feed
- have less fur overall (but still have grooming requirements)
- be easier to transport
- be easier to tuck out of the way
- may need less exercise than a larger dog (but not always true)
- have different health issues as a group than larger dogs
patellar luxation (knee cap)
protruding eye balls (especially in short-nosed breeds)
hypoglycemia (small size/fast metabolism means they have to eat more frequently to maintain normal blood sugar levels)
tracheal collapse (means you will need to use a flat walking harness)
Legg Calve Perthes (hip joint issue)
chronic valvular disease (heart disease)
- may have higher incidence of cryptorchoidism (undescended testicles) than larger dogs
- anal gland issues are more common in small dogs
- tooth and jaw issues are standard among small dogs (which also means more dental care, and smaller food which is more expensive)
- may be harder to potty train as they can sneak through small holes to potty out of sight in the house or may not be able to hold their bladder as long as larger dogs
- small dogs tend to be over-represented in puppy mills. Rescues/shelters take in many puppy mill dogs. These are dogs with unknown genetic, medical, and behavioral histories and do not make good service dog candidates.
- tiny dogs are not likely to be as effective in performing physical interruption type tasks
- may not be able to retrieve/drag larger objects
- may not be able to access higher locations/steps without help
- terriers like Jack Russel and fox terriers may need more exercise than you think!
- terrier breeds can be very persistent and predatory (including the tiny Yorkshire terriers)
- do not adapt well to harsh environments -may get cold or hot quickly in harsh environments or on hard floors
- shiver more often (draws attention to your dog, may need a coat in indoor environments)
- vet bills cost the same for small dogs as medium dogs. Sometimes spaying/neutering and operations can cost more due to the skill/attention to detail needed for operating on smaller bodies. Dental surgery is expensive as it requires a specialist.
- fragile structure-falling, jumping or being dropped from even low heights can break bones
- may be too environmentally sensitive or over-reactive-smaller dogs have have a faster metabolism, their flicker fusion rate in the eyes of small dog are higher so they tend to see more motion than larger dogs, tend to move faster, be more fearful
- may be more prone to alarm barking (unwanted as a service dog and you can be asked to leave if you cannot control your dog)
- most small dogs do not tolerate or enjoy being handled by children
- not as easy to socialize with other dogs and animals due to size difference and predatory issues
- may be injured if children are handling the dog (stay with medium and larger dogs with more solid structure and temperament if the dog is intended to be a child's assistance dog)
- ears harder to clean due to size (make sure you have the dexterity to do so or can hire a groomer regularly)
- may trigger predatory behavior in larger dogs you encounter in public
- may get stepped on (and have to be carried more often as a result, you will need to bend over to pick up a small dog)
- may not be taken seriously by retailers or accommodation providers (may be mistaken for "fake" service dogs (dubious about effectiveness of small size, unfamiliar with your breed as a service dog, etc)
- may attract unwanted attention from public
- you will be bending over for the lifetime of the dog (to reward behaviors, do hand targets-sue a stick, lift it over high barriers, keep him from harm etc)
- you will be sitting or kneeling to train at times, or elevating the dog for training
- Avoid breeds that have been "bred down" from a larger standard
- Avoid the toy breeds (dogs smaller than 15 lbs)
- Choose lines that have a heavier (more sturdy) bone structure
- Choose a breeder than breeds on the large size of the standard or get a mix with a slightly larger (also suitable) breed
- Find out what health tests have been done on the dog
- Find out about the genetic history of teeth of at least 3 generations back
- Brush your dogs teeth daily and give him things to chew
- Have regular dental check ups
- feed adult dogs at least twice a day, carry extra food for long days
- Watch for irregularities in gait, like a skip off one leg or the other now and then when running (patella)
- Avoid putting your dog in a shopping cart, use a snuggle/huggie tyoe carrier instead if you must keep him off the floor
- teach him to be confident on his own and where to tuck himself out of the way to avoid injury
Small Breeds to Consider
- conformation line beagle (breed only for companionship for many generations) (avoid hunting lines as they are higher energy, high prey drive and nose -oriented)
- conformation bichon frise
- Moyen poodle
- Miniature poodle (avoid toy sized)
- and mixes with the above breeds in them
Carefully consider your disabilities, the tasks the dog will be performing for you, your lifestyle, exercise levels, personality and those living around you (family and caregivers and other members of your support team), costs and make sure that the individual dog you choose is right for you.
