No matter how assiduously you work to train your new puppy to relieve herself outdoors, she’s going to have accidents. That’s true even if you follow all the rules: taking her out seven to eight times a day in the beginning, putting her in her crate when she doesn’t “go” and leaving her there for 15 minutes until she builds up the urge, designating an elimination spot near the house, praising her to the hilt when she gets it right, and not losing your patience when she sniffs the curb or grass for several minutes but doesn’t urinate. Human children have some accidents when they’re first toilet trained; it’s a bit of a two-steps-forward-one-step-backward affair. So why should you expect a puppy to get it right and never falter?
The issue, in fact, is not that she had an accident but how you react to it. With plain old accidents, which constitute one of the three reasons puppies piddle indoors, what’s key is that you not lose your temper or show any exasperation. Not only will it make your young charge feel bad. It absolutely will not do any good.
That’s because if you find your pup has piddled (or pooped) while you were in another room and then you find the mess and give her a piece of your mind, she won’t have a clue why you’re upset. Even if you take her to the spot and stick her face in it, she will not get the picture. That’s because dogs don’t sequence events in their minds the way people do. Letting a dog have a piece of your mind even only a couple of minutes after the fact will prove a total disconnect. She will have moved on and will not understand that for you, the “spilled milk” is news.
If you do yell, all you can accomplish is sending the housetraining process backward. That’s because it will make your young adoptee afraid of you, fraying the bond that will allow her to feel secure enough in your presence to learn whatever it is you want to teach. Who can do their best learning when they’re feeling fearful? Plus, if you punish a dog for urinating, she will never “go” in front of you for fear of further punishment — and that, of course, is counterproductive to the housetraining technique.
A better use of your time than yelling is to clean up the mess — without rancor — and thoroughly. If a dog is able to sniff the remnants of urine or feces at a particular spot, the odor will attract her back to that spot. It becomes a designated “toilet.”
Urine odors can be quite difficult to get rid of. You can’t just clean the spot with a cleaner that has a strong fragrance. It will disguise the odor to you, but not to your pet, who has a significantly keener sense of smell than you do. You should not use a product that contains ammonia, either. Ammonia smells like broken-down urine. It will actually attract your pup to the spot.
One particularly good product is called Zero Odor. But whatever product you use, use it liberally. You may need to kiddie-gate off a room until the odor is gone.
If you have many urine spots, either on a rug or a wall-to-wall carpet, you may have to have them cleaned professionally. Chances are it’ll be too much to tackle spot by spot. If you go the professional cleaning route, do not ask the company if it treats pet-soiled spots. They will all say they do. Ask instead how the company locates pet odors. Some have a pole with electrodes on one end and a battery and meter on the other. When the electrodes hit a damp spot where urination has occurred, a needle on the meter will show it. This tells the company that special efforts in that area are necessary, as just laundering the rug or carpet in the usual way is not going to cut it.
Other carpet professionals use a black light — a source of ultraviolet light. If all the other lights in the room are shut off, pigments in the urine will fluoresce in the dark when the ultraviolet light shines on them. With such a light, stains will show up on upholstery as well as on carpet.
The other two reasons puppies pee in the house
Cleaning the mess is the same no matter what. Why the mess occurs is what differs. It’s not always an accident, an urge to “go” that’s too strong for the dog to hold it in until her owner is ready to get her outside. In fact, sometimes, well after the time of accidents has passed, a dog will urinate indoors for one of two emotional reasons.
Sometimes a puppy has such an insecure temperament that no matter how much you show her love and respect, she feels she must act submissively not to draw any trouble to herself. One way she may do that is by urinating when you come through the door. Arguments among people in the household, scolding, loud noises, and even overly affectionate greetings can lead to indoor urinating as well. “I’m meek,” the dog is saying with her behavior. “You are my superior.” If you show anger, she’ll take it as a signal that she didn’t express herself well enough, and she’ll wet the floor all the more profusely the next time.
