Let’s face it, usually when people say “But he’s housetrained!,” he really, really isn’t. But there are exceptions. This week I’ll talk about some reasons dogs may pee or poop indoors even though they’re housetrained, and what you can do about it.
What to Do if Your Puppy Pees When Excited or Anxious
Most of us have had the pleasure of meeting a puppy who’s ecstatically happy to greet humans. Sometimes the pleasure is a mixed one, as when said puppy excitedly pees all over our shoes. Other puppies, a bit shy and submissive, roll on their backs and squirt, especially when a person bends over them, and double especially if the person is big and/or male and/or a little assertive in demeanor.
This may be my favorite dog problem, because unlike every other dog problem it will usually go away if you leave it alone. All by himself, the puppy will grow up and develop adequate muscular control. In the case of shy, submissive puppies, “leaving it alone” includes avoiding the Giant Human Loom-Over and whatever other behaviors set the puppy off. Teaching a pup to sit for greetings, or ignoring her till she relaxes, will often help her hold her stuff. Generally, submissive and excitement urination will resolve by the time doggy adolescence strikes.
You do have it in your power to make this problem worse, of course. Get your excited pee-er amped on purpose when you greet her, or shout at the shy pup when he dribbles, and watch that stream grow.
Medical Problems That Can Cause Your Dog to Pee or Poop Indoors
A host of medical problems can lead your dog to eliminate indoors. I’ll mention a few examples, but many more exist. And those I do describe may have symptoms I don’t mention here. The short version is, suspect a medical problem if your dog’s behavior has changed suddenly, if she’s old, or if you’re sticking to a regular, careful housetraining schedule and your puppy is having frequent accidents anyway.
Sudden, urgent digestive upset may come on too strong for even the best-housetrained dog. Possible causes include rich or spoiled food and certain parasites. A dog with a urinary tract infection may need to go much more often than usual and may dribble small amounts of urine. If you have a spayed female dog who leaks urine in her sleep, a possible cause is estrogen incontinence, which is usually treatable with inexpensive medication. Elderly dogs who develop canine cognitive disorder, a doggy analogue of Alzheimer’s disease, may lose their housetraining as the condition progresses. Pain from arthritis, an injury, or illness can leave a dog reluctant to take a walk or make it hard for her to get into position to pee or poop. The bladder and bowels may wind up overfull and impossible to control.
Increased water intake accompanies some illnesses, diabetes among them; if you don’t happen to notice that your dog is filling up more than normal and supply extra toilet breaks to compensate, he may be unable to hold his urine until his next walk. Certain medications may make animals feel thirsty, too -- steroids are famous for this. If your dog’s indoor pees coincide with a new medication or an increased dose of an old one, it’s well worth asking your vetwhether thirst or incontinence is a possible side effect. Malformations of the rectum and sphincter or of the urinary tract can make it impossible for a dog to control eliminations. My older dog’s anal sphincter has lost muscle tone. Result: sometimes when she springs up with joy at going for a walk, she drops a few little items from behind. Oh, well.
Behavioral Causes of Peeing or Pooping Indoors
Inappropriate elimination can signal certain behavior problems. The commonest might be separation anxiety, which in its more intense forms could be called separation panic. One sign of true separation anxiety is that the dog may chew and claw at doors and windows, apparently trying to escape; another is that he may let go of urine and stool. Thunderstorm phobia can produce the same result, as can terror in other contexts. It’s not unheard of for a dog to let loose during severe punishment. I’m tempted to say that in that case the behavior problem isn’t in the dog, but harsh, ill-informed advice is everywhere and even the best and kindest people can be misled into following it.
What if Your Dog Is Afraid to Go Outdoors?
Dogs too afraid to go outside will obviously sooner or later eliminate indoors. Sometimes the fear arises after a specific terrifying event. More commonly, dogs who fear going outdoors didn’t get appropriate socialization in early puppyhood; completely normal life experiences strike them as strange and alarming. That is among the saddest behavior problems any consultant sees -- crucial parts of early development have been missed, and the resulting fear of the wide world can sometimes be ameliorated but can’t be undone. Some dogs can learn to feel reasonably comfortable in a few outdoor contexts or at certain times. For others, the best we can do is teach them to use a designated spot indoors so there isn’t any pressure to go out.
When Your Dog Pees in His New Home
Some dogs, especially male dogs, start life in a new adoptive home by marking every vertical surface they can find, indoors as well as out. It’s best to treat this as a housetraining problem, just in case it turns out to be one, but often enough it seems to be a result of stress. As the dog settles into a clear and consistent routine and becomes comfortable, the indoor marking fades away.
Fortunately, most inappropriate elimination can be -- um, eliminated, either through remedial housetraining or through treatment of the underlying physical or emotional problem. See your vet and consult a competent behavior professionalfor help. For tips on how to housetrain your dog or puppy, you can see my episode on that topic at dogtrainer.quickanddirtytips.com.