When considering what alert behavior you want to train, here are some things to keep in mind:
*Alerts should be passive alerts. That is the dog finds the scent and indicates where it is without disturbing it. This is ideal for allergens as the handler does not want the dog to bring particles of the allergen back to them.
*Alerts should be a behavior you will clearly recognize as an indication the dog has found a sample of the allergen. If you choose a behavior that your dog commonly does, you may miss the alert. Choosing a down for a dog that lies down when waiting may not be a good choice. You could add on a specific behavior to the common behavior such as a paw cross if that behavior would be better for the environments you need the alert in. On the other hand, choosing a really showy behavior may draw unwanted attention to you and the dog.
*The behavior must be simple enough that you can figure out how to teach it to your dog. Having a long chain of behaviors (several behaviors in a row) as an alert can make it harder to train. Capturing a slightly unusual behavior your dog does can be an easy way to train and make it a more natural behavior for your dog.
*You must decide if you want the dog to alert the allergen at it source or come back to your side and then alert.
*For an allergic alert, the dog must not interact with the scent as you don't want her accidentally bringing it back on her paws or fur. If you dog tends towards using her paws, avoid paw-reated indications and the default behavior could easily return to pawing the scent.
*How precise of a location alert do you need? Does the behavior allow the dog to indicate in a precise way or is a general presence/absence alert more what you need (as in allergens that travel in the air). Traces of allergens can be anywhere in the room from on the floor, on people, on door knobs and handrails, elevator buttons and even in the air (as in an airborne allergy).
*Choose a behavior that is not going to stress your dog's body if it will be repeated over and over (as it will be during training sessions). Your dog could easily do 80 to 100 repetitions (or more) in a day. 3 sessions of 30 repetitions= 90.
Here is a list of passive (allergy) alert behavior ideas:
- sit and paw lift
- down and paw cross
- nose nudge leg (or hand)
- nose touch and hold on leg or hand (target spot must be accessible to dog at all times standing, sitting and laying down)
- dog grabs "bringsel" (a thin bumper attached to his collar) and holds it in his mouth
- stand and scratch floor with paw (near but not on allergen)
- stand and paw lift (point)
- quiet talk (more of a conversational woo, woo-not barking)
- beg (sit up pretty)
- tipping head up (yes nod) or sideways (no)
- chin on floor or chair holding still towards scent
- nose touch held in place without the physical contact
- spin once
- back leg lift/stretch
- kicking with back legs (like after a defecation)
- rear up and paw (ends up more of a dance where she places paws on my arm)
- back away from allergen
- bow and scooting back away from allergen
- grab wrist/sleeve and lead you away
- tug on a toy attached to your waist and lead you away
- physically block you from allergen (stand stay crosswise in front of you that resists your forward movement)
Here are 4 videos that give an overview of the realities and needs of self-training your own service dog.
Part 1 The Need (3.43 min)
Part 2 Resources and Laws (5.21 min)
Part 3 The Dog (3.03 min)
Part 4 Training and Common Situations Handlers Deal with (5.25 min)
Please feel free to share this link with anyone you know who is thinking about Do it Yourself DIY training or just starting to train their own service dog or assistance dog!
Once your dog has been trained to do a specific behaviour, any training tool you use needs to be gradually removed from training (faded) or replaced with a different cue for the dog to know that she's working. Fading is the process of removing the training tool from use usually after a cue is added to the finished behaviour.
Why Not Stop Using Training Tools Cold Turkey?
While some dogs who catch onto concepts quickly (those who are able to generalize well) will quickly adapt to removing a training tool, most dogs need transition time to learn a new cue for the behaviour, then learn that the tool is not actually needed as a cue to do the behaviour. They need structure to gradually remove their reliance on the tool to know what to do and when to do the behaviour.
