House Soiling in Dogs
I know that house soiling is a major reason that owners relinquish their pets to a shelter. What are tips to help owners with this problem?
House soiling (indoor urination, defecation, or urine marking) can be caused by
many factors. The first step in addressing it involves performing a physical examination, urinalysis, fecal examination, and perhaps serum biochemical profile, since house soiling can be secondary to or concurrent with medical problems. Medical causes are discussed elsewhere; this article will discuss only behavioral
causes of house soiling.
Behavioral reasons for indoor elimination include inadequate house training, marking behavior, submissive and/or excitement urination, separation anxiety or some other anxiety or phobia, cognitive dysfunction, and psychogenic
polydipsia.3 A behavioral history is necessary to collect information that will lead to a diagnosis. Important information should include the daily routine, access to the elimination location, and feeding schedules (set times vs free choice). See
the Box for additional history questions. Certain answers may suggest certain diagnoses, and this can aid in designing a treatment plan.
Separation anxiety might be suspected if elimination occurs only when the owner is
absent or is departing; thunderstorm phobia might be suspected if the dog shows signs of distress during storms. Occasionally, if aversive methods have been used in house training, a dog may be unwilling to eliminate in the owner's presence and only eliminate when they are gone or out of the room. Marking behavior might be suspected if small amounts of urine are found only on vertical surfaces or at their base. Submissive or continue s
History; Questions to Ask ::;:
• How long has the problem been present and did it coincide with any other changes?
• When and where does the soiling occur?
• Does the dog urinate, defecate, or both?
• Are there other animals in the home, and do they soil indoors?
• Has the dog ever been reliably house trained?
• Does outdoor elimination reliably occur at any time? Is outdoor elimination witnessed
by the people in the home? Where, when, and how is the dog taken outdoors for elimination
(eg, is the dog walked or placed in a yard)?
• Does the dog go all night without soiling?
• If the problem occurs when the owners are not home, what is the shortest period the
owner has been gone during which soiling has occurred?
• Does the pet show signs of distress at owner departure?
• Does the pet show distress about noise, such as storms?
• Does elimination occur when the owner or others greet the dog?
• What is done when soiling occurs?
• Does the pet have a history of urinary tract or gastrointestinal problems?
applied behavior NAVC clinician's brief . may . 2008 69
excitement urination is likely if it occurs
primarily on greeting or during social interactions
with the dog. Incontinence or cognitive
dysfunction should be considered in
dogs that leave wet spots where they rest, if
elimination occurs in the presence of the owners,
or if the dog shows other signs of cognitive
Lack of access to the desirable elimination
location, long periods without access to the
elimination location (owners who work long
hours), or lack of supervision when outdoors
and inability to verify outdoor elimination
before confining the pet indoors can all lead to
house soiling. Substrate or location preferences
may occur when the dog can no longer
eliminate in the usual location, on the usual substrate,
or in the usual manner (loose in the yard
vs on a leash), or due to something aversive in
the elimination location (eg, noises, other animals).
Treatment plans should be tailored to the particular
problem. To address lack of house training,
the owner must be willing to use both confinement
and supervision to retrain the dog to eliminate
in the appropriate location. Close supervision
entails knowing where the dog is at all times.
If the owners are unable to supervise, confining
the dog in a small area may make soiling less
likely. This should also help the owner learn the
signals that the dog needs to eliminate, which
include panting, pacing, pawing, or staring at
the owner. At that point the dog must be taken
to the appropriate elimination location. If no
signs are readily apparent, the dog should be
taken outside every 1 to 3 hours.
The dog is taken to the same outdoor location
each time, calmly encouraged to eliminate, and
rewarded immediately—not upon return to the
house—with a food reward. If the dog does not
eliminate within 5 minutes, it should be returned
to the house, supervised, and taken out again in
10 to 20 minutes.
• Always rule out medical problems with a good physical examination and laboratory
• Take a complete history, with an emphasis on when and where elimination occurs.
• Diagnose the problem.
• Discuss supervision, confinement, and positive reinforcement of appropriate elimination
with the owner.
• Follow up with the owner in 1 to 2 weeks to assess progress.
The dog should not be punished if elimination
occurs when it is unsupervised, and any indoor
urine or feces should be cleaned with an enzymatic
cleaner in the dog's absence. (Cleaning in
the dog's absence prevents unwanted owner
responses from happening [eg, punishment,
scolding].) If no indoor elimination has
occurred over time, the intervals between outdoor
excursions can be lengthened and the dog
given more indoor access without supervision.
Lack of Access
If the problem is lack of access to the elimination
location, additional arrangements should be
made to enhance access. This could be a dog
walker, doggy day care, a dog door, or providing
an indoor location for elimination. For dogs that
defecate indoors, switching from free choice to
meal feeding and timing feeding so someone is
home to allow access to the outdoors may be
Preferences & Anxiety Issues
Substrate or location preferences may require
creative solutions as the dog learns new associations.
If possible, the old substrate can be provided
and then gradually phased out. Disturbing
stimuli should be avoided, and time of day for
toileting arranged so that the dog can be
relaxed and calm. If the problem is severe,
treatment for other fears, anxieties, and phobias
may be necessary to its resolution.5
separation anxiety that results in house soiling
require appropriate treatment for the underlying
Marking is most common in male dogs—having
intact dogs neutered should reduce marking
behavior. Marking is often the result of underlying
anxieties that need to be addressed. In other
situations, supervision, confinement, and
restructuring interactions can be useful for
Submissive & Excitement Urination
Submissive and excitement urination require
changes in the social situation to reduce anxiety
and promote calmer, predictable interactions.
Greeting without bending over the dog and not
touching or talking to the dog until it is settled
are useful. A new greeting response, such as
"sit." given once the dog has settled or signaled
by a hand cue, or "get your ball" can help
change underlying emotional affect and diminish
urination. Punishment is absolutely contraindicated
since it is likely to increase anxiety and
Learned nonelimination is a rather annoying
problem. It tends to occur in dogs that are
walked for elimination and learn that elimination
signals the end of the walk—these dogs
learn to wait longer and longer to eliminate to
prolong the time outdoors. Walking the dog 5
more minutes before heading home or teaching
the dog to eliminate before the walk usually corrects
House soiling—although frustrating—often
responds well to treatment once an appropriate
diagnosis is made, and the correct treatment
plan is applied, m
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