Housetraining is one of those drags of dog parenting that we’re all SUPER thrilled to get on the other side of. But what happens when your normally reliable adult dog starts having accidents? Frustration, yes. But also fear that something’s up.
HOW TO SPOT IT: Why are these accidents even happening?
“A veterinarian should evaluate all dogs presenting with house soiling issues,” cautions Board certified veterinary behaviorist Kelly C. Ballantyne in her article Canine House Soiling: Back to Basics. Several medical conditions may cause the sudden failing of housetraining, so they’re important to rule out before jumping to other conclusions. Your veterinarian will look for signs of issues that can cause pain during elimination, increased urgency or frequency, mobility challenges and even memory decline as potential causes.
Mike Paul, DVM, owner of Pelican Mobile PetCare and former president of the American Animal Hospital Association, cautions that sometimes dogs lose control due to certain medical conditions, including:
- Infections, especially bladder
- Issues with the nervous or spinal systems
- Obstructions in the urinary tract
- Loss of awareness, especially in old dogs
If a health or age-related condition isn’t the source, consider what else is going on. Is your adult dog a recent adoptee, or moved into a new environment? “With appropriate preventive counseling, most puppy and new dog owners are able to house train their dogs within 1 to 2 months of adoption,” notes Dr. Ballantyne’s house training protocol on Today’s Veterinary Practice. However, every new dog or puppy being introduced to a house can use a refresher. No matter your dog’s age, if your pup is new to your home, try bringing them back through the basics of housetraining.
Other changes may cause previously housetrained dogs to start soiling familiar environments as well. Liz Palika, author of Dog Training, founder of Kindred Spirits Dog Training and certified dog trainer, offers a few probable causes:
- New carpeting or other construction work happening in the house
- Change in regular routines of the house
- Becoming too excited or stressed-out
THINGS TO CONSIDER: What is leading up to the accidents?
“Does your old dog seem to be increasingly forgetful? Does he come into a room and then act as though he doesn’t know why he’s there? Or, worse, has he started having accidents in the house, as though he has forgotten that he has a dog door to the yard?” asks Dr. Marty Becker, in his article 4 Signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. As pets are living longer, cognitive decline is an increasing discussion in many dog-parent households.
What can be surprising to dog parents is that dogs with CCD (also known as CDS) can appear to “forget” their housetraining, or get lost while trying to get to an appropriate place to go. If you see your dog struggling with other common places or known activities, telling your veterinarian can help them get to the root cause.
Loss of control:
Other factors your vet will want to determine are whether your dog is having accidents, whether they’re deciding to pee somewhere or if they’re struggling with incontinence. For example, if you see your dog squat or lift their leg, this is usually intentional, but if your dog’s bed is urine-soaked in the morning this can be a sign of urinary leakage.
Fear or stress:
While medical conditions are important to rule out, other common reasons for an adult dog to have accidents in the house lead back to another big factor—stress. Over-excited dogs, dogs being greeted or dogs engaging in high-energy behaviors can experience submissive urination. Other dogs who are stressed about being without their people may urinate or defecate in the home as a form of separation anxiety.
FIRST STEPS TO TAKE: How can I help my adult dog to stop peeing or pooping inside the house?
1. Stay cool.
If you stumble upon an accident, it’s important you stay aware of your reaction: “Whatever you do,” writes Palika, “don’t punish your dog out of frustration. Don’t yell, spank or rub your dog’s nose in the mess. Not only will it not work, it may cause the dog to urinate behind the sofa or other hidden places, making your detecting job all the more difficult.”
2. Clean up using an enzymatic cleaner.
Whether the accident originally happens because of a medical condition, fear, marking or simply reeeeeaaaaaallllly needing to go, dogs are attracted back to pee where they have before. Be sure to use a cleaner that specifically breaks down the enzymes in dog urine to stop Spot from, well, spotting.
3. Consider the circumstances.
When did the accident occur and where? Given this, are there signs that something specific triggered it (like being alone, over excited, or a new routine), or that it was uncontrolled? If uncontrolled, or a recurring issue, it’s definitely time to call the veterinarian.
4. Reduce the opportunity for it to happen again, and be consistent.
If this is the first time an accident has occurred, it may not be time to run to the vet yet, but it’s a good idea to do what you can to reduce the chances your pup repeats the behavior. Return to some housetraining basics and keep a closer eye on your pup. If it happens again, it’s time to call the veterinarian to rule out other things going on. Above all, it’s important to tackle this one quickly. The more often this behavior happens, the harder it can be to correct.
HOW TO GET HELP: Questions to ask veterinary and behavior professionals
It’s easy to become frustrated when a dog has repeated accidents. It’s important to seek out medical advice to figure out why they are happening or how to deal with them best. When talking with your vet or seeking our a certified dog behavior consultant (if medical conditions are ruled out), you might ask:
- My dog urinates [describe frequency, where and how he does it]. Do you think there might be something else going on?
- My dog started [urinating/defecating] in [name location]. It started around the time that [name life event]. Could that have caused this?
- All potential medical issues have been ruled out. Is it possible that my dog’s accidents are due to anxiety or stress?
Cognitive Dysfunction in Dogs from Pet Health Network
Housetraining Adult Dogs from Positively.com
Submissive Urination from Vetstreet