Dogs and House Soiling

Dogs and House Soiling

There are several reasons why dogs may toilet in the house. These include incomplete house-training, illness or incontinence, anxiety urination, excitement urination, submissive urination, not able to get outside, and scent marking. As many cases of house-soiling are caused by a medical reason it is essential that the dog is examined by a vet to rule out medical causes, such as cystitis, colitis, diarrhoea, incontinence after neutering, or hormonal changes around the first season.Puppies naturally develop a fixed toileting site between 5 and 12 weeks of age. They will learn what makes a good toileting site in terms of location and substrate but this will obviously depend on what is available at the time. Therefore it is important to toilet train puppies early to prevent them from learning to toilet on inappropriate substrates such as paper, carpet or hard floors. Puppies will want to toilet away from their resting place (the nest) but if they cannot do this because for example they are confined to a small room or kennel they may learn to overcome their natural aversion to toileting in or close to their resting area. This may mean that puppies do not learn to distinguish between resting areas (the house) and appropriate toileting areas (outside). This may occur in puppies who are toilet trained using a crate if the puppy is left too long in the crate without toilet breaks. Puppies also start to ignore the sensation of a full bladder or bowel at a young age and learn to withhold urination or defecation until they can access a preferred toileting site. However, puppies that have continuous access to a toileting site (e.g. the back door to the garden is constantly open during the day) then the puppy may not learn to ignore the signals telling him that he needs to go to the toilet because he can go to the toilet whenever he feels the need. If a puppy does go to the toilet in an inappropriate place then many owners will punish their puppy in order to house-train it. However, the puppy is unlikely to learn that toileting in a specific place is inappropriate. Rather, the puppy is more likely to learn that when he toilets the owner does unpleasant things to him and simply avoids toileting in their presence, for example by toileting behind the sofa. More excessive punishment or delayed punishment may cause the puppy to become fearful of the owner which can ruin the bond between owner and puppy or cause other inappropriate behaviours to develop such as submissive urination, fear, anxiety and aggression. Therefore, owners should only use positive reinforcement to house-train puppies and provide clear distinctions between the nest area and the toileting area.Anxiety can cause the dog to feel a more frequent or urgent need to toilet or can cause the dog to lose control of its bladder or bowels. This can happen as a result of punishment or because the dog is anxious about something in its environment, for example noise phobic dogs may lose control of their bladder when they hear loud noises such as fireworks. Another cause of anxiety that is frequently associated with a loss of bladder or bowel control is separation anxiety. Other emotional states can also cause a temporary loss of bladder control. Excitement urination for example can affect young and mature dogs that have no obvious physical cause of incontinence. If the dog is punished for house-soiling then it may urinate as a result of anxiety, as noted above, or it may urinate in a bid to appease the owner and stop their threatening behaviour.Dogs may also use urine to leave scent marks in their environment. The urine carries information about the identity, gender, reproductive status and health of the dog. Both males and females use urine to mark their territory or acquire a mate although entire males will do so more often.Sometimes dogs might go to the toilet in the house for reasons not associated with emotional state or health status. For example, they might simply not have the opportunity to go to the toilet outside and therefore are forced to do so in the house. This may be because the owner has had to stay longer at work than normal and the dog cannot hold its bladder or bowel for that long. Or it may be due to other routine changes such as a change in feeding times, which will change the dog's bodily cycles so that it will need the toilet at a different time of day for which the owner may not provide for. Alternatively, the dog may be given the opportunity to go to the toilet, for example by being let out into the garden but may become distracted by something, so by the time the dog is let back into the house he still needs to go to the toilet and may relieve himself in the house.In order to tackle the problem of house-soiling, owners must identify why their dog is toileting in the house and address this issue. Owners of dogs that are toileting in the house for emotional reasons must change their dogs' emotional response, for example increasing confidence when left alone or on hearing loud noises, or reinforcing calm behaviour in situations that cause excitement. Owners must also stop punishment as this will most likely only exacerbate the problem rather than stop it. If the dog is not fully toilet trained then owners must go back to basics, taking their dog outside regularly, especially at times when they are likely to need the toilet. Owners should go out into the garden with the dog, or stay close on walks so that they will know whether the dog has gone to the toilet or not and reward their dog for doing so. Castration is only appropriate in a minority of cases and can actually make the problems worse in some dogs. Therefore, it is important to seek professional advice from a qualified behaviourist before choosing this option.

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