…It’s raining, my puppy/dog won’t potty outside!
This is really common, especially with puppies and small dogs. I rarely hear this from owners of Labradors, Goldens, and other water-loving, big, hairy breeds. Usually, this is just a “substrate preference”…a technical term for not wanting to get your feet wet. Often, we accidentally create this problem because WE don’t really want to go out in the rain, do we? So, we send Fluffy out into the yard alone, in the cold, wet rain. Or, we run outside with Fluffy, wait a few seconds, get frustrated, and head back in the house. Pretty safe bet that Fluffy’s going to start to avoid going out in the rain…so what should you do instead? First, we’ll talk about prevention, then we’ll cover how to train a rain-averse pup.
Prevention is the Best Medicine
You can usually prevent any substrate preferences early on by consistently braving the elements with your dog, in a no-nonsense manner, and rewarding your pup with something tangible like food for going out in the rain. If you behave as though you don’t mind the rain, your dog will follow your lead! Grab some treats, and wear good rain boots, a coat, and a hat, so that you don’t have to fake it. If you’re standing outside in your soggy bedroom slippers, you won’t be very happy, and your dog will know it! You’ll probably also be impatient to go back inside, and you may unconsciously be rushing your puppy along. Behave the same way you would on a nice, bright, sunny day. Reward your puppy with food immediately for pottying, especially in yucky weather.
Unless the weather is absolutely atrocious, try to linger outside a bit after your dog potties. After rewarding them with food, you can encourage your dog to explore, meander around and sniff, and maybe do a little training. This is desensitization (gradual, repetitive exposure to something) at work: exposing your dog to the weather and helping them become comfortable with it. If they never spend any time in the rain, then they won’t be very comfortable with it.
But…my dog already hates the rain!
Look at this issue from your dog’s perspective. Is it the wetness that your dog doesn’t like, or the fact that he’s outside alone in the rain? Maybe both? If it’s just that your dog doesn’t like being alone, that’s easy to solve. Put your rain gear on, and go outside with him consistently for a while. Then you can gradually start only going out halfway into the yard with your dog…and then standing on the porch, and then standing right outside the door. FInally, see if you can stand in the door, with it just cracked open.
If it’s the wet ground your dog hates, break that down into an actually training exercise. Get a wet towel, and lay it on the ground or on a tile/linoleum floor. Teach your dog to stand on and then walk over the wet towel! You can use a food lure or hand targeting to do this, or you can free shape it with your marker signal. For many dogs, this is surprisingly difficult. Once it’s easy for your dog to walk over the wet towel, see if you can ask him to walk through a small patch of wet grass or a shallow puddle after the rain has stopped. Use patience and gentle guidance. If you’re frustrated, your dog will know that right away and will start to stress down.
If your dog dislikes the actual rain falling down, wait for a day when it’s a very gentle, drizzly rain (…not a hurricane). Put on your rain gear, and stand with your dog at your open door. Have GREAT cookies in your pocket. Face out the door and just wait. The moment your dog shifts any weight toward the outside, say good, and toss a cookie out into the rain. Continue this until your dog starts to see some value and fun in going out in the rain. For some dogs, getting out of their home base is a good way to build confidence in the rain. They might not want to go out in their yard, but they might want to go for a car ride to the park! Build bravery, confidence, and comfort with the rain. If your dog is genuinely afraid of the rain itself (or the sound of rain), please seek the help of a trainer and/or a veterinary behaviorist.
One final note to owners of very small, thin-haired dogs! Yorkies, Maltese, etc. They may actually need a rain coat to keep them warm from the elements, if you plan on going for long walks in the rain. All dogs are individuals! If they are shivering and looking miserable, but willing to follow you outside, they won’t stay willing for long. Keep them comfortable with something to wear OR keep the walk/potty outing very brief.