You know that face — the sad, guilty look a dog flashes when they’ve been caught peeing in the house. Your first thought may be to scold them, but is that really going to stop accidents from happening again? In most cases, the answer is no.
Instead, it’s important to stop and ask: Why is my dog suddenly peeing in the house? Stressful changes in your household or hormone issues can be the culprit. There could also be medical reasons why a potty-trained dog is peeing in the house. Here’s how experts say to assess the situation and put the kibosh on canine accidents.
1. Rule out medical reasons for accidents
It’s best to address this confusing problem at its root. Rather than scolding a dog for the behavior, determine if something is really wrong health-wise.
“If your dog suddenly starts peeing in the house or can’t seem to hold their pee in, take them to the vet,” says Elisabeth Weiss, a dog behavior counselor and the founder of DogRelations NYC.
According to Weiss, a urinary tract infection (UTI) is one of the main causes of housebroken dogs having accidents in the house, and they require medical intervention. There are also several medical issues that can cause sudden incontinence in dogs, especially older ones, including Cushing’s disease, bladder infections, kidney problems, diabetes and prostate diseases. It’s important to rule out any medical issues before addressing a possible behavioral one. (More about that later.)
2. Address practical issues
If your pet is guzzling down water and potty breaks aren’t being offered, you can predict what’s going to happen next. That’s right, potty accidents.
“You don’t need to have a bowl of water out for your dog all day long,” Weiss says.
But you definitely do need to make those potty breaks pretty consistent. If you aren’t going to be home all day, hire a professional dog walker or dog sitter to help out. Both your canine and your carpet will benefit from that arrangement.
3. Establish a routine
Like many people, dogs can thrive on schedules.
“Animals are creatures of habit,” says Nora Kogelschatz, manager of behavior and training for Bideawee, one of America’s first no-kill animal rescues. “When they wake up in the morning, they should go right outside to the bathroom and then usually 30 minutes after eating, they should go out again. If you’ve set a specific schedule for your dog and it changes suddenly, it could cause them to go to the bathroom in the house.”
Kogelschatz says that if you know your schedule is going to change, start to slowly move around times so your dog can properly adjust.
4. Talk with your vet about hormonal changes in older dogs
As your female dog gets older, you might start to notice that she is having more accidents. Weiss says this can result from the hormonal changes that are taking place in her body, and thankfully, there are medications that your vet can prescribe to address the problem. Similarly, if you have a male dog who isn’t neutered, he “could be marking because of the hormones in his body.” This can be solved by getting your dog neutered.
5. Determine if anxiety is plaguing your dog
Certain dogs can suffer from behavioral issues when their person leaves them behind or in other situations. According to Weiss, if anxiety is causing occasional accidents, it’s important not to scold your dog if you catch them in the act, as this type of punishment could signal that peeing in front of you is bad. This could lead to accidents in places you can’t see, like behind the couch — and nobody wants those kind of surprises.
Anxiety can also be caused by a pet owner leaving for long periods. To prevent or lessen that type of anxiety, Weiss encourages you to ignore the accident, and then reward your dog for good potty behavior. When he does the right thing and relieves himself outside, you should use high-yield rewards, like food and plenty of praise.
6. Take note of changes in your household
Stress can turn your life upside down, and the same is true for pets. If accidents are suddenly occurring, take a look at what’s going on around you and how it could impact your pet.
“It could be anything from construction on your house to adding a new family member,” says Kogelschatz. “These factors can stress a dog out and throw off their sense of comfort. Try to keep your dog’s routine as it always has been and if you can’t, consider getting a dog walker.”
7. Ask yourself: Is my dog truly house-trained?
It may be time to go back to the basics because perhaps your pup didn’t fully get it the first time around.
“A lot of dog owners think their dogs are fully house-trained, but they are not quite,” Weiss says.
As such, if you come home to find that your dog has peed in the house, she recommends that you ignore it and go back to enacting some basic house-training protocol. For instance, she says you can confine your dog to a small area in your house or use a crate to retrain them.