Mini poodle wants to break my heart and soil my sheets.
February 20, 2009 10:19 PM   Subscribe

What do we do with our dog, Sparky? We just got an 18 month old miniature poodle, about 15 lbs, not (yet) fixed. She is extremely timid: she came from a backyard breeder who didn't care for her well. She grew up with other dogs and an unknown amount of interaction with people (but we think not enough since she wasn't being groomed). We don't know much else about her past. Tonight we're faced with a difficult choice between a night of wailing or her fouling our bed...

We had her for three days as a "trial run", where she went from being very terrified to kind of scared--a major improvement. Then we left her with a pet sitter for four days, and brought her home for good. After coming back, she's showing worse behavior. Specifically:

1. She won't go to the bathroom outside. On her Nth walk today she FINALLY peed, more than 24 hours after her last time. She hasn't pooped in almost two days. She has been eating and drinking lightly (but not abstaining) today. She had been doing good on going outside until we left her with a dog sitter over the weekend, but she's more terrified and less cooperative on this issue since we got her back two days ago.

2. Of the four nights she's been with us, she soiled our bed twice. I'm not inclined to welcome her back. Once was her first night here, and again after she returned from the pet sitter.

3. Since she's not doing well on the house training, we put her in the laundry room. It's got her bed, food, water, toys, a view of the outside, light music, and ample space. She has been wailing, howling, pounding the door, and crying for about four hours now. In fact, if she's left alone at any time for more than a minute, she starts crying (this is worse than before the pet sitter). Sparky is generally scared of everything, and this much alone time is probably very unusual for her.

The immediate issue is how we can get through the night. The longer-term issue is how to get Sparky to live in peace with us at least until obedience classes begin in three weeks (the earliest we could get).

My wife thinks that if she poops outside tonight she should stay with us in bed tonight to help her feel less freaked out (she just walked the dog hoping this would happen, but no luck). I've read that non-housetrained dogs should be kept in a limited space to promote better potty-going behavior. I feel terrible hearing her whine, but if making her cry it out is the right thing to do, I'll do it.
posted by jewzilla to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Crate training. No dogs in bed. Schedule schedule schedule schedule. Feed her at specific times during the day. Walk and play with her until she's unable to stand up, at least a couple hours. A tired dog is a good dog.

Buy a kong, fill it with wet food, freeze it over night or stick a spoonful of peanut butter in it and freeze it.

Crate Training. No Dogs in bed.
posted by iamabot at 10:27 PM on February 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

Can you just have her in the room with you? Make an area for her with newspaper for accidents, water, her own bed. She doesn't need to be either in bed or far away from you, bu a happy medium.
posted by Vaike at 10:29 PM on February 20, 2009

Oh, and in general ignore the wailing, any attention while the dog is wailing will *generally speaking* just encourage the behavior. Consider the puppy a perpetual 2 year old who generally will adopt and embrace undesirable habits in the same manner.
posted by iamabot at 10:33 PM on February 20, 2009

I'm sure you understand that three days with a new family and then they disappear and four days with a new person and then the old people are suddenly back - the dog was just starting to trust you when you abandoned her - no wonder she regressed. It was probably take twice as long for her to build her confidence in you again.

Here is one idea to help get through the night - when we got our puppy, we got a crate for him which we put in our bedroom, near the bed. If he was fussing after lights out, I would lie down next to crate and talk to him for a few minutes and then go back to my own bed (but not let him out of the crate). The crate should be big enough for him to turn around and lie down comfortably but not much bigger. Dogs have a very strong instinct not to foul their den so your dog will probably be Ok through the night in a crate.

Obviously, the more time you can spend with the dog the better. If you are both working, you might want to experiment with a doggy day care if that is an option. Since she is used to other dogs, she might adjust easily to spending part of the day there, at least until she is more settled at home.
posted by metahawk at 10:41 PM on February 20, 2009

There is a risk to my suggestion that you might teach her to fuss in order to get you to come over. If you can, wait until she is quiet for a moment before you go to her in her crate.
posted by metahawk at 10:42 PM on February 20, 2009

Also chiming in with the crate suggestion. My sister once lived with a dog that had the most massive separation anxiety imaginable. Crate training saved everybody's sanity. It's a safe place for the dog, and a way to keep the situation manageable while you work with her.

This will take some time but will be worth it when you wind up with a dog you've helped make sane and happy.
posted by OolooKitty at 10:55 PM on February 20, 2009

As far as tonight, I'm sorry to say that you're probably going to have to suffer on this one. This may take you guys a bit to get her calmed down.

