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Monday, 11 February 2013

A wee problem

Benji is what I believe to be a Sheltie terrier mix whom we rescued in 2008. He was found as a stray on the streets of a smaller city in New Jersey, USA. We adopted him from the rescue that released him from the shelter after they'd cared for him only a few days.

Benji is a sweet submissive dog but his bladder is his to use whenever and however he sees fit. He is such a good dog that we like to believe he only pees on the tile in the bathroom. But stains on my speaker cloth say otherwise.

We have a dozen colorful belly bands to which we affix super absorbent napkins. He wets them and only lets us know he needs to pee when they're wet. :(

No amount of diligence seems to make him any more or less reliable. If we could withhold water without ill effect I might but no one recommends that.

I can fantasize that he was kept outside and wasn't ever house trained until we got him (we failed). True enough he was not neutered until rescued at the age my vet thinks was about 5yo.

We love him and aren't houseproud thank goodness (he wouldn't fit in) but I wish he would pee outside.

Suggestions welcome.

Ron and Benji, New York City

Karen Wild, behaviourist, advises…

Hi Ron and Benji,

If your vet is confident that Benji does not have any physical issues it may just be that he never learned to toilet outside. If he had originally lived outdoors he may have just peed wherever he felt and it is unlikely that he went in his own little ‘den’ (if he had one) but everywhere else was fair game. You have a lot of options and I do think that belly bands are a good way of staying sane for as long as possible. I completely sympathise having had an incontinent older dog and a tiny female dog that was also never housetrained. Needless to say we abandoned our carpets long ago, so sometimes management keeps things on a bearable level.

Do check that he is not scent marking rather than just urinating to empty his bladder. There is a significant difference as one is typically a marking behaviour against vertical surfaces and small amounts of urine. Actually toileting is larger amounts of urine and is solely for relief. Scent marking is territorial and sometimes through stress, and is an instinctive behaviour that can be hard to stop.

The absolute way to tell if he is even prepared to learn to hold urine until he goes outside is to go right back to good old puppy housetraining. Confinement, supervision, and letting him out at short but regular intervals, making a big fuss of him when he does urinate in the right place. If you can consistently do this (or already have) and he is still not catching on, check that he is not afraid to urinate outdoors. If you decide to use a puppy pad to attract him to at least choose a single, easy to keep clean place indoors this can also help. You can build up time targeting the puppy pad, then move it nearer the door and finally outside.

So, it can be hard to help without details and my advice is keep a diary of places, times, amount (indelicate but necessary) so that you can at least begin to establish a pattern. Once you know exactly what his habit is trying to achieve, you can really get to tackling the issue with some certainty.

Best wishes,



  1. If I were you, I'd be treating him like a puppy. Take him outside to pee as soon as he wakes up from sleeping/napping, after playing, after eating or drinking, and after anything exciting (doorbells ringing etc), and also lots of times in between.

    Praise him for getting it right, and ignore any mistakes, making sure you clean them up with biological laundry detergent (the enzymes remove the smell, whereas bleach makes the ammonia smell stronger). If you wanted, you could also attach a cue - when he's outside and peeing tell him "go pee", or "be quick", or whatever you want, he won't know what you mean at first but he'll soon pick up on the link between that specific phrase and the behaviour. With any luck, between "re-house training" him, and adding a cue, plus not using bleach to clean up after him, he'll be house trained in no time. If you're unsure of the house training process, there was a fab article in a previous issue of Dogs Today :)

  2. Hi,
    As Sam suggested you need to 'capture' the moment Benji urinates outside in order that you can praise him and reward him with a yummy treat. So to be there when he urinates, you need to take him out frequently to an area you want him to regularly urinate. It really is back to basics for Benji!

    You can perhaps condition him to urinate on grass. Again, take him out regularly to a patch of grass and walk around very neutrally...once he has time! Yummy treats, lots of attention and a fun walk.

    If it really is difficult to take him out as often as you can, follow the above advice but also have a few square cuttings of turf in a tray in the house. This can be his indoor 'pee place'. In time you should not need the turf because when outdoors he will see, smell and feel grass and think of urinating!

    For any mistakes he makes indoors, clean up with him out of site and without emotion (don't look too disappointed or don't start laughing). Also, as mentioned use a dedicated urine cleaning fluid so that no scent remains.

    Good luck!