Why Is My Adult Dog Suddenly Going to the Bathroom in the House?

Plus, how to help your pup avoid accidents.

French bulldog looking guilty in the house
dmphoto / Getty Images

If you have an adult dog that is suddenly going to the bathroom inside, there are several possible explanations, including stress, anxiety, weakening muscles (for older dogs), or a medical condition, such as canine cognitive dysfunction. Separation anxiety is another major reason a dog could be peeing and pooping in the house. Although some think their dogs do this out of spite, the idea of "revenge pooping" has been mostly disproven; dogs can't exactly predict when an action will annoy a human.

Here are six steps to take if your dog has started going to the bathroom in the house.

Schedule a Veterinary Exam

Animal behaviorist Kristen Collins of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says dogs reach their golden years around age seven or eight. This is when you can expect to see a reduction in energy level, confusion, and — occasionally — house-training issues. “A good bit of the time it has to do with some sort of physical problem,” Collins says. “If it’s an older dog, they can have serious issues with house-training. Also, they can forget; it’s called cognitive dysfunction.”

A thorough veterinary exam can identify conditions that may be causing incontinence, including blockages, a bladder infection, neurological disorders, or even tumors. Your vet may prescribe phenylpropanolamine or estrogens, or recommend surgery, depending on severity.

Determine What Triggered the Change

Woman wagging finger at Weimar puppy for pooping on floor
zoranm / Getty Images

Behavioral issues don’t occur in a vacuum, says certified dog behavior consultant Amber Burckhalter, owner of the canine daycare and training institution K-9 Coach in Atlanta, Georgia. Think about possible correlations between lifestyle changes and when the accidents began. Seemingly small shifts, such as a new type of food, kids returning to school, or a different feeding time, can have a big impact on a dog.

“It helps to keep diet and meal times the same,” says Chris Redenbach, certified dog behavior consultant and owner of The Balanced Dog Academy in Tucker, Georgia. “If you change the routine, then you can run into problems where they aren’t self-regulating anymore because their biorhythms are expecting the same kind of exercise.”

Keep Emotions in Check

Dealing with a dog peeing and pooping in the house is frustrating — especially when it's an adult dog that you already house-trained, so you thought — but it's important to have patience. Redenbach says anger only reinforces bad behavior.

“Reacting negatively means she is still getting attention,” Redenbach warns. “She understands why you are annoyed, but creating emotionality around it can either reinforce her or create additional anxiety that could cause this to happen more.”

According to American Humane, you should never punish a dog — for instance, by rubbing its nose in urine or feces — for an accident. This will only spark fear. Instead, take it for a long walk to stimulate bowel movements and avoid rushing the process — even if it’s 1 a.m.

Go Back to Basic Dog Potty Training

Greyhound resting in crate
© Rachel Hogue / Getty Images

Accidents are common for geriatric dogs, says Burckhalter. So, you may need to revisit the basics of house-training. Start by monitoring the dog’s food and water intake — however, don't restrict it, the American Kennel Club says — and use a crate during downtime. Consistency makes a big difference, so be sure to take the dog out at the same time each day, and designate a specific spot for potty breaks.

“Pretend the dog is a puppy or newly adopted dog,” adds Collins. “Take the dog out frequently and, when it uses potty in the right place, make sure you are giving the dog rewards. It feels funny to give a reward for what they know how to do, but it’s a refresher course.”

Create an Indoor Potty for Your Dog

If you have the space, Collins also recommends designating an indoor area, perhaps separated by a baby gate or X-pen, because dogs tend to relieve themselves in the same spot repeatedly. Cover the area with newspaper, puppy pads, or the most hygienic option, according to the American Kennel Club: a litter box (yes, for a dog). You can use one meant for cats or get a dog-specific litter box. which simulates grass. This will make cleanup less of a hassle.

To encourage going to the bathroom outside, you can take some of the liner to the dog's usual alfresco potty spot. Over time, you'll be able to reduce the number of puppy pads.

Schedule More Potty Breaks

Take dogs out more frequently, and monitor crate time. After 10 hours, it may be physically uncomfortable for older dogs to wait for potty breaks, Collins says. Some veterinarians say not to leave senior dogs alone for more than six hours, if possible, and even less than that if they're on medications.

It may be necessary to call for reinforcements, such as a friend, neighbor, or professional pet sitter to check in on your pet during the day. Your veterinarian can provide referrals, and the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters offers a search tool on its website. Be sure to find out whether the sitter is bonded and insured, ask for references, and make sure your pet is comfortable around the individual before turning over a set of house keys.

View Article Sources
  1. Horwitz, Debra, and Gary Landsberg. “Dog Behavior Problems - House Soiling.” VCA Hospitals.

  2. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS).” The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

  3. Separation Anxiety.” American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

  4. Behavior News.” The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, iss. 6, 2012.

  5. Westropp, Jodi L. “Urinary Incontinence in Dogs: Diagnostics and Management Strategies.” World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2008.

  6. Mari, Lorenzo, et al. “Predictors of Urinary or Fecal Incontinence in Dogs with Thoracolumbar Acute Non‐Compressive Nucleus Pulposus Extrusion.” J Vet Intern Med, vol. 33, no. 6, 2019, pp. 2693-2700., doi:10.1111/jvim.15626

  7. Rubin, Stanley. “My Dog Is Leaking.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine. Published Jan. 6, 2016.

  8. Fact Sheet.” American Humane.

  9. Reisen, Jan. “Is Your Puppy Drinking Enough Water?.” American Kennel Club. Published Mar. 21, 2019.