Why Doesn't My Dog… Ask to Go Out to Potty?

Dog on stairs
Some dogs give obvious signs that they need to go out but others can be more subtle about it.

The number one thing we want our dogs to communicate to us is when they need a potty break — and it's also the number two thing as well, isn’t it? Nobody wants a dog to have a pee or poop accident in the house: It’s not pleasant to clean up, sometimes you can’t fully get rid of the stain or odor and inadvertently allowing it can encourage the dog to develop bad habits.

So what do you do if you're living with a dog who doesn't ask to go out? In my experience, there are usually two possible reasons for this behavior. The first is that the dog asks, but the person doesn’t notice, misreads the communication or doesn’t act quickly enough. The second may be that the dog has unintentionally been allowed to have accidents in the house.

Let's talk about how to handle each of these situations.

How to Know When Your Dog Is Asking to Go

Our dogs watch us 24/7, studying our every move as if their next meal depends on it. (And maybe it does.) They know right down to the left eyebrow twitch what we’re going to do next. But we don’t always return the favor. If our dogs aren’t standing right in front of us crossing their legs, tap dancing and grinning anxiously, we often don’t notice or recognize what they’re asking.

Dogs have many different ways of telling us they need to go out — right now! Some paw at us, some bark, some stand at the top of the stairs or in front of the door. Of course, there’s the classic turning in circles before squatting. But other dogs are more subtle. Sometimes all you get is a quick glance or a brief period of restlessness.

Folks, these are signals you need to learn. Every dog is different. That’s why the best thing you can do is to interact with your dog throughout the day. It’s really easy to ignore a paw at your knee and assume that he just wants attention or a treat. It’s really easy not to notice that he’s sitting in front of the door to the backyard or to think that he just wants to chase squirrels. (Maybe he does, but first he’d probably like to pee.) Pay attention to the times of day your dog usually wants to go out and be sure you check on what he’s doing then.

When you see his signal, act on it. If you make him wait — especially if he’s a young puppy — you’re going to find yourself down on your knees with a roll of paper towels and a bottle of carpet cleaner, sopping up an accident.


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