Shelter Dog Patience


by Jean Foster Akin

Ranger, our little shelter dog, has been part of the family since mid-December 2014. He is a sweet, affectionate, confident fellow that, when walking on the lead, responds to very subtle “taps” of the lead, and to very quietly uttered noises/words of approval or commands. He’s a dog that learned quickly not to fly down stairs when he was on one end of his lead and one of us was on the other. I taught him the latter early on because the prospect of being yanked down an entire flight of stairs was not on my list of fun things to do before I die.

So why couldn’t a smart dog like Ranger learn to let us know when he needed to go outside to do his business? Perhaps his first four years had been spent on a run and he never needed to “ask”? Whatever the case, he never gave us any indication at all that he had to go out. I mean NONE. I would just take him out randomly and he’d walk around and do nothing, or he’d do a Niagara Falls impersonation…but there was never any indication that he’d been about to burst like a water balloon 60 seconds before this. He never went to the door, never reacted to the word ‘out’.  Nothing.

“So why not take him out every two hours and be done with it?” you ask. “You’ll end up catching him at a moment he needs to go, right?” Well, we’ve done this. For six months. I even started setting a timer for a while so I could stop work and take him out, but then he started leaping up like he was on fire when the timer rang, when the phone rang, when an email message alert pinged on the iPad. Startling! Besides, I didn’t want to set a timer to go off and inadvertently train him to do his business following the sound of a bell. Some day, there might not be a bell. DSC07873

Then one day we thought we’d figured out his signal. Even if he didn’t understand our word for the commencement of his biological functions, this signal from him was what we were really after. Ranger began panting and pacing one evening, nudging me and looking extremely anxious. Eureka! Ranger’s signal to us that his bladder was full and he needed to go out!!

Nope. Once outside, he didn’t do a thing except pace and pull on the lead to get back into the house.

Ranger, we realized, is an amazing predictor of thunderstorms. Hours before the onset of a storm, we now know, he pants and paces and puts his paws and his head on our laps and wants to be close. We didn’t connect the storms to the behaviors because the behaviors began hours before the storms. We thought these behaviors meant he had to tinkle really really bad! But we were wrong: he did NOT want to go out. In our inability to sense the storm, we would run off to get his lead and we’d practically have to drag him outside…and he’d do nothing except try to get back in.

DSC07885But now, June 2015, six months since this wonderful fellow shot into our house like a hot Roman candle on a horizontal trajectory, he finally reacts to the question “Out?” His eyes get wide, his ears perk up, and he gyrates his rear-end like he’s at The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro!  Not only that, he actually goes to the door now to let us know he has to “go”even if we don’t ask, and he makes sure we see him there.  And when he starts with the panting and pacing and we ask if he wants to go out, he does not respond with any interest. He does NOT want to go out. He senses a storm. He understands the word “out,” and now that we know he does, we don’t have to wonder and I don’t need to set timers.

This is normal stuff for everyone else, but it’s big stuff for Ranger the Shelter Dog.

Patience was the key.



[photos by JFA]


Update on Ranger, the Dog Who Formally Wouldn’t “Go” Outside

DSC07868Last time, I told you about the newest member to our family, 4-yr old Ranger, the shelter dog. I’d like to say up-front that he is still as wonderful as ever. You may recall, however, his lack of embarrassment in regard to pooping in the house as well as his strange habit of pooping only once every two or three days. Because we feed him raw chicken, the poop is relatively dry, so there was no mess, but there was a very bad habit being established nonetheless.

An excerpt from some of what I wrote about the problem last time: “… he never indicates, ever, that he wants to go out at all…How do we get this four-year-old to see the house is not the place for unseemly canine scat deposits?


So, I did what any woman in my situation would do. I listened to the advice of my older brother and his wife, my friends from church, my Face Book friends, and those who wrote on this blog to offer suggestions. The suggestion I heard most often was “GET A CRATE!”  We have never used a crate to train a dog, but we have found that it WORKS!IMG_1091

A couple from our church offered us a crate that was too big for their dog and we took it on a trial run. It is just high enough for Ranger to stand up in if he keeps his head low. He is relaxed in it, so he’s probably been in one before.


Since we started crating him at bedtime (one week, two days now), he has not once “gone” in the house. At first, this was due to his being unable to sneak out of the bedroom at night for a private moment with our living room rug.

The first morning after the first crate-sleep, I had my coat on and the leash ready when I opened the crate door. I was warned by all my advisors to take him out IMMEDIATELY upon releasing him from the crate. He did not “go” when I took him out. I walked him for about 15 minutes and he watered every bush and tree trunk, but didn’t do anything else.

So, I crated him in the afternoon for an hour (as per the suggestion of a veteran crate-user), took him out again, and he wandered around for ten minutes and wanted to go back inside. I stayed out another five minutes with him and he did what I’d brought him out to do. Patience on MY part was the key.


I made a BIG fuss! Normally I do not speak to him AT ALL when he is on the lead, except for simple commands if needed. This worked to my benefit because when he did his business that day, I rubbed him and squealed at him and hugged him, and he, in turn, got all wiggly and excited and happy and jumpy. My response to his actions was (I hoped) beneficial positive reinforcement.

