It never fails. Every fall for the many years I worked in veterinary clinics, I would have a few clients reporting the same two new problems. Either a new puppy or dog had started to go backwards in potty training as the weather or schedules changed, or they had a sudden and unexpected outbreak of fleas. I call this the Back-to-School Backslide.
These problems crop up for a few reasons, but with a little work you can head them off and quickly resolve them.
Back-to-School Backslide: Potty Training Reversal
Summer is a great time to introduce a new puppy or dog to the family. It is so much easier to potty train and teach good manners when the days are warm and long. Then the leaves start to fall and the kids head back to school… and your puppy is suddenly sneaking off to a corner of the living room to pee instead of using the yard.
Why does this happen?
There are a few reasons. First, it can take some pets a while to adjust to a new schedule. If your fall schedule will be different, you may want to start easing into the new one a few weeks in advance. This is especially true if your feeding and walking times will be changing.
Remember, once your dog is on a reliable schedule, her body starts to predict it. She will want food and need to use the fire hydrant at the same times each day. Even feeding her an hour early can throw this internal schedule off, leading to accidents.
Second, as the weather changes being outside is no longer as comfortable as it was. Some dogs need quite a bit of time to adjust to cold, rainy, or snowy conditions. My mini-schnauzer took a few months to come to terms with the rain in Portland. She had no problems with snow (she was a Colorado native), but that wet rain stuff really threw her. We had to go back to some potty-training basics until she adjusted.
Reinforce Proper Elimination
If you are having a potty training reversal, there are a few things you can do to get things back on track. Make sure that your new schedule is not setting your dog up for failure. If she has been used to a mid-day potty break, then be sure she is still getting her normal breaks and walks.
Watch your times as well. If your dog usually goes outside an hour after eating, then be sure she isn’t being asked to wait longer.
If your dog is getting her breaks as usual but is still sneaking off indoors to eliminate, then you need to take some additional steps.
First, try and figure out the problem. Is she cold? Does she not like going outside in the dark? Rain/snow issues? An uncomfortable dog does not want to hang around outside and might just be holding things until she is back in the warm house. Try getting a sweater or jacket for your pup, and then spend a week reinforcing her potty training.
For my family of 4 dogs, we use the leash method along with crate training. When the offending dog is in the house, they are short-leashed (within 5 feet) to a human at all times when not crated or in the bedroom at night. This prevents them from wandering off out of sight. Then when it is time to go outside we take them out, on the leash… and wait for them to eliminate.
Our stubborn schnauzer kept us outside for up to an hour at a time, refusing to walk on the wet grass and refusing to use the concrete. But we preserved, and eventually she would go to the bathroom, and we would reward her. Within a week she would give in and go within 15 minutes.
By the end of a month she was reliably using the yard and was no longer having any accidents.
Tips to Prevent Elimination Problems
- If your fall schedule is changing, try and ease into the new schedule a week or so in advance, to give your dog time to adjust.
- Provide your dog with appropriate clothing for the fall weather conditions.
- Take your dog back to the first steps of potty training, using whatever method you used originally. Be sure she is going outside and not just holding it!
- Praise and reward correct elimination!
- If you have a covered porch or deck, you can use a small piece of artificial grass to create a sheltered potty area. Train your dog to use it, and hose it down and replace the grass as needed.
Fall Flea Outbreaks
A lot of us do not use year-round flea control, which is, of course, the ideal. When you have a large animal family it can seem like an unnecessary expense in the colder months, when flea activity is low.
Except… I can tell you that flea outbreaks are actually really common in the fall and early winter months.
The situation usually goes something like this: A client has a flea outbreak in the spring or early summer, before they have started using flea prevention. The outbreak hits the house, and they bring everyone in for a vet check and to get prescription flea control. The outbreak is contained, and they continue using flea control until the weather turns cold in the fall. Then out of nowhere they get a second outbreak! What happened?
Without going into the details of the flea life cycle, what usually happens is that there is either some left-over contamination in the house or on the property from the earlier outbreak, or it has been brought in fresh on someone’s shoes or paws.
Several stages of flea development are dependent on two factors: heat and humidity. And the pupae stage of the flea life cycle can actually lie dormant for up to a year waiting for the perfect conditions!
In the fall and early winter we usually see rain, snow, and colder temperatures outside. These conditions will prevent fleas from hatching outside the home… but inside, when we turn on the furnace, that heat and humidity create the perfect climate for fleas to take hold. If you have just stopped using flea control, then you may get an outbreak.
Obviously the easiest way to prevent a fall flea outbreak is to keep everyone on year round flea prevention. You can also opt to protect the most vulnerable pets (like a dog that goes to doggy daycare or gets boarded). This still leaves gaps that fleas can exploit, so you will need to be vigilant.
I admit, I do not use year-round control myself. I do keep the dogs up, mostly, but the indoor cats get a pass. What I do recommend if you follow my path is to be diligent in checking your pets weekly with a flea comb. I do this at least twice a week. You are not actually looking for fleas with the comb. By the time you are finding live fleas, you already have a major outbreak.
What you want to check for is little specks that look like dirt, but turn a rusty-red color when smeared on a moist paper towel. If you see these speck (flea poop), then you have fleas even if you haven’t seen any other signs flea activity. Get that flea control started again immediately.
Tips to Prevent Flea Outbreaks
- Use year round flea control, or use flea control until winter is well established and restart before the weather changes in the spring.
- Use flea control on the most vulnerable pets.
- Check all pets weekly with a flea comb, looking for flea debris (poop).
- If you have an outbreak in the spring or summer, then keep up flea control for a full 12 months after the outbreak before you take a winter break from it.
- Remember, you can bring in flea eggs on your shoes, even in the winter.
With these tips, I hope you can prevent or fix any back-to-school backslide in potty training or fleas in your home! A Dog Mom’s job is never done, but the wet noses and cuddles make it so worthwhile.
Click here to check out 5 tips to help your dog beat the back to school blues.
About the Author:
Jen Clifford is a freelance writer from Portland, Oregon. A lifelong Dog Mom, she currently lives with her husband and their Tribe of 4 dogs, 3 cats, and 5 chickens. Jen was a biologist and then a veterinary professional for 10 years, when she transitioned into full time writing. You can find her blog at My Wicked Tribe.