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Puppy Potty Training Regression: Causes and Fixes

It’s frustrating when your puppy regresses in their house training, but it is common and usually easily fixed with a back-to-the-basics approach.

Hoo-boy! Did someone have an accident again?

Yep, this is about your “fully housebroken” pup over there. If you are in the process of house training your pup or having problems with an older dog experiencing potty training regression, then fear no more as we’ve got you covered. 

We’re going to talk about what puppy potty training regression is, the signs and causes of it, and tips on how you can fix it.  So don’t despair and read on to learn more!

What Is Puppy Potty Training Regression?  

First of all, don’t freak out because you’re not alone! Many dog owners deal with the problem of potty training regression, which is when your dog regresses back into urinating and defecating in unwanted areas of your home. This can happen even after you think you have completely trained your dog. 

An animal wellness study has shown that it’s a common issue among dogs as early as four months old and up to one year old. Specifically, your young pup is still undergoing brain development at this early age. 

So their memories are not as strong as when they’re older, and their mind can get easily jumbled with what they have learned. In turn, their scatter-brain thoughts can make them exhibit certain regressive behavior. 

Luckily though, if your dog has already been well house trained but since then has gone back to old rule-breaking habits, it should be easier to reinforce their training than if you had to start again from square one. So if you were successful teaching your pup initially, don’t second guess your techniques.

Sniffing For Signs Of Puppy Potty Training Regression

Before delving deeper into the roots of the problem, first consider the following signs that commonly indicate whether your dog has puppy potty training regression:

When Your Dog Keeps Doing Their Business in the Same Spots

Is your dog repeatedly going back to a certain indoor sport to leave a mess? The most common reason for this is that they can still sniff out their own odor in that particular spot from previous accidents. So, the leftover scent can make them want to repeat their business there. This further means that you are not cleaning the area as thoroughly as you may think.

When Your Dog Does Their Business While You’re Away all Day

If you’re out of the house for a long period of time, it should be no surprise that your little pal will let out an accidental leak. It is also unrealistic to expect that they can be alone nearly all day without some mess happening.

Dogs can hold their bladder from six to eight hours on average but should never go longer for more than 10 hours. Also, younger dogs can hold their pee for fewer hours than adult dogs. So, you should be letting your dog out at least three to five times per day, if not more.

When Your Dog Goes Out But Doesn’t Go

Ever had a giddy dog signaling you that they are ready to go out only to find that they don’t need to use the bathroom at all? A main reason for this could be that he or she simply wanted to play or to explore. 

When Your Dog Doesn’t Let You Know They’ve Got to Go

After training your dog to signal you ‘I got to go,’ they might go back to their old habit of soiling your carpet without any warning.  

When Your Dog Causes Accidents Overnight

Nothing is worse than waking up, especially for work, to clean up a mess! Some common reasons for this could be that your pet had too much water intake before bed, or they might be more comfortable going in the middle of the night, knowing you won’t be awake to catch them. Then, this would mean they are anxious around you, which is the last thing you want in your pet. 

dog lies on area rug staring at camera

Possible Causes of Puppy Potty Training Regression

With several indicators that point to puppy potty training regression, there are some common underlying causes to why your dog might be regressing. 

Anxiety

As mentioned previously, dogs can feel anxious, whether that be due to a change in the pet’s situation or sensing anxiety from their human owner. Anxiety in dogs can result from separation from their owner, being in a new environment, and disruptive noises (to name a few).

In turn, this further leads to urinating or defecating in unusual places or spots where they were trained to avoid.

Stress

Dogs are known to be creatures of habit, with most of them behaving well if their daily lives are somewhat consistent. As such, some dogs can easily become stressed when something new and drastic happens.

Consider your activities and the changes you’ve made lately in your life. It is possible that it can affect your little pal, such as moving houses, moving in with someone new, or bringing home a new family member that gets more attention than your pup.

Unknown Medical Issues

Sometimes it might not be only one cause but a combination of them. If your dog is known to be sick, then the regression behavior is a possible symptom of illness, along with fatigue and anxiety. 

