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My new rescue is two or three years old and housebroken. She will pee and poop when on walks, but doesn’t seem to want to pee in the backyard. She asks to go on walks all the time. In the backyard, she likes to play ball and will occasionally poop, but she has not peed there for a couple of days. I need her to pee first thing in the morning, and I would like to have her do so last thing in the evening. What can I do?
Congrats on having a dog who knows to go outside! Now we just need to help her understand exactly where outside we want her to go.
I encourage you to keep taking your dog on walks outside. For a dog, a good walk is a lot more than just a chance for bladder relief: It’s exercise, and exposure to lots of scents and sights and sounds that need to be processed, which is great mental exercise.
But I suggest that, for the next month, you walk her on the street only once a day. The rest of her “walks” should be in your yard. And here are some things you can do to encourage her to eliminate in the yard during these outings.
Keep her on a leash
Dogs are experts at making associations, and I’m sure that your dog has already made a connection between getting leashed up and peeing and pooping. In fact, it’s possible that just the sight of the leash will start getting her bowels moving.
Stay with her outside.
It can be tempting to open the door and just let your dog roam free in the yard until she decides to do her business, but during this initial training period, it’s better for you to stay with her. The presence of a person near her outside has probably long been paired with peeing and pooping, just as the leash has, so you being nearby will likely up the chances that she’ll be interested in going.
Reward her pees and poops!
Staying close to your dog outside will mean that you’ll be right there to swoop in with an excellent treat as soon as she goes. I suggest using something super high-value (like bacon, peanut butter, sliced turkey or cheese).
You can also present your dog’s entire meal after she goes. Just make sure she doesn’t see the food bowl until after she eliminates, lest she gets distracted.
Give her a cue word as she starts to go.
Pick a word, like “potty,” and say it just one time when she starts to eliminate. The goal, in the beginning, is simply to build an association between the word and the action. See here for a more detailed breakdown of how to put defecation and urination on cue.
Keep your outings short.
If she doesn’t go in the first two minutes you spend with her outside, come back inside and try again fifteen minutes later. You want her to learn that she needs to go as soon as she gets outside, not after lots of lollygagging. The shorter the window of opportunity is, the more likely she is to go early in the outing rather than later.
Save play time for after business time.
It’s great that you and your dog enjoy playing together in your yard, and I encourage you to keep that up. But use fetch or tug time as a reward that follows going. As Jean Donaldson puts it in her book Culture Clash, only “empty dogs play frisbee.”
Make your yard a little smellier.
Okay, I know this might be odd advice, but I suggest you build your yard’s urine bouquet. Part of the reason your dog probably likes to go for walks is that she enjoys smelling other dog’s pee. So, invite some friends with dogs over, and let them soak your yard.
Or, if you prefer, you can purchase various kinds of animal urine from outdoor stores like Cabela’s.
Learn your dog’s schedule.
Keep track of when you feed your dog and when she goes to the bathroom. This way, you can start to take your “yard walks” at times when you’re pretty sure she has to go, and/or you can adjust her feeding times to make sure that they will produce dividends during the times of day when you want her to go.
If you’re feeding her dry food, I would suggest switching to a frozen or dehydrated brand of fresh food, or at least to a limited-ingredient canned food. In my experience, the more processed the food, the more waste a dog produces. Therefore, if you’re trying to focus on getting her to go when and where you want, you’ll be better off if she is peeing and pooping as few times as possible during that day.
If all else fails, you could try paving part of your backyard. (Less yard work, right?) She might simply like the feel of concrete underfoot. Not every dog longs for grassy knolls!