It was on January 27th. We marked the date out of excitement that Shelby finally went pee somewhere besides home. The fascinating part? She chose the park she walked as a puppy for her first time.
Like you, my dog won’t pee anywhere but home. To be fair, she prefers to hold it and wait for home, but Shelby has become more comfortable on long trips or rare occasions when nature calls.
It’s ok our dogs choose to be particular about their bathroom spots. Some dogs only like to go where they’re comfortable. And your dog’s yard, their home, is a safe space.
In this article, I’ll share tips that helped Shelby become comfortable going pee outside the home and why your dog’s instincts prefer to pee at home.
My dog won’t pee anywhere but home
It was as if a light bulb went off when we first realized Shelby wasn’t peeing on walks. Many questions followed, especially if we made a training mistake.
We were relieved after learning we weren’t alone. Many of our friend’s dogs also hold their pee until they reach home.
Dogs are complicated. There’s endless internal wrestling between their ancestral traits, pack status, and what we train them to do.
Dogs can hold their pee for up to 8 hours
Adult dogs can control their bladder for six to eight hours, with some holding it for as long as twelve. Puppies are considerably less, going from water to pee in about 15 minutes.
Depending on your dog’s age and how long you’re away from home, your dog may not need to go — or is comfortable enough holding it.
When raising a young puppy, taking a walk after drinking water can force them to go. Since a puppy’s bladder control isn’t as strong as an adult’s, it’s an excellent way to train your puppy to become comfortable with going pee away from home.
But many influences contribute to this.
Reasons your dog won’t pee anywhere but home
When our adorable dogs stare up at us with those big happy eyes and wagging tails, it’s unimaginable to identify them as wolf descendants. But they are, and (some) of those ancestral traits are still very much in your dog.
For example, squatting to go to the bathroom is a vulnerable position for dogs. If you’ve ever noticed your dog locking eyes with you while going, that stare is not embarrassment but looking to you for protection.
Ancestral traits have left behind many potty behaviors in dogs. Vulnerability is the most prominent trait but far from the only one.
When dogs first meet and give each other a welcoming sniff, they gather information about each other’s age, health, and breed from the anal glands. When dogs defecate, the anal glands release a fluid that leaves the data behind.
Urine does the same.
Leaving behind data is excellent for alpha dogs who proudly claim each fire hydrant and tree as their own, but not all dogs are alpha.
The pack mentality of dogs classifies them based on characteristics such as:
- Alpha dog: The dominant leader of the pack
- Alpha-beta: the second in command, confident and protective but not as strong as the alpha
- Beta dog: Risk-averse and avoids confrontation
- Beta-omega: An ideal docile family pet
- Omega: A shy follower who ranks last within the pack. Often submissive, scared in public, and avoids conflict.
For beta through omega dogs, marking a territory risks conflict, leaving them to hold it until they are safely at home.
How often have you walked your puppy? It might be too early to judge if your dog won’t pee anywhere but home.
Puppies and young dogs who haven’t spent much time outside the house tend to be the most cautious.
Praise can be as harmful as punishment in dogs. As a puppy, potty training becomes a delicate balance of stern teaching and healthy praise.
By aggressively reinforcing the backyard as an appropriate place to go potty, dogs can begin to believe it’s the ONLY place they should go.
To best counteract this learned behavior, teach positive potty phrases, like “go potty, Shelby,” to let your dog know it’s ok away from home.
Restricted by the leash
If you only walk on a leash, try taking your dog to an empty dog park and allowing her freedom.
Dogs have quirky behaviors when they need to go, like spinning around to flatten the grass and prepare the area or the odd need to align their bodies along the north-south axis.
A leash can feel restricting, not allowing her the typical rituals she needs to pee comfortably.
Tips to help your dog go outside of the home
Shelby walked the park she first peed at almost every day as a puppy before we moved. We decided to go back on a limb to see if she remembered the old walk. Not only did she remember, but the memories gave her enough comfort to relax and pee.
Not everyone has an old park to revisit, but you can still create comfort with a few tips, such as:
Add a familiar scent
When heading to the park or out of town, you have a checklist of must-bring items. Next time, along with the harness, seatbelt, leash, and blanket, pack a ziplock baggy of your dog’s poop.
If you’re entirely averse to carrying a bag of feces, wiping the grass with a towel after a fresh pee and bagging it can also work. Nobody said dog life was all glamour.
Bringing along a scent is especially helpful for beta dogs who don’t want to leave their scent. With it already there, your dog won’t be concerned about leaving more behind.
Find a private, non-marked area
Walking off the beaten path to a private area eases your dog’s concerns about creating conflict.
Remember, with each smell of a light post or tree, your dog is gathering data about the dog who last marked it, and an alpha male is more likely to lift a leg at every turn.
Teaching the behavior
Our dogs are always learning through our behaviors. For example, rushing a dog to come inside after going potty teaches them to hold it longer so they can enjoy the fresh air.
Early potty training could have reinforced the backyard as the only suitable spot. Using a potty phrase can help unwind those behaviors and teach your dog to eliminate on command.
Use phrases like “Shelby, go potty” consistently while your dog eliminates. With an upbeat, “good girl” reinforcement, and some loving petting, your dog will associate the phrase with a positive sign to go potty.
It’s ok if your dog won’t pee anywhere but home. Not every trip to the park or walk around the block demands a potty break. Your dog has its reasons, and if we understand them or not, it’s what makes them comfortable.
Through so many conversations with other dog parents dealing with similar behaviors, the most significant worry is always traveling, and it was ours too.
Eventually, your dog will pee. After all, they can’t hold it forever. To help ensure they don’t try, create a comfortable environment by:
- Bringing a familiar scent, like a piece of your dog’s poop or a towel wiped with pee
- Finding a private area another dog hasn’t marked
- Teaching to go on command with a “Shelby, go potty” phrase
- Being patient
Rushing or forcing your dog to go while getting angry or frustrated is never helpful with dogs. Allow them time to become comfortable, smell the area, and find a spot.
You’re not alone, and your pup is not abnormal for only wanting to pee at home.
What piece of advice will work best for your dog? Share this article to help others and share your favorite tip.