On a Roller Coaster With the Dog: The Ups and Downs of Every Day Life

I have nothing witty or insightful to write.

I’m just tired.

Good Days and Bad Days

Hound Mix foster dog playing with a food toy

Cherie’s first time eating out of a food toy.

Everyone who has ever worked with dogs will tell you progress isn’t linear. You have growth. You have setbacks.

And yet every setback is a surprise.

After several days of being less fearful on her walk, Chérie, our foster dog, had a bad day yesterday. She was so tense that she could not take a treat from my hand the entire walk.

I was relying on that walk to loosen up her digestive system so I could relax my watchfulness over her in the house. Her house training is incomplete—not bad, but not perfect. And the crazy thing is that although I’m working vigilantly to decrease Chérie’s fear, it’s the house training that might be a bigger threat to her future.

Let me explain.

It’s Hard to Miss Pee on the Carpet

Chérie has settled in nicely around the house. She places beautifully with Honey. She comforts herself by chewing on bones and toys. And she is affectionate and seems to enjoy being here.

If she’s adopted by a family with a quiet life in the country who don’t get many visitors or deliveries, no one would think too much about her fearfulness. With no strangers to disturb her comfort, she’s just a perfectly sweet dog to have around the house.

But most people don’t react so calmly when a dog who just came in from outside pees on the kitchen floor, twice in one day.

Which is why I get hardly any work done.

I’m trying to discover her cues that she may need to go out. I’m working to keep a consistent schedule, even though Chérie does not. And I’m giving her time in her crate throughout the day to make her more comfortable being in it when everyone else is doing other things.

Oh, and I’m trying to make walks a relaxing time to receive and send p-mail. If only her fear didn’t get in the way.

Hound Mix and Golden Retriever with Bicycle Cart

Looks like Cherie wants to be the first dog taken for ice cream. Honey, you’d better step up your game.

Take a Break and Move On

Today I won’t take Chérie on any walks. We’re going to give her the most stress-free day possible.

For exercise, we’re going to do one of her favorite things: play on the agility equipment we’ve been training Honey with.

Chérie is fearless with wobble boards, teeters, ramps, and even bicycle carts. She just loves climbing around on stuff. And Honey hates seeing Chérie getting treats for something she could be doing so it steps up her game too.

Today is family day. No strangers invited. And maybe we’ll be ready to move forward again tomorrow.

How do you cope with setbacks? Do you remember to celebrate your successes as much as you lament your disappointments?

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  1. I had such a hard time with Daisy too!! It was frustrating. I found it was actually the leash holding her back from using the bathroom. So there is something (and it may be general anxiety, but maybe not). I hope you find it soon though!

    • It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones who have had this problem. I’ll take it as encouragement.

      Things are definitely going better since our relaxing weekend. She does better in the back yard than on a walk. So maybe dealing with the anxiety will give us more improvement.

  2. Houndstooth says:

    We deal with setbacks often here, too. These are mostly with Morgan. Her brain is just wired differently than everyone else’s. When that happens, we go back to a familiar point and start again. Because a lot of her setbacks involve reactive behavior at the window, we usually take some time out with her in the crate first. Surprisingly, a lot of times, she can come out a short time later as a completely different dig, but not always. Some days she just wakes up a cracker and stays that way all day! I’d love to see a map of her brain! I think our response system would look like a flow chart if I sat and thought about it long enough. What can I say? Giving up is not an option!

    • Thanks for the encouragement. It is amazing how much a “reset” in the crate or a good nap can help. We’re definitely seeing an improvement today after a weekend without walks.

      I’d imagine for you the comparison with Bunny, little Miss Perfect, must make life especially frustrating. :) Of course Morgan would be the one who defends you with every last breath in her body.

  3. Sorry you are so tired and feeling uninspired. :-( I know the feeling well.

    We’ve had our share of setbacks with Meadow too, and we’ve done what you are trying. Take a break, put it behind us, and then start fresh. Tomorrow is always a new day.

