Dog is Having Accidents in the House, But Why?

June 20, 2004 (published) | August 4, 2020 (revised)

Revised 8/1/2020 by Ashley L Elzerman, DVM, DACVB from previous versions of Veterinary Partner articles by Meredith Stepita, DVM, DACVB and Laurie Bergman, DVM, DACVB

When your dog has an accident in the house, it is easy to believe the dog is acting out of spite or some other defiant motive, but he’s not. There can be medical causes or behavioral causes for eliminating in the house.  There can also be a lack of housetraining or a loss of house training.  Getting to the root of the problem will make sure your dog gets proper treatment and the best chance for success.

Medical Causes

When a previously housetrained dog begins to have accidents in the house, the first thing to do is to rule out medical causes.  

Any medical condition that causes increased frequency, urgency, or volume in urine or stool can lead to house soiling.  Having your dog evaluated by your veterinarian is a good idea. Your veterinarian may recommend specific testing, such as fecal, urine, and blood tests, based on your dog’s specific problems and the results of the dog’s physical exam.  In most cases, housetraining problems from these causes can be solved or improved by treating the medical condition and if needed, completing a quick housetraining refresher.  

Behavioral Causes

Once medical causes have been ruled out or treated, consider behavioral causes of house soiling. Some causes to consider include improper cleaning of previous accidents, scolding for elimination, fear of the relief area, marking, anxiety, or early learning.    

Housetraining Refresher

Once the cause of the problem is identified, re-establish the habit of eliminating outside by taking your dog through a housetraining refresher.   

The steps in housetraining: 

  1.       take the dog outside often
  2.       reward outside elimination
  3.       confine the dog when you cannot supervise
  4.       do not punish accidents

Thus, if your adult dog is house soiling, the first step to take is to have your veterinarian check him over for physical illnesses and evaluate for behavioral causes. Next, put him in a housetraining refresher course. This refresher will improve or fix the problem most of the time. If he is still house soiling, there may be more complicated reasons for this change in behavior. Contact your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to diagnose and treat these more involved behaviors. 

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.