Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Training Maera

One thing that I've mentioned on this blog a couple of times is that Maera came to us with an... issue.

That is, she would get so excited to see us when we came home (even if we'd only been outside for 15 minutes) that she would literally pee all over the floor as she danced around, butt and tail wagging.  Sometimes, even when we were both home, she'd race into the room that we were in, tail wagging excitedly, and pee on the floor at our feet.

To say that this was frustrating is an understatement.  Jeff had to deal with the majority of this, because he was the one to get home first on most nights... poor guy.  Because when you have two large dogs excited to see you, and pee is involved, pee also gets stepped in and then tracked all over the place.  Need I elaborate any further?  We went through a couple of large-sized jugs of Nature's Miracle cleaner, that's for sure.

I think that we've dealt with it.  Finally.  After six months.

So here are the facts, as we understand them.

-  This is not unheard of, though not extremely common.  When it does occur,  it seems to usually be with young, submissive female dogs, across many different breeds.  That description fits Maera perfectly.

-  The common wisdom is that the dog "grows out of it" eventually as she gains confidence.  The pee comes from two issues.  One:  separation anxiety and the corresponding joy upon us returning.  Two:  extreme desire to please.  As bizarre as it seems to us humans, dogs often urinate to show submission.

-  Which means, everyone from internet dog gurus to the obedience trainer that we trained with back in the fall told us, Do NOT yell at her for it.  It will only make the desire to show submission stronger, which would make her more inclined to pee.  Yelling would have the exact opposite effect that we wanted for it to have.  (And when I say "yell" I actually mean firmly reprimand.  I don't think anybody is recommending that anyone YELL at a dog.)

Sigh.  That is quite a conundrum.  How in the world do you train a dog not to pee upon seeing you if you can't reprimand her for doing so?

We found a winning formula that worked/is working  for her.  It very much seems like it just "turned off" overnight too.   I don't know if it would work with every dog, but I thought that I would post in case someone else is having the same problems.  Our methods might work for that person too.

Despite the fact that just two weeks ago, she stopped doing this just overnight,  I do think that there was a process.  Since we couldn't deal with the pee incidents themselves, except to not react to it at all, and then quietly clean up after it was all over, we needed to get at the root causes.  And each step needed to be built upon.

Step 1 - Basic Training

First came the obedience training classes.  Maera took to the training REALLY well.  She sits like a champ.  Greyhounds don't often like to sit because of the way that they're made... it's uncomfortable for them. It doesn't seem to bother Maera.  It's what she does now if she wants treats, and we've made her sit before mealtime as well, and wait to be told that she can eat.  (We do something similar for Argos, but I have him lie down completely, since he hateshateshates sitting.)  This is where her fervent desire to please is really obvious, and I've learned from these training classes that she is smart as a whip.  I was amazed at how quickly she picked up each new command.

Step 2:  Separation

Because Maera  is a young dog, she is a bit of a hooligan sometimes.  She frequently helps herself to the "goodies" in the cat litter boxes, or eats the cat food, if she can get to it.  Or she steals our shoes, my houseslippers, rolled up dirty socks, small pillows, rolls of duct tape, paper towels, any number of things.  So my first instinct when we got her was to keep her with one of us at all times so that we could supervise her and keep her from eating things or carrying off things that she shouldn't.

But this was not helping her separation anxiety.  She was literally with one or both of us at all times when we were home, and was having a hard time coping when we were away.  Thus her explosive (and damp) joy when we finally got back home.

So we decided to start encouraging her to spend time in other rooms if she wanted to.  This was really easy once she discovered our bed.  She loves being on the bed, and tries to stay up there as much as we will let her.  We started letting her jump up on the bed, and then we would leave the room.  She became more and more comfortable with that idea.  Now we can spend time in the study, with her in the bedroom, and no drama.

