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House Training Basics for Dog and Puppy Owners Alike

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Dear Poncho,

Could you tell me why my 13-year-old lab, who has never had an accident in the house, will sometimes pee when my parents watch her. They have a female lab and so she likes to stay there, I just don’t know why she discreetly pees when she’s there. It has happened only four or five times over many years, but it is four or five times too many!

Dear Miss Deena,

I’m sorry to hear about this frustrating situation you’re having with your dog, especially since this isn’t her usual MO. I’m sure it makes you nervous about dropping her off for sleepovers at your parents’ house. Being a dog myself, I can certainly address the “why.” But first, allow me to ask you a few questions:

Is she completely and fully going potty … I mean “aaahhhh …” emptying her bladder? Or, is she “marking” her territory. Yes, believe it or not, you chicks mark your territory, too — it’s not just a guy thing.

Are there small amounts left in areas where the other dog hangs out? Or are there big puddles left near doorways, as if she was trying to tell someone she wanted to go outside?
Is she eliminating in the same place over and over again? If so, has it been thoroughly cleaned?

Some triggers that tell us dogs we need to potty are:

  • Scent: If there are any remnants from any other animal (even from when she was there before) this might be telling her to “go potty.” There are special cleaners that will help get rid of the odors. And just because you or your mom and dad can’t smell anything, doesn’t mean your dog can’t. Remember, there’s a reason why humans aren’t used for bomb sniffing detection — doggy snouts are much better equipped.
  • Texture: As the old saying goes, “If it feels good, do it.” Us dogs favor those lovely carpets, ahhhh, they feel so good on our feet … plus they hold a lot of smells … reminds us of the great outdoors. Sometimes tile and brick, or nice comfy bedspreads make great places, too. Hey, we all have our favorite facilities, right?
  • Previous learning: It’s the same place she went before, so this has become her routine.

OK, so by now you’ve narrowed down how much she goes at one time, and if it’s marking her territory, or just going potty because she had to go! Whatever the reason, it’s something you and your parents don’t want … doesn’t make for an a-pee-ling house guest. Here are a few things you can do to empower your dog to develop good house manners. I know they’ve worked for yours truly.

  • When you arrive at your parents’ house, put your dog on leash, take her to where you want her to go potty, and wait … wait … wait … until she does, then: throw a party!!! She gets a yummy treat, and then she gets to go inside. When she is inside, she needs to be watched. If the humans get sidetracked easily, they might want to keep her on leash, nearby. Your dog shouldn’t be allowed to walk around aimlessly. Something might trigger her to go potty again. This wouldn’t be fair to her — set her up for success, not failure.
  • Arrange it so that one of you two-legged folks walks her outside on leash periodically to potty, and again reward her for when she does, (if you need to, my mom the dog trainer says you can use some of her regular meal). Both yummy treats and off-leash freedom are her rewards. She should be taken out 30-40 minutes after she’s had anything to drink or eat, after she’s been sleeping or napping, and if she’s been inside for awhile. Watch her body language — does she all of a sudden wander off and start sniffing around? That might be her cue of letting you know she “needs to go,” so please pay attention.
  • If she is marking her territory, you’re going to want to follow the same plan as basic house-training, keeping a watchful eye on her, and providing rewards for eliminating outside. One key recommendation: reward her for ignoring places she likes to mark. If you or your parents see her making her move, interrupt with a happy voice “No, no, honey, outside we go!” — then with gentle hands, escort her outside to potty. Like you humans, we dogs don’t appreciate being yelled at, especially if we’re fulfilling a biological urge.

With consistency, the “going outside I get rewarded with yummy treats, freedom, petting and praise” becomes the better choice … vs.the “going inside I get nothing.”

As for the “discreet” part, well, you know us canines are mentally similar to a human toddler — we understand “safe and dangerous” not “right and wrong.” We also lack self control, have really sharp teeth, and don’t wear a diaper. There might have been a time that she had an “accident,” then got in trouble, so she’s learned it’s safer to go when no one is around. You know, like those times you might be driving over the speed limit when the cops aren’t around? Yeah, I thought so … I know a little something about human behavior, too …

So again, the best plan of attack: house-training basics! Just like if you were to come to my house, I’d have to show you where the bathroom is, and if I forgot, you’d meander off to find it yourself. I’d have no one to blame but myself if you went potty in the “wrong” place.

*Looking for additional information on house-training for your dog? Check out our free eBook on teaching your dog house-training skills they can use in and out of your own home.


Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and human-canine relationship coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt that knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog. Joan is also the founder of The Inquisitive Canine, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, e-mail them directly.

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