Housebreaking a Dog with Behavior Problems

When it comes to housebreaking a dog with behavioral problems, a different approach must be taken so to effectively manage and address the issue of indoor elimination.

Because this type of urination is driven by instincts and behavioral problems rather than a physiological need, the housebreaking process may be more challenging.

It's also worth mentioning the fact that housebreaking an older dog may be more difficult because the elimination behavior has been allowed to be rehearsed over and over, allowing it to become ingrained and more resistant to change.

But while old habits die hard and older dogs learn slower than young puppies, what an older dog has going for him is that he has a much stronger bladder and bowel control than a younger puppy.

Behavior Problems Causing Inappropriate Elimination

An abundance of dog behavior problems are known to affect older dogs causing elimination problems.

Such problems must be dealt with directly, using the most appropriate behavioral modification techniques. These problems require unique treatments that vary greatly from the process used when housetraining a dog or puppy.

Housebreaking a Dog

Separation Anxiety

Dogs that eliminate inappropriately when left alone may be suffering from separation anxiety. A good way to determine if this form of inappropriate elimination is anxiety related is to record a dog's reaction upon being left alone. Dogs suffering from this condition will typically exhibit distress by pacing, barking, howling, whining, scratching at windows and doors and urinating and defecating upon being left alone.

Such dogs also tend to be "Velcro dogs" engaging in clingy behaviors and following the owner from room to room. They may react to cues signaling the owner's departure with depression, excitement or anxiety. Once the owner returns home, affected dogs typically engage in frantic, overly effusive greeting behaviors. If your dog urinates and defecates only when left home alone, consider separation anxiety as a potential cause.

Submissive and Excitement Urination

Some puppies and dogs urinate when somebody approaches them and upon being greeted. This form of elimination is mostly due to excitement and can be prevented by ignoring the puppy or dog upon coming home or generally keeping greetings low key.

Shy, anxious dogs may urinate submissively when they are scolded or feel intimated by a person or other dog. Often, the urination is accompanied by submissive postures such as crouching and flipping over and exposing the belly. These dogs can be helped by refraining from subjecting them to intimidating postures and unnecessary scolding.

While submissive urination is more commonly seen in young puppies, some particularly submissive puppies retain this behavior into adulthood.

Building the dog's confidence is key to solving this problem, which requires a totally different approach than that used when housebreaking a dog.

Territorial Marking

Territorial marking is an innate behavior in dogs that may become a behavioral problem when we welcome dogs into our homes and force them to abide to "human etiquette".

This behavior is more common in intact males; however, it can be observed in spayed and neutered dogs as well. Affected dogs tend to purposely dribble a few drops of urine on items that may have the smell of other dogs. This urine may serve the purpose of defining "property lines", leaving "pee mail" for other dogs to sniff or responding to triggers that elicit anxiety.

In some cases, the problem stems from the need to make unfamiliar items smell familiar again. If you recently moved, have a new guest in the house or recently adopted a new dog, consider that your dog may be anxious about the whole new situation; indeed, as creatures of habit, dogs do not do too well when significant changes are brought into their lives.

Anxious dogs may benefit from associating foreign items with good things. Leaving treats around these "strange smelling" items may help diffuse the anxiety and change the dog's emotional response to them. A synthetic pheromone diffuser icon may be helpful as well.

Cognitive Dysfunction

A senior dog that suddenly starts eliminating in the house should raise a red flag.

One medical condition to keep in mind is canine cognitive dysfunction, a form of canine Alzheimer's disease. Affected dogs may appear confused, disoriented and may pace and bark in the night. An older dog may have difficulty navigating the environment, and therefore, forget how to go outside to eliminate.

While this condition is not curable, there are prescription medications that may help slow down this degenerative process.

Medical Problems

It never hurts to keep in mind that problems related to house breaking older dog may stem from medical problems. It is always a good practice to have a dog undergo a veterinarian examination prior to assuming the elimination problem is behavioral. Once health problems are ruled out, the dog can be helped to overcome the behavioral issue at the root of the elimination problem.

Additional Tips

Regardless of the underlying cause for the inappropriate elimination problem, there are some steps that will play a primary role in the resolution of the housebreaking problem. If you are having problems with housebreaking an older dog, consider following these tips:

  1. When it comes to housebreaking a dog with behavioral problems, managing its environment is important so to prevent him from eliminating in unwanted places. If your dog eliminates in your garage, block the access to it. If your dog marks your shoes, put them away. If your car's tires are the target, park your car away. These simple guidelines may sound a lot like common sense, but they are often missed and will save you a lot of heart aches.
  2. Clean soiled areas with the appropriate enzyme-based dog urine cleaner products. Learn which products work best and which should be completely avoided when housebreaking a dog.
  3. Address the underlying issue when housebreaking dogs with behavioral problems. If your intact male is marking due to the presence of female dogs in heat, consider that neutering may eliminate marking in about 60 percent of dogs. If your dog is anxious, work on calming him down. If your dog is overly submissive, build confidence levels. Housebreaking a dog with behavioral problems requires a good understanding of the underlying cause.

Final Thoughts...

As seen, housebreaking a dog with behavioral problems may be more difficult when compared to the process of housetraining a puppy that is learning the ABC's of potty training. However, with proper management, patience and an appropriate behavior modification plan, the process of housebreaking a dog with behavioral problems may be a feasible task.

Related Articles

You may also wish to explore the following articles:

Want to learn more?

Puppy Training

For additional house training advice, including plenty of information on how to housebreak an older dog , check this Ultimate House Training Guide.


Find this article interesting? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and as always, your +1's, Shares, Facebook likes and retweets are appreciated.



Search this site or click here to search the Web


Housebreaking a Dog » Adult Dog House Training

Association of Pet Dog Trainers - Dog Training Professionals Member#: 73641
Puppy Rescue Adoption in your Area
Puppy Rescue Adoption in your Area

Featured Article

Puppy Training

Easy Guide to Crate Training your Puppy

"As a new puppy owner, you may be interested in learning the many benefits of crate training your puppy. When introduced properly, the crate will likely become your puppy's..."
...continue reading