Is your dog staining its reputation? A previously perfect pooch may begin to soil the home (urination and defecation in inappropriate places) for many reasons.
The first step in investigating a lapse in house-training is to determine whether the problem is medical or behavioural.
What is house-soiling and what are the signs?
Dogs that have been previously housetrained may begin to soil the home (urination and defecation in inappropriate places) for medical reasons or behavioural reasons. Dogs that have soiled the house since they were adopted may not have been properly housetrained. Urination on upright objects is usually marking. The amount of urine is usually small. Marking is often caused by a change in the guardian's and the dog's schedule that leads to anxiety.
Separation anxiety (another behaviour problem) can also result in house-soiling. Dogs exhibiting submissive urination may eliminate in response to interaction with people or other animals. This submissiveness is most commonly seen in puppies and young female dogs. Typically it occurs when someone bends over to pet the dog, or tries to physically punish it. Punishing only aggravates the problem. Other signs of submission may also be seen (cowering, avoidance of eye contact, ears back). Excitement urination usually occurs when greeting or giving the dog affection.
How is house-soiling diagnosed?
Medical problems may cause house-soiling, especially in older dogs, and must be ruled out. A physical examination, complete history and laboratory tests (e.g. blood tests, urinalysis, fecal exam, X-rays) are necessary to diagnose any underlying medical condition. Some diseases that may cause the behaviour include bladder infections, bladder stones, bladder tumors, kidney, liver or Cushing's disease, diabetes, colitis and problems with digestive enzymes, or pain that makes getting to the elimination location difficult.
Drugs such as steroids can contribute to the house-soiling signs, as can cognitive brain function decline in older dogs. Owners must also determine if the dog was ever completely housetrained, if the household schedule has changed, if there is marking, and whether or not the dog exhibits anxiety in order to help reach a diagnosis.
What is the treatment for house-soiling?
Once medical diseases have been ruled out or treated, dogs that are house-soiling must be re-trained. The housetraining techniques are similar to those used in a new puppy. Constant supervision is necessary. Frequent opportunities to eliminate in the correct location are essential. Rewarding or praising acceptable behaviour (positive reinforcement) is important. If supervision is impossible, confining the dog in an area where he/she does not already house-soil or where elimination is allowed (dog run, outside, papered room) will be necessary. If cognitive decline of an older dog is suspected, drug therapy may be useful.
Treatment of house-soiling stemming from separation anxiety needs to address the anxiety related to being left alone; if that is resolved, sometimes the house-soiling ceases. Punishment will only increase the dog's anxiety and worsen the problem. For submissive urination, guardians need to interact in a less threatening manner, avoiding punishment and even mild verbal scolding. Kneeling down, petting the chest, and avoiding eye contact may help.
Those dogs exhibiting excitement urination need to be greeted in a low, calm tone. Refrain from eye, verbal, or physical contact until the dog calms down. Neutering male dogs helps in 50% of marking behavior cases; it is also recommended to spay females exhibiting marking behavior during oestrus. Removing all urine residue using an enzymatic cleaning agent (e.g. urineFREE or Urine-Off), rewarding marking outdoors, and keeping the dog from seeing other dogs outside is recommended.