Don't Punish Your Dog for Peeing in the House

Why punishment is the wrong approach for house training mistakes, and how you should house train your dog or puppy instead.

Don't punish your dog for peeing in the house. How to house train your dog. Photo shows sad dog lying on bed
Photo: mannpuku/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

How should we house train puppies, and deal with the inevitable mistakes that puppies and adult dogs can have? Suppose your dog suddenly starts to pee in the house. You clean it up the first time but it happens again…. And then again.

Or your new puppy keeps having accidents indoors even though you take her outside often.

In this situation, some people will yell at their dog. Some might even try physical punishment like hitting the dog or an alpha roll. And we’ve all come across the advice that you should rub their nose in it.

Don’t do it.

Whether you're toilet training an adult dog or house training a puppy, here’s why that’s the wrong approach, and what you should do instead.

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Punishment can make things worse

First of all, let’s think about it from the dog’s perspective.

Suppose they pee in the house and you yell at them. What do they learn from this?

It’s unlikely the dog will understand why you are yelling. This is especially the case if there is a time lag between the mess being made and you discovering it.


Unfortunately what they might learn is not to pee in front of you. From the dog’s perspective, this is what causes the yelling, not peeing in the house. The dog may also feel afraid of you.

What can happen is that when the dog wants to pee, they now want to do so out of sight of you. I’m sure you’ve heard people tell tales of how the dog ‘sneaks off’ to go and pee in another room, or waits until they are out.

This means that aside from not solving the problem, punishing the dog actually makes the problem worse because it means the dog is now scared to pee in front of you outside.

This can make resolving house training issues even harder. They may avoid urinating on walks, instead waiting until they are home and you are not there.

If you punish your dog for urinating in the house, they may just learn not to pee in front of you, even outside. This Pom is peeing on the lawn.
Photo: Jakkrit Orrasri/Shutterstock

Punishing the dog for urinating inside is basically the opposite of house training.

There’s also the wider issue that punishment is not the best way to train dogs – reward-based training is a better approach.


House soiling accidents are not due to spite

When dogs pee in the house, people often think the dog is being spiteful or stubborn or sneaky. But that’s not the case.

It’s easy to see how people might think that, because sometimes dogs pick odd spots to pee in. Like the time someone told me their newly adopted dog had peed in his shoes.

Well, who knows really why the dog picked the shoes – perhaps he had been sniffing them and we all know that a lot of sniffing precedes peeing, or perhaps it was because the shoes were right by the door and the dog really wanted to go outside.

I can understand why that would feel personal! Luckily the guy knew that his dog was not fully house trained yet and it wasn’t a personal slight, it was just that he needed to house train the dog.

Even if it makes us angry when a dog has an accident inside, we need to stay calm (or try and see the funny side) and not blame the dog.



Medical issues could be the cause of house soiling

Are you thinking, "Why is my dog peeing in the house all of a sudden?"

If your dog is already house trained and they have an accident in the house, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your vet.

There are several medical issues that can cause dogs to pee in the house, including urinary tract infections. Diabetes, kidney issues, prostate disease, and other issues can also be the cause. Some medications cause increased urination as a side effect.

If your dog has a medical issue, no amount of training is going to resolve it. That’s why you need to see the vet.

As well, some of these conditions can be very painful. The dog may associate urinating in the usual spots with pain and be looking for new places to pee instead.

Because people often make assumptions about the dog being spiteful, stubborn or sneaky, they may initially not realize there could be a medical cause. But it’s important to seek veterinary help sooner rather than later.


The secret to house training a puppy or dog

Puppies, of course, do not arrive fully house-trained, even if the breeder has made a good start on this. As well, dogs acquired from other sources (such as online ads or rescues) will sometimes not have been properly house trained yet.

The secret to good house training is simply to take your puppy or dog outside often, and then reward them for peeing and pooping outside. Although this sounds easy, you will have to keep it up for three weeks without mistakes.

The secret to house training puppies - like this St Bernard - is to prevent mistakes and reward them for urinating and pooping outside
Photo: Grigorita Ko/Shutterstock

You need to take the dog outside often enough that they always empty their bladder outside and don’t get chance to go in the house.

It’s up to you to stop mistakes from happening by always taking them outside in time. And go outside with them so that when they do go, you are there to reward them right away. (You’ll need to make sure you have some good training treats handy).

Reward the dog as soon as the peeing or pooping is finished.

To help prevent accidents, make sure you always have your shoes, coat and treats to hand. That way you’re always ready to take the dog outside.


You will need to supervise your dog closely in the house, which may mean keeping them on a leash or on your lap at times when they might need to go soon.

You may also learn to recognize the signs that your dog needs to go, which means you should take them outside right away.

You may want to crate the dog at times when you are not able to supervise them properly. (Of course, this means you have to crate-train the dog as a priority).

For young puppies you may need to take them outside every half an hour as they cannot hold their bladder very long at that age. You may need to carry them outside so they don’t urinate while you’re getting your shoes and coat on.

Don’t loosen up this management until you’ve had three weeks without accidents in the house.

Clean up messes properly

If there are any messes in the house, it’s important to clean them up properly. Dogs have great noses and the smell may linger for them even if it’s not detectable to us.

You can buy ready-made enzyme cleaners from pet stores and supermarkets. Or you can make your own with a 10% solution of a biological washing powder, then rinse the area after cleaning it. Of course, always do a patch test of any cleaner before using it, to be sure your carpet or other flooring won’t be damaged.

