"My Chihuahua, Dozer, has been an intensely fearful dog since before we got him. We got him from a breeder in the area when he was 3 months old. He's so sweet and lovable and he's the ultimate snuggler. But ever since we got him he's had this peeing problem. It used to be so bad that if we would even look at him or move in his general direction (even from all the way across the room) he would piddle in fear. I think he was handled badly when he was a puppy. It's gotten a lot better and he piddles much more rarely around me and my husband. And he's usually very obedient. But every once in a while with us, we'll have to give a command like "come" more than once and if I move towards him to nudge him in the right direction, he'll pee, no matter what emotion I show. Also, he has a habit of peeing on or near guests because he gets extra excited and scared when there are different people around. It's hard because if we do let him out with guests in the house, everyone has to stand up and ignore him for about five to ten minutes until he calms down. But I can't even get him not to jump up on guests (which isn't polite) because he'll pee on or near them (which is less polite). I've tried everything I can think of besides hiring a dog behaviorist which will be the next step most likely."
- Dozer's Mom
Hi Dozer’s Mom,
I can sympathize with your dilemma. However in order to cure a problem we need to analyze how it may have accelerated. The feeling of “Dozer is so cute and cuddly and we just want to hug him,” is fine. However, subconsciously, many owners fall for this trap and over-accommodate or try to compensate their own needs of affection from a cute, fuzzy animal and indirectly (and unknowingly) deprive a dog of strength and dignity. Small dogs usually suffer this type of behavior from their owners more so than larger dogs because of their size. Most everyone thinks they are so cute that it is hard to keep from touching them, owners and house guests alike. In this day and age, though, many of us don't want our dogs to suffer stress and rightfully so.
There are two forms of stress for a dog. One is being protected from things that are not so comfortable (new environments, strangers, etc.) and through the course of time, self-esteem is not built up because someone is doing the hard work for the dog (i.e. carrying a small dog instead of letting it walk on the ground on its own.) Then when things get tough, the dog withdraws, or when it is asked to carry the line, it can't. On the other hand, exhaustive stress is when a dog is stressed out and fights to overcome. Something or someone stands in its way of achieving self-esteem, whether it be through over-accommodation or condescension. I think your problem is a combination of both. When I look at this e-mail I see a soft gentle owner who feels sorry for the dog and then tries to direct the dog in a subconscious controlling sense in order to help it overcome. This creates an inconsistency and then finally causes the dog to withdraw. A prime example is you having to call Dozer multiple times and he doesn’t respond.
Based on temperament, Dozer seems like a soft wall flower, this is why he is peeing. If Dozer was not, then he would be exhibiting aggression. So let’s take it one step at a time.
Let’s begin to build Dozers self-esteem. It is important that you stop coddling Dozer, which means not picking him up. You will need to be able to read him and understand the pressure he feels. When you want to approach Dozer, instead have him approach you. Do not go into his space. In a worse case-scenario, come forward and then ask him to meet you half way. When this happens, hold a treat slightly above his head, wait for him to show some sense of pride (standing tall, wagging his tail, etc.), and then give it to him and pet him once as he is eating it (too much will overwhelm him.) Do this often.
Do not pick him up as often, allowing him to stand on the ground quietly on a leash. Wait for him to calm; not a withdrawn-calm or submissive-calm, but more of a proud-calm, and get him to focus. Again, this can be achieved with the use of food. Make sure your voice is happy and up, but firm and dry.
When your guests arrive and knock on the door, call Dozer to you and wait for Dozer to do so. Take him and put him in a crate (Note: crating needs to be a regular routine before we can begin this therapy or it will be deemed as a form of punishment.) When the guest come in and sit down, wait for about 15 minutes. Then take Dozer outside and let him go to the bathroom. Bring him back in on a lead and have him sit next to you. Give him time, let him absorb what is going on on his terms. His language will tell you what the next step is. Once he calms and looks to you, take him forward in an encouraging voice and have the guests give him a treat, but they do not extend a hand to pet him (make sure your guests do not go to him.) Go back to the couch and repeat this a couple of times every 10 minutes then put him away. This exercise also aids with stopping him from jumping up and you reacting to it. We will address that after these steps have been completed.
When you come home, you have it right - ignore him, wait and take him outside to do his business. Do all the petting and happy greeting outdoors. This will teach him to pee outdoors and break the habit of peeing indoors. Once in, ignore him and then repeat from step one as described above (calling him to you with a treat.)
If you hold your ground, keep an emotional consistency and be supportive - what many of us will find is simple - you will be successful in this training exercise.
Dogs look for strength from the people they are with. If we are strong and guiding and understand how to help a spirit build, then our other half, be it dog or human, will follow our self-respect therefore strengthening our relationship.
Good luck and keep me posted.