It never fails. The temperature is below zero, it’s pouring rain or you’re running late to work. Meanwhile your dog is taking his sweet time finding the ‘oh so perfect’ spot to go potty.
Potty pickiness isn’t a sign your pooch is trying to push your buttons. There are a few reasons, some even scientific, why your dog sniffs, circles and stalls before doing his business.
He’s cleaning house
“Dogs often trample down the grass to make the spot ‘cleaner’ for them to go in,” says veterinarian Gary Richter, author of The Ultimate Pet Health Guide and veterinary health expert with Rover.com. They’re making a comfortable spot to squat and poop in that won’t have any sticks, tall grass or weeds, that will feel awkward or uncomfortable when they go.
She’s lining up
A 2013 study published in Frontiers in Zoology revealed dogs often align their bodies along the Earth’s North-South magnetic fields when they defecate. Why, exactly, that would be important is still unclear. “Perhaps all that spinning to line up is necessary for them to get a good sense of the Earth’s magnetism,” offers veterinarian Jennifer Coates, author of Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-speak Deciphered for the Non-veterinarian. Whatever the reason, walking along a North-South route may encourage your pup to go potty.
He’s on high alert
Smelling every blade of grass is Fido’s way of scanning the area for possible dangers. “Smell is the primary method dogs use to communicate with each other when they can’t be there in person,” explains Coates. When smelling feces, a dog can potentially gather a lot of information, “including the identity of the other individual, their reproductive status and their recent diet.” This tells them if a possible predator has been strolling through the yard and if he needs to be on guard.
She’s marking her spot
Dogs will sometimes urinate and defecate over or near where other dogs have eliminated as a way of saying, “I was here” and establishing territories, says Richter. And they may stall or sniff around to find an unclaimed location or reclaim one from another animal (including a canine sibling in the household).
Russell Hartstein, a certified animal trainer with more than 30 years of experience in applied behavior analysis, suggests these tricks to speed up potty training or bathroom habits:
Pick a word. It’s possible to train your dog to eliminate on command when he hears a certain word. Start by choosing your word or phrase like “Max, go potty,” and say it any time he eliminates. Then, say the cue to the dog (go pee, poo, potty, etc.) and be quiet, allowing your dog to sniff around and find a preferred location to do his duty.
Don’t rush in. Taking dogs inside immediately after they eliminate is often seen as punishment to a dog, and that can instill the need to hold it in for as long as possible before eliminating in order to enjoy some fresh air. Instead, reward your dogs after they poo or pee on cue not only with high-value food treats, but with a satisfying walk, too.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Understanding your pup’s peculiar potty habits