Catherine de la Cruz
Great Pyrenees Rescue of Northern California

Of all the behaviors of rescued dogs, house-soiling seems to be the most difficult to deal with. Most dog owners are vaguely aware that male dogs will attempt to urinate in a new environment to "mark" their territory, but feel baffled and somehow threatened by females who urinate in the house, and any dog that defecates in the house. The usual result it an unhappy new owner who banishes an equally unhappy older dog to the yard or garage and the whole relationship is soured from the start.

What does this behavior mean?

To watch a working livestock guardian mark a new territory is to gain some understanding of the instincts behind this behavior. Both males and females scent mark the boundaries of their territory, urinating and defecating wherever they come upon the scent of another animal. In universally-understood language, they are saying "I live here. This is my turf and I am stronger than anyone else here."

A properly house-trained pup never learns this marking behavior, but what of the older dog. Can he be retrained? In most cases, the answer is definitely "Yes".

Reasons for house-soiling.

The most common housetraining problem is the male, neutered or intact, who lifts his leg in the house. This is sometimes a display of dominance, though it is also seen in cases where a dog is simply exploring his place in the hierarchy of the household. The next most commonly encountered problem is that of the dog that has never been house-trained in the first place. This dog is often unused to anticipating bodily needs and unaware that he can "ask" for help.

The kennel-raised dog

I have never found the kennel-raised dog to be difficult to housebreak if they came from a place where their kennels were regularly cleaned. A dog from a clean kennel usually chooses a regular spot for elimination and, if that spot is not allowed to build an accumulation of manure, he will return to it rather than soil the rest of his kennel. This dog can quickly be trained to use one spot in the yard for elimination and house-soiling never becomes an issue.

In working with the older dog, praise always works better than punishment. And prevention is most effective of all.

Train him to one spot in the yard

The first time the dog defecates in the yard, move the stool to the place you prefer him to use regularly. Then encourage him to use that spot by taking him there on the leash and praising him when he urinates or defecates nearby. Leave a fresh stool in that spot, cleaning up stools elsewhere, until he begins to use that sport regularly. Then you can remove all stools daily .

The dog that never learned control

For the dog that has never learned to control his elimination, treat him like a young puppy. A pup generally needs to urinate immediately after awakening, and after hard play. It needs to defecate after eating. So until the older dog is house-trained, use a crate or very small pen for his sleeping quarters, releasing him immediately when HE awakens in the mornings (you can go back to sleep later). Wait until he has thoroughly emptied his bladder before you let him in the house. Be sure to praise him for urinating outside.

Find his natural pattern.

For a few days, watch to see when he eliminates. Most adults do so only once or twice a day. Then time his house-time after he has taken care of his needs for that portion of the day. A dog that eliminates after a meal should be put outside immediately after feeding, praised when he eliminates outside, then rewarded with being allowed in the house again, if only for a few minutes. A dog that has a very irregular defecation pattern may have a medical problem. Check with your veterinarian.

Mistakes happen.

If a dog urinates or defecates in the house, DON'T hit him - put the leash on him and immediately take him to the proper place outside. When he even sniffs that spot, tell him he is a good dog. If he urinates, praise him, allow him off the leash, but leave him outside until you have cleaned up his mistake inside.

Cleaning up his "mistakes".

The safest compound for cleaning up urine is plain water. After thoroughly blotting up the moisture, rinse with clean warm water and blot the moisture until there is little odor left. Then sponge the area with a solution of WHITE household vinegar. The white vinegar won't stain, and the acetic acid neutralizes the ammonia of the urine.

Cleaning stool takes warm water and some liquid detergent; use a brush on a carpet, a terry-cloth rag on furniture and a sponge on bare floor. Again, rinse thoroughly with water, then rinse with a vinegar solution.

With some concentrated effort in the early days, the "second-hand dog" can make a pleasant household companion.

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