Many puppies cease the behavior by the time they reach the age of one. They gain enough confidence — and enough trust in your love. But you can move things along for an overly deferent pup. How? By treating her extra-gently. You can even go so far as breaking rules about consistency.
For instance, feed your overly submissive dog for any and no reason. Pet her if she asks for attention. Get a pull toy and let her grab it from you while you say in a high-pitched voice, “You win again!” Allow her on high places — couch cushions and such. These actions will build her confidence and make her realize she does not have to pee to curry favor.
To combat her indoors urination directly, when you come back in from outside, do not talk to your puppy, especially if you have a gruff voice, which most young dogs find intimidating (dog-to-dog admonitions come in the form of low-pitched growls). Do not look directly into her eyes as you return home, either. And do not walk straight toward her. Instead, walk around her in a banana-shaped path. Then sit down so you’re lower to the ground and ignore your dog for a bit. You’re not being cruel. You’re allowing your puppy to regroup. She won’t feel so threatened by you and therefore will be less inclined to urinate inappropriately to express her respect.
If your puppy urinates in front of visitors, ask them to do what you do — avoid greeting her when they come in, crouch to the dog’s level, avert their gaze, and then encourage the young dog to come over.
In some cases, an overly deferent pup will urinate prematurely when it’s time to be walked. Your reaching for her scruff to attach the lead is all it takes to get her going. If that’s the situation, always leave a training lead on her in the house to get around the need to reach down toward the nape of her neck — a sensitive area where her mother used to grab her. That does away with the unnecessary challenge of getting her to hold her bladder before you take her outside. (A training lead is loopless, so it won’t get tangled in the furniture and have an opportunity to choke the pup.)
When it’s time to take the dog outside, crouch down low to pick up the leash and don’t look straight at her. Speak in as high a voice as possible, too. That will let her know that she does not have to grovel by piddling in front of you. One man who came to see us had a cocker spaniel who was so afraid of him that we devised a system whereby he crouched backward toward his dog and caught the training lead by feel when it was time for her to go out. Eventually, she gained enough confidence that he did not have to keep up the maneuver.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from those puppies who urinate indoors because they are fearful and want to curry favor are dogs, almost always male, who urinate in the house to mark off territory, or, if you will, strut their stuff. It has nothing to do with the need to empty the bladder. They simply lift a leg, often against something vertical, and signal their “ownership” with a self-satisfied tinkle. Of course, when the vertical object is a fire hydrant outside, it doesn’t matter. But when it’s the intricately carved leg of your great-grandmother’s sideboard, it’s another thing entirely.
Territorial urination can start when a pup is a young as five months. There are three ways to solve it.
A. Castration. Once you neuter a male dog, any marking problem he has usually declines to the point of being nonexistent within several weeks.
B. Leadership strengthening. Castration or not, it’s important to let your young, willful “sire” know that no part of the house is his territory; it’s yours, and yours alone, and he gets to live there because of your largesse. That means, if he’s working to show ownership through urine marking, you need to pick up your efforts to remind him who the owner of the home, the leader, actually is. Do the opposite of what you would do for an overly submissive puppy. That is, make the dog sit for his supper. Don’t pet him when he asks for it but only when you decide to initiate it. And don’t give an inch on whatever rules you have set. You’re not being cruel. You’re being firm, which is what a dog who is purposely soiling your furniture needs. Again, don’t show anger. That’s giving your young dog too much power — the power to elicit a strong reaction from you. Just be clear that the rules are yours, not his.
C. Medication. For some puppies who engage either in submissive urination or territory marking, your veterinarian may prescribe fluoxetine (Prozac). If your dog is overly deferent, it will build confidence. It can also reduce the drive to urine mark because that is a behavior that stems in part from an element of insecurity. Buspirone (Buspar) sometimes works, too, because it has the ability to relieve anxiety.