By Louisa Golden / Special to the OB Rag
“And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always.” (Rudyard Kipling)
Spring is nearly here and with the warming weather, OBceans can expect the local dog population to explode. Warmer, longer days mean that more people will be getting out and taking their dogs for walks. Strolling in the neighborhood with your First Friend is a great pleasure. Doing your duty to clean up after Fido is not. With a little management and planning, you and your dog can enjoy your daily promenade without the hassle.
Potty-less walking is convenient, relaxing, clean and great for public relations. Noise and filth are two of the biggest complaints the general public have against dog owners. Even if you pick up after your dog, others may resent seeing your animal in the act of using their lawn or sidewalk as a toilet. Being in control of when and where your dog eliminates means you can take your dog to public places without worry.
Relax at the coffee house. Cruise the isles at Home Depot. You and your dog can be worry free in all sorts of public settings. As with all training, teaching your dog to go on command will improve your relationship with your canine pal.
To achieve poop free dog walks, you will need to put potty-ing and sniffing on cue and keep certain dog handling techniques in mind. All that may seem like a bother, but the training is easy and fun. Even better, these foundation skills can be used in many different settings.
Step One: Teaching your dog to “go” on cue.
Catch your dog eliminating in your own yard. As he goes, give whatever cue you want to use for going potty. Take care with your cue choice. Common phrases such as, “Hurry Up,” might not work well because you use them in everyday speech. Using common words as a potty cue can be confusing to your dog, who might end up piddling on your carpet when really all you wanted was your teenager to get a move on. My own dog, Miss Mollie Pink, understands the phrase, “Better Go Now.”
After your dog has completed his task, reward him well. Give treats, petting, playing and plenty of attention. At first, you will need to give him several minutes of celebration for his good work. Note this: Dogs cannot urinate and defecate at the same time. Your dog may need to urinate one or even several times before he can defecate. Reward each effort, and give a huge jackpot for defecation. The entire process may take as long as five or ten minutes in the beginning. Once your dog understands there is a benefit to going, he will likely be able to empty himself in less than a minute.
Never take your dog for walks until he has done his business. Once he has done his business, always take your dog for a walk (or at least give him treats, praise and play time). When your dog learns that after he has pooped, he gets to go out for a walk, you will find he will accomplish his task promptly.
Before producing waste, dogs sniff. Having sniffing on cue makes walking for exercise easier, makes your dog more polite and makes it more likely you will have a clean walk. While your dog is on a leash, catch him sniffing and tell him to, “Go sniff.” As he sniffs, praise him enthusiastically. After a few minutes, tell him, “Leave it,” or, “That’s enough,” or whatever cue you already use to let your dog know you want him to stop what he is doing and do something else. Once you have told him to stop sniffing, cue him to move on using your usual cue for that. “Let’s go,” or “Heel,” or whatever you generally say as you walk on. If your dog does not know the cues for leaving something alone or beginning a walk, teach those separately.
Step three: Intelligent Handling.
Handling refers to how you manage your dog on walks (or any other time, for that matter). Do you walk your dog? Or does your dog walk you? If your dog is walking you, your relationship with your dog will suffer and you WILL be cleaning up more often than you otherwise would.
The easiest way to start is by clipping on the leash (a real leash, not a thirty foot flexi-leash). If your dog is on the end of a six foot leash, you will be aware of what is happening at the end of your dog.
I know. Your dog doesn’t need a leash. He’s perfect and friendly and never goes far. Use the leash anyway. It is the law. It makes people who don’t like dogs feel more comfortable. It keeps your dog safer from all kinds of accidents and assaults. Most importantly for this article, it makes it almost impossible for you to miss the fact that your dog has just paused to defecate. Use a leash.
Once your dog has gone potty in your own yard and has the proper outfit for city walks, get moving. Walking faster is more natural for healthy dogs. Most dogs prefer walking about 30% (my guesstimate) faster than most people. Stepping up the pace will keep your dog more focused on you and less interested in sniffing. If your dog looks like he might like to stop and smell, keep right on going. He will come along, too, happy you have made a choice and willing to follow wherever you go.
As you walk briskly along, your dog in tow, do keep him on the sidewalks. Keep him off your neighbor’s lawns and shrubs. Just as it is rude for you to wander through your neighbor’s garden, it is also rude for your dog to wander through. If your dog wanders onto someones grass, just call him off in a pleasant voice and tell him he’s a good boy once he’s off. Catch him walking on the sidewalk and give him praise or even a treat. Soon, he’ll understand that he gets praise when he walks close to you and out of gardens.
If your dog manages to get his nose to the ground and start sniffing, regain his attention quickly. You can call his name, pat your leg, make kissing sounds, whoop and run a few steps, suddenly go in another direction, or any number of things. Being able to control when a dog sniffs is key to preventing accidents on walks. It is also great when taking your dog to public places. You can prevent his slobbering all over store displays and other people’s belongings wherever you choose to go.
Once you are in a place where it is convenient for your dog to eliminate if necessary, release him to sniff. You have already put sniffing on cue. You can use that cue as a reward for focus and good behavior on walks. He may only choose to smell the roses. He may choose to leave a message for other dogs. The point is, you choose where and when he gets to do those things.
Where should you let your dog sniff and eliminate if necessary? There are many options. At the curb in the street is the best, most legal option. Businesses often have ivy plantings outside. Service and guide dogs use these areas. Your dog can learn to use them as well. You can also seek out weedy, unkempt areas and overgrown alleys. Any of those options are better than letting your dog leave messes where people walk, sit, eat or play or allowing him to soil other people’s yards.
By the way, Gentle Folk, just because someone owns a dog does not mean they want to clean up after yours! A friend of mine tried to convince her neighbor and the neighbor’s two Chows of just this fact. Diplomacy failing, my friend released her Irish Wolfhound to “greet” the neighbor and the Chows when they came to make their morning deposit on my friend’s yard. The line on the hound drew him up about 10 feet short of the inconsiderate neighbor and her dogs. The charge of a seven foot tall hunting dog drove the point home. The Chows never messed in my friend’s yard again. Allow your dog to violate another’s yard at your own peril.
For Heaven’s sake, keep your dog out of tot lots. I know the sand looks good to Fido, but that is really, truly not the place for him to go!
Step four: Pick up after your dog if an accident happens.
Take a bag on every walk. Even if you put elimination on cue, have your dog go before taking the walk and exercise perfect handling technique, accidents will sometimes happen. Be prepared and be responsible.
As you head back home, you might see someone (whose dog is not as well trained as yours) having an accident. Go ahead. Offer a bag. It is the courteous thing to do.