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DarnFar Ranch LLC Professional Dog Training
Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people

Question of “Elimination” problem or

“Rescue Syndrome”?

(some details have been changed, such as the dog's breed and name, to offer anonymity to the person who sent this question). EMAIL QUESTION: I am going to preface this email by saying I know how you feel about “rescue” dogs and yet I’m going to ask a question anyway. I am a foster mom for a rescue. I have owned and raised dogs for well over 2 decades. I only recently began working with a rescue to try to give a dog a home instead of buying animals when I didn’t know the origins. A while ago, the county served a seizure warrant for many dogs housed in unkempt conditions, malnourished dogs and almost all the dogs had heartworms, several died within days from distemper and parvo. I personally have 2 dogs from that situation. The dog in question is a young female Labrador who is approximately 11 months old and weighed 18 pounds when I took her. She is now at 40 pounds and seems to be doing well health wise. She is about the size of a 6 month old, and my vet says she will get no bigger. My question to you is about this dog's elimination issues. She appears to have had no human interaction and was very scared of everyone and everything when I first brought her home. I admittedly made the mistake of laying her on my bed when I brought her home and now she considers that her safe place and never wants to leave it. She runs back to it when I bring her in from outside and she hides there all day unless she’s in her crate. She also considers her crate a safe place now but prefers my bed. My other dogs are allowed to sleep on my bed at night and have never been discouraged from doing so. My problem with Sara is that she will urinate on my bed. This is after she has been out repeatedly and has eliminated outside. I take her out about every 3-4 hours and she goes on the command of Sara go potty, hurry hurry. She will not walk outside on her own, if I put her on the floor to follow me she jumps right back on the bed and cowers behind the pillows. I have had to carry her outside every time since I brought her home. Because this was a seizure incident and not a straight foster/adopt issue there is no option of giving her back. We are still trying to find fosters for the dozens of dogs that were seized while we await trial. I want to do the right thing for this girl and she has been coming out of her shell very slowly, learning to play with the other dogs and with toys and such. She has only two negative behaviors and that is the inappropriate urination and chewing of my headboard/footboard. I am working with her on redirect to appropriate toys to chew but the elimination issue persists. I should also point out that her kennel stays dry, with the exception of when she first came to me and didn’t know what a kennel was. She urinated and defecated in it the first time she was crated. She has not repeated that behavior since. When she is kenneled, in the mornings to eat and then again when I leave for work she barks and cries constantly. She will not bark once I leave the house. As soon as she hears the garage door close she stops. She will also remain quiet if anyone else is in the house while she is kenneled. If I am home and she is crated she never stops barking and pawing at the door. I am not sure if you can or will want to offer any advice in this instance, but I am hoping you will. ANSWER: I'm not certain what you mean when you say you know how I feel about "rescue" dogs. I have done my own share of taking on homeless dogs, rehabilitating them and rehoming - always on my own dime. I have also acquired some of my personal dogs from rescues / rehome situations. I do have an issue with what I have come to know as a "rescue" mentality that many people bestow on their dogs, and I do have a big issue with some of the politics that surround rescue organizations. But, I don't have a problem with the actual dogs. People, yes, sometimes, I find quite challenging. But, regardless of where the dog may have lived prior to my encountering it, I treat dogs the same. It is just a dog with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. I do not handicap it by referring to it as a "rescue". That is my pet peeve, and to be very frank, that is the reason that you are struggling with your 11 month old dog, in my opinion, based on what you have written. You see her as a "rescue" first, and as Sara, second. You view her as a dog, third. She needs to be honored and respected for the species that she is, first. That's just my assessment. There are solutions to all of the issues you describe, but they are not things that I can adequately explain in an email or say over the phone. There is too much chance for misinterpretation. But, in a nutshell, based on what you have written, I suspect that your dog is remaining helpless because you are treating her as if she is helpless. She is remaining hyper-submissive (including urinating in submission) because you are telling her, by your actions, that she should behave that way. Unless she cannot walk on her own due to a medial issue, she should walk to the door and go outside (you should not carry her). By carrying her you are telling her you don't believe she can even walk, let alone show some self restraint. I realize that you believe she cannot / will not walk on her own. And, that is the crux of your issue. She