There are many reasons why a dog may go to the toilet in the house. Some are:
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
Owner picks up puppy whenever it attempts to go in house
Owners punish the puppy whenever goes in house
Owner leaves puppy in house alone for too long
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?
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
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 due to dominance – dog/owner problem – later in course
Stress or tension in household (especially at night
or when left)
Nowhere else to go – cannot go in garden or out
for a walk for some reason
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.