Behavior Changes in Aging Dogs
As with all the behavior problems covered here, any number of medical problems can contribute to house soiling, including sensory decline, neuromuscular conditions that affect your dog’s mobility, brain tumors, cognitive dysfunction, endocrine system disorders, and any disorder that increases your dog’s frequency of elimination or decreases his bladder or bowel control.
If your dog soils in the house only when you’re gone and shows other signs of separation anxiety (please see above, Anxiety-Including Separation Anxiety), then he may be suffering from this disorder. Please see our article, Separation Anxiety, for detailed information on this problem and its treatment.
Since they’re often less adaptable to change, some older dogs might begin soiling in the house if there’s a change in their schedule, environment or household. Once your dog has used an indoor location to eliminate when you’re gone, that area can become established as a preferred spot, even if you’ve cleaned it thoroughly. It’s often necessary to have a complete behavior history taken by a qualified professional, such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), to determine the reason for your dog’s house soiling and design effective treatment. To find one of these experts in your area, please see our article, Finding Professional Help.
Once your dog’s medical issues have been identified and treated-for example, after his anxiety has been eased, his pain reduced or his incontinence controlled through medication-then you’ll need to reestablish proper house training with the same methods you used when he was a puppy. These methods include close supervision indoors, confinement in a crate or other small area away from previously soiled sites when you can’t closely supervise, and a regular, frequent schedule of trips outdoors with tasty rewards for outdoor elimination. You may need to adjust your schedule to accommodate your dog’s need for more frequent elimination in his senior years. If you can’t, consider hiring a dog walker or providing your dog with a place indoors to eliminate, such as newspapers, a dog litter box or potty pads. Please see our article, House Training Your Adult Dog, for detailed information about house retraining your dog.