Dear bark: Toby is an eight year old Corgi / Chihuahua mix that we saw when he was one year old. He was quickly trained in-house and never had an accident. About three years ago we adopted an older dog, Coco, who turned out to be completely incontinent. We took off puppy pads and took care of them; She was a cute thing and we knew she wouldn’t be there forever. Coco passed a few weeks ago and now Toby is peeing in the house. (Or he did for a while; while Coco was alive, we would have assumed it was her.) I can’t catch him in the act; He only does it when we’re not home. He is not alone all day and when we are home he will ask to go out. Can I retrain a middle-aged dog?
It’s very unsettling to suddenly realize that an adult dog has apparently lost those excellent home-schooling skills that you have taken for granted for years. But basically, adult dogs don’t start peeing around the house for no reason.
While it is possible that he simply needs a refresher course to eliminate, I suspect something else is going on here. Finding a medical problem is the first priority, so an appointment with your veterinarian is in order. Sometimes there is a physical cause for a dog to pee indoors, with a urinary tract infection being just one possibility. A medical problem may mean that he has to pee more often or with increased urgency. This may be why he can’t hold it for as long as usual and why there is no problem with you being there to let him out. It’s worth tracking how often he plans to go out at home to see if he’s out more than normal.
Assuming physical reasons can be ruled out, there are other possible causes. As you say, it’s possible he’s had this problem before, but it was masked by the natural belief that all of the urine in it was from Coco. It could also be a reaction to the loss of Coco; Dogs mourn too, and he might miss them. Or separation anxiety may have come into play. For three years he had Coco as a companion when you were gone. Now he is truly alone in your absence, no matter how brief those absences are.
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Of course, Toby will have to relearn how to pee outside (and only outside!) Instead of inside, but if separation anxiety or physical problems are diagnosed, they need to be treated before he can succeed. Then it’s time to work on the in-house training aspect. In all cases, my advice is to make it easier for him to get rid of where you want him to be.
How to house a dog
Clean thoroughly. How you clean up after an accident is important. The most important thing is to remove the smell, which looks like a neon sign and the words “pee here!” Are flashing. Household cleaners can smell fresh and clean to humans, but not to dogs. Many contain ammonia, and ammonia gives off an odor that attracts dogs like it was urine. Instead, use an enzymatic cleaner that chemically neutralizes the urine. Baking soda or club soda can do this, though not as effectively.
Temporarily give you less freedom in the house. Dogs are less likely to shed in areas where they spend time. Therefore, keep your dog in just one or two rooms for a while. Spending time in these areas increases the chances that he will not want to pee in them. But don’t isolate him; Choose the rooms that you will also spend most of your time in. The idea is to make these rooms his home and that won’t work as well if you aren’t there too. With the scent of the whole family, he would rather keep this area clean. Add rooms to his “home area” with success. Lying on the floor with him will add your scent, which will also make it easier for him to understand that these areas are out of bounds for elimination.
Go back to House Training 101
While your dog is relearning his house training skills, it is important that he is in one of only three situations.
1. Outside with you. When he’s outside, he has the opportunity to eliminate in the right place. Since you are with him, you’ll know if he’s actually gone or just sniffing around, watching the birds, or chewing on a toy. If he goes pee, you’re right there to fortify him with a treat so he knows he did the right thing.
2. Look indoors under your constant supervision for any signs that he needs to go out. Watching a dog every second is a lot of work, but it is the best way to raise awareness of their need to be potty. Many dogs circling, sniffing, going to the back door, pacing up and down, whining, going to an area they previously dirty, seeming distracted, or turning down a favorite treat or toy when they need to potty.
Since your dog is letting you know when to go out at home, it may not be necessary. However, it is also possible that he walked into the house while you were at home, but you did not immediately notice and assume it happened while you were out. I’ve heard this many times from people who didn’t realize their dogs were gone inside until they started keeping a closer eye on them.
3. If you cannot watch it, limit yourself to a small space that it is unlikely to pollute. A box, the laundry room, or a bathroom – any place he feels comfortable in – are all options. Many dogs dislike being in polluted areas and are less likely to be eliminated in a small space, especially if they sleep or rest there regularly. This won’t prevent a dog who can no longer hold it from walking or a dog who is peeing around the house because of stress, but it can encourage many dogs to hold onto it for a while. Also, if a dog sheds this area, cleaning will be limited to one point that is (ideally) easier to clean than other areas of the house.
In the early stages of a dog’s home training, you shouldn’t put your dog in a different situation. Once your dog has progressed and is better able to pee only where you want them to, you can relax these rules.
One final piece of advice: under no circumstances should you punish your dog for peeing around the house. This can be scary or annoying to him, and it can affect both your relationship and the progress of the house training itself.