Under most circumstances, dog owners expect their pets to urinate or defecate outside and are understandably upset when a puddle or pile is found inside the house. House soiling can occur for a variety of reasons, and uncovering its cause is the key to successfully resolving the issue.
Puppies will often soil the house when they are not adequately trained or are left for long periods of time without access to the outdoors. Submissive dogs typically squirt urine to signal their understanding of their location in the pack hierarchy. Intact males and females will often urinate to communicate with one another. Other dogs will lose their housetraining as they get older and develop problems related to senility or at times of extreme stress. Loss of bladder and bowel control can also be a sign of illness or injury. Veterinarians will often run fecal examinations, a urinalysis and other diagnostic tests before declaring that house soiling is a purely behavioral problem.
Basic housetraining is best accomplished by ensuring that a pet's owner is consistently present to offer praise whenever the dog urinates or defecates outside. Punishment of any type is counterproductive, particularly when submissive behavior or anxiety plays a role. Until the dog is reliably trained, it should be comfortably crated when it has to spend time alone to make use of its natural inhibition against soiling its "den." Dogs should be taken outside immediately after eating, sleeping or as soon as they are removed from their crates. If a lack of housetraining is not the issue, consultation with a veterinarian and/or a veterinary behaviorist can improve the situation in the majority of cases.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008