Dirty Dog Syndrome
Many times I am called into a house breaking case where the owners have tried to teach their dog to not go potty in the house and yet the dog continues to have accidents. This is usually a case of the owners giving the dog too much access to all the rooms in the house too soon when the dog does not consider the whole house part of his den.
Dogs have a den instinct and they instinctively don’t want to dirty their den. If house breaking is done correctly and we gradually add a room and space at a time, the dog will see the whole house as part of this den. The common accidents most often occur in a guest bedroom, the basement or the formal dining room because these rooms are not usually used by the “Pack” and therefore are not considered to be the den. To a dog there is no difference between indoors and outdoors. Rather, it’s this part of the house is my den and this part is not. Usually having the owners hang out in those un-used rooms with their dogs can easily solve this problem of the dog having accidents in rooms that aren’t being used by the Pack. All people are made up of skin cells that constantly shed. Dogs are able to pick up on the scent of these cells so very quickly they will consider these parts of the house as part of the den and the housebreaking problems can be solved
Unfortunately, there are times when no matter what precautions we use and no matter how gradually we expand the den, the dog continues to have accidents. We refer to this a Dirty Dog Syndrome. Even if we restrict these dogs to small spaces, such as crates or X pens, they continue to dirty themselves – many times even lying in their own feces. Often it is the small dogs and toy breeds with these problems. Puppies raised on wire grating are usually to blame. These puppies never learn the behavior of holding their eliminations to keep their dens clean. Their pee and poop has always just fallen through the wire grate to the newspaper below. If the puppies spend much of their “imprint” time (between 5-16 weeks) on the wire grate, they may never be house broken. Toy breeders, puppy mills and pet shops are usually the main culprit when using wire grates to house puppies. For the breeder and pet shop owner it requires much less work to keep the puppies and their housing clean. Unfortunately, many of these puppies eventually end up in shelters and most are euthanized.
As sad as this is, there are things you can do as a consumer to help stop this practice going forward. Before purchasing a puppy, always ask the breeder if their puppies have been raised on wire. Don’t buy dogs from people that raise their puppies on wire or grating.
If you have a dog that you think may have Dirty Dog Syndrome, it is important to contact a canine behaviorist that has worked on such cases. Over the years there have been instances where I have worked with my clients to solve this difficult problem, but it’s never easy.