When dogs “forget” their housetraining

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housetraining dogs

Even the best-behaved dogs may sometime start messing in the house. Find out what can cause housetraining regression, and how to address the problem.

One of the wonderful things about dogs is that it’s in their nature to keep their dens clean. This means you can readily teach your dog that your house is the same as a den. Nevertheless, some dogs end up with housetraining issues, leaving their owners wondering what went wrong as they clean up yet another mess. Barring any medical issues, almost all housetraining issues can be resolved when you employ the right techniques.

In the past, the way to housetrain a dog involved rubbing his nose in his mess and using a rolled-up newspaper to punish him for accidents. Not surprisingly, this technique wasn’t always successful, and resulted in dogs that only complied out of fear. Thankfully, we now have more humane techniques.

A good way to facilitate housetraining in a puppy or newly-adopted dog (if he’s not already trained) is to know what times of day he is most likely to need to eliminate – first thing in the morning, after meals, last thing at night, or when you come home after being out for a few hours. At these times, take him outside and walk him until he does his business, then immediately give him a reward. Some dogs take longer than others to become reliably housetrained, so be patient and persistent.

Medical causes of house-soiling

This technique can also help get a dog back on track if his existing housetraining goes awry. However, if a previously well-trained dog suddenly starts house-soiling, be sure to first take him to the veterinarian to check for any medical problems that might be causing the issue. There are many health conditions that can trigger house-soiling, including the following, and it’s very important to rule these out:

  • Bladder infections
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive upsets, such as food allergies or parasites
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Incontinence
  • Diabetes
  • Cognitive dysfunction (canine dementia)

If your dog gets a clean bill of health, you can then consider behavioral causes for his lapses in housetraining.

Housetraining regression – 3 common causes

1. Adolescent brain changes

Dogs between four months and a year old may develop housetraining issues related to their age. Just as with our own brains, the canine brain can undergo rewiring during adolescence, resulting in problematic behaviors. In dogs, these behaviors can include house-soiling.

A good way to both survive this period and conquer any potential housetraining regression is to offer structure to your adolescent dog through with positive training classes. Structured training can reduce destructive behaviors and positively affect housetraining regression. If the dog needs extra help, going back to the basics of taking him outside and rewarding for success can further help turn around the regression.

2. Changes in the household

Some dogs may start house-soiling because of changes in the household, such as a family member becoming highly stressed, passing away or moving out. A good way to resolve this issue is to once again go back to taking the dog outside regularly and rewarding him with treats when he eliminates.

To help the process along even more, spend more time walking him. The activity helps encourage the dog’s need to eliminate and aids in re-establishing the correct schedule more quickly. Consider extended walks both first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The walking will also help both you and your dog de-stress, and can strengthen the bond between you, which can really help if a household member has recently left or passed.

Some dogs may start house-soiling because of changes in the household, such as a family member becoming ill or stressed, passing away or moving out.

3. Medical issues in the dog’s owner

Dogs sensitive to medical issues in people can be trained to alert their owners to everything from seizures to diabetes. However, some dogs become stressed when they perceive medical abnormalities in their people because they don’t understand why their owners have changed and what they need to do about it. This can cause housetraining regression.

Rocket’s regression

A young dog named Rocket was just becoming consistent with his housetraining when he started to regress. His owner, Rochelle, who was pregnant, would let him out when she came home from work. While outside, he would run around the backyard and lift his leg. But shortly after he came back inside, he’d foul in the house. Leaving him out for longer periods didn’t help.

Within weeks of Rocket’s regression, Rochelle developed an issue with her pregnancy. Her baby had to be delivered a month early, but ended up okay. Rocket had clearly sensed the problem before Rochelle did, and it was stressing him out and causing him to house-soil. After some reward-based training to re-establish his housetraining routine, the regression vanished.

Submissive peeing

Submissive peeing is often labeled a housetraining issue, but it’s really a relationship problem. This issue often begins when the dog is under a year old. For some dogs, if you handle the dog’s unwanted submission correctly, the issue will vanish after a year of age. To help dog get out of this problem, don’t loom over a dog before petting. That can trigger a submissive pee. Also, don’t show disapproval. The pee is a gift from the dog. The dog’s goal with this behavior is to reduce the likelihood of threatening behavior from you. In the dog’s culture, that peeing is the most appeasing thing he can do. Anger, punishment, or disapproval will only perpetuate the issue. If you show these forms of disapproval, the dog will feel he needs to try harder to appease you which can lead to more peeing. A better way to deal with a submissive pee is to turn around and calmly walk off. This is a way of telling the dog “no thank you” at the dog’s offering.

There are many reasons dogs may have issues with housetraining, and this article doesn’t cover them all. Again, if your own dog starts house-soiling, the first step is to rule out any medical problems. Consider your dog’s age and any recent changes that have occurred in your household, personal health and/or stress levels. And always, whether housetraining a puppy or dealing with regression in an adult dog, use positive reward-based training techniques for a successful outcome.