Puppies come into our homes and immediately have to learn how to live by our human rules — which likely go against much of a new puppy’s natural instincts. This includes learning when and where he is permitted to go potty.
However, once these rules are learned, fully and completely, we can rule out incomplete potty training as a reason a puppy may be peeing on your favorite rug when left alone.
There are several reasons why there might be a sudden resurgence of peeing on the floor when no one is around.
Today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant reader asks:
“Our Yorkshire terrier lives in our kitchen. We prepare our dinner there and then eat in a different room, but we shut him in the kitchen so he doesn’t disturb us while we eat. He always pees while we are absent, even though we let him outside before we leave.” – Potty Problems
To begin with, if your dog is peeing in the house, some of these other related articles and resources might also be useful:
- Help! My Dog Won’t Stop Marking in the House!
- Help! My Dog Submissively Urinates All Over the House!
- Why Does My Dog Keep Peeing on the Carpet?
- Why Does My Potty Trained Dog Poop in My In-Laws House?
- How Do I Stop My Puppy From Wrecking My Stuff When Left Alone?
Could There be a Medical Problem?
Whenever there is a sudden change in your dog’s behavior or sudden urination indoors, it is ideal to have a wellness exam done by your pup’s vet to rule out any underlying medical issues.
Even though Potty Problems’ pup is only urinating when he is left alone, it is possible that he is not able to control his bladder very well due to an infection or incontinence. Sometimes we don’t think much about it, but our dogs are able to access the outdoors more readily when we are with them and we may be curtailing obvious signs of a problem.
This should be the first precautionary measure. These issues are easily fixable with short-term medication.
Behavioral Reasons for Peeing Indoors:
There are several reasons your pooch might pee indoors while you are away that are not medical related. Some of them are learned behaviors that become habit-forming, while others are involuntary. Below are some things to consider when assessing the root cause of the peeing problem:
1. Incomplete Potty Training
Sometimes we get to a point in training where we think a behavior (i.e., pottying outdoors) is completely bulletproof, when in fact our dogs have only partially learned what is expected. I see this a lot with dogs who have been pee pad trained (taught to pee on an absorbent mat indoors.) But this issue isn’t just seen in pad trained dogs.
Dogs have trouble generalizing new things that they learn. That’s why we need to practice a lot, in many different scenarios and environments.
If there has been a lack of consistency in Potty Problems’ pup’s training, this could mean he has learned he only asks to go pee outside when he is in a certain part of the house, when mom is present instead of dad (talking human pet parents here!) or even after certain events, like eating or sleeping.
Likewise, he may think it’s acceptable to pee indoors when in a particular space in the house or during particular events that occur during the day.
2. Past Punishment
When a dog is punished for peeing on the carpet, they quickly learn not to pee on the carpet… when someone is watching! We have to keep in mind that punishment is anything your dog finds scary, painful or unpleasant.
Some dogs feel scared or stressed with as much as a raised voice or assertive body posture. That could be all it takes to punish some dogs, even though we don’t necessarily think of it that way.
This could explain why Potty Pup only has this problem when he’s unsupervised.
This is a big one. If your dog feels worried or anxious about being left alone, urination can be a sign that he is feeling distressed. This is completely involuntary. There may be other signs of anxiety present too, such as:
- Destroying items around him
- Not wanting to take food
Some other things that might provide some clues could be where the pee puddles are located. Are they right by the door where she has spent the entire time waiting for you to come back?
Sometimes dogs who are anxious also might pace back and forth through their urine and it might be spread out on the floor rather than in a neat little puddle.
Also look at the amount of urine. Is it a huge puddle as if he had been holding it all day and just couldn’t wait any longer? Or, is it a small amount, which may indicate he is feeling anxious and lost control of his bladder?
If you are concerned that your dog might be suffering from separation anxiety or isolation distress, my book or six-week self-guided course might be helpful to guide you through dealing with this process.
Your Pup Is Not Being Spiteful!
Your dog might have one or several compounded reasons for peeing on the floor when you leave him alone. However, your dog isn’t doing it to get back at you or to be spiteful because he is mad.
Unlike humans, dogs do not act out of spite, they do what they know, what they have been taught (fully!) and what motivates them.
Peeing on the floor might be what he has learned is acceptable or normal, it could be because he is not feeling well or is having an involuntary physiological response to his anxiety. And, sometimes one thing leads to another.
When we start to think of our dogs as being spiteful, we tend to fall into the trap of punishing them. Spite assumes there is a malicious intent, and not one thing in current behavior science indicates that dogs have this capability, desire or need.
How to Fix the Peeing Problem
First we need to uncover the root cause of why our pup is peeing on the floor when left alone. This requires some detective work.
- Are there any other signs of stress?
- Did I use pee pads when he was left alone in the beginning of his training?
- Is there any other times during the day or night that he pees on the floor?
- Has the vet ruled out any underlying medical issues?
- Have I been consistent with his training?
- Have I ever punished him for peeing in the house (or has anyone else?)
Here are some things to help Potty Problems to solve her potty woes:
2. Address the root cause:
If you are dealing with anxious peeing, you will need to address his separation anxiety or isolation distress in order to fix the issue. My book or course listed above might be a good place to start. You could also schedule email support or a remote training session with one of our Certified Dog Behavior Consultants.
3. Go back to square one:
If anxiety is not the root cause, you may need to go back to square one with potty training. Be consistent, reward him when he goes outside, take him outdoors frequently and avoid using pee pads in the house.
4. Change the space:
You may also need to leave him locked in a different space in the house or try using a kennel or exercise pen instead. In other words, somewhere where he hasn’t been practicing and normalizing peeing on the floor.
5. Plan pee times to match the problem:
Since the absent peeing is happening at dinner time for Potty Problems, they could try taking their pup out to pee right before they eat dinner. Taking him on a leash will assure that he is in fact peeing and not just going out in the yard sniffing around or having a play. Reward him handsomely for peeing outdoors.
6. Teach him to stay on a mat instead:
Mat training is a convenient way to avoid confinement yet still be able to manage his movements. Having him go to, and stay on a mat in the same room might ease his frustration or his distress about being alone and solve the potty problems.
7. Provide him with things to do:
Whether you stick with another room, switch to a kennel, exercise pen or train him to stay on a mat, make sure to provide him with some boredom busters. These are things to keep him busy. They might be a favorite chew item such as a bully stick, a stuffed and frozen KONG, or a puzzle toy. There are lots of options out there and a rotation through different options could help to keep him mind sharp and anxiety at bay.
Having a pup that pees when you leave him by himself can be frustrating, but is completely solvable once you are able to figure out why your pup is peeing on the floor and how to best address it.
Once Potty Problem can figure out the root cause of the peeing behavior, she should be well on her way to getting back on track!
Erin is currently from Alberta, Canada where she works as a canine behaviour consultant. Erin is a CDBC and CPDT-KA, working with all types of dogs with all types of training needs. She has a MSc in Anthrozoology (the study of human and non-human interactions), and is a PhD candidate in the same field. Erin will be relocating to Christchurch, New Zealand at the end of 2018.