As mentioned above, crate training, crate training, crate training. It's the fastest and most effective way to housebreak a dog. You can keep the crate in the room with you if she settles down enough for it. It will help you establish a schedule and also will discourage her from making a mess in her area. It will also accustom her to a crate, which can be invaluable for traveling or other situations where you may need to confine her. You might need to let her out once or twice in the middle of the night for a while, but eventually she'll be able to wait all night.

What are you feeding her? Good food makes a HUGE difference. If it's store brand, or Pedigree, or Ol Roy, or Dog Chow, I'd advise you to get her some better food. Purina One isn't the most awesome food you can get, but dogs tend to do pretty darn good on it. I've found it to be more beneficial than Iams for our spaniel mix. Good food is worth the extra money. They eat less, they poop less, and they'll just do better overall.

As far as "no dogs on the bed," that's up to you, pure and simple. I have two bulldogs on the bed with me right now. Obviously if she's gonna be pooping in the bed, she doesn't get bed privileges. But once she's housebroken and on a schedule, then if you feel comfortable having her on the bed, just hope she doesn't hog the covers like our bullies do. One of ours is a rescue from a backyard breeder, and she was in such bad shape when she got to us that she was not even able to keep herself from peeing when she was asleep. We worked with her and got her trained, and she sleeps through the night with us now with no troubles.

Hang in there. Rescues are often the best dogs. Work with her and make sure she knows that good things happen when you're around. It'll be worth it.
posted by azpenguin at 10:55 PM on February 20, 2009

If she's that young, there is nothing wrong with a crate beside the bed. She might whimper, but she should soon settle down. This isn't a criticism, but I'm imagining the three days with you, and then the uprooting for four days with the pet sitter didn't help her security issues.

I crate trained my Aussie pup, beginning with a crate by the bed, and then eventually he had his crate in the living room (we had two crates, and he ended up preferring to sleep in that one as he grew older). He soiled the crate a couple of times, but the general rule of thumb was to walk him every x that he was months old. So two months old was every 2 hours, 3 months was every three hours, etc. Now your new dog is older, but it sounds that training-wise she's a two month old pup. You will get tired, but she will learn that outside is for the bathroom, and inside is for cuddling!
posted by thatbrunette at 10:59 PM on February 20, 2009

Crate training for sure. And please hang in with that pooch; it sound's like you and the wife are good-hearted people and it sounds also that Sparky needs some good-hearted people in her life. No good news for tonight, no, you're going to hear whimpering -- the dog is just scared and hurting. Buy a crate tomorrow and you're on your way to a good life for the partnership you're entering into with that pooch. I bet you get huge returns for the love you invest here at the start. Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:48 AM on February 21, 2009

Folks I work with in dog rescue report good results with various pheromone sprays (link to MSNBC article) as a way to temporarily calm nervous pooches. Might be an option for you in those first few weeks as Sparky gets acclimated.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:53 AM on February 21, 2009

We experienced almost everything you mention with our rescue girl, and she came up roses on every single issue (except being left alone; we're working on it).

In the beginning, we called her the amazing no-peeing no-pooing dog... she really, really didn't want to go in front of us... apparently she was trying not to go at all, and when she simply couldn't hold it any more she went. Usually in the house. (it sounds like Sparky might be going in her sleep if she's doing it in the bed at night? or when she finally becomes a bit relaxed and loses that crazy control? who knew dogs could hold it for so long? incredible, eh?) We calmly cleaned up the inside incidents without scolding, but gave her lavish praise and treats whenever she would pee or poop on a walk. Within a week, she was perfect about going only on walks.

She was terrified of everything. We would go for walks and and she would lay down cowering in the street and not move whenever a car passed or she heard a loud noise, lay down and roll over on her back whenever another dog or most humans approached. Whenever we tried to pet her she would fall down and expose her belly. We worried that she would be terrified and neurotically submissive forever, but we just rewarded her with love and treats when she managed to remain upright for petting and interaction, continued going out, exposing her little by little to busier and busier streets, more people, etc. She gained confidence quite quickly, stopped being the incredible collapsing dog and was soon able to deal with downtown Athens (Greece) crowds, traffic and noise... something that can be difficult and scary for a lot of humans. :)

It's nine months later now, and this is not at all the same animal who came to us. She is relaxed, playful, perky, enthusiastic, energetic (when we first got her, though she was supposed to be only two years old, she moved and acted like an old dog), extremely confident (- even to the extent of being kind of bossy and snippy with other dogs), and very, very happy. One of the most wonderful things for me is when I first noticed that she was holding her (really beautiful) tail up proudly almost all the time, but especially on walks... I hadn't consciously realized that she usually held her tail in the subordinate/fearful position until she stopped doing that, about three months after we got her. She pretty much blossomed into her full, true (lovely!) personality by six months.

