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My parents have a female border collie of 5 or 6 years old. I have lived with my parents (and the border collie) up until recently. I have my own place now. She’s visiting while my parents are on vacation.

She knows how to ask to go to the toilet. She nudges you with her nose and walks a few steps to the door. The problem is, she shows exactly the same behaviour or similar enough behaviour that I can’t tell the difference if she wants to go home. She does this nearly constantly, even waking me up in the night.

How do I get her to show me a clear difference between asking to go home and asking for the toilet?

A few clarifications:

  • She loves walks. And she loves the sea. I live at the beach, my parents live further from the sea.
  • She gets walked regularly, for half an hour to an hour. Before I leave for work, when I get back from work, after dinner and before bed. She gets quite a bit of exercise and playtime too.
  • She gets dinner once a day, at the same time as I have dinner, as the vet recommended. She has clean water available at all times. My parents have fresh running water, but she's used to just having a bowl too.
  • She actually peed inside on the first day. She was sick after swimming in the sea. She's fully aware that is not okay, though. She walked towards me and submitted immediately, without me having to say anything. She had been showing signs that she wanted to go out, but I ignored them since she had been out two hours before.
  • She has lived with my parents and me for over 5 years and I moved out. I think she wants me to come 'back to the pack'.
  • She has never been in my house before, so this place is unfamiliar to her.
  • She is happy when outside, but restless when we stop. At my parents' house she'll sleep most of the time she's not walking or playing. She doesn't appear to be up for playing as much right now as usually.
  • I don't have a garden or other space she's allowed to do her business that I can leave her in.
  • I do have a conservatory. It's not too bad if she does her business in there, but not prefered. She knows it is not okay to do her business indoors. My main concern is that she doesn't do her business on the carpet, outside is secondary.
  • I actually locked her in the conservatory overnight, because she was constantly disturbing my sleep. I felt really bad about that. My parents have a house with stairs that she doesn't climb, so they never get disturbed in the night. She would wake up people sleeping on the sofa, licking their faces. She never gets on the sofa or bed unless invited.
  • She seems to like the conservatory, though. She insisted on sleeping there. The floor in there is quite cold and there's a breeze, which is nice with the current heatwave.
  • That's what you get when your pets are too smart. ;) I don't think there's any easy way to make the difference work. At least in case of our Huskies, once they know a potential way to get what they want (like going outside), they'll try to exploit it again for similar things, especially if other means don't seem to work. – Mario Jul 20 '18 at 6:17
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    @Mario They are really smart, aren't they? I had to stop rewarding her for correcting bad behaviour, as she'd show bad behaviour just to correct it to receive a reward. – Belle Jul 20 '18 at 6:27
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I think it'll be hard, since wanting to got to toiled and wanting to go back looks really similar. If you can tell a difference, or if begging to go back occurs only at night, I would go with rewarding(probably something which she loves a lot) her when she tells the need of going to toilet, and nothing when it's the other thing. Borders are really intelligent and there is chance she will understand that toiled it OK, but just wanting to go back does not yield reward.

If it's not for long period, you can also try with special mats for dogs, and show here that she can pee there, but you would rather not have that

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Since your parents are on vacation right now and she is living with you, why not just ignore all requests to go back to your parent's house and treat them all as wanting to go outside?

Don't feel bad about leaving your dog in conservatory. She feels safe and happy there.

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Now the dog is safely at my parents again, I can write up what worked and didn't work.

What worked:

  • Taking the dog for scheduled walks only, but slightly more often than she gets walks with my parents, not when requesting and telling her off for requesting to go after coming back.
  • Rewarding doing her business immediately after the fact, up to once per trip.
  • Making sure that the conservatory was "her space", much like her dog cage at home. I put her pillow in a corner, her food in another one and left a toy in there.
  • Reinforcing sleep-time by putting my pyjama's on before putting her to bed in the conservatory that I then locked. I remembered my mother putting on her pyjama's before putting her to bed and by putting her in the conservatory, I mimicked my mother's behaviour of closing her cage.
  • Letting her run at the beach while relaxing myself, mentally and physically exhausting her, while I could have a bit of time mostly to myself.
  • Closing the door between the hall and the living room and leaving the one to the conservatory open while we were in the living room (not sure why that worked, but it did)

What did not work:

  • Taking her out at every request. She loves walks and would not stop asking me.

No single step was a perfect fix. All the steps together made the weekend bearable for me and the dog.

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