Features August 2009 Issue

How to Handle Your Dog's Accidents in the House

Five things to do when your dog has an “accident” in the house.

[Updated July 6, 2018]

There’s probably not a canine companion on earth who hasn’t had at least one accident in the house; it’s inevitable no matter how careful your management. Ideally the accidents are few, but what do you do when they do happen? It may depend on the circumstances, but here are five things that are appropriate in most cases when a previously well-housetrained dog goes potty in the house.

1) If you discover your dog in flagrante, cheerfully interrupt him with an “Oops! Outside!” and hustle him out to his legal potty spot. Do not punish him. If you do, you’ll just teach him to pick a more secluded spot next time where you’re less likely to catch him in the act.

Potty Training dogs

Use an enzyme-based cleaner on every “spot” your dog has made, whether it’s on carpet or floors. The enzymes break down the smelly agents in urine and feces, so your dog won’t get a whiff of his past mistake and be inspired to go again.

2) Thoroughly clean any soiled spots with an enzymatic product designed to clean up animal waste. Use a black light to find untreated spots. Do not use ammonia-based products to clean! Urine contains ammonia and the ammonia in the cleaning products may actually inspire your dog to urinate on the spot where the ammonia-based product was used.

3) Take your dog out more frequently so he has more opportunity to do it right; every hour on the hour (during the day), at first, for young pups or older dogs who need remedial housetraining, then gradually lengthen the time between bathroom breaks.

Go out with him; don’t just send him out to the yard on his own. When he goes potty where he is supposed to, calmly praise him as he’s going (you don’t want to interrupt him!), then mark the desired behavior with a “Yes!” or other verbal marker when he’s finished, and give him a tasty treat.

Keep a potty journal, so you know when his last accident was and to keep track of his housetraining progress. When he’s gone a week with no accidents, increase the time between bathroom breaks by 30 minutes.

Potty Training dogs

Don’t just put your dog outside to go potty; you won’t know whether or not he went! Accompany him outside, praise him while he does his business, and when he’s done, “mark” the behavior with a click or “Yes!” and give him a treat.

4) Give him periods of house freedom when you know he’s empty, but confine him to a crate or other small area (exercise pen) when you can’t supervise, or when you have to leave him alone for an extended period (or overnight). Be sure he doesn’t tank up on water just before bed. Don’t crate him longer than he can hold it; if you have to be gone for a long time, have a friend, family member, or pet-sitter take him out for a potty break.

5) Make sure there are no medical issues that might be interfering with his ability to “hold it.” If he has several lapses in housetraining, make an appointment for a thorough health examination with your vet. Diarrhea almost guarantees accidents, and things like urinary tract infections, and kidney and bladder stones will also cause housesoiling.

By the way, I don’t consider a dog reliably housetrained until he’s at least a year old. My own Bonnie was more than two years old before she could be trusted for long periods in the house.

One last thing: That old rolled up newspaper? You can use it to smack yourself in the head every time your dog has an accident, for allowing your management program to slip. If it’s not caused by a medical problem, an indoor potty incident is always a management lapse. Urine “marking” – a different behavior from housesoiling – is another story, and one for a future column.

Comments (6)

The bad behavior of my dog forced me to investigate how I could train him. I found this system online and it has given me excellent results, tinyurl.com/dogbestbehavior ! He no longer bites my furniture, or my shoes, no longer urinates in the room, and no longer barks like crazy!

Posted by: misard2@hotmail.com | August 16, 2018 10:59 AM    Report this comment

I have a Boston Terrier 2 years old named Tobby, this dog gave me many problems. It ate my shoes, urinated in the room, the furniture stank. A teach my dog to behave with some training videos I found online. Pay 1 dollar for a trial period of 3 days. And 37 monthly payment, but worth every penny. My dog ​​is very well behaved, and does not make those deviltries and I have taught him many tricks. This is the location where I found the training: www.theonlinedogtrainers.com

Posted by: misard | June 17, 2014 7:11 AM    Report this comment

We rescue dogs from puppymills. Most of the time they never do reliably housetrain. So we have to live with panties or bellybands. One girl is a leg lifting peer and marker. : )

Posted by: pap luv | September 22, 2013 4:19 PM    Report this comment

Great article! It's a great explanation of the steps to follow and I'll it pass on to my clients who get so understandably frustrated with this problem. The only thing I would clarify is that any dog who is demonstrating this behavior means you go back to the basics; you start potty training all over again, no matter how old the dog is. As you stated, the only exception to this would be if it's a medical problem. You've pretty well described the process - I've just found that telling my clients that they need to start potty training over again is a quick way of telling them what needs to be done before I go into a more detailed explanation. Thanks for the great write up!

Posted by: Lise L | September 21, 2013 11:14 AM    Report this comment

So you're saying that its my fault that my son's 11-month-old Boston Terrier has a BM accident (right in front of me while I was reading, so I didn't realize it until after the fact) even though she was taken out around an hour before where she did both of her duties?! I don't understand what we are doing wrong. I always take her out before I bring her to my apartment (he lives within walking distance). At her age I wouldn't think I'd have to take her out every hour, but is that my only solution? She doesn't do it every visit, but the most she can stay is about 1 1/2 hours then I take her out then home to her kennel. She plays like a crazy woman with my 10-year-old miniature schnauzer spayed female. The Boston is also spayed. Please help! Will she always be like this???

Posted by: JulieG | September 19, 2013 5:52 PM    Report this comment

My 8 month old sheepdog/poodle mix definitely falls into the urine marking category so I look forward to the future column because both my vet and trainer have exhausted all options beyond a belly band to stop him. He has also been defecating in the house on and off even after very long walks, which I'm not sure is related to the marking (though my parents dogs are staying with us right now so its possible).

Posted by: Kaitlyn M | August 23, 2012 9:33 AM    Report this comment

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