Dog Faking having to go Potty

Our 2 yr. old does this same thing every night. She comes to us and goes through all the motions to tell us she needs to go outside and go potty. Sometimes she might bark to alert us. However, maybe 1 out of 4 times a night it's just that she wants to go outside (no potty involved). How can we be sure that she has to potty? We're getting tired of false alarms. What can we do?

Barking is a very common method of communication that dogs use, ‘talking’ not only to humans and dogs but other species as well. Barking can become a problem when it is excessive and used at the wrong time. Like your dog, barking is often used when they need to go outside to the bathroom. In your situation, I would recommend that your dog’s veterinarian check her over thoroughly to make sure there isn’t a medical cause for this behavior. It would be interesting to discuss if she actually tries to go potty (going small amounts or straining, etc.) during these trips outdoors at night, or if she simply walks around taking in the night air.

If everything checks out okay with the veterinarian, it would be good to start behavioral modification. She may now have you “trained” to do what she wants.  She may be interested in some smell or sounds outside during the night, or she just wants to stretch her legs for some reason. When it is bedtime, take her out for one last potty and watch her closely. Be sure that she goes. This way, when she alerts you to go potty later, you will be pretty sure that she doesn’t actually have to go. This will involve ignoring her when she barks. This is very, very hard, but giving into her demands only reinforces the behavior.  Try to distract her, playing with a toy or going to another part of the house. You can also give her a small treat and work on a skill, such as “sit” or “stay.” Crate training may also be helpful and once she goes into the crate for the night – that’s it.

A lot of patience will be necessary but I think that it will pay off!  Good luck!