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Dog Gone Problems: Our rescue puppy keeps having accidents in the house

Dog Gone Problems: Our rescue puppy keeps having accidents in the house

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Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at


David Codr (mug)

David Codr is an Omaha dog behaviorist. You can reach him at his website,

Dog Gone Problems,

We are family of three from Connecticut who adopted a 7- to 8-month-old dog from Russia. She was found in the garbage as a puppy and brought to the shelter in a village three hours away from Moscow.

I was told by the shelter volunteer who cared for the dogs there that Zlata lived with another 20 or so dogs, and that she lived inside the house. The lady also mentioned that the older dogs taught Zlata to do her business outside.

We have had her for 14 days now. She goes 50/50 inside and outside. I do not think she was living in the house since she has no idea how to get on the couch or use the stairs (although it only took her one day to ace that). We put gates on the stairs and she sleeps on the second floor in the hallway between our bedrooms. She doesn’t go to the bathroom there, but during the day she has many accidents in the family room or on the kitchen floor. We do take her out many times during the day.

She learned that squatting and peeing gets her treats, so she does it outside even if she doesn’t need to go that bad. She may play, walk outside for 20 minutes and then come inside and pee or poop. There were couple of instances when she was caught in act and, as advised on every site, she was interrupted and brought outside to finish. Any advice on how to stop her from pooping and peeing inside?

Elena and Mark


Hi Elena and Mark,

First off, thanks for adopting a dog who had a bit of a rough start. While it's great the shelter volunteer provided you with some information, I have found that often these are guesses unless the information is given by the person surrendering the dog.

Your dog could be going inside for a few different reasons. She could be confused and need some remedial potty training. She could have a urinary tract infection (your vet can rule that out). She could be going where there is a smell of a previous accident that wasn’t completely cleaned up (you need to use an enzyme-based cleaner to completely remove urine stains). Or she could be losing control of her bowels due to separation anxiety.

Since you mentioned she has gone in the house in front of you, I'm going to focus on remedial potty training in my answer, but if you find the accidents happen when she is left alone, she may be suffering from separation anxiety.

It's great that you aren’t punishing her. Rubbing a dog’s nose in it and chastising or scolding are things many people do but both have been proven to make potty training harder. Interrupting the act and taking her to an appropriate place is sound advice.

The three times a dog is most likely to go is right after waking up, three minutes after eating and 10 minutes after playtime starts. I also advise my clients to take their dog out once an hour because the more the dog is in the right place at the right time, the better.

When she is moving around in those five-minute windows, observe her movements. Dogs usually indicate through movements that they are about to go. Knowing what your dog’s signals are can help you prevent accidents in the house and make assigning a new command cue word easier.

If you take her out at one of those times and she doesn’t go in five minutes, bring her back inside and keep her on your lap for five to 15 minutes or until she protests. When she does, take her back out for another five-minute opportunity. Keep repeating this until she goes.

For the remedial potty training, I'd suggest you introduce a new command cue word like “business,” “plop” or “deposit” to ensure the word doesn’t have any unintended baggage.

I'd also recommend you come up with a marker word. Marker words are used to communicate to a dog that he or she did what you want. You say the word when the dog does the action. Make sure you prime the word as explained in the linked video.

For the first few days, when your dog starts to go potty, say your marker word in a calm and normal tone of voice one time. When she finishes, call her name and then give her five treats (one after the other). This is called a jackpot and it's a great way to help a dog understand you really liked what he or she did.

It's important she gets the treat within two seconds of finishing, so be nearby when she goes. Avoid talking, moving or anything else that can be a distraction when she is going. Puppies are easily distracted.

After you give the treats, spend a minute petting her or, if possible, take her for a short walk. Many people bring the dog inside after they go potty, but many like being outside. So if you take her inside after going potty, she may not want to potty, thinking it will result in the end of her outside time.

After a couple of days, wait until your dog finishes to say your marker word, then give her a treat. Continue to pet the dog outside, go for a walk or just let her linger for a few minutes after she goes. Some dogs need to go multiple times, so staying outside for five to 10 minutes after going potty the first time helps with this. Plus it ensures your pup doesn’t equate going potty with going inside.

After a week of going out for every potty break, you should be able to spot her signals that she is about to go, including sniffing the ground while walking in circles, walking in figure eights, etc. When you see this and you’re 90% certain the pup is going to go, say your new command word cue once in a normal voice. Then say the marker word when she finishes and complete the ritual by giving her a treat. If you take her out for every potty break for a week to 10 days, you should have this problem all sewn up.

Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.


Submit your pet questions to David Codr by emailing a photo of your dog and question to Visit for more from David.

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