Our journey into the housetraining realm of dog-ownership has been … well … challenging. And I think what makes it the most challenging is that we got a very late start on the process. Had we gotten them much earlier than the 9 months old they were – if we would have gotten them when they were mere puppies – I believe we would have had an easier time of it. Though, in all truth and honesty, I think Panda trained herself from the moment she was conceived. I don’t believe she’s ever left us any little gifts to find (and clean) except for the one time (which may have been truly an accident).

I’m learning that the whole concept of “Housetraining” is more for the owners’ benefit than for the dog. You really can’t yell and punish the dog when you find those gifts. They live in the present and wouldn’t know why you’re yelling at them or pushing their faces into fecal matter that might smell vaguely familiar. My guess is that you have to catch them in the act, then swoop in to stop it in mid-pinch to get them outside to finish. The only problem is – you generally scare it all the way back inside!

So, thinking outside the box, we instituted the ideology of bribery … with treats … and lots of them. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you want to look at it) we have very smart girls who learn very fast – especially Dixie. We decided that with every successful pee and every successful poop outside they would get a tiny treat – which they received with great delight. Dixie was the one which put two and two together, and immediately, after receiving a tiny treat for a poop outside, proceeded to attempt another convincing poop.

In case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t fall for it, and she didn’t get yet another treat.

Another idea given to us was to hang bells on the back door. Every time we take them outside to do their business, we shake the bells and say “Do business! Do business!” then go outside. Eventually, they will learn to shake the bells themselves when they need to do their business. We’re still waiting for that to happen.

So between the two methods, we’re hoping they’ll (1) somehow miraculously alert us by ringing the bells when they need to “do business;” and (2) realize that they will only get a lovely treat when they “do business” outside, not inside.

But then there’s the other day. The hubby had his office Christmas party after work, and wasn’t coming home too soon. So I had some extra time with the girls. To keep somewhat of the normal schedule we’ve instilled in them, I took them outside to “Do business!” as soon as I got home – having rung the bells on my way out the door to remind them. The moment we got onto the grass, Panda peed while Dixie immediately went for the poop squat. But all she got out was a (I’m sorry this is so graphic) little pebble. I figured, “Well, maybe she just didn’t have to poop all that much. Happens to the best of us…” and gave them both a tiny treat, and they moved off into another part of the yard with great enthusiasm.

Then it was time for Panda to do her other half of “business,” while Dixie took care of what should have been the first half of “business.” They both got another tiny treat and we went back inside the house to relax for a bit before our walk. Twenty minutes later, we took that walk and everything was fine. As we always do, as soon as we got home, they got a favorite treat for being good on the walk, and then I fed them. After their din-din, we all went upstairs while I changed out of my work clothes into more comfy stuff, when (without warning), Dixie walked out into the hallway. I watched as she began to squat and immediately swooped in with an “Ah!” and scooped her up in my hand so I could rush her outside to finish – hoping that, living in the moment, she would remember that association of being in mid-pinch in the wrong spot, and would resume when I put her outside.

Halfway down the steps, I realized something. I wasn’t wearing any pants!

So back up the steps I ran with Dixie in one hand, grabbed a pair of sweatpants in the other, and attempted to get them on with one hand. After the balancing act, we ran downstairs to the back door, grabbed the leash to put on her (still with one hand; not putting her down yet), shook the bells while (out of breath) saying “do business, do business,” and opened the back door, trying to keep Panda inside with one foot and a “shhht!” ala Cesar Milan, holding Dixie with one hand, and opening the storm door with the other. I placed her on the grass to “do business,” but she’d already gotten everything out she needed to upstairs.

The only thing missing was the theme song to the Benny Hill Show.

Epic fail.

The following morning, having been warned about the phantom poop bribe, my hubby and I decided we would not reward anything less than a full poop with a tiny treat. Unfortunately, Dixie didn’t hear that decision and pulled the pebble trick on Daddy’s morning doggie shift. Again, Dixie lasted through the walk, the morning feeding, and then back upstairs to the bedroom where we closed the doors so we could keep an eye on them. Sure enough, about 10 minutes later, she started squatting. We yelled the instinctive “Ah!” while the hubby (who was closer) scooped her up immediately to run her outside (he was wearing pants) while I kept Panda with me in the bedroom.

Sadly, Dixie didn’t do anything further outside, so we kept her on-leash in the house while we finished getting ready, then back into her kennel until I got home later. When I took her out, she finally gave us the gift we wanted to see – outside. So she finally got her tiny treat.

But I think we’ll keep her on-leash inside for a couple of days until she learns (or, more precisely, until we learn).