New Mexico's Pet Resource FALL/WINTER 2001


CANINE CORNER

A Q&A ON URINATION PROBLEMS

By Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.

What should you do when a dog who is housebroken suddenly decides to urinate in the house?

Dogs may urinate in the house because they are not completely housebroken, they are ill, they are deprived of attention, or they are marking their territory. If your dog is reliably housebroken, and suddenly starts to urinate in the house, there are a series of things you need to check.

1) Medical problem? Have your vet check for urinary tract infection or other health problems. Check any medication, vitamins or pills which could cause an increase in urination. Always ask your vet about possible side effects with any medication given to your dog.

Elderly dogs may become incontinent as they age. Make sure you take your older dog out more frequently. Talk to your vet about drugs. Geriatric canine medicine is making many advances and there may be help for your dog. Also some of the medications given to older dogs to help with other problems of aging, can act as diuretics.

2) New food? Sometimes a change in diet can mean different levels of salts in the food. Dogs may drink more water, and need to be walked more frequently. Excess heat may cause this as well.

3) If the dog is healthy, ask yourself what has changed recently in your life and consequently your dog's:

Is there a new person in your house, especially a new baby?

Is there a major illness in the immediate family?

Is there a change in your daily routine from a new job or a divorce?

Are you out of the house more for any reason?

Any situation which decreases the amount of time you spend with your dog may adversely effect your dog's behavior. The key to helping your dog through this difficult period is to make sure you pay plenty of attention. Take the dog for frequent walks. Play with, groom and pat the dog each day. Confine your dog to a single room or a crate (if the dog is crate trained) when you are out of the house or cannot pay attention to the dog's whereabouts in your house. Your dog is a member of your family. You need to be mindful of your dog's social needs.

You cannot expect your dog to quickly adjust to a decrease in your attention without some consequence. Sometimes a dog walker can help. If you are suddenly working longer hours, you can hire a dog walker to take your dog out midday. This gives the dog the opportunity to relieve itself, get some exercise and some social attention. If you cannot provide your dog with the attention it needs (as surely as it needs food and water), than a dog may not be the appropriate pet for you.

4) One big culprit in causing sudden urination in the house is the introduction of a new pet - especially another dog. Your dog may feel the need to mark its territory (which is all of your house). Not only is the new pet taking some of your time, but it is also invading your dog's turf. Dogs demonstrate their dominance by marking their territories with urine. This is a clear message to the new pet that your dog is boss. Female dogs as well as male dogs can mark.

You can help the situation by making sure you recognize your dog's dominance over the new pet. Give treats to him/her first, feed it first, say hello to it first when you come home. As the dog adjusts to the new pet, the urination should decrease. In the meantime, keep your eye on your dog in the house. If you are vigilant, you can catch the dog before it urinates, and scoot him out of the house. You can use a crate or room as mentioned above.

Warning! A stern "no" if you catch the dog in the act of urinating in the house is effective. But do not scold or punish your dog if you come home and find a puddle of urine. Reprimanding a dog after the fact will confuse it. Remember, the dog is not urinating just to make you mad. If you yell and scream, you will frighten the dog and make it fearful of you. Screaming may make you feel better, but it will surely harm your relationship with your dog. Never, never reprimand your dog by physically hitting or slapping it.

There is not just one reason nor one solution as to why dogs suddenly urinate in the house. If you are honest with yourself and determine why, you will be able to follow the advice above. Be patient and consistent. Almost all cases of this problem can be curtailed.

Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is an animal behaviorist and educator who worked at the Boston Zoos for 15 years. She lives in Cerrillos with her husband, five rescued dogs (four greyhounds, one terrier) and two horses.

There is no faith which has never been broken, except that of a truly faithful dog.
- Konrad Lorenz


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