Fading the tool rather than just removing it will reduce frustration for both the handler and the dog. Fading prevents the extinction phase that occurs when removing training tools cold turkey.
What Training Tools for Service Dogs Need to be Faded?
- targets (nose, paw, stick)
- front clip harnesses
- head halters
- prong collars
- any other tool you have introduced to help you teach your dog a new behaviour
What Process Would You Use for Each?
First, make sure that your dog understands and can perform the behaviour fully, the behaviour is "on cue" and the dog can perform the behaviour a timely manner in each specific environment, and with some distractions. What that level of distraction is depends on the training tool and what behaviour it is used for.
Next, break down the criteria to fade for each tool. Looking at single criterion and breaking each one down can help make the fading process fast and easy. Here are some criterion for the examples above.
- lures- "fake" luring (presence/absence of food), lure changed to hand signal, food or toy delivered after mark from out of sight (treat pouch or table top).
- targets (nose, paw, stick)-size, texture, distance
- platforms/pivot-height, size, shape, texture, presence/absence
- barriers-distance from them, solid or see through, presence/absence
- mats-size, thickness (height), presence/absence
- front clip harnesses-other cue
- head halters-other cue, attached to leash/unattached, presence/absence
- prong collar-other cue, attached to leash/unattached, inside out, presence/absence
3 Examples of Loose Leash Walking (Loose Heeling) Training Collars
I want to be clear that these tools do not teach the dog to walk on a loose leash. It is what else the handler does that teaches the dog where and how to walk on a leash. We know this because if the tool is removed, the dog will move out of position, and even pull on the leash. Until the handler takes the time to teach their dog the position where they want her to be, that it is a rewarding place to be, to stay in that position as the handler moves around obstacles in life and to move with any slight pressure from the leash, the dog doesn't really understand the behaviour and is likely only responding to the presence of the tool. Tools that restrain a dog are actually more for the handler than the dog. It gives the handler confidence that they can control the dog until a strong enough relationship is built that the training tool is no longer necessary.
Flat Walking Harness: Front Clip
This is what SDTI recommends for all dogs to wear. A vest or bandana with a Service Dog patch is typically worn over top of the harness. The harness does not tighten or chaff and can be put on easily with a clip rather than a buckle. Some examples: Balance Harness or Perfect Fit or similar designs like the cheaper Hamilton Harness. The leash is attached to the front chest clip to redirect the dog back to you when she pulls.
Do training set ups at home. To start fading the front clip, attach a double-ended leash or use two leashes. One clips to the front chest ring and one to the back ring.
With the dog at your side, hold the leashes so that the back ring leash is a little shorter than the front ring leash. That way you can put a little tension on the back clip, then put tension on the front clip. Mark and reward the dog when she responds by moving closer to you. This introduces the tension on the back clip which becomes a new cue for the front clip tension.
Repeat until your dog is reliably responding to the back clip pressure the same way she does for the front chest ring. Now add some movement, keeping the back clip leash a little shorter than the front clip leash. That way if your dog pulls, tension is put on the back clip first and the front clip second.
Once you can walk about 50 feet with your dog moving with you, gradually increase the distraction level. When she is successful, you can stop using the front clip by unclipping and removing the front clip leash and just holding the leash attached to the back or top of the vest or back clip.
Most dogs really dislike the head halter, some designs more than others. In addition, members of the public mistake this tool for a muzzle, which does not give them confidence in the handler's ability to control the dog. So the sooner you can wean your dog off this tool if you are suing it, the better.
Do training set ups at home. Teach your dog that gentle tension on the back clip means the same as gentle tension on the head collar. Attach a double-ended leash or use two leashes: one goes to the head halter ring and one to the back of the vest or flat walking harness. Hold the leash so that the back clip is a little shorter than the head halter leash. That way you can put a little tension on the back clip, then put tension on the front clip. Mark and reward the dog when she responds by moving closer to you. This introduces the tension on the back clip is a new cue for the front clip tension. Repeat until your dog is reliably responding to the back clip pressure the same way she does for the head halter. Gradually increase the distance you walk with her. Then the distraction level.