Some canine medical conditions related to the regression are urinary tract infections (UTIs), inflammatory bowel disease, and diabetes. If your pet is perfectly healthy and you think it’s neither stress, anxiety, or a behavioral issue, then talk with your vet. If anything, illnesses are typically manageable. 

Tips On How to Fix Puppy Potty Training Regression

Never fear: there are plenty of ways to get your dog back on track and doing their business outside once more!

Avoid Negative Punishments

Never punish your dog and give only positive reinforcements. As with students or your children, dogs deserve positive reinforcement and praise when they follow through on what you trained them to do.

You can consider rewarding them in the form of dog treats or a toy. If your dog uses the bathroom inside your home but was left alone all day, don’t punish them for something they can’t control!

Go Back to the Basics

Consistency and patience are key: one of the tricks to keeping consistent during your pup’s training is to try and convince them to use the same spot where they keep pottying.

This method can help them become familiar with a particular scent that urges them to potty. It also reinforces the main goal of forming a routine, something you can return to easily when things go awry.

Sometimes just taking a step backwards in your house training, reestablishing a routine, and proceeding from there can reset your pup from their training regression.

We are big proponents of crate training for many reasons, and house training is high on the list. Eliminating opportunities for your dog to have accidents inside makes the whole process much simpler.

Record Pertinent Information

Keep a journal in your phone or a notebook as to when and where your dog is having accidents. Also note feeding times and their water intake.

It’s like a small study of their behavioral pattern to help you identify how you can adjust the issue. If it is an obvious chain of similar trends, then consider increasing the time you put them out, reducing their water intake before bed or leaving the house, or thoroughly cleaning the area to avoid the scent of leftovers.

Establish a Routine

Stick to a routine : Crate – outside – limited supervised time inside – crate.

Dogs love routine, and establishing a repeatable sequence will help them remember what they already have learned about house training. There is no more of a routine than regular bathroom breaks, and dogs will quickly embrace the pattern.

Whenever leaving the house (if you are using crate training), always ensure they go into their crate (don’t forget to positively reward them!). By consistently acting on this, they’ll learn to automatically go into their crate when you start to leave.

Keep a consistent feeding routine as well; it’s even more important to consistently feed them with the same dog brand food. It’s not just your dog’s behavior you want to keep consistent but also their body. By keeping their digestion regular, their bowel movements will also be maintained. Any new changes in a routine can lead to a few days or weeks to adjust. 

Try the In-and-Out Method

Keep in mind also that as a dog grows older, their bladders also age, and they are able to withstand the pressure of needing to potty. Rather than nudging them to try using the restroom, it’s recommended to take them back inside, especially if you are still in the process of house training your dog.

Just like with teaching fun tricks, you want to keep the potty training as simple as you can by not contradicting anything. The big picture is the day your dog signals you without any help to go outside because he or she needs to do their business. If you encourage them to play while they go out and don’t use the potty, this may confuse them on whether they should potty or only explore outside.

Have Someone There to Help

You can always consider a dog sitter to help your dog get outside. Alternatively, you can negotiate with a friend or neighbor you trust to enter your home for a few minutes to let out your dog. Plus, if you’re really lucky to work close to your home, then lunchtime would be the ideal moment to come back and give your dog some relief.

Use the Right Tools

As mentioned above, crate training is recommended. It’s not “abusive” or “prison” for them; if used correctly, it’s a safe and comfortable place where they enjoy being.

It’s also wise to use cleaning products with enzymatic ingredients when they do have accidents. These are made specifically for pet urine stains. There are compounds called enzymes in the cleaner to separate the chains of molecules in your dog’s “leftovers” and get rid of the odors — often ones we can’t smell but your dog can.

Final Thoughts

Puppy potty training regression is common and should generally be no cause for alarm. Puppy brains are still developing, so their training will not always be reliable during this period. Just take a step back or two in their house training, stick to the basics that worked initially, and you should be back on track soon.

Kevin Ryan

Kevin Ryan

Kevin Ryan has trained dogs professionally for over 30 years, owned a pet store for 15 years, and has competed with his dogs in Agility on a national level.