Q I have a golden Lab, and she has a 14-foot by 14-foot fenced-in area in which to run around and go to the bathroom. But she steps off our deck and urinates right in front of the stairs there, or she runs around the pen and comes back and then urinates in front of the steps. How do I get her to go somewhere else? Is there something I can put down to discourage her from urinating there?
Newport, New Hampshire
Dear Ms. Proper,
A We’re assuming you also take your dog on walks and/or to other spots to run around. A 14-by-14-foot pen isn’t nearly enough of the “great wide world” for a dog.
That issue aside, your pet probably urinates in the undesirable spot because it smells like where she has already gone. That is, “dogs like to mark — and regularly refresh their marks,” says the head of the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM.
The best approach for changing your dog’s behavior would be to put her on a leash and walk her to a different spot, maybe even leaving from a different door of the house, if necessary. If she doesn’t “go” right away, walk around a little until she does urinate in a location you prefer. Immediately upon her urinating in the desired location, praise her and reward her with a very high-value treat. If she happens to “go” in the old location during the training period, don’t reprimand her. Just ignore the behavior as if it never happened. With repetition, she will learn to go in the new spot because she will find it more rewarding to get positive feedback from you than to stick to her old habit. It can help to block off the usual spot at the bottom of the deck stairs for the duration of training.
You can, if you want, put urinating on cue. Say “do your business” just as your dog is about to squat in the new place once she starts using it more consistently, following up with praise and a treat. That way, you will be able to take her to the new spot and have her go on command in pretty short order before letting her run around the yard.