Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Adventures in Potty Training

Nicki is a very complex little creature. She has obviously been through some abuse, and I believe she's also suffered neglect.

That she's been abused is revealed in how she reacts to men. Not universally, but she is often hesitant or even fearful with men. For the first few months with us, Nicki would pee submissively every time she saw my husband. He was unfailingly patient with her, and he wouldn't hurt a fly. Nonetheless, she was clearly intimidated by the man in the house.

Out in the world, her encounters with men ran the gamut. Some got the cowering, submissive pee, others got a happy dog eager to interact with them. I couldn't see any correlation between their appearance or her reaction - so it must have been something else that only animals can detect. I do NOT think that her negative reactions indicated that the males in question were bad or mean. Rather, I think there was something about them that made her think of other males who had been abusive with her.

When Nicki was rescued, she had been left tied outside on a fence for who knows how long. She apparently wasn't brought into the house much. Dogs left outside don't have any reason to restrict the location in which they relieve themselves. They're outside, after all. They pick a spot and do what they must. If that goes on for most of their time, they have no thought not to continue the behavior when brought inside. In a neglect or abuse situation, a dog that eliminates in the house will only be shoved outside again. Nobody learns anything that way, and the dog has no clue why they're being shunned.

Before Nicki got the idea that this is her house, too, there was a lot of elimination in the house. It was frustrating! We never scolded or punished. We cleaned up and forgave. Obviously, though, nobody mops urine out of a rug for the umpteenth time without emitting an "I am NOT happy about this!" vibe. Although we restrained our outward reactions, dogs know us too well to be fooled. Nicki undoubtedly knew we didn't appreciate it.

As luck would have it, just as things began to improve, the weather started to turn cold. This year, the change was pretty abrupt. Nicki, being from the south, hadn't had to cope with a Northern winter before - that we know of. We had several instances in which we let her out to "do business", but she spent only moments out in the cold. Then she'd come back into the warm house, head to the dining room rug, and relieve herself. We had read the signs correctly: she had to go. She was also apparently telling us that, she may go out into the cold if we insisted, but she'd rather use the indoor facilities, thanks. So the problem became how to convince her that there were no "indoor facilities"?

We began keeping the door to the dining room closed. Nicki had no access to that room unless we were physically with her, walking through it to go outside. She was free to run in the rest of the house. Once she understood that this was our shared den, she stopped eliminating indoors - except for that dining room rug. Obviously we thoroughly cleaned the rug using enzymatic products. Still, given a chance, she'd prefer the rug to the freezing yard. Can't say I blame her!

We also continued to watch her very carefully outdoors. As soon as she was done with her mission, we brought her back into the warm house, gave a treat, and praised her for "good business". We're still doing that.

Gradually, we began leaving the dining room door open during the day. Nicki heads to the door for business, and heads through that room, usually without pause. One morning when I slept in, Nicki was particularly keen on going out, and my hubby had left the dining room door open! I raced down the stairs after Nicki, to find her sniffing and circling on the rug. I immediately ran to the back door, calling to her. She followed immediately, went right out, and disaster was averted! Nonetheless, that tells me that it's up to us to continue to put Nicki in situations where success is guaranteed. We need to remain vigilant, continue to reward and praise, and think ahead.

Rescued dogs can have some serious issues and big problems. I don't think this is that much of a problem, actually. It's only been six months. And besides, the weather's turning warmer again. ;-)

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