When she is successfully responding to the slight leash pressure on the back ring, use only one leash on the back ring and having the dog wear the head halter but not attaching the leash to it. Review loose leash walking like this until you are confident that your dog will keep the leash loose without the leash attached to the head collar in more and more distracting environments. When she is successful with that, take the head collar off and go for a short walk in an easy environment to see if your dog understands the behaviour is the same as when she is wearing the head halter.
Prong Collar or Pinch Collar
You can follow the same approach as the two other tools above to teach your dog that tension on the back ring of a harness or vest is a new cue for the prong collar. (We do not advise the use of a prong collar but offer this information for those who are already using one and want to fade it.)
Do training set ups at home. Teach your dog that gentle tension on the back clip means the same as gentle tension on the prong collar. Attach a double-ended leash or use two leashes: one goes to the back of the vest or harness ring and one to the prong collar. Hold the leash so that the back clip is a little shorter than the prong. That way you can put a little tension on the back clip, then put tension on the prong. Mark and reward the dog when she responds by moving closer to you. This introduces the tension on the vest/back clip is a new cue for the prong tension. Repeat until your dog is reliably responding to the back clip pressure the same way she does for the prong. Gradually increase the distance you walk with her. Then gradually increase the distraction level.
When she is successfully responding to the slight leash pressure on the back ring, use only one leash on the back ring and having the dog wear the prong but not attaching the leash to it. Review loose leash walking like this until you are confident that your dog will keep the leash loose without the leash attached to the prong in more and more distracting environments.
When she is successful with that, turn the prong inside out and repeat the process. This gives her the feel of wearing something on her neck. Go for a short walk in an easy environment to see if your dog understands the behaviour is the same as when she is wearing the prong. Next, take the prong off and use only the leash attached to the back ring.
If you find that you cannot easily fade the training tool, then the fading steps you are using may be too big for your dog. Try breaking the criterion down finer or giving your dog more time at each step, or training each step in different locations to help her generalize. Problem-solving is key! Contact us to book a web cam session if you need help fading tools!
Making errors can be very stressful for a dog, especially one working in public where the spotlight is on them. They don't deliberately try to make mistakes. Training is ongoing and you and your dog are always learning together, no matter how much experience you have together.
The big question is what you do when your dog makes a mistake? How you deal with the situation can either build your relationship or create confusion and degrade what bond you have.
Sure you have bad days and your dog does too! And he is allowed to have them! He's not a robot just like you aren't.
If he has made the mistake twice in a row (no matter how big or small the mistake is), it's time to stop, take a break and take stock in what is going on for the dog.
Start with Asking Questions to Clarify the Situation
1. Does he truly know the behavior? Does he know exactly what is expected of him?
2. Do you see any signs of stress? Specific behaviors like avoidance behaviors are very high level indicators while nose tip licks and averting his eyes tend to be signs of lower levels of stress.
3. Does he understand the cue? Have you put in enough repetitions that it has become muscle memory and he just responds to the cue as a stimulus (think can opener and cat comes running).
4. Is what your body cuing to do and what your mouth is saying actually the same thing?
5. Have you given him time to acclimate to the environment? or did you rush right in and expect him to work? Just like when you go to a party and take a look around to get your bearings before choosing where to move in, your dog needs this time as well. He needs to feel comfortable in the environment so he can work.
6. Is there something in the environment telling him to do something other than what you are telling him to do?
7. Have you given him the foundation for length of time that he needs to be able to sustain the behavior in the new environment? If he can't do it at home, he's not likely to be able to do it away from home.
8. Have you trained with the specific distractions that he is concerned about or distracted by? What might be competing for his attention?
9. Are you trigger stacking him? In other words, are there are too many things going on that he is over his ability (threshold) to deal with and think about what he is doing?
10. Have you prepared him to do the distance that you are asking him to do?11. Did you skip some steps when training in the environment? This can result in a dog that is confused what behavior you want or how long you want it for. This might be called the "miracle method" where your dog is not succeeding in other environments and you decided to just take him anyway and see how he does.
