Dear Dr. Walt: I am the proud owner of a beautiful 2-year-old, rottie/German shepherd mixed-breed dog. Approximately 4 months ago we moved into a new home and shortly after this, if we leave for any amount of time, she is guaranteed to defecate and urinate on the carpet. She obviously knows that this is a misbehaviour, since as soon as we open the door she goes running past us and sulks outside. I realize that she must have some sort of anxiety, but in our last house she could be left for extended periods of time without problem. In fact I am now home more than twice as often as I was before, but if I don't take her with me everywhere I go, the end result is the same. We have even attempted to take her outside many times before we leave, but sometimes, to no avail. Is there anything that I can do to help her, and us?? I know she's upset with us for leaving, but we do have to at some point.
Dear Dr. Walt: We have a female greyhound that after 4 years of fairly good behaviour, has taken to regularly defecating and urinating indoors. This has been getting worse over the last 2 years and happens mostly at night, regardless of how many times she has been let out prior to retiring for the evening. I have a home office and she spends most of her time here - with me during the day and this is where she sleeps at night (and where most of the accidents happen). I have read many books and tried and number of recommended solutions, including confining her to a crate, all to no avail (she even ended up urinating in her crate). This problem is ruining both our home and our relationship with her. I am truly at the end of my tether and sincerely hope you can provide us with some advice.
The concerns expressed in the previous two letters are sadly, not unique and questions regarding house training are a common theme in the letters that I receive. First of all, I would like to comment on how much I admire the commitment of the above two readers in finding a solution - many pet owners would have drawn the line long ago and I commend you both for your perseverance!
The reality is that there is no easy solution to the chronic elimination problems presented above - a fact that you have both already experienced. It is evident that a number of approaches have been attempted and without knowing the details, some of my following comments may be redundant.
However, some suggestions would be to:
• Eliminate an underlying medical cause. Many internal ailments can impact on both urinary and bowel behaviour. For instance, if there is a urinary tract infection or bladder stones, or parasites within the bowel, these medical problems can result in the loss of appropriate elimination behaviour. Also, conditions that cause a pet to drink more water can put undo stress on the bladder and result in urination within the home - examples include underlying kidney disease or diabetes. Additionally, it is important to differentiate between loss of house training and incontinence - the former is active and conscious (i.e., the animal squats and is fully aware of their behaviour) and often has a behavioural basis whereas the latter is passive and unconscious (i.e., urine or stool elimination occurs while the animal is laying down or sleeping) and often has a medical basis. Considering that both pets had normal elimination behaviour at one point and that its loss has been long-standing and unresponsive to various attempts at resolution, I believe that the potential for an underlying medical condition is high. It is therefore critical to have your pets thoroughly examined by your veterinarian, including evaluation of blood, urine, and stool samples.
Page 1 of 2 -- On page 2, more suggestions for an interruption in house training in adult dogs, plus a reader tip on pet motion sickness.
• Even if there is a definable contributing medical condition, the loss of house training often becomes ingrained as 'normal' and requires retraining to resolve. Using a crate is a good approach as most pets will not soil their immediate environment - the fact that one of the dogs cited above does, again reinforces the likelihood of an underlying medical problem. Frequent walks with retraining can also be helpful. Rather than simply letting them outdoors in the yard for periods of time, it is important to take the pet on a supervised walk with praise and treats when the appropriate urination/defecation takes place.
• Depending upon the outcomes from the above, another option would be to explore a referral to a veterinary behaviourist (a veterinarian with additional training in addressing animal behavioural problems). Changes in elimination behaviour can be a component of more complex behavioural problems like separation anxiety and these can often be controlled through a combination of behavioural modification and medication.
While the recommendations above are broad and general, they should pick up and provide a starting point to finding the solutions you are both looking for. I wish you all the success in resolving the problems you are currently facing!
Car sickness remedy
Dear Dr. Walt: I just finished reading your column re: car sickness in dogs, on the Canadian Living website, and thought you would be interested in our solution. Years ago, we had a German shepherd dog who had the same problem....I couldn't take her even a couple of blocks before she would start getting sick.
Someone told us to try "static strips"....these were two leather/metal strips that were attached on either side of the car to the rear axle (I think) of the car, and made contact with the road. As soon as we did this, she was fine. However, the car sickness would recur every few months as the strips wore down but was quickly resolved again by applying new strips. We lived in Manitoba at the time, and had to move back to Saskatchewan, so we were grateful that this worked for us! I was told that this also helps prevent carsickness in humans too, but never had that problem with any of our kids.
Page 2 of 2 -- On page 1, learn how to deal with accidents caused by grown dogs in the house.
About Dr. Walt Ingwersen
Dr. Walt Ingwersen is Chief Veterinary Officer at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. He is a 1982 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College. Board certified in Internal Medicine, he has the distinction of being the first Canadian editor of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, a position he currently holds.
Involved in many aspects of the national and international veterinary community, "Dr. Walt" is the recipient of the President's Award for outstanding contribution to the veterinary profession awarded by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). He is also Chief Veterinary Officer and Chairman of the Veterinary Advisory Board at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. -- Canada's leading provider of insurance for dogs and cats.