[From Tufts November 2010 Issue]
We had dinner at a friend’s one evening several years ago. She shares her home with an Australian cattle dog who is the love of her life. They enjoy many mutual communications, not just the “I have to go out” one. However, Luke the dog has a Ph.D. in “I have to go out!” and isn’t afraid to use it.
Just as we sat down to eat, he barked at the door to go out. Linda rose to let him out and rejoined us. Three minutes passed and Luke barked to come back in. Linda excused herself from the table and opened the door for him again. Five minutes later he was barking to go out again, and Linda obliged. She calmly interrupted her meal no less than a dozen times to cater to his demands. It would make me crazy to live with this. She never turned a hair. Luke’s repeated trips outdoors were his entertainment. Regular veterinary exams showed he had no health problems.
You can reduce the likelihood of teaching your dog this inappropriate behavior by making sure you take him out to eliminate when you’re teaching him his “Gotta go” cue and play with him only after he eliminates. If it’s a false alarm and he doesn’t go, he doesn’t get to play. That doesn’t mean that you never take him out only to play, but his “I gotta go” message means “I have to eliminate” and nothing else.
In time, you’ll come to know how often he normally has to go out and use his bathroom cue only for those occasions. If you want to take him out for other reasons, use a different cue, such as “Let’s go play!” or “Get in the car!” Do it right, and you won’t find yourself making a dozen trips to the door during your next dinner party.