Setting Pace at the Dog Runby Jen Kaiser
Saving your lawn and teaching your dogs to do their "business" in a particular location is extremely easy in theory. But as we all know, if there is any sort of grey area or inconsistency, our dogs will find it. Here's how you can start the process and deal with potential struggles.
First, I recommend beginning in the spring/summer to encourage your own dedication to the process, since no one really wants to accompany their dog for every bathroom break in -20°C weather. It will also provide many months of habit-forming before snow covers your yard.
Next, pick a bathroom command for your dog. This command will refer to all bathroom activities. It will also help to ensure all family members are using the same command and helping with the training. The process will take a few weeks of dedication and consistency from everyone, but once the habit is learned your lawn is always safe. And, of course, once you have your designated bathroom location decided on and set up, make sure you clean all of the dog waste out of the rest of the backyard before starting the training process. It is even recommended by some to place some of your dog's waste in the new area so the scent is there.
Once you are ready to begin (and barring any particular medical issues your dog may have which could affect success), the training is a simple matter of accompanying your dog to the designated location - on leash - for every bathroom break for the next two weeks. There are no exceptions; consistency is important.
Keeping Fido on leash at first is key so he doesn't wander from the dog run and so you don't have to catch him and bring him back. Instead, you will simply walk your dog out to the dog run, give the bathroom command, and wait. Your standard six foot leash is plenty to provide your dog with personal space while ensuring he or she doesn't stray to the grass. Like initial house training, once Fido has completed the task perfectly, a little praise in the form of a nice, slow chest rub or some go-play time in the yard can be helpful.
Of course, because we're trying to teach something new, this means Fido should not get unsupervised play time in the yard during these initial weeks lest do his business elsewhere while no one is watching. In the event Fido does sneak away and leave his mark outside of the designated dog run area, don't punish him for it. Instead, simply clean it up and start your two weeks over. You now know you need to keep a better watch.
Once you've completed two weeks of consistent bathroom breaks in the designated area, you can lose the leash and move on to unaccompanied - but still supervised - bathroom breaks. You will still need to monitor Fido in the backyard, and if you see him begin to wander to or sniff around an unauthorized location (by now you should be very familiar with your dog's pre-bathroom routine), try a simple verbal interruption such as "hey!" to get his attention. This alone could be enough to make him aware that he's in the wrong spot. If that's not enough, personally bring him over to the dog run and supervise until he uses it. If the interruption has made him forget about going, it's back inside the house to try again later. If you find yourself repeating this process, you may have to try another week of on-leash bathroom breaks before the habit sticks.
However, if Fido successfully and consistently uses his dog run, and you've got confidence that he's learned this new habit, you can begin to slowly decrease your supervision; for example, from nearby in the yard, to on the deck, to at the doorway, to monitoring from inside, to no supervision at all. At the final stage, you've got to trust that Fido is using his dog run 100% of the time without fail. You can also begin to let your dog have his usual free time in the backyard, but remember to supervise him at first to ensure he keeps on track. For those who have a dog who is prone to marking his territory, extra supervision will be required to ensure he's not marking all over the yard, which can slowly lead to him using the whole yard as a bathroom area once again.
Of course, as simple as this sounds, dogs always seem to find the loopholes, and you may face challenges. Some dogs may not readily take to the idea of going to the bathroom on gravel instead of grass. As a result, to avoid using the dog run, you may find that your dog "holds it" until it's time for the daily walk. There are a couple of ways to get around this - while still ensuring your dog gets walked daily.
Knowing your dog's typical bathroom routine can help. If she usually goes to the bathroom near the beginning of the walk, you can try walking around the block and then returning to the dog run for the bathroom break. Repeat as necessary. If your dog usually goes to the bathroom near the middle or end of the walk, try breaking the daily one hour walk into two half-hour walks, finishing each with a supervised stop at the dog run. Don't forget to use your bathroom command. If you've got to try these techniques, ensure your dog is only spending time in the yard during on-leash bathroom breaks. If this still doesn't work, try spacing out your walks (but maintain your typical feeding schedules). For example, if you walk your dog from 7:00-8:00am on Tuesday, and then again at 9:00pm on Wednesday, he/she has still received an hour of walking each day, but now there is 37 hours between those walks - odds are, your dog is going to need to go to the bathroom at least once during that time. You just need to make sure you provide ample on-leash bathroom opportunities in the dog run.
Of course, in the event your dog does do his business on the walk, don't worry about it and certainly don't punish him. We don't want to train our dogs into thinking there's only one place in the entire world where they can go to the bathroom - just one specific place within in the confines of the yard.
If you're worried about your dog opting to go to the bathroom inside the house in favour of the dog run, make sure he/she is supervised while in the house and in a crate when unsupervised.
As your dog becomes comfortable and consistent with using his or her assigned bathroom area, ensure that the dog run is cleaned regularly, so your dog never thinks to look for a different, cleaner spot.
Finally, as winter comes, ensure your dog still uses the same location even once it is snow-covered. This will save you from having to re-train him or her every spring.
And of course, once you've trained your dog once, you can easily use the same process again to train him or her to go in another new location in the event you're moving, going out of town, or simply relocating the dog run. A well-focused couple of weeks will lead to a life-long good habit.