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Why is my dog soiling the house?

There are numerous reasons that a dog might soil the house with urine and/or stools. Determining the specific reason is essential for developing an effective treatment program. Dogs that soil the home continuously or intermittently from the time they were first obtained may not have been properly house-trained.

Dogs that have been previously house-trained, may begin to soil the home for medical reasons or behavioral reasons. Assuming medical causes can be ruled out (see below), some of the behavioral causes can be a change in owner schedule, a change in housing or any change in the pet's home that might lead to anxiety. For example, if you leave the dog alone for longer than the dog is accustomed, or significantly change the daily schedule or routine, your dog may begin to house-soil. Dogs that are exhibiting an increase in anxiety may begin to eliminate in the home, due primarily to a loss of control when anxious and not due to spite. Dogs that exhibit separation anxiety may soil the home, and require an intensive retraining program.

Why am I finding urination on upright objects?

Marking in dogs involves urination on upright objects. It is most likely to occur on or near unfamiliar odors or marks left by other dogs. The volume of urine is usually small. The problem is much more common in intact males, but some neutered males and spayed females will mark. Male hormone levels, other dogs entering the property, moving to a new household, getting new furniture or increased stress may all trigger the onset of urine marking.

Why does my dog urinate when he meets new people or I come home?

Two specific types of house-soiling, submissive and excitement urination, differ from most other forms of house-soiling in that the dog has little control over its elimination. Submissive urination occurs when a person approaches, reaches out, stands over or attempts to physically punish it. The dog not only urinates but may show other signs of submission such as ears back, retraction of lips, avoidance of eye contact, and cowering. Although this problem can be seen in dogs of any age, submissive urination is most commonly seen in puppies and young female dogs. Owner intervention in the form of verbal reprimands or punishment, only serve to aggravate the problem by making the dog act even more submissively which leads to further urination. Any highly arousing event, particularly greeting behavior and affection towards the dog can trigger excitement urination. These dogs may also be overly submissive, but are not necessarily so.

What medical problems could cause my dog to house-soil?

There are numerous medical problems that could cause or contribute to house-soiling, and these become increasingly more common as the dog ages. Medical problems that cause an increased frequency of urination such as bladder infections, bladder stones or crystals, or bladder tumors, those that cause a decrease in control or mobility such as neurological deterioration or arthritis, and those that cause an increase in urine volume production such as kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, or Cushing's disease could all contribute to indoor elimination. Certain drugs such as steroids may also cause a dog to drink more and therefore urinate more. For dogs that defecate in the house, any condition that leads to more frequent defecation such as colitis, those that cause an increased volume of stool such as problems with absorption or lack of digestive enzymes, and those that affect the dog's mobility or control such as arthritis or neurological deterioration must be ruled out. As dogs age, cognitive brain function declines and this may also contribute to indoor elimination.

How can the cause of house-soiling be determined?

For dogs that are house-soiling a physical examination and medical history are required first. For most cases a urinalysis and general blood profile will also be needed, and additional tests such as radiographs and contrast studies, may be indicated based on the results. If there is any abnormality in elimination frequency or amount, stool color or consistency or urine odor, more comprehensive laboratory tests may be necessary. Once medical problems have been ruled out, it will then be necessary to methodically work through the potential causes listed above. This will involve a detailed history analysis

How can house-soiling be treated?

Training techniques for house-soiling dogs are virtually identical to those needed to housetrain a new puppy. However, even if house-soiling dogs are retrained to eliminate outdoors, indoor sites may continue to be used, since the odor, substrate, and learned habit may continue to attract the dog back to the location. In addition, dogs that eliminate indoors are in essence, performing a self rewarding behavior since they relieve themselves and do not perceive that the area they have used is inappropriate.

The key to effective housetraining is constant supervision. Prevent access to indoor elimination sites. Mildly correct the pet, with a loud noise such as a whistle or air alarm if it is eliminating in an inappropriate location. This should effectively interrupt the behavior and allow you to take it to a more appropriate location. Redirect the dog to appropriate areas at times when elimination is necessary. Reinforce the acceptable behavior with lavish praise or food rewards when the dog eliminates in the designated area. If a word cue is used prior to each elimination-reward sequence, the dog may soon learn to eliminate on command. If you have trouble keeping the dog in sight leave a long indoor lead attached to the dog. This lead can also be used to deter any elimination or pre-elimination behaviours (such as sniffing, circling or squatting) in the act and to direct the dog to the appropriate area without delay. Whenever you are not available to supervise, the dog should be housed in either a confinement area where it does not eliminate (such as a bedroom, crate, or pen), or in an area where elimination is allowed (such as a dog run, papered pen or room, or outdoors).