    As for the housebreaking, I have heard of people having good success with tethering a dog to them when the dog is not crated in the house. It won’t help with coming in the door and immediately peeing, but it might help you to see some sort of sign or pattern to her behavior that she needs to go. Good luck, I hope she figures it out soon, and it will become a non-issue for the both of you (and her new owners).

  4. It sounds like you are doing everything possible for Cherie. Fearful is a hard one though and not easily overcome, as you well know, although it sounds like agility is a good confidence-builder for her!

  5. Stories like Cherie’s make me wonder whether we’ll ever get another dog. Our rescued border collie Chelsea is so good at communicating, we have never had an “accident” with her. We think she’s thirteen, and the years are catching up to her digestive system. But as she has for the eight years we’ve had her, Chelsea tells us everything we need to know. Even in the middle of the night, she will place a paw on my wrist, applying pressure until I open my eyes. She gives me her one-eyed border-collie stare, I get up and we go down the stairs. I open the door and watch her pass out into darkness. Two or three minutes pass, and then there she is, making her way back into the cone of light spreading from our back porch. I suppose we will lose her soon. When I think of how good she is, I can’t believe it would be fair to any dog to follow her.

    • I’d never have thought having a perfect dog could be a problem. But if Chelsea’s loss means you wouldn’t get another dog, that would be terrible.

      I find every one of my dogs has been perfect in different ways. Even Cherie, if not perfect, is so lovable it’s a joy getting to know her. When I’m not tired and cranky, that is… :)

  6. Sorry you’re so tired. It can be a tiring venture training a dog.

    Out of curiosity, what are you using for treats when you take Cherie for walks? Would it be possible to stop and sort of ‘pull over’ to the side of the road to give her a break, stuff her full of treats and then move on again?

    Not sure what to tell you about the house-training bit. My dad took a dog from my sister who was at her wit’s end over a house-training issue. He had the patience of Job and would take the dog outside and just wait until she peed before bringing her back in again. He would wait. And wait. And wait. (Like I said, patience of Job.) When she did pee, he gave her treats and then took her in. Not sure that’s even possible for but an idea if it is…

    • Out on the street Cherie can become so anxious that she won’t take a treat at all–not even liverwurst or chicken liver. That part of her brain just shuts down. But keeping her in the house and yard over the weekend seems to have helped. This morning’s walk went much better.

      And our morning wait for pee was only 20 minutes. Yay! Sunday, it took her 45 minutes! So that’s progress, right? :)

      I think she’s finally noticing that Honey pees every time we take her out. Thank you, Honey.

  7. It’s so awesome that Cherie loves to spend time on the equipment! I think taking the time to relax and let her play around on that and stuff is a good idea. It’ll be nice for you, and get some of the pressure off of her!

  8. Are we having a down day, Miss Pamela? I hope you’re feeling better by now.

    It’s great to see Cherie so comfy in the infamous bike cart. I suspect Honey will not let this usurper jolly around in HER cart without trying something herself soon. We can hope, right? :) x

  9. I don’t know what to tell you, but good luck and I hope it gets better soon!

  10. Hey Honey, Hey Cherie, Jet here. Hi Miss Pamela.

    Sorry for the challenges, especially today. Mom said it took about 9 months together for me to really settle in, even with the help of my gentle Golden sister, Koko. Mom could tell their were sad stories locked in my body and little by little I put the past behind me and filled my body and soul with kindness, safety, and lots of love.

    Mom then found more success in training… to the extent that she trained. :)

    Thank heavens Cherie has all of you by her side.

    Sending lots of Jetty kisses and JJ hugs…

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Jet. I wish you could come over to help Cherie learn the lessons you had to learn with your family. :)

  11. Oh she’s a lucky thing to have landed in your household. I’m housetraining Elsie just (unfortunately not as errorlessly (!) as Dr Dunbar or I would like) but she’s just a 9 week old puppy so she is very predictable. I guess sometimes it just takes time and patience. Do you have tiles or lino in the kitchen? Perhaps if you put a piece of that down outside it might encourage her to go outside… it might be the surface that she likes.

