Toilet training is one of those issues that, unless quickly solved, can cause a lot of frustration. I have even talked to families considering re-homing their dog due to toileting in the house.
I find that many people can get their dog toilet trained to about 90% reliability but have difficulty getting that last 10%. The dog seems to know he shouldn’t go in the house, but is still going by a door. Or if it is raining he will go outside for a few minutes and not pee, then as soon as he gets back inside, he runs to a bedroom and urinates there! I also hear about dogs that, as soon as they are left alone, they toilet in whatever room they are in.
Most of these toileting issues are easy to solve. With a few adjustments to the family’s schedule or rewarding going outside, the 10% issue goes away within a week. But sometimes its different. Sometimes it has more to do with anxiety than understanding.
What would you do if you lived in a house with a group of people you liked very much but they didn’t speak English and you only understood a few words form their language. You really need to go to the bathroom and every chair in the home looks like a toilet, you pick a toilet to relieve yourself and you are attacked by these people, sometimes immediately, but other times only after they come home. You are grabbed by the hair and shouted at. What do you do?
What many dogs do is they hide their toileting. They have not learned (like some people believe) that they shouldn’t toilet in the house, they have only learned that their owners hate poo or pee. They now try to avoid going toilet near their owners in case they get attacked. So they refuse to toilet outside with their owner watching, they won’t toilet on walks either. They wait until the end of the walk, when the owner is safely in another room, then the poop in a shoe, or a closet— anywhere they think it will not get discovered.
This is not a bad dog. This is a dog who has learned to fear their owner. The dog isn’t feeling guilty, he is smart. He has learned that he can avoid punishment (at least for awhile) if he hides his toileting activities. Then when it is discovered, he offers submissive behaviours to try to appease the obviously angry human. When he shows these: belly-up, lick licking, peeing a little on the carpet behaviours, he is not feeling guilty, he is terrified and is trying to avoid your anger by looking as small and as much like a puppy as possible. (The dog in the picture on the left was abandoned by her owner, she was terrified of anyone new, she would throw herself on the back, avert her eyes and exaggerate her lip licking).
To solve the ‘hiding accidents’ behaviour it is important to go back to basics with toilet training. This dog may never have fully understood that the outdoors is a preferable place to toilet, and now he is unwilling to toilet near people for fear of punishment. It will be hard to reward the dog for going outside, it can take a lot of patience and a lot of waiting in the rain. Bring a treat and a good attitude, and be willing to be excited about poop.