A dog with good potty habits is something that we often take for granted – until there’s a problem. It’s not uncommon for a dog that has had good potty habits to suddenly begin urinating or eliminating in the home. This can be a stressful situation because of the accidents and because you may be struggling to figure out why it is happening and how to get your dog back on track.
Although there are several reasons for this change in a dog’s habits, let’s get one thing clear from the start. Your dog is not doing it because they are mad at you. They don’t pee or poop to get back at us. There may be an underlying emotional cause, but it’s not spite. I’ll come back to this in a bit.
First Things First
Before spending too much time trying to figure out possible causes and solutions, it is important to rule out an underlying medical condition. Urinary tract infections are quite common and will impact potty behaviours. They are often the cause of a sudden onset of indoor peeing or increased need to pee.
Why Is This Happening?
Once a medical condition has been ruled out, then you can look into other possible causes. Although a housetraining issue can usually be resolved by going back to week one protocols, it is helpful to identify potential stressors that may be causing the lapse in housetraining. You can then factor those into the training as well as support your dog. Here are some possibilities:
A change in routine or environment
Change can be upsetting to our dogs. Just like us, our dogs gain reassurance from predictability and structure. When things in the home or their daily life change, this can cause stress. Remember I mentioned that our dogs don’t pee to spite us? Well, they may start to pee on household items such as our bed or favourite sweater that we leave lying around because they are upset. Depending on circumstances, it can sometimes seem like it is some kind of retribution, but it is because the dog is experiencing anxiety.
Here are some specific examples:
- is a family member away?
- do you have guests staying with you?
- has your work schedule changed?
- has access to an area in your home been taken away?
- has their walk schedule or time with you changed in some way?
- have sleeping arrangements changed?
- have you made changes to the yard?
- have you altered a favourite resting area
Whew! That’s a pretty big list and I’ve just gotten started. But you get the idea, right? Simple changes in your dog’s life can be the reason why they have suddenly started peeing inside.
In addition to the environment and routines, the emotional lives of our dogs need to be considered as well. Here are some additional reasons why your dog may be out of sorts:
- they have experienced a recent traumatizing event (scared by another dog, for example)
- another animal in the home is experiencing a change in health or routine
- their visits with a regular dog friend have changed
- a new dog has moved in next door
As you can see, there are a lot of possible reasons why your dog may be experiencing stress and this list is by no means comprehensive. Now you may be thinking this is all very interesting, but you just want to stop your dog peeing on the family room rug. Well, can you identify a reason that may be affecting your dog’s sense of well-being or that has disrupted their ‘normal’ life? If so, then you can compensate for that in some way, help your dog feel more comfortable and the housetraining can get back on track. Recognizing that cause and addressing it, is sometimes all that is needed.
If you have ruled out a health condition and there is nothing that you can think of that may be causing your dog stress, then you need to consider your actual housetraining. Is it really as good as you think it is? I have found that when there is a regression in habits, typically we find gaps or weaknesses in the housetraining that has taken place previously. Some common issues are:
- the dog has been left to go outside and do their business on their own at too early an age. Although this is easier for us, it won’t allow the building and reinforcing of good housetraining to happen for long enough
- peeing outside has not been reinforced sufficiently. Your dog will be reinforced for peeing inside or outside because of the relief they experience. To make going outside worth their while, you need to give it extra value
- a solid routine of going outside for potty throughout the day was not created
- a doggy door was used. Like simply being left to go out on their own, this set-up may be easier for us, but it usually messes up housetraining when used with a puppy.
Is there anything on this list that you have done? If yes, good job recognizing it! By identifying it, you may be able to address it specifically and make your remedial training more straightforward.
A sudden behaviour change can also happen with a young dog because they are still changing both mentally and physically. Young adolescents with surging hormones will often start marking. This is more likely to happen inside when:
- another dog visited your home recently
- an intact male is entering a new phase of development
- previous accidents have not been cleaned sufficiently
When housetraining mishaps are happening, whatever the specific cause, you will need to dial back protocols to some extent, to make it easier for your dog to get back on track.
- set up a consistent schedule
- make it easy to go to the bathroom outside and remove the opportunity to go inside
- make going outside really reinforcing
What does this mean specifically?
Add consistency to your dog’s routine
- be more proactive about your dog’s schedule. Set up time-consistent breaks. Take your dog out every two hours, for example.
Are you taking them out often enough?
- around breakfast and dinnertime, dogs need to go more than once to be empty. After play, coming out of the crate, eating or drinking, your dog will need an extra break.
Be mindful of when your dog has freedom
- when your dog has gone to the bathroom outside, he can have freedom for a bit – up to 2 hours for example – less if one of the activities listed above has taken place. Supervise him when he is loose. If he wanders off or loses focus in what he is doing, take him out.
- when you can’t supervise and keep your dog within sight, tuck him in a management area so he won’t be wandering freely. Supervision means actively watching your dog. If your attention is elsewhere, then you need to secure them with something pleasant to do.
- if you sense he is about to go inside, get his attention and encourage him to come outside with you.
Make going potty outside really valuable
- reinforce your dog well for going outside! It’s crucial to have him realize that going outside is awesome. Wherever he goes, inside or out, he is getting reinforced when he relieves himself. You need to improve the reinforcement value of going outside so he will want to choose to go there. This means you need to be present when he goes out. Ideally, take him out on leash to a specific potty area. The leash will not only prevent other activity but will also indicate you are on a potty-only mission. Stay in one spot and wait for him to go. If he doesn’t, tuck him for a bit and then try again.
If you have determined accidents are occurring at a specific time(s), then you can implement the management around those periods. If there doesn’t seem to be any kind of pattern, then you will need to implement a broader scope of management.
Helping get your dog back on track will require some extra attention and consistency on your part. if you commit to it, then the process will be more effective and it will take less time.
If your dog does have an accident, remember that there is no value in punishing them or trying to convince them that it is wrong. Doing so can actually make the situation worse.
If you need a more detailed guide to housetraining, check out 5 Steps to Housetraining Success