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It’s happened to us all. You come home from a long day and just want to play with your dog, but instead of excitedly greeting you at the door your pup cowers in the corner wearing the infamous “shame face.” You wonder what the deal is, but when your foot plops down in a cold pool of pee it all suddenly makes sense. Your dog thinks she’s in trouble.
But is punishment really the solution in such a situation? Maybe a better question is, did your dog really do anything wrong? After all, the “messes” a dog makes tend to be a product of separation anxiety or prolonged isolation (meaning they don’t get let out enough to properly relieve themselves). So it’s important to recognize that each mess your dog makes is an act of communication. Maybe they’re saying they need to go out more, or maybe they’re saying, “I missed you so much I just couldn’t hold it any longer!”
Either way, how you respond to your dog’s messages is essential to properly house-training your pup and keeping them in good spirits. Ultimately, your dog wants to know you accept them as unconditionally as they accept you, and each time they make a mess they’re just giving you another chance to say, “I’ll try harder if you will.” And then give ’em some belly scratch. Dogs love belly scratch.
Here are just a few of the ways you can respond to a mess that won’t make your dog feel like a criminal in their own home (and still keep your carpet clean):
1. Ignore the mess
To use positive reinforcement to stop your pup’s messes, you must first avoid positive punishment. Don’t punish or scold your dog, as it may only heighten the anxiety that led to the mess in the first place. Ignoring the mess allows you to avoid any positive associations the dog might link to the accident. Don’t even look at the mess, just lead your dog away and clean it when they can’t see.
2. Clean the WHOLE mess
Even clean the microscopic bits of it you can’t see, or else your dog will still be able to smell the icky residue and remember it as a spot it’s ok to go. We recommend nothing short of top-shelf urine eliminators to neutralize any lingering scents such as the Rug Doctor Platinum Professional Urine Eliminator.
3. Take it outside
After cleaning the mess, don’t just bag it and toss it in the kitchen trash bin. Your dog’s nose can be anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 times more powerful than yours! So even if you don’t smell it, your dog will smell it, and a house full of bathroom smells might as well be one big bathroom as far as your dog is concerned.
4. Create a safe space
If you come home to messes often, use a baby gate to section off a portion of your home (preferably a place your dog has NOT been marking) where you can consistently leave your pup, or try a crating. When it comes to your dog, there is such a thing as too much freedom. Creating a safe space will give your dog a sense of ownership over the space and will discourage them from making messes there.
5. Reward “good” messes before they make “bad” messes
Good messes are the ones that happen outside, and you should always reward your pup for pooping in the right place! The reward can be praise, pets, or treats. Whichever you choose, reward them consistently for going where you want them to go.
It’s important to note that if problems persist, avoid leaving the dog longer than their bladder can handle. You may also consider visiting the vet or a certified trainer. If your dog is reliably having accidents when you’re away for short periods, it may be a product of poor physical or behavioral health, since a urinary tract infection or separation anxiety may be the culprit. And nothing says love like giving your dog a clean bill of health. 🙂
Just remember, messes are temporary, but a dog’s love lasts a lifetime.
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