Dog owner cleaning accident

Q: I’m gone during the day; most of the time, my dog uses a dog door to go to the bathroom outside on her own, but she still has the occasional indoor accident. I don’t know why this is happening or how to handle it — but I feel like she’s getting away with bad behavior if I don’t punish her. What should I do?

A: When a previously house-trained adult dog starts having accidents in the home, I always recommend visiting the veterinarian for a checkup before starting any new training. There may be a medical component to the accidents, such as a urinary tract infection or the onset of canine cognitive dysfunction. Once your vet has eliminated these and any other medical issues, you can begin addressing the cause of the potty accidents and working on solutions.

However, punishing your dog for her accidents is never a viable solution. Rather than learning that going inside the house is wrong, your dog will learn that people are unsafe and unpredictable. This can make your dog afraid to go potty in front of you, even outside, and can make indoor accidents more frequent. Instead of punishing your dog by rubbing her nose in the mess she has made (or using any other form of punishment), address the behavior by managing her environment and training better behavior.

Accidents and Anxiety

Dogs with separation anxiety can display various signs, including accidents within the home. If your veterinarian has diagnosed separation anxiety as the reason for your dog’s potty regression, he can work with you to help control the problem or refer you to a veterinary behaviorist to help address the issue. Dealing with your dog’s anxiety will result in a more stable emotional state — which should lead to fewer (or no) accidents.

Your dog may also be anxious about conditions outside. For a dog with noise phobias, the sound of distant thunderstorms, fireworks, construction or traffic can be nerve-racking. While your dog may normally potty outside even when you’re gone, on days when the frightening noise is audible, she may hunker down indoors and refuse to leave the house; this can lead to an accident in the house. If the outdoor noise is temporary — a construction project, for example — consider taking your dog somewhere else, like doggy day care, during the time you are away from home. If the noise is consistent — traffic sounds from a nearby road — soothe your canine by creating a relaxing environment inside the house. Pair calming music, like Through a Dog’s Ear, with a food puzzle to help keep her occupied while you’re gone.

How to Stop the Accidents

Your dog may be pottying inside because she can smell past accidents, which can lead her to think that this is the right place to do her business. For this reason, enzymatic cleaners, which eliminate smells, are essential for dealing with messes. To help avoid new messes, keep her off carpeted areas — she may be less likely to go on a hard surface, and it will be easier for you to clean up if she does.

Dogs naturally want to keep their personal area clean, so creating a smaller space inside your house for your dog to lounge in can reduce the likelihood of an accident while you’re away. Use an exercise pen or baby gate to section off an area of your home, ideally one that is near the doggy door and is free of carpet or rugs. Make the space inviting by including bedding, water and food puzzles, to keep your dog comfortable and busy while you’re away.

Your dog’s accidents may also be related to how long you’re gone. She may prefer not to go outside while you’re away and instead may be waiting until you arrive home. On days when you’re gone for longer-than-normal periods, she may not be able to hold on until you get back — which may mean she’s not able to stay home alone on those days. If she’s friendly with other dogs, take her to doggy day care, where she will have plenty of interaction and potty breaks. Another option is to have a neighbor or professional dog walker come in during the day to ensure that she goes potty — outside.

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