The second morning after crating overnight, he did his thing outside 10 minutes after I took him out. Again, we partied.

Friday morning, he did it again! What happened to the dog that only “went” once every two or three days!?

Saturday, no dice.

Sunday, dice! Squealing, jumping, dancing. And Ranger did some dancing too 🙂

Nothing Monday, but he did it on Tuesday….so we were back to every other day. But, he hadn’t done it in the house on ANY of those days, so that was good.

Wednesday, was interesting. Nothing all day, so we thought he was skipping a day as usual. We went out for dinner with friends in the evening and instead of leaving him in the crate for four hours (knowing we would only come home, let him out of the crate for a few minutes, then put him back in overnight for six or seven hours more), we decided to leave him in the roomy, linoleum-floored, laundry room with a towel to lay on and a chewy toy to play with. We have left him there for short periods before we got the crate and after it got cold here (I didn’t want to leave him in the garden shed in the cold). He’s never done anything unseemly when he’s been left in the laundry room for some reason. He didn’t Wednesday either. We got home, opened the laundry room door, hooked the lead onto his collar—and as soon as we were outside he immediately began doing the tell-tale walking-in-circles dance.

You know what that means, don’t you? It means that while we were gone, he held it even though he REALLY had to go, and even though he had not been crated!

So there are two questions: First, is the idea of where to “go” finally getting into Ranger’s head??? We hope so. And second, if my mother ever saw that I’d written a post on scat, would she be as mortified as I think she would be? I think she would, so I’ll stop here 🙂


Jean  🙂

Ranger the Shelter Dog (who won’t poop outside)



Those of you who have been following this riveting tale know that we had a wonderful dog (absolutely wonderful) in our Buddy, and he is the namesake of this blog. He lived fourteen and a half years, gave us a great deal of love and a lot of laughs, and punched a big hole in our hearts when he passed away—relatively peacefully–on Election night two years ago.


Andy in his favorite pose

At first we couldn’t think of getting another dog, but it’s been two years, and we needed to do something to fill that empty space left void where a four-legged creature once showed unrestrained delight at seeing us come through the door in the evenings. Cats don’t count, people. We love our Andy, but when we come home from anywhere, he lifts the lid of one eye into a sharp slit and glares at us like, “It’s about time,” or “You people ever gonna figure out how to keep food in my bowl?” And other pleasantries that don’t involve actually moving his hairy butt from the prime real estate known as the living room couch.

We were expecting to come home empty-handed the first time we went to the shelter, but there he was: in the midst of black, brown, and striped pit bulls mostly, there was our new dog. He sat at the gate and chuffed. He bent his head low to his front paws, raised his behind, and his tail waggled like a happy little flag fluttering on a little boat. And he chuffed again.

After about 20 minutes of this, we asked the attendant if we could take him out for a spin. We watched as she allowed him to drag her all over the place on the lead, tripping her and happily going wherever his nose led him. But when she handed me the lead, I told him to “heel.” He looked up at me and smiled, as if to say, “Hey, I’m, like, a free spirit, babe.” I ignored the cuteness and told him to heel again and started walking. He began to get out ahead of me so that the lead became taut, I gave it a light snap, said heel again, and after about a minute or so, he realized what I wanted: not to be tripped up by an enthusiastic, confident, delightful, but somewhat headstrong dog.


Andy and Ranger

He loves the family, he loves the cat (who, not too surprisingly to us, loves him too). He sleeps in our room without a peep at night, he doesn’t snap food from our fingers, he comes to his new name, he sits, he’s started lying down on command, and he’s very affectionate and people-oriented.

BUT, he hasn’t figured out where to poop…and he’s four years old. You see, there are problems in any relationship. Some problems are not worth pursuing, others are. We feel, in this case, that this problem is worth working out between us. We think he must have been kenneled for too-long periods of time in his former home because he doesn’t show any sign that he understands what grass and dirt or for. He understands trees and bushes but not grass and dirt. He has pooped in the house three times, but mostly wants to poop in the cement-floored garden shed. And he doesn’t go there on his own, he waits for us to put him there when we must pop into town for a few minutes, etc. This is more than mildly disturbing as we only put him in there every two or three days, and other than that, he shows no sign of even needing to poop at all, and totally ignores the poops I gather from the garden shed (and the couple I’ve collected from the wood floor near our bedroom) and place in the spot—across the driveway at the furthest point from the house—where I want him to make his deposits. He doesn’t even lower his nose to those poops. In his doggy brain, they do not exist.

Moving poop from where Buddy used to drop it as a puppy, to where we wanted him to drop it, worked for Buddy for most of his 14.5 years….Ranger is not getting this at all. Buddy used to ring a little Christmas bell that I kept on the back door handle all year long, and he did this when he needed to go outside for a “private moment.” I don’t think Ranger is going to “get” this, as he never indicates, ever, that he wants to go out at all. So here’s the question, not “Do we keep this guy?” but “How do we train this guy to go outside on grass and dirt, and not cross his legs waiting for the garden shed floor?” And, “How do we get this four-year-old to see the house is not the place for unseemly canine scat deposits?”

Any suggestions dear readers?


posted by Jean Foster Akin

photos by JFA