CAN walk. For some reason, you are not willing to MAKE her walk. That could be because you think that would be too cruel, since she came from such a bad place - that to MAKE her do anything would be upsetting. Or, perhaps it is because you find value in keeping her a helpless baby because it gives you something you need - and by that I do not mean to criticize. Simply, I have dealt with LOTS of issues like this, and that is sometimes the root of the problem. Sara must walk on her own. However, you must not "bribe" her to walk with treats or other goodies, sweet words or hopes and cheers. Those behaviors are interpreted as weakness and will exacerbate the problem. Your soothing, coddling tones trigger helplessness in the dog, not courage or strength. That does not mean you should yell at her or show frustration, anger or disappointment. Those are equally as damaging. There is a right way to do it - it's just something that cannot be explained in words because it requires a "touch", a give and take between the dog and handler. It is what we do for a living. By not properly correcting her for whining in her crate, you are telling her that she has no capacity to be self- restrained. Even a 4 week old baby wolf pup is corrected for barking in the den in order to keep predators away. An 11 month old dog should certainly be able to have the self composure to stay quite. The fact that she acts out when you are around and when you leave the problem abates, is pretty clear that she believes she has the right to protest her condition to you. An 11 month old dog should not believe that it can protest. In a normal, well balanced pack of dogs, she would be corrected for such behavior. It is disrespectful. It is akin to a child screaming, "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!" while the mother is on the telephone or otherwise engaged. Her urination (specifically on YOUR bed) may also be a sign of dominance, not submission, if she believes that you are lower ranking than she is and she is beginning to claim your bed as her own. She may not appear to be dominant in her overt behaviors, but SOMEONE has to be higher ranking, in her mind. If you are not playing the role, she will give it a shot - albeit, it is a very scary proposition to her. She must be terribly conflicted in her head. But, that can all be fixed. Sara's issues can be resolve and she will be a happier dog. Right now, she is probably often in a state of fear - she is not getting any information that there is a competent, higher ranking individual in her life that places normal demands on her to be a "big girl". You do not even demand that she walks on her own. Yours is a situation that sometimes happens to parents of premature infants. In the beginning, the baby is very fragile, very weak, at the edge of death at any moment. But, then, it survives. It thrives. It is competent physically and mentally. But, some parents continue to believe that the child could die at any moment and they treat the child that way. Mostly, those children are absolute hellions, spoiled rotten, lacking any self restraint etc... protesting their conditions, making unrealistic demands of their parents who then comply. It is a wholly up-side-down relationship. That is Sara's fate, perhaps, if you do not offer intervention. We could address all of Sara's issues in our Board/Train program. But, it would require that you change, too. We never worry about the dog. But, people are harder to convince to change. If you would like to review our options for rehabilitation, you can read about it here: Board/Train Essentially, Sara's understanding of a relationship with people has to be stripped down to the core. You write to ask about an "elimination" issue. That is just the symptom of the real problems. It's a bit like asking a child counselor, "how do I get my kid to quit stealing money from my purse", when the reason the child is taking the money is to fund a drug habit. Sara needs to learn that she is competent, that she can behave at a high standard and be praised for her accomplishments. She also needs to learn how to receive a negative consequence if she crosses boundaries that are deemed unacceptable to cross (including chewing your furniture). She needs to learn how to be a dog and earn the respect that she deserves. She cannot feel good about herself because you don't believe she is capable of anything. We will teach her that she can behave normally, that she can both stand up for herself and that she cannot disrespect others. Then, we would have to work on you! Let me know if you are interested in our services. We would be happy to help you and Sara. ----- After I sent that response to Sara's owner, I received no reply. We receive email each week asking for free advice. I often wonder if these folks would be as bold to send an email to a physician and ask him to diagnose their child's illness for free and from a remote location. Typically, I refer people directly to our free articles and suggest that if they are not sufficient, they may schedule a telephone consultation (if appropriate for their problem), or our training services. Rarely do I take the time to get back to someone with such detail as I did with this person. And, since this person never even wrote back a quick, "Thank You", it reinforces why I do not typically provide professional services via email. I don't expect someone to agree with my advice. But, if you are going to ask for it, you can, at the very least, thank me for my time.