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Dog Accidents: What to Do When Your Pup Forgets His Potty

Dealing with dog accidents, even though your pup is housetrained? Here’s what may be happening, and how to effectively handle the problem!

Victoria Stilwell  |  Jul 25th 2017


Have you ever said these words? “But he knows not to go in the house!” Or, “See? He even looks guilty!” You’re not alone. Many dog accidents occur even when pups are housetrained, and it can be incredibly frustrating.

But, however annoyed you might feel, don’t always blame your dog. Current research shows that dogs aren’t being stubborn if they have an accident but rather responding to some kind of stress or change in their environment. It’s up to you to help alleviate that stress and teach your dog what you want him to do.

A dog who has peed on the floor, looking up at his human.

A dog who has peed on the floor, looking up at his human. Photography by Shutterstock.

Dog accidents happen because of scent marking

There are many reasons why dogs have accidents in the home, and one of the most common is no accident at all. Scent marking is different from a housetraining accident. Dogs who scent mark often leave urine in many different places around the home in small quantities. Toileting accidents tend to produce larger amounts of urine in fewer places.

Dogs are prompted to go where other dogs have eliminated, and ammonia can trigger this response. Since many household cleaners use this chemical, look for an enzymatic, natural cleaner.

A dog peeing inside your home can signal a medical issue

If you can rule out scent marking, then a medical issue could be causing this change. A vet check is a great place to start and will help rule out many different medical conditions that contribute to housetraining problems; for example, gastrointestinal disease, urinary infections, renal failure or canine cognitive dysfunction in older pets.

Housetraining issues may be a response to change

If your dog is given a clean bill of health then ask yourself if anything significant has happened with your situation in the last few weeks or if your dog’s environment has recently changed. Did you move or did someone move in or out of your household? Did you get another pet or lose one, or did you install an electric fence or train your dog with an aversive training tool? Dogs are discerning creatures and are often affected by changes in their environment, including moving, changes in family life (human and animal), changes in routine (nutrition, exercise, enrichment) or the addition of aversive training tools.

Find a pattern to those dog accidents

The next thing to look at is your dog’s toileting habits. Does your dog eliminate only during thunderstorms or when you leave? Does he eliminate when you come in from a walk or the yard? Does your dog sneak away or eliminate in the same place? Finding a pattern can help identify why your dog is having accidents.

For example, if your dog eliminates after coming in from a walk, don’t come inside immediately after your dog goes. This will teach your dog that eliminating signals the end of outdoor fun, and he will try to hold it!

Go back to basic housetraining

To encourage appropriate toileting, get back to the basics of dog potty training:

  • active supervision
  • careful management
  • consistent routine
  • a little bit of training

Rearranging or managing your dog’s environment is the best way to set him up for success and to keep your house pee and poop free! Actively supervising your dog is the key to successful potty training, but supervision means watching your dog all the time.

If you’re not able to actively supervise your dog and look for the “potty dance” (sniffing, circling, hunching, leg lifting), then he’ll need to be crated or confined to a small space where he won’t eliminate. Use leashes, baby gates, bathrooms and crates to confine your dog when you can’t supervise him. However, your dog must receive sufficient exercise and mental stimulation when not confined to avoid destructive behaviors and loneliness. Brain games, puzzles and play are a great place to start.

Get your dog on a good potty schedule

Start with a good bathroom schedule that goes back to basics, allowing access to outside areas every hour. Take your dog outside to eliminate after waking, eating, drinking excessively, playing, training, napping and if you see the potty dance. Feed your dog at set times so you can predict when he might need to go.

Limit water after a certain time in the evening if your dog is having accidents at night. Ice cubes can help your dog take water in at a slower pace while still quenching his thirst.

Gradually decrease the frequency of trips outside as your dog builds up control. Follow a schedule that builds up a predictable and reliable routine, and be patient and sensitive as your dog learns.

Keep this in mind: If your dog has had an accident and you weren’t there to catch him, it’s too late to redirect him. Never rub his nose in it. This will only delay his success and build up a negative association with you.

Being patient, with consistent guidance and support, will get your dog back on track and keep the dog accidents to a minimum.

Thumbnail: Photography by Kryder17/Thinkstock.

Read more about dog accidents and dog peeing on Dogster.com:

Victoria Stilwell is a world-renowned dog trainer, TV personality, author and public speaker best known as the star of the international hit TV series It’s Me or the Dog, through which she reaches audiences in more than 100 countries. Appearing frequently in the worldwide media, she is widely recognized as a leader in the field of animal behavior, is the editor-in-chief of positively.com and the CEO of Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training — the world’s premier global network of positive reinforcement dog trainers. Connect with her on Facebook at Victoria Stilwell and on Twitter at @VictoriaS.