Why does my dog pee/poop when left alone?

Why does my dog pee/poop when left alone?

It can be really distressing to come home after leaving your dog alone only to find that she has peed or pooped (or both!) on your lovely rug, sofa or floor. Naturally, your first instinct is to be upset with her as surely she has done this just to spite you, right??? Wrong!! Dogs, in all their glory, are not capable of committing acts out of spite. They don’t even know what that concept is. There must be another explanation for the behaviour and as her owner and caretaker it is your responsibility to find out what it is and to resolve it, for both the dog’s sake as well as your own!

If your dog is still a puppy and is not yet fully toilet trained, the odd accident when you leave her alone is understandable and nothing to worry about. It’s imperative that you don’t get upset with her when you come home to find a mess and definitely don’t rub her nose in it! This is an archaic method which does nothing to teach the dog about not messing in the house and does everything to confuse her, not to mention causing trauma and potentially breaking trust and confidence in you -which is so important to maintain in a healthy bond between human and dog. In this case, try to encourage her to go to the toilet before you leave and as soon as you return and don’t leave her alone for longer than she is able to hold herself. As she gets older her bladder will gradually increase in strength and when she is no longer going during the night, you should be able to leave her for a couple of hours without a problem.

If you have an adult dog who is otherwise perfectly able to hold herself at other times and you have ruled out any medical issues that could be causing incontinence, the likelihood is that your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety. Dogs are pack animals and need the company of others around them. Over the thousands of years of domestication and living in such close quarters with humans, dogs have evolved to see humans as part of their pack. A dog living with a family, couple or single person, will consider the person or people as her pack, as well as any other dogs that may be part of the family. While they prefer the company of others, dogs can learn to be happy spending a few hours at a time on their own. This has to be taught, however, and preferably from a young age, through positive reinforcement training in order to result in a stress free experience when left alone.

If the training wasn’t done correctly when the dog was young or if there is a change in circumstances such as a change in working hours, moving home or being rehomed (a rescue dog), this could trigger some separation anxiety and result in the dog messing in the home when left alone. Dogs are so emotionally complex that there are many other reasons/circumstances which could be the cause and we cannot rule out the breed and breeding as possible causes/contributing factors too (some breeds are more sensitive and ‘needy’ and can therefore be pre-disposed to suffering from separation anxiety).

The good news is that most of the time, it is possible to recondition the dog to feel secure enough being left alone for a few hours that she stops messing in the home. The goal is to help the dog feel less anxious and stressed when left alone and to slowly change her perception of it being a negative experience into a positive one (or at the very least, not as negative).

There are many things involved in helping to achieve this and it takes dedication, patience and consistency from everyone in the household in order to see results. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. It’s always a good idea to take your dog out for a walk to tire her out before leaving her home alone. This ensures that she doesn’t have any excess energy which can feed into and heighten her anxiety. It also gives her plenty of opportunity to empty her bowel and bladder as all the smells will stimulate her to do so when out and about.
  2. One of the most difficult (and important) things you’ll need to do to help treat this issue is to reduce the amount of attention that the dog receives from everyone in the family, to about 50% of what she is used to. This is especially tough if there are young kids in the house who may find this concept difficult to grasp. You need to do your best to be consistent as a family – it may seem cruel to ignore those adorable requests for attention, that face in your lap, that toy she brought over to have a game with you…but you need to stay strong and remember that you are doing this so that she will ultimately be a happier and more balanced dog. You want what’s best for her, after all.
  3. Next, you need to start the process of showing her that being alone is nothing to be afraid of. Start with really small increments of time (2-5 mins) and leave your dog in a room by herself with the door closed, while you are still at home. If she barks or howls, wait until there is a gap of 30 seconds of quiet and then go into the room. Ignore the dog, pick something up, have a look around for a few minutes and then calmly walk out the room, allowing her to come back into the rest of the house if she follows. Don’t make a fuss of her and remember never to go into the room when she is making a noise – wait until there is silence for 30 seconds before opening the door and rewarding her with your presence. You can do this several times a day to gradually build up the time she is happy being alone.
  4. Food is a great tool in this training. My advice is to feed a raw or natural diet to your dog, which is easily placed inside a Kong, ensuring your dog has to work to get to the food. This is a great way to occupy their minds for a while and allow them to make positive associations with being alone (as they link it to food). Try splitting her daily portion of food into 4 or 5 smaller portions and feed her through a Kong while you practice leaving her alone in the exercise above.

While there are drugs and gimmicks and plug-ins available in the market to help with separation anxiety, these are only attempting to mask the problem or treat the symptoms. I believe it is much much better to get to the root of the problem and to put in the work to help your dog overcome her anxieties and enable her to live a life free of stress and anxiety – surely any responsible dog owner would want that for their dog?

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