What if suddenly, for no apparent reason, perfectly housebroken Fido starts having “accidents” in your home? Every dog is entitled to an accident once in awhile (especially if you were not able to get him out for his walk on time). However, if Fido’s elimination habits suddenly change, it’s important that you take him to the vet for a check-up. Once any physical problems have been ruled out, there are steps you can take to get Fido back on track. But first, let’s understand the psychological factors that may trigger these housebreaking regressions.
Our dogs are sensitive and many things may trigger a housebreaking regression. Generally speaking, this undesirable behavior can be traced to some type of change in the household environment. The arrival of a new baby, with the new smells and the scent of dirty diapers, may trigger such a regression. (For tips on avoiding this particular problem, refer to “What To Expect From Your Pet When You’re Expecting“). The same holds true for the arrival of another pet in the household (see “First Pet Psychology“).
A severe case of separation anxiety, during which a pet’s phobia of being left alone is so great that he actually loses control of his bodily functions, can also be the root of the problem. Even a seemingly well-adjusted dog may suddenly develop such a phobia … perhaps there was a particularly noisy thunderstorm or automotive backfire during your absence. We must be very patient and understanding when tackling housebreaking regressions that stem from this phobia as Fido has absolutely no control when his fears take over. (For more insight and tips in dealing with this problem see “Separation Anxiety … Not Spite“).
That same patience and understanding must also be used when dealing with senior citizen dogs. Here, again, Fido may not have the physical control he had in his youth. And because he’s given us the best years of his life, it’s important that we accommodate him when he starts missing the fire hydrant. That may mean extra walks and/or limiting his access to food and water later in the evening. It’s also important to be more attentive to your golden age dog’s elimination habits. For instance, if your little old timer is urinating more frequently or seems to be straining, these could be signs of serious illness and you should get him to the vet immediately.
In still other cases, the absence of a beloved family member may set off unwanted potty behavior in dogs of any age. I refer to this as the “Hansel and Gretel Syndrome” … Fido will eliminate on items carrying the strong scent of the missing person (i.e. pillows, bedding or dirty clothes). No, this is not spiteful behavior! Dogs instinctively use their scent (their urine or stool) as markers to attract other dogs. Fido is simply trying to help you find your way back home in the same way that Hansel and Gretel left a trail of bread crumbs. Too bad he doesn’t use kibble!
Barring any physical problems, phobias or old age, what do you do if you return home and find that you’re usually perfectly housebroken dog has left you a “present”? No, you don’t rub his nose in it, yell at him, or (heaven forbid) hit him! Fido may get the message that it was bad that he went in that spot. So next time he’ll go a little to the right or a little to the left of that spot or in an entirely different room! We must let Fido know that the act of going inside your home is wrong. And here’s how we correct him:
1) Clean up the soiled area with an odor neutralizer such as Kids ‘N’ Pets Stain & Odor Remover.. Regular household cleaning products nearly always contain ammonia – the same chemical found in urine and stool. You know what I mean if you’ve ever changed a baby’s diaper! By using regular cleaning products it’s as if you’re putting down more urine! The idea is to neutralize the odor so that Fido’s sensitive nose won’t lead him back to the scene of the crime.
2) Pick up (if it’s stool) or dab up (if it’s urine) Fido’s mess with a paper towel and put it in an entirely different area of your home from where the accident took place.
3) Put on Fido’s collar and a short leash, then confine him with his mess (that you’ve moved to an area other than the scene of the crime). This may mean tying his leash to a table or chair and placing the mess on the floor just out of his reach.
4) Say, “No!” firmly and leave the room. But do check on him periodically during his confinement to see that he doesn’t get tangled up or hurt.
5) Ten minutes later, return to the room, say, “No!” and leave.
6) Ten minutes later, return to the room, untie Fido and act as if the incident had never happened – no grudges held.
By nature, dogs are clean animals. By leaving Fido confined with his mess for a total of twenty minutes, he learns that no matter where he goes in the house he has to stay with his mess.
Because dogs learn through association, you must be consistent when correcting Fido. That means each and every time Fido leaves you a present, you must follow the steps listed above. Believe me, after several confinements, Fido will get the message and you’ll once again be able to walk around your home barefoot!