12. Can you control the immediate environment well enough that your dog can feel comfortable and focussed to work?
If you can honestly answer these questions and admit that you believe your dog has been properly prepared for both the behavior and the situation he finds himself in, here are some ideas of how to handle error.s
How to Handle Errors:
A. Cheerfully reset him the first time. "That's okay buddy, let's try it again!"
A reset might involve taking a small step to the side and re-cuing the behavior, followed with a mark and reward.
Or it might be taking him out of the environment and approaching it again.
B. If he makes two errors in a row, you need to ask him for something a little easier so he can succeed.
Decrease the duration of the behavior, the distance from you or the target, or move away from a distraction.
Set him up to show you what he CAN do, rather than what he can't.
C. If you suddenly realize that you've asked for too much, reward your dog for attempting the behavior.
If he refuses to lay down, for example, but will go part way down, mark and reward him on the way down!
You will know when he's made an effort if he does the behavior but maybe only part of it. That's a great start!
You can use shaping the behavior on the spot to get more of the behavior!
D. If he makes an error again, stop the session, give the dog a break and ask yourself (or helpers, or watch the video if you've been recording) "Why isn't he succeeding? What do I need to change so he can succeed?"
You may need to abort the that specific behavior and come back to it later after he's acclimated to the environment.
For the break, and while you are evaluating what is going on, take him somewhere to be a dog for 10 minutes or more, then come back and try again but train the behavior in an easier environment.
Work at the edge of the environment or at the back of the room to see if he can succeed there. You can move further into the room if he is successful.
E. Teach the behavior to a higher level in other more familiar environments. Make sure he can perform it to a higher level than he will ever need to perform it in real life. You can make it fun to add more duration, distance and distraction. Use an incremental approach to prepare him well. Be creative but be kind! Avoid surprising him.
Do specific set ups with specific distractions to teach your dog that he can indeed ignore the distractions and perform the behavior no matter what is going on around your team.
If you think of your dog's mistakes as information to what you are asking him to do, rather than his failure, then it's just that, information. Use that information to change what you are doing to help him succeed. That is how you build his confidence, trust and grow as a team!
As a trainer/handler you need to always be on the alert to what your dog is feeling and adapt what you ask him to do to what he is capable on that day in that moment. You are a partnership and while he supports you, you also need to support him.
if you need some support to come up with ways to break behaviors down into smaller steps, creative ways to over-prepare him for specific situations, and generally help your dog succeed in public, contact us!
We can help you plan beforehand and also deal with the situation in the moment, real time by phone or webcam.
Marking in dogs is defined as when the dog lifts his leg on objects or people and leaves behind a small amount of urine.
Marking is thought to be related to marking a territory. The dog leaves his scent to tell other dogs he has been there. It is a natural behavior for feral or village dogs but typically an unwanted one in pet dogs, especially indoors. It helps to think of it as a form of communication.
The most common reason a dog marks is when a dog that is not confident and may feel the need to mark objects and even people. Most dogs seek objects that stick out in the environment. In a mowed lawn, the dog will find the tallest bunch of grass. Of course they also mark posts, rocks, trees and man-made objects. When this behavior occurs indoors inappropriately, (such as lifting a leg on furniture or walls) this behaviour is most often see when a dog is stressed. Outdoors, is is often seen in the context of excitement. Keep in mind that stress can be both bad or distress and good or eustress (excitement). I would argue that a dog patrolling his territory that marks to let others know he is there is also experiencing the stress of the threat of an invader. Hence the need to mark. If the dog doesn't care or is happy to share his territory, he/she doesn't mark as much (personal observation). Dogs can also be triggered to mark by the presence of ammonia-containing products such as cleaning solutions. This could be interpreted as the dog seeing another dog in his territory. That is stressful.
When a service dog marks indoors in a new environment, it might that he is stressed in that environment or that other dogs have been there and urine residue is left from other dogs or cleaning solution. If he is leaving a longer stream of urine, it more likely indicates that he has not yet generalized the potty cue to mean where you indicate only and may be a clue that the behavior is not yet under stimulus control.