I can't say what's best for your little girl, but our routine was this:

Praise (always) and treats (frequently) for good behavior; we didn't punish or scold her at all for bathroom accidents because we realized that she was very, very fearful about everything related to peeing and pooping... in fact, I decided that I just wouldn't care at all myself, so that she wouldn't be sensing and reflecting the tension in me, even beyond her own issues (I had been trying various things, like putting down paper, trying to take her outside when I caught her, watching her every second and trying to catch her in the act so that I could take her outside at that moment... etc. I stopped all that. If she went in the house, I just cleaned it up as soon as I found it (she could see me doing this) and didn't react towards her at all, and if she did her business while on a walk, she got treats and tons of praise. I thought I would give it several weeks, and if that didn't work I would start again with the strategizing, but it wasn't necessary; she learned to go potty on walks within days of this method and has been perfect ever since.

She got a lot of attention, with many short periods of training for "sit" and "stay" commands and learning how to take treats without jumping up or snatching, lots of physical closeness with grooming and petting, lots of walks. We made sure she understood "no", and understood what she could and couldn't do, so things wouldn't be confusing. We made places for her beside our bed and in all the rooms we hang out in so she could have her own spot wherever we were (she didn't have to stay in her spot, it was just there for her). We were very regular in our routine with her (at first, much less so now), and mostly we just decided to be calm and confident, and I think that was key.

Your little girl has been through a lot (as ours was - abandoned, on the streets, in a place with a whole lot of other dogs, adopted, returned, pregnant, abortion & spaying, and then to us), and just needs a calm and constant environment, rules she understands, a routine she can depend on, and your love and leadership. Some changes will come much faster than others, but I bet she'll turn into the most amazingly wonderful companion, so be patient! It's terribly gratifying to see all that early fear and confusion wick away. (If it were me, I wouldn't separate her in another room at night, but I'm certainly no expert - about any of this, even if our way worked with our dog.)
posted by taz at 7:53 AM on February 21, 2009 [10 favorites]

Of the four nights she's been with us, she soiled our bed twice. I'm not inclined to welcome her back.

Your dog broke a VERY BIG RULE. She shit or pissed in your bed. Thinking like a dog, this is a serious transgression. I don't think I would ever let her back on the bed. I never let our dog up on the furniture or our bed. Ever.

When we got our dog as a puppy, it took a while for it to relieve itself outside. Your dog will do so. In the meantime, crate it, or at least confine it to parts of the house like the kitchen, where, if it does relieve itself, the damage won't be too great.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:25 AM on February 21, 2009

Crate her. She will feel safer in her own den and you won't have foul sheets. My pug hates the crate but with enough treats she will run into that crate like it's the greatest. Figure out if she responds to treats or praise better and amp that one way up. It can be done, have patience.
posted by CwgrlUp at 9:43 AM on February 21, 2009

Xanax can help ease anxiety & transition issues in dogs. I rescue & foster small dogs, often from abusive or neglectful situations and wouldn't be without it.
posted by misspat at 2:45 PM on February 21, 2009

Your dog broke a VERY BIG RULE. She shit or pissed in your bed. Thinking like a dog, this is a serious transgression. I don't think I would ever let her back on the bed. I never let our dog up on the furniture or our bed. Ever

This is very common in dogs which have been left in crates or dirty conditions long enough to have no choice but to over-ride their natural instinct to keep the den clean. This dog has in all likelihood been forced to break your "VERY BIG RULE" by its previous owner, or it is so stressed by recent events that it couldn't help it. It's not the dog's fault, it's not a "serious transgression", it's a common thing for dogs with a history of being poorly managed to do.

I agree with crate training, but keep the crate in your room. Go back to puppy level housetraining (eating on a schedule, going outside every 2-3 hours, after every meal, every sleep and every playtime). Get into a positive obedience class (clicker training is ideal, since it helps the dog develop confidence and self-sufficiency). Do not shut the dog away from you, that is a recipe for making the dog more insecure and worried. Stick with it, find a good trainer, get some good books, and be patient. Good luck.
posted by biscotti at 8:28 PM on February 21, 2009

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