Dear Doctor: Dog is too “modest” to go while on the leash
Q. My dog will poop only when he is off leash. It is a problem because he is very reactive, and I’ve sometimes let him off leash to “go to the bathroom” while worrying that he might chase a bicyclist or jogger. I want him to be able to romp off leash sometimes but not all the time. How can I get him over the modesty hump?
Dear Ms. Chu,
A. You are not alone. A lot of people have dogs who would rather poop off leash. But it is not a question of modesty. Dogs don’t have that kind of social reserve. It’s probably more about anxiety. Perhaps you’re anxious on walks because he is reactive, and he senses that and would therefore rather eliminate his waste a bit away from you. After all, it’s hard to relax enough to “go” if you’re attached to someone who is transmitting a lot of trepidation and pulling the leash this way and that to keep you in line.
You may also not be choosing quiet enough spots. A lot of activity whizzing by in the form of people walking, jogging, and bicycling may keep him from comfortably being able to “focus.”
Your dog may have some anxiety about the leash itself as well, feeling too confined by it to do his business. Try keeping him on the leash but letting him go free to void. Once he gets the hang of that, start walking him on a leash that’s considerably longer than the one you usually use so that he can still have his space to eliminate but remain attached to you. And give him a particularly delectable treat as soon as he voids so that he makes the association that pooping while on leash leads to wonderful rewards. From there, switch back to the shorter leash you’re accustomed to. These gradual steps should adjust him to the toileting habit you are looking for.
Stay calm and relaxed through all of it, never showing exasperation or frustration. If you stick with it, and if you make the walks last long enough while your dog is on leash, he will finally go — and he will see that he can deal with it.