I've had multiple people ask for my advice on the same problem – their dogs were going to the bathroom indoors for no apparent reason after being housebroken for years.
People hope for some kind of magical solution or an easy explanation for their dogs' behavior problems. They also suggest that the dogs misbehave as a way of getting back at them for something.
As convenient as it is to believe a dog does certain things to “get back” at her owner, that is giving the dog way too much credit. Dogs are not capable of plotting against us, and believing otherwise is unfair to the dog.
If there's not a physical problem (bladder infection, etc.) causing the dog to have “accidents,” the cause is more than likely related to a change in the dog's routine or a lack of structure to begin with.
If you really think about it, most issues with a dog's behavior can be traced back to a point where something changed in her routine. Maybe someone in the family took on a second job. Maybe you've been traveling a lot or you got a new pet. Maybe your boyfriend moved out or you bought a new house. All of these can be very stressful on a dog.
The unwanted behavior could be caused by something as simple as the weather got colder – or rainier or icier or muddier – and you stopped walking as much. Maybe you're just stressed about something, and your dog knows it and is also feeling stressed as a result.
A stressed dog will act out of character. She might start showing signs of “separation anxiety” such as crying or howling when left alone. She might start chewing on rugs or going to the bathroom in the house. She might become more territorial, possessive of her owner, more vocal or more aggressive.
All of these issues can be fixed as long as the owner makes the decision to be the one in control. Being the one in control means maintaining a routine for the dog.
What's the best routine for a dog?
There is no perfect routine for dogs, but they do thrive when they get consistency. Like people, dogs love excitement and adventures, yet it's stressful for them if they aren't given leadership and structure.
A dog wants to know where she is expected to rest when her owner is gone, when she will eat and when she will be walked.
Providing a kennel or dog bed
Most dogs do better if they are confined to a kennel, one room or one level of the house while their owners are away. It makes the dog feel better to know, “OK, this is where I'm supposed to be. No pressure.” Even if the dog is allowed full range of the house, she will most likely choose her bed or the couch or a quiet corner to curl up in until her owner returns.
If your dog is going to the bathroom in certain areas of the house, you can try confining her to a different room or blocking off that portion of the house, but kennel training the dog is often a better option.
Dogs need specific meal times
I highly recommend that all dog owners stop “free feeding” their dogs. Dogs want to work for their food, and it should always be used as a reward – not a freebie.
Feeding at specific meal times is one of the easiest ways to enforce leadership and keep the dog's body on a consistent schedule. If your dog eats the same amount at the same times every day, you'll know exactly when she needs to go to the bathroom. You'll also prevent her from becoming overweight or underweight.
Walking the dog daily
If you walk the dog when it's most convenient for you, you will be more likely to follow through. I've started walking Ace in the late afternoon or early evening because I like to relax in the morning. If you like to take it easy after work, then make sure to get the walk taken care of earlier.
We all know that providing enough exercise for our dogs prevents most issues, so it's important not to slack off on walking. If you have a dog with separation anxiety, a consistent exercise routine is an absolute must. Make sure you're walking her every day for at least an hour. If your dog is suddenly having “accidents,” make sure to walk with her before leaving the house so you can make sure she actually “does her business.” If you are unwilling to walk your dog every day, then hire a dog walker or dog runner like me 🙂
When it's colder out, a lot of dogs will not fully relieve themselves or they'll try to hold it in order to get back inside quicker. This is yet another reason to make sure to walk the dog even in the winter, especially before you are going to be gone.
Specific bathroom times
Some dogs will ask to go outside when they need to. Others will never ask to go out, like my mutt. If you keep your dog on a consistent routine with meals, exercise and bathroom breaks at the same times every day, you'll know exactly how often your dog will need to go outside regardless of whether or not she lets you know.
What's included in your dog's routine?