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I recently received a question from a reader:
My 16-month-old Standard Poodle, Ellie, has a problem. She is a certified therapy dog who has worked in nursing homes and also works with children in a reading program at a local library. With that said, Ellie piddles when my daughter (who happens to be a vet tech) tries to speak to her. Ellie doesn’t do this with anyone but my daughter. My daughter feels really bad. What can we do to stop this?
Thank you for sending your interesting question and predicament. I will assume that any possible medical contributing factor has been ruled out at this point, such as spay incontinence or a urinary tract infection. I always suggest a thorough examination by a veterinarian before any behavior concerns are addressed.
Because Ellie has this problem only with your daughter, it appears to be a relationship issue between them. Sometimes a dog can really like someone, and she urinates a little when being greeted by that someone special. In a different relationship, the peeing could be happening if the dog experiences anxiety or fear around a certain person (but it doesn’t sound like that is the case here). Sometimes even the way a person holds herself or looks directly at a dog can cause uncertainty in the dog.
I once worked with a lovely young female mixed-breed dog who got so excited when she saw me that she did what Ellie is doing. I resolved the issue by not greeting or talking to her when she first walked into the classroom or when she saw me in town. I kept my distance and didn’t look at her or address her in any way, and the owner did her part by keeping the dog busy doing fun obedience work.
After five minutes or so, I would greet the dog (outside at first, in case she peed) in a calm fashion, but I wouldn’t walk up and pet her — that would still be too much stimulation for her.
Instead I’d walk by, toss treats one by one, and ask her to “Find it,” a cue she knew well. She was able to concentrate on finding the treats instead of putting all of her focus onto me. Eventually, I would lean in and give her a calm, short rub on her chest or a long stroke down her back. I would not talk to her as I did this.
An additional option is to hold a harder, large treat in your hand that is not something your Poodle can swallow in one bite. Your daughter can hold that in one hand and let Ellie gnaw on it while gently stroking her with her other hand. Be really quiet, and don’t talk to Ellie — talking can create too much excitement.
Work up to being able to greet Ellie faster and faster, and soon enough (assuming there’s no medical problem), she will see your daughter and anticipate a fun game of “find it” or a treat instead of attention or petting, which should stop the peeing.
Read more about training:
About the author: Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA, is a force-free professional dog trainer enjoying her mountain-filled life in Colorado. She is a member of the Pet Professional Guild and the National Association of Canine Scent Work. She is also working on a book due out in spring of 2016: The Midnight Dog Walkers, about living with and training troubled dogs. Join Annie on her dog-training Facebook page.