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House-soiling problems

There are many reasons why a dog may go to the toilet in the house. Some are:

  • Not properly trained & never learned to go outside (especially if kept outside as puppies)

  • Illness or incontinence (wetting in sleep after spaying)

  • Change in food/routine/walking habits

  • Not able to get outside – doesn’t know how to ask, or is ignored

  • Nowhere else to go – cannot go in garden or out on walk for some reason

  • Submissive urination

  • Scent marking – reproductive, insecurity, dominance

  • Stress or tension in household (especially at night or when left)

  • Scared when left alone (separation problem)
    - increased need to go
    - insecurity scent marking

  • Attention seeking

Always get a veterinary check first - before tackling the behaviour problem.

House-soiling can be caused by illness or an ailment that will need veterinary attention. This type of house-soiling usually occurs suddenly, for example, in the case of a dog with cystitis, colitis or diarrhoea.

A common problem is wetting the bed when sleeping or resting after a bitch has been spayed. Since we have bitches spayed when they come into kennels, you may come across cases where this is happening and the owners are unaware that it can be treated (with Propalin from veterinary surgeons).

Some bitches will go through a breakdown in housetraining just prior to their first season. This resolves by itself once all the hormonal changes have settled down after the season.

House-soiling can occur if there are changes in feeding times, food, routines and walking habits.

Again, these are usually sudden in onset.

For example, a sudden change of food may upset the stomach as it does when we go on holiday and eat a completely different diet. (This is why owners need to be given advice and a bag of food that the dog is being fed on when they take a dog from our kennels.)

Problems may occur if the timing of feeding changes.

The dog may then need to go to the toilet at a different time, perhaps at night or when the owners are not there. Time needs to be given to adjust to the new routine, but changes may have to be made to the time of feeding so that the dog wants to go at a convenient time.

Changes to routine such as happens when a new baby is brought home can result in a temporary lapse in housetraining.

Owners changing jobs or doing shift work can result in walks being taken at different times which may not be compatible to the dog.

If the dog was housetrained later in life or was dirty in the house for a prolonged period in its life, it is more likely that it will revert to being dirty again should its routine and environment be affected.


Housetraining is a training process like that of teaching a dog not to pull on the lead.

Owners do not have any training in this exercise and so it is not surprising that they often get it wrong.

In an ideal world, puppies would be raised in clean conditions where there is a clear distinction between the nest and the toilet area. (All animals born in a nest, e.g. pigs, rabbits, can be housetrained.) Once able to, puppies instinctively move out of the nest to go to the toilet.

If they are raised in dirty conditions which eventually results in there being no difference between the nest and toilet area, the learn-to-be-clean process is slowed and eventually halted. They cease to be clean and become indifferent to sleeping in their own mess. Such dogs will wet and mess in their own beds as adults and it is very difficult to re-teach them to be clean. This often occurs if puppies are kept in a barn or box where all the floor space is covered with straw or shavings. Once they have learned not to care, it can be difficult to re-teach them.

If puppies are raised in clean conditions and passed on to a caring family, it is possible to housetrain them in a few days if the owners are vigilant. But they have to concentrate! They need to remember that young puppies have baby brains and bodies and can’t hold on for too long.

Puppies need to be taken out after waking up or resting, after eating, after playing or excitement and at least every two hours. Owners need to go out with the puppy, not shut the puppy out alone. Eliminatory behaviour is self-rewarding, but it may help to praise and give treats for going in the right place.

Watch out for signs that the puppy wants to go when in the house and take the puppy out at once.

If you have to go out or cannot concentrate on the puppy, leave it in a play pen that has a bed and a toilet area. The toilet area should be covered with polythene and newspaper.

At night time either take the puppy up to your bedroom and confine it to a small area, getting up to take it out when it wakes, or leave it downstairs in a puppy playpen, getting up to take it out when you hear it make a noise.

The process of trying to teach your puppy that the whole of the house is your nest should be quite easy (please see ‘The Perfect Puppy’ book for more details).

Things that can go wrong are:

Owners fail to go outside with puppy
The puppy finds itself outside and tries very hard to get back to the security of indoors with its parental figure. It does not concentrate on going to the toilet. Since it became excited when outside, it is likely to want to go when it comes back in and usually ends up learning to go on the carpet.

Owner picks up puppy whenever it attempts to go in house
The puppy does not learn where to go when it needs to relieve itself. Puppies who have been raised in this way will be okay if someone thinks for it, but will have no idea of how to get to the toilet if one is not provided.

Owners punish the puppy whenever goes in house
The puppy learns that it is potentially dangerous to go in front of owners and so will hide away when it needs to go.

Owner leaves puppy in house alone for too long
If left in a cage, the puppy may learn to soil its bed. If left free in the house, it may learn to soil the carpet.

Dogs learn to seek out a particular type of surface to go on (e.g. concrete, grass etc). When they need to go, they will try to find a patch of this, e.g. newspaper if paper trained for a long time, concrete if kept in kennels during early life. Teaching a dog to be clean in the house is often about teaching them to select a different substrate to the one they have been used to.

If someone come to you with a dog that is toileting in the house, you need to diagnose the problem. To do this you will need to ask lots of questions

Wetting or messing?

  • If both, likely to be housetraining problem


  • one or two places always (housetraining problem)
  • strategic places (scent marking)


  • During day/night?
  • Only at night?
    - If only at night, could be routine/timing of feeding problem
    - It could be separation problem
    - If young puppy, may not be able to hold on long enough yet (up to 6 months)
    - It could just not have learned to be clean overnight

How housetrained if known (get info from owner if giving up)

If the dog is messing or wetting (or both) in one or two places during day and night (regular routine usually), especially if happening soon after walk (dog stimulated by exercise & sniffing, but cannot go as not near it’s toilet) it need to go though the adult housetraining process.

This is essentially the same process as for puppies, but with extra steps because they have to unlearn bad habits.

Other house-soiling problems

Submissive urination
This is a natural behaviour expressed when greeting an animal with a perceived higher rank, but is done to excess. Humans often punish this behaviour, mistaking it for proper urination, and this usually makes the problem worse.

To tackle this, the puppy’s confidence needs to be boosted by using reward-based training rather than rebukes for bad behaviour. Body postures should be kept low when greeting and this should be done outside or on a surface that can be soiled without a problem.

Scent marking (reproductive, insecurity, dominance)

Marking behaviour:

  • Usually urine
  • Usually entire males
  • Signal to other dog of sexual status

Castration will cure it...

Unless it’s marking due to insecurity

  • Usually dog bullied by another
  • Or by owner
  • Or when left alone

If insecurity – need to get cause of insecurity and reduce stress (e.g. have other dog castrated, stop punishing etc)

Marking due to dominance – dog/owner problem – later in course

Stress or tension in household (especially at night or when left)
This can cause a dog to become unclean when left or at night. Removing the stress or tension, or rehoming the dog can cure the problem.

Nowhere else to go – cannot go in garden or out for a walk for some reason
Sometimes the dog has no choice than go to the toilet in the house because is scared of going in garden (fireworks, the dark , other dog in household’s territory, nasty neighbours, etc) and scared of going on a walk (other dogs – particularly young, shy bitches – don’t want to leave their scent).

If the dog cannot go in garden or on walks, it has to go in house.

To solve this problem, the dog needs to feel more secure outside and any particular problems it has needs to be addressed so that it can feel safe going outside again.

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The Perfect Puppy by Gwen Bailey
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Good Dog Behaviour/The Well Behaved Dog by Gwen Bailey
The Puppy Handbook/ The Ideal Puppy by Gwen Bailey