Housebreaking a dog can be a frustrating time and may require weeks if not months of consistent boundary setting, regularly scheduled outings, and more patience and persistence than many people may expect. The good news is, sooner or later, all that hard work usually pays off, at which point you're set to enjoy a pee-free home for the next several years.
Sometimes, however, dogs may take a few steps back in their learning trajectory, reverting to their old ways of soiling inside the house. This is called housetraining regression, and it's not as uncommon as you may think.
Understand housetraining regression
To put it simply, housetraining regression is the term used to describe a dog's backsliding to her old behavior of using the bathroom inside, even after successfully undergoing housetraining. According to Animal Wellness Magazine, it's frequently an issue for young dogs between the ages of 4 months and 1 year. During this early phase of a dog's life, connections in her brain can essentially become scrambled, which sometimes results in regressive behaviors. If your dog was housetrained and she's since regressed to going to the bathroom indoors, stay calm — it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with your training methods or your dog.
Know the usual causes
In addition to adolescent brain changes, there are a couple of other causes that may be linked to housetraining regression. One is stress, which may result from a housemate moving out to a new baby or pet moving in and just about everything in between. Because they're creatures of habit, most dogs tend to do best when their lives are fairly predictable or at least somewhat structured. This is why such housetraining tactics as keeping your dog on a potty routine will likely prove successful for you. When their routine is shaken up, some dogs react by relieving themselves indoors.
Another trigger of housetraining regression is anxiety, says The Pet Show. As in the human species, events and situations often affect individual dogs differently, but common sources of anxiety include separation from their people and thunder, fireworks or other loud, unpredictable noises. In some cases, dogs may even experience anxiety when their human companions undergo a major change, like a developing a medical issue or experiencing emotional trauma.
Anxiety or fear can be overwhelming for many dogs, and sometimes, the only way they know how to deal with it is to leave messes for their folks to clean up. Thanks, guys!
Rule out medical issues
Of course, not all indoor accidents stem from stress or anxiety. Some ill or elderly dogs simply can't regulate their elimination functions for reasons beyond their control. If you notice that your dog is inappropriately relieving himself later in life or if this new behavior is combined with other symptoms of illness, like fatigue or anxiety, scheduling a visit with his vet may reveal a medical issue that may at least be manageable if not curable.
Handle it the right way
If your housebroken dog has regressed to puppy behavior, try not to worry — there are simple solutions that often work to remedy the problem. The first step you can take to get your dog back in the groove is to increase the number of outings she gets in a day. If you work long hours, take your dog out as soon as you get home or consider enlisting the help of a midday walker. Then, going forward, pick up right where you left off with your dog's potty training when she was first learning. Some people like using crates to housetrain their dogs, others rely on reward-based training methods to achieve results, and still others use a combination of the two. Once you figure out what works best for you and your dog, stick with it till you see results.
Whether you're teaching a dog not to pee inside for the first time or offering a refresher course to a dog who's regressed, there are a few things you should avoid doing if you want to improve her behavior. Scolding your dog, rubbing her nose in the mess she made, or hitting her will absolutely not lead to positive long-term results. Oftentimes, these tactics only end up scaring a dog more, which can lead to submissive urination.
If you want to get your dog back on track, show her that she's safe, supported, and encouraged to eliminate outdoors. And be sure to regularly reward her desirable potty behavior so she associates outside peeing with good outcomes.