Why Do Dogs Pee in the House When Left Alone?

Adrienne Farricelli

Many dogs pee in the house when left alone, but the reasons why they do this are not what it may seem. Countless dog owners accuse their dogs of peeing in the house upon leaving in belief that they do so out of an anger, spite or revenge. Yet, dogs do not act on these vindictive emotions, rather they tend to act more out of instinct.

Dogs pee in the house when left alone mostly for two main reasons: they are simply no longer capable of holding it or they are suffering from some form of anxiety. Fortunately, there are remedies for both issues, but it's important firstly gaining a deeper understanding into why dogs do this in the first place. It goes without saying that the resolution of the problem ultimately requires time, patience and determination. 

A Word About Dogs Seeking Revenge

When dogs pee when left alone, it is easy for dog owners to ascribe human emotions such as spite or revenge plotting as if dogs think in the same way as we do. However, this is a big mistake. 

"I really don’t think dogs view the products of their elimination as despised trump cards in revenge operas. They are not capable of forming a representation of another being’s future punishment by an action they engage in now," explains world-renowned dog trainer Jean Donaldson, in her popular book "Dogs are From Neptune."

More than acting out of spite, a dog's motives are more down to earth. Most likely, your dog pees when left alone for the simple fact he hasn't learned to keep it long enough or he is suffering from some form of anxiety. 

A Matter of Incomplete House Training 

As the name implies, incomplete house training means that your dog hasn't been fully potty trained. In other words, your dog cannot be entrusted with having the full run of the house when left alone until he is better potty trained.

If you leave a dog with incomplete house training home alone, expect to find puddles around the house. You can't blame him though: it's not his fault if he has never learned how to completely hold it, especially if you haven't given him the opportunity to empty his bladder before being left alone. 

A dog with incomplete house training should not be confused with a dog who urine marks, which needs a slightly different treatment. Here's how to differentiate the two: dog marking or urinating? 

A Matter of Separation Anxiety 

If your dog can hold it all day long when you're home, but then, once you are out, he messes inside the home, chances are high, that your dog may be suffering from some form of anxiety. In this case, separation anxiety, is the most likely culprit. 

Sometimes dogs develop a dysfunctional attachment towards a family member, and consequently, become anxious when that person leaves the house. Separation anxiety in dogs is often triggered by changes such as recent moves, changes in routines or the family's work schedule, traumatic experiences such as re-homing and exposure to loud noises when left alone.

Upon noticing the owner's pre-departure cues (putting on a jacket, grabbing the car keys), and during the owner's absence, affected dogs show signs of anxiety under the form of pacing, restlessness, whining, or depression, with the dog lying around and being reluctant to move or eat. 

Among these behaviors, barking, engaging in destructive behaviors (often targeted towards windows and doors) and having accidents in the home are not uncommon. 

Ruling Out Medical Problems

This is always worthy of mentioning: when you are dealing with potty training problems, always make sure your dog is 100 percent OK in the health department. If your dog was always pretty spot on holding it when left alone and now is having accidents, consider the possibility of something medically going on. 

For instance, a urinary tract infection (UTI) is notorious for causing in dogs a sense of “urgency” which triggers them to urinate inappropriately.

Other conditions that may cause dogs to have accidents in the home include the presence of bladder stones or urinary crystals, kidney infections, Cushing's disease, diabetes mellitus, and kidney disease. 

Now That You Know...

As seen, dogs have their own reasons for peeing in the home when left alone. If your dog is always peeing when left alone, you may find the following general tips helpful.

  • Have your dog see the vet to rule out medical problems. You may want to bring a fresh urine sample along so the vet can test it for the presence of bacteria.
  • If you must leave the home, make sure your dog is left alone with an empty bladder. Take your dog out for a potty break before you leave. Training your dog to go potty on command can turn out helpful in helping your dog potty before your departure. 
  • If your dog isn't fully house trained, when you must leave the house, keep him in a small room or exercise pen lined-up with pee pads to catch any accidents.
  •  Also, focus on giving your dog a potty training refresher course. Go back to basics. Carefully supervise your dog and take him outside as needed, praising and rewarding outdoor elimination. Aim to crate train your dog so that you can crate him when you must leave the home, always making sure his bladder is empty before you leave and not keeping him crated for more than he can hold it.
  • Clean up any accidents using an enzymatic cleanser which removes all traces of urine scent such as Nature's Miracle.
  • If your dog suffers from separation anxiety, you have to desensitize him to pre-departure cues, gradually accustoming him to brief separations and building up time very gradually. Also, make sure your dog gets a good amount of daily exercise and mental stimulation. 
  • During the early stages of treatment, you may have to hire a pet sitter or take several days off work. Severe cases of separation anxiety in dogs may require prescription medication.
  • Enlist the aid of a dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist (DACVB) to help you treat your dog's anxiety and underlying house soiling problem. 
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