Step 3:  Distraction

I think that being allowed up on our bed even with us not in the room made her start to be less anxious.  Which meant that her greetings for us when we got home were slightly less frenetic.  Oh yes, there was still pee, and she looked like she was taking off like a helicopter with her tail, but it was somehow less desperate.    Which gave Jeff the idea that she was finally distractable. Maybe, just maybe, we could get her to stop if we could get her mind immediately onto something else.  First, we tried tossing a small handful of kibble onto the floor when we came into the house.  Since she's so food motivated, we thought that she would try to grab up every piece and then be too distracted to pee.  This had mixed results.  Yes, she did try to eat every piece, but sometimes would still pee anyway.  It wasn't distracting enough.  Picking up loose pieces of kibble is pretty mindless.  We needed to engage her brain.  (Remember, as I said earlier, she is a really smart dog.  That brain needs to be stimulated.)

So we combined our obedience training with the new distraction theory.  Immediately upon entering the house, we now present her with a piece of milkbone (or any treat that will take her at least a few moments to consume.)  We tell her to sit.  She knows that she has to sit to get the treat...  and she does.  And, no pee.  It's worked for three straight weeks, every single time. Even with a few days at the pet resort when we were in Jamaica thrown in the middle there.  Like a spigot turned off, if you'll pardon me for the imagery.   God willing, it will continue to work.

If we hadn't trained her to sit before, the milkbone would have never worked - I think giving her a "task" to do to get the milkbone is key here.   And if we hadn't started teaching her that it really is OK to sometimes be alone in our bedroom, I don't know that she'd have ever been able to focus enough on "sitting" for the milkbone.  Not until it was too late, anyway.  It all worked together, with time, and took some patience and thought on our parts.

Not to toot our own horn, but I'm pretty proud of that.  Most important, I think that Maera is pretty proud of herself.  I think that it's boosted her confidence.  And that's what we all want... happy, confident pets.


  1. Congrats! Sounds like you had a really great plan for tackling this and I admire your ability to stay calm in the face of all those accidents and stick to the plan. It always feels great when things like this finally fall into place. Definitely sounds like you all deserve to celebrate :)

  2. I'm glad to hear that you found something that worked well for Maera! I think she's finally growing up a little! :)

  3. That is so cool. I wish we lived closer to a larger center where I could take our new dog for obedience training. What a great step!
    Thanks for describing your process, I think it shall help me a lot!
    Nellie's Mom

  4. I have heard of this, but have never experienced it and I am really excited for all of you for finding such a way to help Maera solve it. I love how you incorporated her training and was really impressed with getting her used to being alone by sleeping on the bed. Very cool!!

    Isn't it just awesome when you see your dog's confidence shine through?? It is so exciting!

    Great job! You and Jeff should be very proud. :)

  5. Yay! I've had a lot of clients with this problem, all with young submissive females. Your method is great! Give them a routine to follow each time you come home that keeps their brain busy so their body can't react. Most dogs don't relapse after they've stopped, so congrats!!

  6. Congrats on working through it, you should be proud! As a teenage, I used to go stay with my sister for the summer. When I got home, my cat would get so excited he would pee on the bed. Thankfully it was a once a year thing.

  7. How great that you were able to work through this with Maera. Thank you for being so patient, and sticking with it. :)

  8. Awesome. YOU are so smart too! Cats off.

  9. Great job! Phoebe did this when she first came home, and it's amazing how similar the solution turned out to be.

    By the way - we have an award for you over at our blog if you'd like to stop by and pick it up.

  10. Thanks too for sharing this. While we thankfully have not had this problem I very much agree with your last statement...what we all want is happy, confident pets. It's important to share experiences like this so others can benefit from what you were able to figure out.

  11. That's for such a cool post about something important. I urinate when I am around strangers that I don't know, since I get way too excited. But luckily, at home, I don't have this problem.

    Your plan makes sense, and I bet it does indeed work!
    Paw hugs,
    Gracie Lu

  12. This is great news, congrats to Maera. Our dog did this for a while when we rescued her. She's stopped the dribbling but still shows signs of separation anxiety when we're out of the house; I can't tell you how many shoes she's managed to destroy. We have lots of work to do. Thanks for sharing your successful method.