You put a lot of time and effort into training your puppy, and it can be frustrating when your adult dog inexplicably starts soiling in the house. There are lots of reasons that a previously trained dog might forget or lose their training, but getting to the bottom of the reason why will be key to managing the problem and re-training.
Would you like to stand in the pouring rain to do your business? Well neither does your dog. Bad weather is a very common reason for a dog to lose their house training. This is far more common in younger dogs in their first winter, although is possible in dogs of any age, and some are repeat offenders each winter.
In order to deal with this type of behaviour, its best to revert to rewards when the correct toileting place is used. After all, if somebody gave you a cake for standing in the rain to do your business, it might just sweeten the deal! Take your dog out regularly so that there’s no opportunity for accidents, and reward them whenever they get it right.
A dog’s sense of smell is a lot better than ours, and their sensitive noses pick up all sorts of things. Dogs may start to urinate in the house because their noses tell them they should do so. Incorrectly removed previous accidents- from your dog, from another or even from a cat- could cause them to mistake a favoured rug for a suitable toilet. Bleach products are also based on ammonia – a compound found in urine- and can cause dogs to think that the freshly cleaned kitchen or bathroom is a suitable place.
If you think this is the problem for your dog, identify whether it’s another animal or a cleaning product that is causing the confusion. Clean the area with a specialised enzymatic pet urine removal agent according to packet instructions, and stop using ammonia-based products. If a large area is causing a problem, cleaning whole floors and carpets with the urine removal product is a good idea.
Although more common in cats, fear and/or anxiety can cause house soiling problems in dogs. Ask yourself whether there is anything outside that is causing your dog to prefer to come back in as soon as possible, even before he has done his business. Common culprits are loud noises (fireworks, storms), a bad experience (did they get accidently shut out?) or fear of attack (can the neighbour’s dog get through the fence? Is there a cat defending its territory?)
This type of house soiling can be managed by a combination of removal of the fearful stimulus (i.e mend the fence, discourage the cat) and behavioural therapy. Adaptil collars, thundershirts and oral anti-anxiety medication can all be used to reduce fear. Lots of positive experiences are needed to undo any negative ones- encourage your dog out with treats and give them lots of fuss and attention for getting it right.
A urinary tract infection (UTI) can cause your dog to feel as if they need to go to the toilet more often, and they might just not be able to hold it. UTIs are more common in female dogs and animals with other conditions such as Cushings or Diabetes or who are on medication that reduces the immune response.
If you think your dog has a urine infection, get an appointment with your vet. It’s best to take along a urine sample too, so that your vet can check your suspicions and rule out some underlying causes.
Urinary Sphincter Mechanism Incompetence (USMI) is the name given to a condition affecting some neutered (spayed) female dogs where the sphincter that holds the urine in relaxes over time, resulting in incontinence. It is not clear exactly what causes the condition, although theories include lack of hormones and surgical technique.
In order to diagnose USMI your vet will need to examine your dog and a urine sample to rule out other problems, so if you think this could be the problem then it’s best to get it checked out.
Dogs with osteoarthritis have stiff and sore joints and may find themselves struggling to use stairs or to get out of bed. They have accidents more often than dogs that are not affected, likely because they hold on for as long as they can before getting up, resulting in it being ‘too late’ some of the time.
There are lots of things you can do to help a dog with arthritis, but the first step is generally to talk to your vet. If the arthritis is severe, anti-inflammatory medication is likely to be prescribed. Changes at home can help too- keep the house warm and encourage your dog to get up often so that they don’t get so stiff. Try to reduce the number of steps your dog has to use to get to a suitable toileting place. If your floors are slippery wood or tiles, consider placing rubber-bottomed mats and rugs down to help your dog navigate to the toileting area without slipping.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or ‘doggy dementia’ is very common in old dogs, especially those of larger breeds. Symptoms include forgetting training, changes in sleep pattern (usually resulting in pacing in the evenings), increased anxiety and increased vocalisation. If your older dog seems to be able to hold his urine and faeces for ages, but then deposits them in the incorrect place, this could be the reason.
Again, a vet visit is in order, partly to rule out other concurrent problems. Medications are available that can help with cognitive dysfunction, so don’t assume that it’s part and parcel of old age and you need to put up with it.
All three of these conditions (as well as many other rarer diseases) cause an increase in your dog’s drinking and urination. Symptoms will vary depending on the disease, but the common thread is that your dog drinks far more than they used to and cannot hold urine for nearly as long. You may see this as accidents in the house, or as asking to go out more.
Visit your vet as soon as you notice these signs. Take along a urine sample and, if you can, a ‘water diary’ – i.e how much your dog drinks over 24 hours. Your vet will likely want to test the urine and may request blood samples as well.