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Dealing with potty training regression in puppies and adult dogs

You don’t like cleaning up after your dog has soiled the house, do you?

That’s a rhetorical question. Literally, no one does!

However, it is the reality lots of pet owners all over the world have to deal with. While this is an annoying problem to deal with, especially after your dog must have completed the potty training process. 

Stopping dog potty training regression for good is easy!

What you need to stop potty training regression is a bit of insight into the cause of the problem. When it happens, and some adjustment on your part. 

Let me show you how.

Understanding Dog Potty Training Regression.

Simply put, dog potty training regression is used to describe a situation where a house trained dog starts backsliding to the old behavior of relieving himself inside the house.

This usually comes after the dog has successfully learned to relieve himself outside the house. 

It’s very common for puppies between the ages of 4 months and 1 year to backslide on house training.

However, older, well-trained dogs occasionally have ‘accidents’ now and then. 

If you thought your dog was potty trained, but he has regressed to soiling the house, remain calm. We’ll explore the problem and find a solution together. 


What Counts as a Potty Training Regression?

1. Your dog keeps soiling the place again and again.

If your dog keeps soiling the same spot, chances are he’s picking up the previous urine smell. “but I can recall that I thoroughly wiped the area clean. Why the same place?”

Well, dogs have a better sense of smell than we humans.

Even when you think you did a solid job on the spot, he might still be picking up a faint smell of urine from the spot. Why do you think dogs are used at the airport and by the police? 

The thing is, dogs like to relieve themselves in the same spot. So, if there’s the faintest smell of urine, he’ll likely go there instead of stressing himself to go outside the house.

To avoid this, you need to use an enzymatic cleaner to wipe the spot. These cleaners contain non-toxic chemicals that bond to the odors and break them down.  

2. Your dog has soiled the house while you’re away.

This is usually the case with puppies. But the truth is, puppies can’t hold their bladder and bowel for 8 hours straight. A pup can only hold his bladder for about one hour per month of age. 

This means your 6 months old dog can only hold his bladder for about 6-7 hours.

If you work long shifts or need to be away for more than 6 hours, it’s best to get someone to let him out. 

3. Your dog wants to go out but doesn’t signal you.

Dogs don’t figure out a signal that you can understand for when they need to potty all on their own. You need to teach him. 

If you think your dog didn’t let you know that he wants to go out before soiling the house, then it’s possible you missed it.

Some dogs use very subtle cues such as sniffing and going around in circles. But, the problem is that these sorts of cues are easy to miss.

You need to find a reliable cue to teach your dog, for when he needs to go out. Here’s a great video on how to do just that.

4. Your dog refuses to relieve himself while you’re outside.

How often have you been in this scenario?

You take your dog outside to relieve himself and he finds other interesting things to do – besides potty. It can be annoying, especially when you have to constantly stop him from mouthing random junk while outside.

This is a common potty training issue most owners have to deal with. If your dog won’t relieve himself outside, even when he was whining to go, it could be for several reasons.

Maybe the dog just wanted to play. Could be that he wanted to do some outdoor exploration and spend energy. Or, you took him out before he really needed to go.

Dog’s bladder control improves as they grow. If you noticed that your dog doesn’t relieve himself every 2 hours as before, increase the interval to 3 hours.

If your dog doesn’t relieve himself within 5 minutes of being outside, then he wanted to go out for reasons other than pottying.

Take him in ASAP!

By indulging him, you’re teaching him to whine whenever he wants to play outside. And, trust me, you don’t want to constantly second-guess yourself “does he want to potty or play outside?

5. An older dog is backsliding on house training.

If your dog has suddenly started backsliding on house training, it could be because of several factors. We’ll go over shortly.

However, the good news with older dogs that are backsliding on house training is that they quickly pick up the potty training refresher training. Clean up the soiled area and retrain your dog to potty outside.

If you have to, place a pee pad over the area you dog keeps soiling. This will hold the dog’s pee in one place and prevent it from soaking into your carpet or wooden floor. Plus, it’s easier to clean!

What Could be The Causes of Potty Training Regression in Dogs?

There are multiple reasons dogs, especially puppies and elderly dogs, regress in their house training. In most cases involving adult dogs, this regression is fixable.

However, in younger dogs, this house ‘accident’ is more often than not, due to unrealistic expectations.

When looking to fix house soiling in your dog, rule out the following causes of dog training regression:

1. Medical issues.

If a previously house-trained dog starts regressing on his training, you should get a vet to test for underlying medical conditions.

Some medical conditions, such as liver disease, diabetes, bladder infection, incontinence, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney failure, and cognitive decline (canine dementia) can trigger house-soiling in a well-trained dog.  

2. Medical issues in the dog’s owner.

We’ve seen reports of dogs sniffing out cancer, diabetes, and seizures in their owners.

So, Yes! Most dogs become stressed when their owner is ill because they don’t understand what is going on.

This can cause house training regression since they have no better way to react to the changes in their owner. 

2. Progressing too fast.

Dog potty training requires lots of repetition, reinforcement, and time for the training to stick.

When you progress quickly while teaching your dog to potty outside, there’s the risk of him forgetting some crucial behavior. Most of these behaviors are only reinforced over time, and pushing too fast gives way to lapses.  

