TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Dear Carla,
We just rescued a 1-year-old mix named Marley. He is not completely house trained and has frequent accidents, especially when we he’s at home alone. My wife is convinced that he goes in the house because he is angry that we’ve left him home. I think he’s just not house trained. What’s the best way to fix this problem?
Thanks, The Millers
Dogs are capable of learning many amazing things, but they are not able to process complex, abstract thoughts like guilt and spite.
The example you gave is a classic one; a dog poops and pees in the house because he is mad at being left behind. The biggest problem with this explanation is that dogs love poop; they love to eat it and roll in it. If they left some for you, it would probably be as a gift, not a punishment.
Dogs who poop in the house are either (a) not potty trained properly or (b) are stressed because their pack mate (YOU) is out of sight and their natural tendency is to keep track of pack members. When a dog greets his owner at the door with head and tail down it is not guilt at having gone potty in the house, but appeasement because he is afraid what will happen based on prior experience.
You need to implement a structured house-training program so Marley can learn where he should go potty.
First, set up both long and short-term confinement areas. The short-term area, usually a crate, is for short absences and building up your dog’s ability to hold their urine and feces. Most dogs will not soil an area where they have to sleep. When you will be gone for longer periods of time, such as going to work, you’ll need a longer-term confinement area. While he is learning to hold it, think about hiring someone to come and let him out. I don’t recommend pee pads unless absolutely necessary, because they teach a dog that it’s okay to go in the house.
The quickest approach to house-training is to limit his access to places where he can sneak off and go, take him out very regularly and reward him when he does go outside. I also recommend putting him on a feeding schedule. What goes in comes out, so if you control his food intake you can get a better idea when he will need to go.
Choose an area near your house that is his elimination area, and wait until he goes there. Follow his successful pee or poop with a fun walk. This makes the walk a reward for going and should be motivation for him to go more quickly.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.