    • Yep, that’s one nice thing about puppies. They are predictable–they need to go out every fifteen minutes. :)

      Cherie’s unpredictability is rough. She’s peed twice on blankets (they came with her from the SPCA so they might have had a urine scent), several times on the lino in the kitchen. Outside on a walk, she pees on the concrete sidewalk. And she can hold it for 13 hours! Despite having frequent breaks.

      I do have some extra linoleum in the basement. Maybe I’ll give it a try.

      But probably worst is that she has a crippled back leg so it’s hard for me to know if she’s starting to squat or just walking normally.

      No accidents today and only a 20 minute wait after getting up. So maybe we’ve turned a corner. :)

  12. Have a wonderful stress free Sunday to you all.
    Best wishes Molly

  13. I’m sorry you are so tired, it’s hard when you are training a specific behavior and struggling with it. It is very easy to feel defeated and become overwhelmed. You are wise to take a step back and work on something where she is successful, I’m sure both of you will feel better for it.

    I’m fairly certain you’ve ruled out any medical issues which might be interfering with the process. :-0

    • Cherie came to us with a clean bill of health from the SPCA. She might even been too healthy. If she didn’t hold her urine 12 or 13 hours, she’d be easier to keep track of.

      If she could teach me to do the same, I’d probably get a much better night’s sleep. :)

  14. I’m sorry Chérie is struggling so much with her fears. It is hard not to feel frustrated when just the day before she handled things so beautifully. I feel that way a lot with Shiva, though luckily it’s less and less these days. But I think you have taken the smart approach. Taking a break and setting her up for success makes both you and your dog feel better. You never know, she may stun you tomorrow now that she’s had a chance to lay low.

    I hope you’ve had a very calm and relaxing weekend!

    • The calm weekend definitely helped. There’s nothing like a nice break.

      Don’t forget that when you’re preparing for your agility trial. :)

  15. I hope you’ve had a better day or so with Cherie now. Dogs are such amazing creatures and full of surprises, not always good ones. My first Sheltie just refused to be housetrained. I ended up getting a dog door when he was 9 months old and we never looked back. But that isn’t a practical solution for a foster dog who may go to a home without a dog door. Cherie’s fearfulness will no doubt be a work in progress for a long time. But she is such a lovely girl that I’m sure there is someone out there for her who will go the extra mile required. It’s also possible she will have far fewer fears after spending time in your home. Don’t forget to take time for yourself. It’s not all about Cherie:)

  16. Oh Pamela. When I read your comment about wishing you could ask me about fearful dogs I was so clueless. I didn’t realize Cherie was a fearful dog. Duh!

    I am so sorry for the setback. I don’t know Cherie’s history, but it sounds like she is really overwhelmed by everything in her environment that is outside the safety of the house and yard. I’m no expert (that would be Debbie Jacobs forte), but I would be happy to help if I can. I’ll send you my number if you want to call, and of course, you can always email me.

    I think the agility stuff you are doing is awesome though. It will help build her confidence a lot. I would also consider playing city sounds around the house to help de-sensitize her to strange sounds. THrough a Dog’s Ear has a city sound CD that I have tried on my dogs (you can hear them on the website before buying). As far as pottying goes, does she go out with Honey? I had to use Daisy for Jasper and his sister. I also had to tether them to me when we came back inside. Generally, it was go outside to do their business, come inside and be tethered to me, back outside two minutes later to make sure they had emptied the whole tank (sometimes we did this 3 times). Why did I do this? Because dogs who have not been exposed to a big world are really overwhelmed by their environment. For Jasper and Jasmine, the yard and all the noises that accompanied it, was overwhelming. They rarely topped off their tanks the first time out because they were tightened up due to fear or distracted by a new sound. Maybe this is Cherie’s problem?

