The canine digestive tract is quite similar to that of a human being. Dogs' elimination behavior, however, is not. While they will almost never defecate in an area where they eat or sleep, they will choose a location in which to defecate based on a complex assortment of instincts and sensations. In short, when a dog “goes” in a spot that seems inappropriate to us, it is either due to a medical issue, such as diarrhea, or a behavioral one.
What to Look For
Take a look at your dog's stool to see whether it's normal, formed stool, or diarrhea.
What to Do
Now, ask yourself the following questions to figure out how to proceed:
- How old is your dog and how recently did you get him? Inappropriate defecation behavior in puppies and recently acquired, young dogs is most often accidental, and these episodes are easily corrected by more strictly regulating your dog's feeding and walking schedule.
It is important to realize that these “accidents” are not the dog's fault. In fact, correcting the problem is in your control, not your pet's. Sometimes a conversation with your veterinarian or a dog trainer can help you plan a schedule that will work.
- Are we talking about normal, formed stool or is it diarrhea? As already suggested, most dogs hate to defecate in locations that they are not accustomed to. Medical reasons, such as diarrhea, though, can force them to eliminate before they can issue a warning bark or even make an effort to get outside or wherever it is that they typically go. If the stools are loose or watery, don't expect the problem to resolve until you have corrected the diarrhea. Most of the time, a dog's diarrhea is caused by some form of dietary indiscretion - such as his foray into your leftover Chinese food. So diarrhea can often be corrected by instituting a strictly controlled bland diet.
A good initial plan to try is to withhold all food for twelve to eighteen hours, then start by introducing the blandest diet possible, in small quantities. Try a 50/50 mix of boiled beef or lamb and boiled or steamed rice. This can be prepared by cooking the meat in boiling water, skimming the fat off, and then draining the meat in a colander. If you wish to make a large batch, it will keep in the fridge for a few days, or you can separate and freeze it and reheat as needed. You can also use human baby foods instead of boiling the meat, but stick to brands that have only pure meat without vegetables or grains mixed in.
Offer small amounts of the mixture every two to three hours. Continue this until the stools begin to firm up or, after two days of trying, the ongoing diarrhea forces you to see your vet.
- Is your dog completely healthy? A healthy adult dog rarely begins to defecate inappropriately all of a sudden. If your dog's stool is soft or watery, and the bland diet suggested doesn't seem to work, check more closely for other signs of illness, such as blood or mucus in the stool, which could suggest an inflammatory process, exposure to toxins, or even parasites. Persistent diarrhea with mucus and/or blood should prompt a visit to your dog's vet.
- Are the stools formed? If this is the first time this has happened and the stools are formed, look closely back on the last two weeks of your dog's life. Try first to figure out whether there have been any signs of illness in your dog over that period. If there have been none, switch your attention to yourself to identify any unusual patterns of behavior that your dog might be reacting to. I rarely accuse dogs of vindictive behavior, but some will react dramatically to changes in their owners' lifestyles, and particularly to the company they keep!
- Have you recently made any changes in your dog's diet? Dietary changes either in content, amount, frequency, or scheduling can result in a dog needing to eliminate at a time he is not used to. This may catch him by surprise and result in a not-so wonderful surprise for you. Even a new brand of dog treat or a little leftover restaurant food could have this effect.
- Have there been any recent changes in your dog's environment? From the most dramatic home renovations to something as simple as changing the away message on your telephone answering machine, changes in what your dog hears, sees, and smells throughout the day can affect his bowel habits. If the inappropriate eliminations have come on suddenly without any medical reason, look hard at your dog's surroundings for an explanation.