Stress increases cortisol production in the body and higher level of cortisol causes more urine to be produced. So more urine needs to be excreted.
Some dogs use marking as a displacement behaviour. That means when they are uncertain about something or want to change how they are feeling, they do a behaviour that is a common behaviour to them (the thought is that it provides some comfortable to them as well as gives them time to process the situation). This might included sniffing the ground, scratching themselves, yawning, looking away or even peeing for short bursts (marking).
Any major stressor can trigger a dog to start marking when that dog has never marked before.
- Changes in living situation: joining a new family, adding or losing another dog or person. Change of physical arrangement (furniture) or living in a different house.
- Change in the relationship or health of another dog or cat in the house.
- Addition or use of ammonia-based cleaning products. These contain the same chemical as urine and residue may trigger a dog to want to "over-mark" as if he is covering another dog's urine.
- Very high arousal such as playing with another dog or doing a very exciting activity.
- Change in development stage (adolescent increase in testosterone typically peaks at 11 months)
- Going through a fear period.
As the situation is resolved (the dog gets more comfortable with a new living situation, relationships and trust is built, or the dog gains skills in dealing with situations and or individuals that trigger concern or fear), there will likely be a reduction of marking. For example, my current female dog Jessie (GSD mix) used to mark about every 50 feet on walks when we first got her (7 months to about 2.5 years). She was a nervous dog who had just changed homes, was now living with 2 senior dogs and people of different age and activity level than she was accustomed to. As she grew more confident /comfortable with us and learned where her boundaries were with our senior dogs and us, the need to mark decreased. She had been spayed at 10 weeks of age so that was not part of the issue.
Another example, I had a ESS/Dal mix who would only pee in the yard. He would not mark there. When we got a second dog, our golden, he started marking in the yard. Once he felt comfortable with her a few weeks later, he stopped marking. When he was away from home he rarely marked. Only when he encountered larger male dogs that he was worried about, would he mark several locations near the other dog until we moved away from that dog. He did not do this near small dogs of either sex or female dogs of any size. He was neutered at 8 months of age.
How do you Prevent or Solve the Issue?
1. First, rule out a health issue for frequent urination such as a bladder infection (often seen in females they strain to pee and very little comes out, may be accompanied with blood in the urine).
2. Look at the situation from your dog's perspective. How might he be feeling? What might be stressing him out? How can you build his confidence?
3. Handle the situation as you would a small puppy:
- Confine your dog when you cannot directly supervise (meaning you are actively watching him). Keep him in one room with you. Close doors or put up baby gates. Block access to areas behind couches etc that you cannot see.
- Take him out on an hourly basis.
- Clean up any residue with vinegar and enzymatic cleaner which breaks the urine down into chemicals not recognized by a dog. Make sure to clean anything marked by other dogs and also clean splashes on walls. Depending on how bad the marking has been, you may need to clean drapes or even remove the carpet and replace with smooth flooring.
4. Build his confidence
- Introduce him to other family members more gradually. Give him his own space. Give him time to acclimate to a new location, people etc.
- Work with both dogs together but with a barrier between them (X-pen, baby gate etc) to give the new dog space. Gradually reduce the distance between them, then when the two dogs are showing relaxed body language in each other's presence, you can reduce or remove the barrier.
- Use counter conditioning to desensitize him to scary things.
- Use a structure like the "Look at That" game from Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed.
5. Reduce the frequency of potty outings.
6. Put the pee behaviour on cue (service dogs need this behaviour anyway). Teach it to the point of stimulus control. Start with teaching it in your yard. Then cue him to pee before you leave home so he's empty.
Next, choose a few designated places on your daily walks where he is allowed to pee and cue him to do it there. He is not allowed to pee anywhere else. Interrupt him (9. below) if he starts to pee anywhere else.