Your dog should not be allowed access to indoor sites where it has previously eliminated unless you are there to supervise. Access to these areas can be denied by closing doors, putting up baby gates or occasionally by booby trapping the areas. Odors that might attract the pet back to the area can be reduced or removed with commercial odor eliminators. Be certain to use a sufficient amount of the odor eliminator to reach everywhere that the urine has soaked. It may help to feed the dog from the cleaned area.

Feeding schedules can be regulated to improve owner control over the situation. After a dog eats, it will usually need to eliminate in 15-30 minutes. Dogs fed ad lib or by free access usually need to relieve themselves at a variety of times throughout the day whereas dogs that eat one or two scheduled meals each day void in a more predictable manner. It may therefore help to move the dog onto a scheduled meal system. Feeding a low-residue diet may also be of benefit because the dog often has less urgency to defecate and produces less stool.

If the dog has reduced control due to its physical health, scheduling changes may need to be made. Some owners may be able to arrange their schedules so that more frequent trips to the elimination area can be provided. If the owner cannot accommodate the dog's decreased control, installing a doggy door, or providing a papered area may be necessary. Alternatively a dog walker, or dog crèche may need to be considered.

When age related cognitive decline is suspected, therapeutic intervention may be an essential complement to retraining techniques.

The dog that eliminates in its crate poses special problems and is likely to require specialist treatment.

How can separation anxiety be treated?

To try and differentiate house-soiling from separation anxiety, it may be necessary for the owner to keep records of when the elimination occurs. If the elimination takes place when the owner is gone, or the dog is prevented from being near the owner, separation anxiety should be considered. If the house-soiling dog exhibits separation anxiety, treatment should be directed not only at reestablishing proper elimination habits (see above), but also at the underlying separation anxiety. Drug therapy may be useful in those cases where anxiety is a contributing factor. It should be noted that punishment at homecoming is not only useless for correcting a problem that has occurred during the owner's absence, but serves to add to the pet's anxiety on future occasions.

How can submissive and excitement urination be treated?

For submissive urination, it is important that the owner and all visitors interact with the pet in a less threatening manner. It is important to establish the level of threat which evokes the response and use this as a benchmark from which to work. The pet should be allowed to approach the owner. The tendency to elicit submissive responses can be reduced by kneeling down and speaking softly, rather than standing over the dog ; petting the chest instead of the head, may also help. Physical punishment and even the mildest verbal reprimands must be avoided. In fact, owners who attempt to punish the pet for urinating submissively will make things worse, since this intensifies fearful and submissive behavior When greeting a very submissive dog, the owner may initially need to completely ignore it at this time, even to the extent of avoiding eye contact. Counter-conditioning can be very helpful in controlling submissive urination. The dog is taught to perform a behavior that is not compatible with urinating, such as sitting for food or retrieving a toy when it greets someone. If the dog anticipates food or ball playing at each greeting, it is less likely to eliminate.

For excitement urination, those stimuli that initiate the behavior should be avoided. During greetings, owners and guests should refrain from eye contact, and verbal or physical contact until the pet calms down. Greetings should be very low key and words spoken in a low, calm tone. Counter-conditioning, distraction techniques and drug therapy might be useful. Caution must be taken to only reward appropriate competing behaviours (e.g. sit up and beg, go lie on your mat, retrieving a ball). Inappropriate use or timing of rewards might further excite the dog and reinforce the problem behavior

The use of drugs to increase bladder sphincter tone might also be considered as an adjunct to behavior therapy, for refractory cases. Careful medical evaluation of the case is essential in such cases.

Another important aspect of treating over-excitement to visitors, is repeated presentations of the stimulus so that the dog learns the correct response. If visitors come only infrequently, the dog does not have the opportunity to learn a new behavior By scheduling visitors to come, visit briefly, then leave by another door and reenter, the dog may learn to be less excited and/or submissive with each entrance. Each time the person returns they are more familiar and less likely to stimulate the urination behavior This allows the dog to "practice" the good behavior and reinforce the appropriate response.

How can marking be treated?

Neutering will eliminate male marking behavior in over 50% of dogs and reduce it in 85% of male dogs. It is also recommended for female dogs that mark during estrus. Confining the pet so that it is unable to watch other dogs through windows in the home may be helpful. Urine residue must be removed from around doors, windows or other areas where stray dogs have been marking. The owner should give rewards to reinforce marking at outdoor sites where marking is permitted and marking should not be permitted anywhere else. New upright objects that are brought into the home should not be placed on the floor until the pet is familiar with them. During retraining, the owner must closely supervise the pet and when it cannot be supervised, it should be confined to its crate or bedroom area, away from areas that have been previously marked. It might also be possible to booby trap those areas that the pet might mark. When installing a booby trap it is often helpful to associate the trap with a novel smell which allows the dog to discriminate other potentially rigged areas. Any essential oil can be used, but it should be an odor which was previously unfamiliar to the dog. If anxiety is an underlying factor in the marking behavior, then treatment of the anxiety with desensitization and counter-conditioning may be helpful and booby traps should be avoided.

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