Don't punish your puppy for accidents in the house. The right way to house train includes rewarding puppies for going outside, like this little puppy peeing in the snow
Photo: Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz/Shutterstock

Availability of water during house training

Sometimes people respond to the dog having accidents in the house by restricting access to water, or taking the water bowl away overnight.

This is not going to solve the problem as you still need to house train the dog or deal with any medical issues.

Water should be available for your pet at all times. (See: what are the Five Freedoms and what do they mean to you?).


Summary: House training do's and don'ts

The problem with punishing a dog for urinating in the house is that it doesn’t help to solve the problem, it may make your dog fearful, and it can even make the problem worse.

If there might be a medical issue, it’s important to see a vet first. Only once medical issues are resolved or ruled out can you work on house training.

If it’s a house training issue, it’s up to you to train your dog by preventing accidents from happening in the first place, rewarding the dog for toileting outside – and keeping this up for three weeks without mistakes.

Understandably this can sometimes be difficult. If you’re struggling, consider hiring a dog trainer to help. (See: how to choose a dog trainer). If you prefer to watch a webinar, check out Housetraining 123.

How long did it take you to house train your dog?

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Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats.

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Comments

  1. What about dogs that do not go outside? My dog goes on potty pads in the house and he sometimes will pee on the rug in front of the pad (80/20 on/off). How do I stop him from doing this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Try defining the "boundrey" a little clearer. For instance find something to make a definitive "edge" around the pad. Example....a big box bottom where you cut off the end leaving an edge of about 1 inch all the way around. This would show your dog a definitive spot more clearly.

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    2. take your dog outside!!!!

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    3. My guys go inside and outside. My older one refuses to go on piddle pads and we have had to take him out during heavy rain storms and even a hurricane. When we got our two young ones, I was determined to teach them both, so I got them piddle pad trained and then began working on outside. Our young one caught on right away and the other is just more stubborn, but will go outside sometimes and other times, she will run inside and go on the piddle pad. Either way, no accidents in the house is a win/win.

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  2. Excellent article!
    My dog was almost fully house-trained when I adopted her. My housemate and I kept up with the crate training and the rewarding like you have outlined. The few accidents she had were because no one noticed in time that she was lurking by the door wanting to go out, and she was never punished for it - we scolded ourselves for not being vigilant lol.

    A year or so later, she started peeing herself inside. I woke up to find she had peed in her sleep on my bed. I was never angry, just very worried. After the vet ruled out any infections, they decided she must have urinary incontinence, likely a side effect from being spayed. She now takes estrogen (Stilbestrol) once-a-week and has had no problems since.

    I have noticed one thing I think might be an interesting side effect. When she was a puppy, she would pee multiple times on walks, something I chalked up to her having a tiny bladder. She grew out of this (which would have been around the time I got her spayed) and began only peeing at the beginning of walks. After she began taking the stilbestrol, I noticed that she will still have one good pee at the beginning, but then proceed to stop several more times on our walk to sniff out places to mark a bit (which became even more obvious in the winter when I could see the yellow snow she decided to crouch over). It occurred to me that perhaps that's what she had been doing as a puppy, stopped doing when she was spayed, and then began again now that she is on estrogen?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you like the article. Thanks for sharing your dog's story with us, and well done for the successful house training! I'm glad the vet treatment worked. That's interesting about the change in her peeing habits!

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  3. What about a two-year old dog who the owner has discovered is suddenly peeing in secret places? He's not sure when it is happening. Suggestions?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Any time a dog that was house trained starts to pee in the house, they need to see a vet to check in case there is a medical cause.

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  4. How about an older dog that has started (in the past year) marking in the house. Its usually by the chair near the front door (where packages are delivered) or next to a box that may be sitting on the floor. He is 13 and it is driving me crazy. He has a doggy door that is readily available if we aren't home. How do I change this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds very difficult. Have you been to the vet yet? That should be your first step, because it's important to check for a medical cause.

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  5. I have a super senior, 15.5 y.o. Male. I know you said they dont soil purposely. What do you make of this: if he thinks he is "due" something and if we dont act fast enough (even a minute) he has been coming over to sit next to/on me and urinates!!! Help

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds unfortunate! Did you get him checked out at the vet? Any kind of inappropriate toileting in an older dog should be vet checked in case there is a medical cause. If the vet doesn't find anything wrong, they will be able to refer you to a dog trainer or behaviorist to help.

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  6. I have 2 males that pee competitively, both inside and out...they are my mothers dogs and have done tons of damage...I put diapers on them in the house and they pee in those too...I've had many dogs and never seen such awful filthy behavior...I will never rescue another small dog.

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    Replies
    1. I recued a staffy nearly 5years old he is and he's sooo destructive and pees everywhere and doesn't give any warnings I shall try the new approach see what happens

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  7. I yelled at my dog but this article is awesome thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you liked it. Remember to be consistent with your new approach. Good luck!

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  8. These articles are always so good. But they all miss an important issue. What about peeing at night?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi asterisco, the principles are still the same. With puppies who can't hold it through the night, then you have to get up and take them out, but an adult dog should be fine overnight. I'm glad you like the article.

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  9. Yes you're right we don't need to punish the dogs we care guide them for mistakes because they can't understand the human words

    Thanks for post

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  10. I have 3 small dogs. None of them are fully housebroken but as long as I take them outside every 2-3 hours they don’t have any accidents in the house. They are able, though, to hold their pee all night when they sleep with me.

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad they can get through the night. It sounds like you've found something that works for you and your sweet dogs!

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