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“Inappropriate urination” is a rather common issue. If your older dog is peeing indoors, it’s important to figure out why first. If it’s a new problem, you need to figure out if it’s a health issue (with your veterinarian) first, or perhaps a behavioral issue that has cropped up. If it has always been that way, you may need to re-housetrain (or… housetrain) your pup. In the following question, we meet a senior dog who has never learned to urinate outdoors consistently and explore a few possible things to try.

Please add your suggestions in the comments! There are many different ways to approach this common problem.

The question about an older dog peeing indoors

I have a Jack Russell who has never learned to do her business outside. She will go out if you make her with her Boxer brother and sister, but she still will come back in and pee in the kitchen. I’ve reached my wits end with her. Tried puppy pads, sprays, but if I am not here, no one else makes her go out with the other dogs. Once outside, you have to stay out with her and tell her to go potty. She’s 12. Anything we can do?

Jack Russell terrier on porch.

Photo by tjuel. Not the dog from this question.

My advice

If your dog peeing indoors has always been a problem, it sounds as though your Jack Russell may have never been completely housetrained or maybe at some point early in life she either learned to – or gained a preference for – eliminating on a particular surface (if she’s always peeing in the kitchen). It’s possible that she thinks that’s what she’s supposed to do – dogs are instinctually drawn to eliminate on a different and sometimes a particular surface. It’s how you potty train them as wee puppies right out of the womb.

It’s also possible that something happened for her to not want to pee outdoors (some kind of anxiety, possibly associated with the other dogs?). When dogs are anxious and nervous, they often “hold on”. When returning inside she relaxes, and then eliminates.

The first thing I would do with a dog peeing indoors, and it does depend on what you’ve already tried location-wise, is see if she’s anxious about pottying close to the house. Will she go when on a walk, and not in the back yard? There might be some kind of anxiety tied to the yard (smells, something happened there, something to do with the other dogs), or something she has in her head about it being an inappropriate place in general. If there’s anxiety involved, that’s the issue you’d need to resolve or she’ll probably continue to hold on.

My guess is it may be surface related. If so, you need to teach her the appropriate surface to go on, pretty much the same way as puppies are (crate after a meal, then outdoors/walk until she potties, if she’s caught peeing inside then distract really quickly with a sharp sound then move outside) – maintaining consistency until she relearns what’s appropriate. You are lucky in that it sounds like you do have a cue already, so you might just need to adjust timing (feed, crate or ex-pen, outside after 30 minutes) and watch her like a hawk indoors around that time to deal with mistakes. Have a specific meal schedule, which she’ll learn, give her the cue before coming back inside if she doesn’t so she learns it’s expected. You need to make sure everyone is on-board with this, which is probably the hardest part.

If it is a surface issue (she believes she is supposed to potty on linoleum, for example), and the training program isn’t realistic at the house or the existing behavior is too set-in, you could try recreating that surface outside if possible and see if she associates that version of the kitchen floor – and just use that as her “spot”. Recreating her preferred surface outside might be useful regardless, could make the re-training easier. With a bit of time/training, that version may turn into her preference over that same surface indoors.

Good luck!

Follow up information

I adopted her at 2.5 years. Yes, she had never been alone up to that point. Probably the start of the trouble. We lived in an apartment for awhile. She’d go in the hall. Carpet. Then we moved again, and all hardwoods in the house. She has ruined the floors. I come home from work and the kitchen stinks with her pee. I’m at my wits end. She’ll go outside but I have to basically force her. Then she runs full speed back inside. Sigh.

Follow up advice

Aww – yeah, that definitely sounds like it’s some form of anxiety about outdoors as opposed to a surface issue. Perhaps you could try some of the anti-anxiety products? There are many different ways to take it, from meds to natural options to physical. My dog was very anxious of car rides, and the ThunderShirt worked for him – night and day difference right away. My other dog used a product called “Complete Calm” from Green Dog Naturals that stopped her puking in the car (which used to happen multiple times on every single car ride, even just a few blocks) – it has stuff like camomile in it. Didn’t think it’d work, was pretty surprised it did. Then there are drops like Rescue Remedy and a whole bunch from a company called “Spirit Essences” (something called “Stress Stopper” and a bunch of others just for anxiety issues) that some rescue folks I know swear by. If you can figure out something that will help with anxiety, you might have something that will help her feel calm enough to go outside. My first rescue dog held it for 36 hours when we first got him (then 24 hours, then 20 hours, etc), and it was due to anxiety. A behaviorist – even just a quick one-time consult – might be able to help with some other clues or ideas to help her go outside (especially if it is a multi-dog situation).

You might also be able to crate her while at work or at least confine her to a smaller space she might not pee in – many dogs are OK with that, even for a full work day.

Dog in small space.

A dog being confined to a smaller space (just one idea found on Flickr). Photo by xadrian

This question an answer originally appeared as part of a Yabbly AMA I hosted on Yabbly.com.

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.

  • Actually, if a dog “forgets their potty training”, my first step would be to make sure there is no health issue involved.

    • Yes, I already put that at the very beginning of the article to check with a vet if it is a change in behavior.