Solving and preventing house soiling - House cleaning, canine style (Proceedings)


This problem may relate to one of several causes as well as breed dispositions. Diagnosis is especially important.

This problem may relate to one of several causes as well as breed dispositions. Diagnosis is especially important. Differentiate house soiling that is secondary to other medical or behavioral problems from that in which house soiling is primary. Den sanitation predisposition plays a role in resolving a problem in older dogs as in housetraining puppies. Recognize there is variability in den sanitation stemming from relaxation of natural selection. Problem elimination that is not secondary to medical problems or separation anxiety is generally categorized as inappropriate elimination, submissive urination or urine marking.

This topic is discussed extensively in Hart, Hart and Bain, Canine and Feline Behavior Therapy, 2nd edition, 2006, Blackwell Press.

Overview of Housetraining

This revolves around the den sanitation predisposition. Housetraining simply allows the dog to express normal (innate) behavior. There are breed differences with regard to ease of housetraining. Breeds which may be predisposed to difficulty becoming housebroken include the Basset, Dachshund, Fox Terrier, Pekingese and Beagle, while the Doberman Pinscher, Australian Shepherd, Welsh Corgi, Poodle and Bishon Frise appear to be the most easily trained.

In establishing housetraining, or retraining, remember the factors that evoke elimination are exercise, eating, drinking, waking from a rest period and smelling a previously soiled area. Taking the dog outdoors when elimination is likely is the standard approach and usually successful. The dog can be coached to use outside areas where the owners prefer. Take dog to these areas. Place a few partial fecal droppings in the desired area. Paper training (sprinkle dirt on papers) is a temporary step.

In the early phase of training, it is often useful to block off a small "home den" area for portions of time when you cannot be vigilant to avoid accidents. Feed the dog on an appropriate schedule to make eliminations more predictable, taking advantage of gastro-colic reflex. When house soiling events do occur, do not use interactive punishment following a house soiling episode. Simply put the dog outdoors. Do not rub the animal's nose in the soiled area or hit or scream at it. Clean the soiled area as well as possible, using an enzymatic cleaner. Use remote punishment for areas the dog repeatedly soils.

Inappropriate Elimination

History and Causes

Inappropriate elimination may stem from a lack of housetraining or incomplete housetraining. It may also be due to a disturbance of normal housetraining, for example, following a long-term bout with diarrhea and uncontrollable elimination in the house. Dogs may develop an aversion to an outside toilet area and be reluctant to go out to eliminate during the rainy season. Age-related cognitive dysfunction often involves a loss of previous housetraining, especially urination. Such dogs may make it to the hallway, but no longer "ask" to go outdoors. To resolve a house soiling problem, it is necessary to determine the cause of the problem.


For problem defecation, rule out medical causes, including cognitive dysfunction and separation anxiety. Incomplete housetraining may play a role in both urination and defecation. For problem urination, rule out medical causes and separation anxiety, submissive urination and urine marking.


Determine if the dog has the den sanitation predisposition. Restrain it in its bed area. Does it soil its bed if left for a reasonable time (e.g. 3-4 hours)? If the dog soils its bed, look further for physical causes or suspect age-related cognitive dysfunction unless you suspect it has eliminated in distress. If there are indications of den sanitation behavior, institute one or more housebreaking procedures. If elimination occurs at night, restrain by the bed overnight, such as using a leash. If medically appropriate consider restricting water and giving a chance to eliminate before putting to bed. Take the dog out in the middle of the night if necessary. Gradually increase the time between outside trips. If elimination occurs during the day, determine when it occurs and confine the dog to resting or feeding areas or keep it under close owner supervision. Look for signals and take the dog out frequently on supervised visits to an acceptable spot.

Submissive Urination

History and Causes

This behavior typically is seen as urination when the dog is greeted by people after an absence. This is usually a problem in young dogs and females. The normal function of this behavior is to turn off, or prevent, aggression by senior pack members. Thus, when interactive punishment is delivered, the submissive urination becomes more pronounced.


Do not punish the dog. Punishment will make the problem worse, as the dog becomes more fearful. Down-play greetings. Do not lean over the dog or act excited when coming home, as this can make things worse. When arriving home, immediately have the dog go outside and eliminate. Use social punishment coupled with habituation. Start by greeting the dog where it feels the least apprehensive. When urination occurs, turn around and walk away as if the urination drove you away. When no urination occurs, quietly pet and stay around the dog. Gradually work towards the most anxiety-producing location. Practice this several times in a row. Continue these approaches in one sitting until no submissive encounters occur. Once a situation is reached where the dog urinates about half the time on approach, work up to more challenging locations.

Urine Marking

This is a problem primarily with males. Dogs may learn to mark while owners are away and are not seen in the act. Other than for urine marking, these dogs are usually housetrained. Castration reduces the likelihood of urine marking but does not necessarily prevent it.

History and Causes

The behavior may occur at puberty. The dog is otherwise well housetrained. The urination typically occurs on vertical target areas, often in novel places. The urination may be precipitated by visit from another dog or from stress of household changes (new boy friend, new house, etc.).


Rule out separation anxiety, inappropriate urination and submissive urination. The presence of target areas usually rules out other diagnoses.


Castrate males; about 40% undergo virtually complete resolution. Block or eliminate provoking stimuli. The alternative is to desensitize and countercondition to targets. In addition to other treatments, create an aversion to the targets. Work on eliminating the dog's anxiety, whether it be from another dog or changes in the household.

Related Videos
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.