7. When he is not needing to go out as frequently to pee (about 4 hours), gradually increase the amount of space or rooms that he has access to. Start this by spending time in that new space or room with him: let him explore while supervised right after being out for a pee, play with him, provide a chew toy to chew on, bring his mat a crate for resting while you watch tv or talk on the phone etc.
8. Teach him a positive interrupter such as a kissy sound to have him turn back to you. Build up the distraction level gradually so he learns to turn back to you no matter what the distraction might be.
9. Then, if you catch your dog in the act of starting to mark (sniffing around or hiking his leg) in the house or away from home, use a positive interrupter (such as a kissy sound) to redirect him. It is perfectly okay to pull firmly and steadily on his leash to move him away from the object he is peeing on if he is slow to respond to your interrupter.
10. When training in public places, be aware that some stores that use ammonia to clean their floors and windows and that ammonia is found in plant fertilizers (garden centres). Many well-trained dogs make mistakes when ammonia residue is present. At least, it might explain why your dog might be making the mistake. It simply means you need to do more proofing and train some set ups with ammonia.
Spaying or neutering may reduce making but does not stop it. Do your homework before spaying or neutering your dog as there can be both physical health and behaviours side effects especially in Golden Retrievers and German Shepherd dogs. (See Health blog posts)
Both males and females may mark, spayed or neutered or not. Interestingly, both sexes may also lift their legs when they pee or mark.
Once it becomes established, the behaviour may be a learned behaviour (habit). Getting help with behaviour modification may be needed from a professional positive reinforcement trainer.
Belly bands (bands that are put around a male dog's belly and over his penis) or panties for female dogs can be problematic as they can keep bacteria in contact with the skin and result in health issues if not changed very frequently. Changing how the dog feels and the environment to help that is a far more effective way to help your dog change the behaviour.
When first starting out with your service dog candidate (whether puppy or "new to you" dog), it can be fun to teach new behaviors and tricks! Learning how to learn is an important part of a service dogs skills. You do need to be careful with your choice of the first 5 or 6 behaviors though, as choosing the wrong ones can add more work or even derail your training as your dog progresses.
Some of these behaviors can be used as alert behaviors later on so we want to be thoughtful how we teach them and what cue we pair them with. This means after YOU have some experience in training behaviors and have a better idea of what you are doing and your dogs' temperament is like.
All of these behaviors are likely to become default behaviors when your dog dog doesn't know what else to do, when you are shaping him or when he gets frustrated. Most of them are self-reinforcing, which means just doing them feels good, no reinforcement is needed from you so he will keep doing them even when you don't want them. They can also be hard to get rid of once they are established, even if you teach a cue for them and put them under stimulus control.
Wait until your pup or dog understands the concepts of a 'behavior on cue' and 'stimulus control' for at least 5 more basic (foundation) behaviors before you teach any of these.
- spinning (this can become a obsessive compulsive behavior)
- shake a paw (can interfere with a nose target since the cue is very similar, a lifted paw encourages others to interact with your service dog, can interfere with a dog's communication with you since you might misinterpret it)
- jumping up or paws up even if on cue (especially with large dogs and the behavior an become an attention seeking behavior)
- licking face
- biting at your face (misinterpreted by others)
- lifting lips "smile" (can be mis-interpreted as a snarl by strangers, is also an appeasement behavior)
- barking (on cue) Service dogs can be asked to be removed from a public place if they are disruptive. (Avoid teaching barking as an alert behavior)
- ringing bells to go out to potty
- scratching the door to go out (wooden doors get damaged in public places)
- nose nudge of hand (can easily become a demand to pet behavior when you are distracted especially if you absently stroke the dog's head)
Save sniffing for medical alerts until later as well. Sniffing comes naturally to dogs and scents do not need to be "imprinted" at a young age for the dogs to be successful medical scent detectors (diabetic alerts, seizure alerts etc).
Great behaviors you want to start with instead are:
- eye contact
- four on the floor
- nose target
- bringing things to you
- dropping objects
- following you (loose leash walking off leash)
- adding duration to all wanted behaviors
Check out our Foundations Skills Classes for guidance on how to start teaching the basic skills a service dog will need.