Have you ever had a “quick” walk with your dog that never seems to end? Sure you have. Every dog owner has that waiting-for-the-poo moment at least 37 times in their lives.
I had one a few nights ago, and now I finally know why!
Here’s what happened…
I had just gotten home after being away for a few hours, and Westin (our dog) was eager to do his business. Naturally, walking with him was the first thing on my agenda as soon as I walked through the door.
But there were other things on my agenda too. Many other things.
In my mind, we’d take a quick 10-minute walk and then I’d get back to checking items off my to-do list. Dinner, family time, work projects, etc. I was going to go to bed in the wee hours of the morning as it was, but what could I do? Everything had to get done. I was at peace with it as long as everything went according to plan.
On this day, Westin had other plans.
As soon as his feet hit the pavement, he was distracted by a neighborhood cat. The cat seemed to enjoy the attention because there she stayed, just out of his barking reach. Gotta love the relationship between cats and dogs. I wanted him to play as much as he did, but my agenda was weighing heavy on my mind.
So we moved on…
Finally, we got to “his spot.” This is where he does his business almost every night. But tonight wasn’t any old night. Could it have been the position of the moon? A special tilt of the earth that made this old standby spot seem different?
Whatever it was, this spot wasn’t working. Westin was not going to do his business here tonight.
So we moved on…
In total, the walk took 20 minutes before Westin finally did his business. This was twice as long as a typical walk, and it left me wondering why.
How do dogs choose where to go? It seems like a silly thing to obsess over, but I thought if I could find the answer, I could help Westin find his spot that much faster.
I did some research, and this is what I found…
Instincts play a large role
Waste elimination serves a physiological and social need. Yes, it is a necessary biological function, but it’s so much more than that. With each pile of poo, your dog sends a message.
In the wild, wolves will leave what is called an olfactory bowl. This means they leave feces and other markings to send the message that this is their territory. Stay out! Domesticated dogs may have some of that territorial pack instinct left in them. More often, though, they leave piles as calling cards.
On a simple walk, your dog may learn how many dogs are in the area, whether they are male or female and what they had for lunch based on smell alone. It’s amazing when you think about it. Your dog uses 300 million olfactory receptors to decipher these scents. Sometimes, the smell of another dog’s pile in itself could be enough to trigger the onset of a good poop.
Every dog is different
The reason your dog will shun one spot to poo in another may be different from Westin’s reasons, but there are some widely accepted theories. It may also vary depending on your dog’s mood. But if you know all the potential reasons, you may be able to pinpoint what’s going through your dog’s head in the moment.
Familiarity is key
When it comes to number one, dogs aren’t as picky. In fact, they are very likely to mark a spot that is new to tell other animals they’ve been there. Things are a bit different with number two. Most dogs like to feel comfortable and relaxed in a spot before they do their business. If you have a dog who seems reluctant to poo on vacation, you know this one to be true. And this is also why dogs like Westin tend to have a favorite spot where they go more often. It feels like home to them. Melissa Bain of UC Davis’s School of Medicine tells us that dogs decide on surface preferences at a very early age.
If you want your dog to find his spot quickly, avoid unfamiliar spots on your walk. Always pass by their old haunts to give them the opportunity to do their business here. If they turn their noses up, consider branching out to a less familiar area. Then, circle back to their favorite spot. They may realize that this is their best opportunity to go number two.
Bathroom quality makes a difference
Hey, bathroom conditions are important to us. It shouldn’t be surprising that they are important to our dogs too! Dogs tend to like plush grass. If your dog’s favorite spot is getting a little dry and prickly, she may not be as excited about going there. Think about how you feel when you walk into a filthy bathroom? You want to get out of there as soon as possible, right? Well, it’s the same with dogs and uncomfortable grass. But also remember that every dog is different. You may have a dog that prefers to go on concrete, gravel or prickly grass. If you know this is your dog’s preference, be sure there are options like this along your walk.
Dogs get performance anxiety too!
When Westin got distracted by the cat on our walk, it may have changed his focus. Instead of being focused on doing his business, he was thinking about how to get closer to that cat. Imagine his surprise when he found himself at his bathroom spot and wasn’t ready to go. In cases where there are distractions, this is another time to consider circling back on your dog’s go-to spot. After seeing it for the first time, your dog’s focus shifted back to the task at hand. He needs a little time to make it happen. Take a walk around and then bring him right back there for his business.
A note about digestion
The seemingly lackadaisical attitude your dog has about pooping usually has to do with the reasons I mentioned above. Still, there are times when delays are caused by constipation and poor digestion. If you’ve tried everything and still can’t seem to get your dog to go… or if your dog is obviously struggling to go… she may be constipated.
This happens with Westin from time to time too. When it does, we will add the Constipation remedy to his normal daily routine. If you think your dog may have digestive issues, talk to us. We can provide suggestions for a regimen designed to bring your dog back to a state of good health.