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Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, since 1877

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spcaLA Dog Training » Ask the Trainer

Behavior & Training Questions About Puppies

Frequent Urination

Question: We just got a Lab puppy about a month ago, he is about 16 weeks old and he is urinating rather often. We take him outside and almost immediately he has to go outside again. Is this behavior typical of puppies, or could there be something more serious wrong with him? Thank you for your help.

Answer: Frequent urination is not uncommon for young puppies. However, frequent urination can be a sign of a medical problem such as a urinary tract infection, especially if accompanied by straining during urination, strange odors or colors and/or blood in the urine. Visit your veterinarian to eliminate any possible medical problems.

Dogs may consume more water as the temperatures rise and this increases the amount of urine produced. You may need to alter your puppy’s potty schedule to account for this increase in fluid intake. With a little extra effort your puppy will grow into a wonderful family companion.

Urinating In House

Question: My dog is a one year old spayed female. She is a mixed breed but the spaniel type is predominant. She is very insecure and has the bad habit of urinating in the house when she is nervous or excited. Although she is housebroken and clearly understands that this is bad behavior, she seems helpless to do anything about it. We first thought that disciplining her was the way to go, but quickly found out that such punishment exacerbated the situation. Furthermore, we have heard all sorts of opinions by a good many people, including vets and dog trainers, who say that this is an inevitable character trait in spaniels. Is this true? If so, what can we do about it?

Answer: Some dogs, especially young ones temporarily lose control of their bladder when they become excited or threatened. This is called Submissive or Excitement Urination and usually happens during greetings, intense play, or when they are about to be punished. Some breeds are more prone to it than others.

If she urinates out of submission (example: rolls on her side and urinates when she is being greeted or reprimanded), determine the specific situations in which the behaviors occur. Is it when you stare at her or when you use a certain tone of voice? If so, don’t make eye contact when your greet her or speak to her softly and only for a short time. Encourage your dog to shift its focus away from being greeted by throwing a ball, engage her in a gentle game of tug-of war, or even give her a treat. Then, take her outside and allow her to urinate in a normal manner.

Punishment will likely increase your dog’s tendency to show submission, and therefore urinate more readily. At the same time, reaching down to pet and reassure your dog may be interpreted as a dominant or threatening gesture, again encouraging the submissive urination.

If she urinates from excitement during intense play or when she is greeting someone, the best thing to do is make sure her bladder is empty before you engage her in any games. When you come home after being away for a period of time, take her immediately outside. Only after she urinates outside should she commence with the greeting behavior.

Keep in mind that a spaniel mix which is a year old and continues to urinate when being greeted or when being reached for may need the aid of a professional trainer to work on specific counter-conditioning. Good luck with this frustrating, but curable problem.

Loving Puppy Chews On Everything

Question: I recently adopted a puppy from a shelter. He is adorable and very loving, but he chews on everything and has done major damage to shoes, pillows, etc. What can I do to help him stop?

Answer: In order to help your puppy break his chewing habit, you need to investigate why he is chewing inappropriate objects. Chewing is a normal and enjoyable behavior for dogs, so it’s important that your dog has several chew toys. When he is chewing appropriate items, pet him and tell him he is a good boy. Rotate his toys so that he doesn’t get bored, preferably meat-scented nylon, not rawhide smells similar to leather and makes it difficult for a pet to differentiate between a toy and a shoe. Make sure your pet doesn’t have access to anything that he is not allowed to chew until his behavior improves. This may take as long as 6 or more weeks.

Chewing is caused by many things. A puppy could be teething, in which case he must chew to relieve the itching and pain in his gums. Behavioral problems may also be the cause, such as stress or anxiety. Some anxieties are caused by separation from the owner, boredom, excessive petting, and overemotional homecomings.

Playing with your puppy regularly, like games of fetch or find it games will help your dog expend some excess energy thus helping him relax more when you are away. When you must be gone, leave your puppy a valuable, yummy chew bone. Hollow bones or Kong Toys stuffed with extra goodies can keep your dog busy while you are away.

It is important to secure your puppy in a safe area or crate when you cannot physically supervise him. Young puppies learn good house manners with on-going supervision from human companions, so it’s important for puppies to not learn inappropriate behaviors in the first place. Puppies left unattended with too much freedom will learn bad habits and bad habits are easier to prevent then fix.

Be firm in establishing a leadership role with your dog and take him to obedience school for professional training. Do not be over emotional when coming home or leaving. These “high points” may become your dog’s highlights of the day and if your schedule changes and you’re not there when he expects you, your dog’s anxiety level builds he will turn to chewing, barking or even digging to relieve stress.

When you give your dog excessive attention by holding or petting him every time you see him or letting him onto your lap whenever you are seated, he will expect to have you there at all times. When you're not there, he may become very anxious in your absence.

Too much attention is just as bad as none at all. Dogs left alone in the yard for long periods of time can become bored, lonely and depressed and turn to destructive behaviors to relieve stress, such as chewing, digging, excessive barking, pacing, even self-mutilation.

If you are uncertain why your dog is chewing inappropriate items and need help in altering his behavior, consult your veterinarian or animal behaviorist for assistance. A well-adjusted dog will bring you joy for years—and no time is better than now to start training him properly.