How embarrassing! Have you ever brought your totally, long-ago potty-trained dog over to your friend’s house, only for them to pee or poop in their home?
This is something I’ve experienced with Matilda, who’s long out of her puppy phase.
She had an accident in someone else’s home about two years ago, when she was around five or six years old.
It occurred to me that I don’t visit people with my dogs very often, and when I do, we’re in a totally different environment full of new distractions, scents, and sounds.
Now I realize that it totally makes sense that my dog would have accidents at other people’s houses, and since then we haven’t had any more of those embarrassing moments.
Does Your Dog Know What “Outside” Really Means?
When you potty train your dog, you’re most likely teaching her that it’s appropriate to eliminate anywhere outside, and all areas indoors are off-limits. Unless, of course, she also uses a potty pad or other indoor potty system.
Dogs use visual, scent, and textural cues to decide if an area is appropriate to pee or poop on. Most likely, your dog will pee or poop at the park, where there’s grass, even if they’ve never been to that park before.
But when it comes to other people’s homes, there may be a carpet, instead of hardwood floor. Even if the new environment has many things in common with your own home, there can always be differences to our dogs, scent cues picked up from outside, or even hints of odors from pet accidents from long ago that can signal our dog that it’s appropriate to eliminate there.
How Does Your Dog Communicate The Need To Go Out?
Potty bells or the Paws2Go potty button have enabled Matilda to let me know when she needs to go outside. But when we’re visiting someone for an afternoon, we’re not likely to bring those things along.
Matilda has her other ways of communicating with me, and I tend to take her outside on a set schedule, so she doesn’t often have to ask.
In someone else’s house, our dogs may find it harder to get our attention. Or they may not have access to the usual door they’d scratch or wait by when they usually need to go out. They may not generalize a different door in someone’s home as they would the door you usually let them out through.
Preventing Accidents Upon Arrival
When you arrive with your dog at someone else’s house, take the time to walk your dog outside or in their backyard before you step inside for the first time. That way, your dog will have a moment to pee or poop if she needs to. If she doesn’t, she will at least be familiar with the designated outdoor potty area.
This alone can solve the problem, but you’ll want to treat your already-trained dog like a puppy during the visit to avoid any mishaps.
As a semi-random aside, another thing I’ve struggled with when visiting with my dog is making sure all of her needs are cared for. My social anxiety can make it difficult to ask for a bowl of water, or to interrupt an activity to feed her dinner on time. Those unmet needs and changes in schedule can absolutely make my dog feel like she can’t depend on me to take her out – all big factors in me finally getting help.
Marking in Other People’s Homes
Sometimes, an accident is not an accident at all.
A dog that tends to mark may see an unfamiliar home as a territory waiting to be claimed.
If your dog marks, you most likely know the difference between marking and an accident. A dog that’s marking will usually lift their leg (though some dogs mark by squatting) and pee just a little bit, usually on a vertical surface like a wall, chair, or table leg.
A dog that marks may do so even if they’ve been outside already and don’t “have” to go.
You might be able to catch and interrupt your dog if you’re watching them closely, as marking usually follows intense sniffing of an attractive, markable surface.
For males, a “belly wrap,” may be necessary in other people’s homes, even if they never mark in your own.
For female dogs, a diaper, or even a repurposed baby onesie can work in a pinch to contain just a few drips.
What To Do With Your Dog During A Visit
Depending on where I am, I might leave my dog on a leash while I’m visiting someone. Even if I weren’t worried about an accident, there may be hidden household hazards like bug baits, medications stored on a low table, a pill that has rolled under a couch, or any number of things that we might take for granted in a home that has not been pet proofed.
And what’s inaccessible to their pets, if they have any, might not be inaccessible to yours.
If I do have my dog off-leash, I call her back to me anytime she starts to leave my line of sight. This is usually enough to catch any cues that she needs to go out.
Taking Walks While You’re At Someone Else’s House
It can be tough to keep track of a dog while you’re having a conversation or otherwise engaged with the person you’re visiting.
I try to keep an eye on the time and take my dog out every two to three hours. If she hasn’t peed or pooped upon arrival, I might offer her a walk about thirty minutes into the visit.
What To Do If Your Dog Does Have An Accident At Someone Else’s House
It’s not unusual to feel self-conscious when your dog misbehaves in front of other people.
They may judge us for having a “bad” dog, or for refusing to harshly punish that dog.
Of course, a dog that has had an accident, or even purposefully marked, is not a “bad dog.”
It’s just the natural outcome when we haven’t communicated with them clearly enough, or when we have misjudged their abilities.
It’s alright to interrupt the behavior and immediately prepare your dog to go outside, while letting your friend know that you’ll be back in a moment to clean up the mess.
Alternatively, you can leave and never return, out of sheer embarrassment. The temptation is real.
But most people realize that good dogs make mistakes, and a good human will help them overcome potty issues so they’ll once again be welcome in their home.