I have a 7-year-old West Highland Terrier/Bichon Frise mix. This past month, we moved into a downstairs apartment. She has settled in well—except she tends to pee a little (about a spoon of water). She does this in the morning when everything is quiet and the person in the upstairs apartment turns on the fan in the shower. There is a humming sound that we hear downstairs. She starts to shake and wants to run away.
When she runs away she pees a little when she is trying to find a quiet place to hide. She actually looks like she is going to the bathroom so it is not dribbling as she is running. She has done it more than once. She doesn’t have to go to the bathroom. I tried to take her outside.
The past week I have been sleeping on the floor with her, gating off the area and holding her when I hear the sound, then I turn on the radio for her. If I do that she is fine and does not pee. Is there something wrong with her? Is there anything else I can do to prevent this? I want to take care of this problem before it becomes a habit. I am hoping that you have a solution as I am really frustrated and don’t know what else to do. I thank you for all your time and hope to hear from you soon.
Thank you for your email. I believe your little gal will benefit greatly from desensitization and counter-conditioning. But you will need to make fast friends with your upstairs neighbor! I’ve found over the years when recruiting people to help with a dog, like in this situation, the person is usually very enthusiastic about helping. Just tell your neighbor you have a behavioral modification plan to help your dog with her fear, and it will be very easy for them to help—they just need to turn the fan on and off when asked to do so via cell phone. Then invite them over for a steak dinner!
Here’s how to get your dog much more comfortable in her new place.
Introduce some stuffed Kongs to your dog. Start the training when she gets really excited when a Kong appears.
You will be getting your dog conditioned to your clapping hands, simultaneous cheers, and treats being tossed her way for no apparent reason. Start when you’re sure your neighbor is gone for the day, so the fan doesn’t go on. Get a bag full of small pieces of her favorite treats (low-fat, low-sodium string cheese is good for this). Now, clap your hands loudly, and say “Yes! Good girl!” in a very cheery way, while tossing her a few of the treats.
Please don’t ask her to do anything; she’s getting the treats for free. Keep tossing a few pieces her way, approach her and pet her, talking in a very encouraging way. Holding her when the fan starts is unintentionally reinforcing her fear response, so it’s important to leave that out of training. Continue this quick little Clap-and-Cheer-While-Tossing-Treats routine throughout the day, in different areas of the house. As you can see, you’ll be feeding her more than usual during training, so cut back a bit on her regular food. Or, you can use her regular kibble for this if she really likes it and it’s small (the dog needs to be able to eat the treat very quickly). Make it taste even better by sprinkling a bit of parmesan cheese or freeze-dried liver powder on a few cups full of her kibble and shake it up in a bag.
Each family member should join in the training. To recap so far: Clap, toss the treat, get really excited, cheer her on while she’s eating the treats, and pet her for a few seconds without babying her. Sometimes play a quick game of tug or fetch. The entire process should take no more than 30 seconds. The more you do this during the day, the better!
Now it’s time to work with your neighbor. Call your neighbor on their cell phone so they can walk to the bathroom, and put your phone on speaker and set it down. Give your neighbor a predecided trigger word like “fan,” which means to wait one second, then turn on the fan for just one second.
Your job when you say “fan” is to immediately start the training process, with the very best cheerleading voice you can come up with! You must start the routine a second before the fan is turned on; really pour it on big since the fan will be turned on this time. You’ll be helping her override her fear bit by bit with this routine while she’s establishing a new behavior, which is having fun with you the moment the fan is turned on! Much better than panic and a momentary lack of housetraining skills!
Just be sure not to coddle your dog or feel sorry for her so she doesn’t pick that up from you. Work with your neighbor at this level until your dog’s reaction is a wagging tail, anticipating fun with you. (How does she react to your bathroom fan going on? Train her using your bathroom fan, too, even if she isn’t showing any signs of fear.)
The next stage of training is still you and your neighbor working together, this time with your starting the routine and the fan going on at the same time. When she’s doing well at this level, tell your neighbor to leave the fan on for two seconds now during training, then three seconds, and so on. And start working on distance, too, being 1 foot away, reaching success at that level, then being 2 feet away, etc., until you’re in another room!
At each level, be sure your dog is happily playing with you and taking treats before moving on to the next level. Increase time by just one second for each learning level. Start tossing her stuffed Kongs along with the treat to further help her get a positive association established with the fan going on. Work up to her being relaxed and happy for a few minutes longer than the fan is usually on. She’ll need to hear that clap and encouraging voice, and be rewarded for calm behavior, until the fan going on elicits no problematic behavior from her. In fact, after a few weeks she may trot over to you when the fan goes on for a treat or stuffed Kong!
Stay as relaxed as you can and really have fun during training, or your dog will sense you’re nervous and it will be very hard for her to relax.
Rely more on toys, play and stuffed Kongs now to begin weaning off of the treats; just be sure you reach success at every level before moving on. If your dog is stressed at any point in training, you need to stop, then try again later at a previous, easier level. You’re almost there.
Now, you and your family are on your own — no more neighborly help needed. At this point it should be almost automatic for you to clap and cheer your dog when the fan goes on! And that’s exactly what you need to do, from wherever you are in the house. Keep up the routine as long as needed, until your dog doesn’t react at all to the fan going on.
Please let me know how the training progresses.