We travel with our dogs, to competitions, festivals and educational events, via boat and plane and car. Of the many tricks they do, one that I am often asked about is , “You get them to “go” on the boat? How did you do that?!”
In a nutshell, the answer is, we taught them to go “pee or poop!” (help me come up with funnier cues! see comments!) “outside” first. And then, we taught them that the top deck of the boat is “outside” and we cued them to go “pee or poop” there.
Assuming you need more detail than that, I have to go all the way back to when my dogs were babies and newly rescued, and of course I crate trained them. Crate training does not mean puppy torture, it means I used a physical cue to help condition them to feel safe and relaxed on cue. Relaxing (and loving it!) on cue in the crate then helped me condition many other behaviors.
So first you need to teach your dog/pup to LOVE the crate. I’ll go into that in more detail elsewhere, but basically this is done by “leaving ‘em wanting more,” keeping crated sessions very short and highly reinforced. For example, try starting by locking a piece of stinky cheese, or supper, or a dog bone into the crate. Dog wants in! Let the dog into the crate only when the dog is really demanding it, and then when the dog leaves, lock the dog out! Dog wants to get into the crate! Yay! Trade (always trade, don’t just take stuff from the dog) beef bone for a piece of chicken if the dog tries to leave crate with dog bone. Leave dog bone in the closed crate. In our house, the crate is the only place we allow dogs to chew raw beef bone. That makes going into the crate a special opportunity to chew! Never take a pup out of a crate when he is fussing, always wait for that one quiet second (and then run!) to let him out of the crate when he is quiet and calm. See Susan Garrett’s wonderful CD and book “Crate Games” for more details on how and why you should crate train every dog. Her book “Ruff Love” is also helpful if you are starting with an adult dog.
Once your dog likes the crate, and you’ve got him sleeping in the crate through the night (my puppy crate would actually be either right beside my bed or actually ON my bed at this point!), leash in the morning before he fusses, walk him to the door, and say, “outside!” as you go outside. Say “outside” every time you go outside to your designated convenient potty place. Wait a minute, up to three minutes, for him to go pee or poop. If he “goes,” say your cue words as he is going, and deliver a wonderful treat right after he goes. If your yard is fenced in, the “treat” could be letting him off leash. You could also just praise and pet, or praise and deliver a food treat. If he doesn’t “go,” don’t reward it. Bring him back inside, lovingly put him back in the crate, and try again in ten or fifteen minutes (or half an hour). Eventually he will “go”, you will deliver your cue as he goes, and now you can go for a walk or play off-leash.
In this way, my dogs learn to go to the bathroom on cue right at the beginning of our adventures. Some people make the mistake of walking until the doggie goes potty, and then that’s the end! Dogs learn to hold it FOREVER in order to get a longer (and longer!) adventure. If my dogs don’t go to the bathroom pretty darn quickly, I end the walk, crate to prevent accidents, and try again just a little bit later. In this way, my dogs learned that when I pull over to the side of the highway and say “pee or poop,” their best bet is to go to the bathroom immediately, and then I might let them sniff around for a few minutes afterwards. At dog events, I take them out and if they don’t go immediately, they go back in the shady car, or back into their crate in the show’s crate room. I associate the phrase “pee or poop!” with the activity so often (regularly!) that they hear the phrase and know they know that this signals a limited opportunity. If they need to go, they go, and if they don’t go, the opportunity goes away for now.
And so on the boat. I brought them up on deck, said “lets go outside” as we went from the cabin up the companionway onto the deck, then I said “pee or poop!” Both my dogs were worried about this at first. They held it and wished we were going ashore. But we weren’t going ashore. Tiger lily “held it” for a record of 36 hours. But then she peed. Bee (as I knew she would) got this right away. Once the two of them both “pee or poop”’d once or twice on deck, and were rewarded for it, it just was easier and easier. They just go right on the deck and I put poops in a composter can, and wash off the urine (see a previous blog post for this detail). So I don’t want them to hold it till we go ashore, so they’ve learned that after they go to the bathroom, I take them to shore.
Nowadays, they are mature and I only crate them at dog events. We can stop on a dock for a few days and then go to sea, and they are flexible. They let me know that they want to go “outside,” and they are adapted to going wherever and whenever I tell them to go. Sometimes, Tigerlily (who is 12 years old) has a hard time waking up, so recently I’ve found that starting up the boat engine is a cue to her that she better wake up and go while the going is good. I start the engine, she wakes herself up enough to get up on deck. We clean up, weigh anchor and off we go.
Questions? Alternative cue ideas? Put them in the comments section below.