You should only progress to the next lesson when your dog has mastered the current level.

When teaching a new cue to dogs, you need to go over it repeatedly until it’s embedded in their brain. 

That’s because it takes time for them to associate the cue with the need to expel. Moving too fast can make it seem like your dog has regressed on their potty training.  

3. Changes in adolescent brain chemistry.

Dogs between the age of four months and a year old go through development stages that alter their brain chemistry.

This often causes changes in behavior patterns, and regressing on house training happens to be one of such changes.

This period is also when other behaviors such as barking all night and sudden aggressive behaviors occur.

One way to survive this period is to adjust the dog’s routine to match the new behavioral changes.

Positive reinforced-training will go a long way in reducing destructive behavior as well as refreshing your dog’s house training lessons.

4. Separation anxiety.

Some dogs become anxious when their caregiver is away and might soil the house as a result.

There’s a misconception that dogs who do this are punishing the care-giver for leaving them, but that’s untrue. 

When dogs become anxious, frightened, or stressed, they may lose bladder and/or bowel control.

Minimizing exposure to their stressors such as thunderstorms or fireworks and helping them deal with their separation anxiety usually fixes the potty regression.

5. A lack of consistency.

The key to preventing potty regression is by applying consistency and having a good routine.

When pet owners are not consistent with their training regimens and do not reinforce learned behavior daily, unwanted behaviors may begin to creep in. 

For instance, if you do not want your dog jumping all over you or guests when the door is open, you have to teach them to sit politely in one place before opening the door.  

6. Changes in the household.

Changes in the household, for instance, a family member passing on or moving out can cause a dog to start regressing on their potty training.

To resolve this issue, you have to return to regularly taking the dog outside and offer him some treat when he uses the potty.  

7. Submissive/excitement urination.

Some dogs temporarily lose control of their bladder and/or bowel when they’re threatened or excited.

However, in most cases, this is a relationship problem, not a housetraining issue. 

In a dog’s culture, peeing in the presence of a bigger or more powerful being is a sign of submission.

To fix this, do not loom over your dog before petting him. And if he pees while you’re petting him, simply walk away and do not react. 

The pee is a gift of submission, by not reacting you’re effectively telling him that you don’t want the gift.

Reacting with punishment or showing disapproval will encourage the behavior. Now he thinks he has to do more (i.e pee more) to appease you – dog logic, LOL.  

8. Territorial urine marking.

This is more of an issue in dogs (male and female) that haven’t been spayed or neutered. When they get older, they begin to leave little drops of pee and feces to mark their territory.

What to do About Dog Potty Training Regression.

1. Consider a checkup to rule out medical issues.

Not sure why your dog is regressing? Start by going to the vet to eliminate medical issues. This is why I always advise pet owners to observe their dog’s behavior.

It means keeping an eye for signs of discomfort or distress and treating them as soon as they appear.

If a medical problem is behind the potty training regression, ensure you follow the full course of treatment.

More often than not, your dog will resume his normal potty habits, else you can retrain him. 

2. Pick a routine and stick to it.

Most animals depend on familiarity and thrive when there’s a good routine to follow. Make sure that your dog’s routine is water-tight, and it accounts for his age, temperament, and size.

To get this right, you have to make the routine a part of their daily lifestyle and abilities.

For instance, a dog that is taken to the same spot every day, and is encouraged to eliminate will quickly learn what he needs to do there. 

Soon as you take him there and he picks up the scent, he knows why you brought him and what to do, compared to a dog that is taken to a different spot each time. 

3. Are your motivational tools working?

Young dogs learn quicker when there’s something to motivate them. Most of the time, a high-value treat will do just fine.

However, you shouldn’t just rely on treats else it’ll lose its value. Sometimes you need to be vocal, “good dog”; offer him one of his sturdy toys when he behaves well.

You need to constantly observe the things that excite your dog and use them as rewards for good behaviors. 

4. Keep track of when, where, and why accidents happen.

Did your dog soil the house while you were away? If you were at home, did he do anything to get your attention before soiling the house?

Did he eat late the previous night? Or has he been soiling the same area? 

These questions help you track his potty regression to see if there’s a pattern to it that you can use.

When you do this, it’s easier to spot trends and adjust his routine to accommodate the unwanted behavior. 

For instance, your dog soils the house in the middle of the night because he ate too much the previous evening.

Then you can either cut his ration, feed him earlier, or take one last bathroom call before sleep. 

5. When to get professional help.

Well, professional help is expensive!

You can get one when the problem won’t go away (that’s after medical checkup). Or, you can try out these tips to see if they help.

And if they don’t, you can get the help of a professional – that should be your last resort.  

Do NOT Punish Your Dog.

The worst thing you can do is punish a dog for soiling the house.

That’s because they don’t understand punishment like we do – don’t mind the look of remorse on his face.

When your dog soils an area, take one for the team and clean it up.

Punishing him will only make him scared of you or afraid to eliminate in your presence.   

In Summary

There are multiple reasons a dog may regress on his potty training.

In most cases, ruling out medical issues and keeping a journal of when, where, and why your dog is regressing on his potty training will offer you clues on how to proceed.

If that doesn’t work, at least the journal will help a professional pinpoint the exact cause of the unwanted behavior. And work with you to develop a plan that works for everyone involved.

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