Today was the first opportunity in days that I could actually play with the dogs outside. After several days of below zero lows and single digit highs, today the temperatures soared to around 28 above zero. And yes, I have to write “above zero” because we’ve had a handful of days that I can remember that were 28 below zero.
In case you think you missed an announcement that we’ve moved to Antarctica or are working holiday jobs up at the North Pole, you did not. We are still here in suburban Illinois, where we see subzero temps in the winter and 90 and above for many days each summer. In fact it would be a great parody of a Miley Cyrus song…Chicago weather being “The Worst of Both Worlds.”
Of course neither extreme is good for dogs and so we retreat to the climate controlled indoors during times like this. In the summer the dogs don’t have to be coaxed inside. When the heat soars above 90, my shiny black dogs want nothing to do with being out there soaking up the sun like I do. They are happiest sprawled on top of the central air vents and we play after the sun has gone to the other side of the house.
However, like many Labradors, they see no issue being outside in the freezing cold until their paws start to burn with the cold and they start picking up their feet while trying to figure out what’s wrong. Because of my unbreakable rule that I must always be outside with them at all times no matter what the weather or time of day, I am there to intervene before they get frostbite on their paws.
Some days it is so cold that my husband and I have to help them plan ahead when it’s time to go out. “Hurry up, go potty” one of us will tell them, looking them both in the eye before we open the door. “Got it? Hurry up, go potty!”
After saying the words, I open the door and both dogs leap off the deck and run to find a spot, first to pee, then to eliminate their bowels. “Hurry up, go potty! Good dog, go potty!” my husband or I will call to them.
About 90% of the time both dogs heed our words and run to find a place to poop. As soon as they are done we call them back to us, and it is usually about that time that they start to pick up their feet from the cold and head back to the house. When the ground is snow-covered and the temperature is below zero we get about a minute before they pick their paws up in confusion and pain.
These moments are the reason we taught the phrase, “Hurry up, go potty” to them. It was something I had taught my late Babe, who I lived with in an apartment and had to leash walk 100% of the time, with the exception of visits to Grandma’s to run and frolic in my Mom’s fenced yard. It seemed natural to teach it to Jax and Tink while we were house breaking them, especially since it’s so easy and I was outside with them anyway watching them do their bathroom business.
Most of the time this command has come in handy it has been in times of inclement weather, like thunderstorms or very windy days when I do not want the dogs or myself outside because of flying objects. One time we were under a Tornado Watch when Jackson told me in no uncertain terms that he needed to go outside and by the way he held his tail I knew which type of business he needed to conduct. I gave him the “Good boy, go potty, hurry up!” talk and off he went, taking care of all of his bodily functions in less than a minute before running back to the house with me.
So how do you get your dog to go to the bathroom almost on command? Just like anything you teach your dog, it’s all about patience and consistency. We simply stayed nearby when our dogs pooped and said very calmly, “Good dog, go potty, hurry up, good dog, hurry up, go potty, good dog, go potty, hurry up” from the moment they assumed their position until they were done. Afterward we would add in a “Yessss, good dog, go potty, hurry up!!” with tons of excitement and praise. Even after they knew it, like now, we will reinforce their training by saying it when they are going even if we do not in fact need them to hurry up.
It is important to remember that they are dogs and this is a bodily function, so they will not always go as fast as my dogs do when it’s bitterly cold. They still need to sniff to find a spot and won’t go if their bodies are not ready for them to go. You can often tell by their body language, the urgency of their request to go outside or even the way they hold their tail if they need to rid themselves of solids. At the end of the day, though, they are living breathing creatures and none of us can go on command if we don’t need to.
Don’t worry if your dog is already house trained or if you adopt a new rescued dog. Babe was two when I adopted her and she learned very quickly. All dogs are different and learn at different rates, so don’t be frustrated if yours is not as fast of a learner; you’re out there anyway with them, so you might as well keep working on it. You will be happy the day you give the command and they comply, getting both of you back inside the house faster.