    Sorry to be so long-winded. I’ll go email you with my number.

    • Thanks for all your help and support, Mel. I can only assume gaining confidence will help with house training. It just doesn’t seem normal for a dog with frequent outdoor access to hold it so long.

      Our relaxing weekend seemed to help. On our morning walk she was freaked out by the empty trash cans but she recovered more quickly and was able to “touch” and sit on her towel a few times.

      On the other hand, I’m thankful she’s not always shut down. She does pretty well in the house and loves playing with Honey.

  17. You’re doing such a wonderful job with her. I just want you to know that, I can tell how much you care and how compassionate you are being and I know she must feel it and it will help her feel more secure. About the housebreaking, If you bring her out first thing first thing and stay out until she pees, would that take hours? Can you bring your work or a book out there? lol. I wonder if you can give her a “safe” place to pee inside, like newspapers, and then gradually move them closer to the door and then outside. Well my ideas probably aren’t any help but I know you’ll get there because I can tell how dedicated you are. Hugs to you all!

  18. Oh, Pamela… that’s definitely a tough one. I think that taking a day to let Cherie relax and remove some of the stress is a great idea before starting again. I’m sure she’ll get there. She’s very lucky to have someone as patient as you, who is willing to try to understand the why instead of just getting upset about the mess.

    When you’re out working with the bike cart or playing with the agility equipment, does she go out there off-leash? Maybe there’s a way to focus on making positive connections with going in the yard and then gradually ease into connecting the behavior with the leash? Perhaps you could do mock walks around the yard on leash as well?

    I wish I had better ideas… I was lucky with Bella (she was mostly housetrained, although we’ve had a few issues over the years – mostly due to bladder issues and storm anxiety) and luckily Tavish caught on relatively quickly.

  19. Some days you’re just not feelin’ it! It happens it me all the time and I know Koly has days where he’s just not up to being his best self. Just as I try to give myself the freedom and leeway to have an off day, Cherie’s lucky you give her the same thing. Usually after a day of completely and total productivity breakdown, I’m ready to tackle my stuff and be fabulous again.

    Have you considered umbilical training with Cherie? I found it super helpful when house training Kolchak. After being picked up by a GSD and shook at the park, we had a huge housetraining set back. He’d go out, but he’d be far too tense to pee. He’d come in an 15 – 20 minutes later have an accident! The tether let me monitor when he got antsy and try going out again. Sometimes we’d go out two or three time before he’d actually go, but sne he was tether to my side, there were no accidents in the house. It also had the added benefit of teaching him to look to me for direction when he didn’t know what to do (but the added disadvantage that his favourite spot to be is still right between my feet. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve tripped on him, ‘d be rich.)

  20. I am just reading this now, but some dogs just take longer to house break. It took Storm forever and Thunder had exactly one accident in the house. Until our dogs are fully housebroke, we don’t wait for cues, but take them out a lot and praise praise praise when they go. I still praise the brown dawgs to this day.

    Hopefully it isn’t submissive peeing. That can be an issue with female dogs. We did not want that for Storm so any accident was treated very calmly with taking her out and saying “potty outside”. We used the same cue whenever she went out, whether she went or not. We hoped she would understand that is what we wanted. Also with young females you have to consider that it could be a UTI even without outright symptoms.

    Good luck. I know you will work it out. I think your idea of agility work is really good to give her confidence.

  21. Aww, I’m sorry to hear about Cherie’s setback–I’m all-too-familiar with those. Apologies for not reading the comments before posting my own and possibly repeating a suggestion, but perhaps some of those pre-recorded sounds albums would benefit Cherie in the sense that maybe distractions outside would only be through sight/smell. One less thing for her to focus on. Maybe I’m reaching. I’ve also heard many tales of folks who have had no choice but to completely start all over from the beginning with house training–as in constant watch/containment and every-30-minutes trips outside. :-/ Best of luck with your progress!