Case Study- Dog- Sudden Onset Soiling with wet foot fear

Sudden onset nocturnal house-soiling with urine and faeces in a young dog with ‘wet foot fear’

Behaviour Definition

Blossom is a 10 month-old neutered Bichon Frise living in a single storey home.

Over the last three weeks she has developed sudden-onset house-soiling behaviour. This involves urination and defecation inside the home but there is no component of urine-marking (she is a desexed female dog).

This behaviour appeared to have coincided with a bad patch of rainy weather three weeks ago.

She is known to be reluctant to travel to the garden when the lush lawn is wet under foot.

She is taken out before bedtime but often will not soil in the garden at these times.

  • Frequency of soiling

She will now urinate and defecate on a daily basis inside the home.

  • Time of Day

Mostly overnight when the owners are asleep.

  • Location of Soiling

The location of the soiling is mostly in the kitchen.

  • Are their barriers to travelling to the garden?

She can get outside during the day but not over-night. There is no dog door but nocturnal wildlife (toads and snakes) may make free access at night dangerous.

  • Are medical conditions relevant?

While her faeces were normal in consistency there was a suggestion that Blossom was producing more urine than normal

Solutions advised

Is there a medical cause?

Due to the possible increase rate of urine production, the owners were advised to consult with their local veterinarian and to provide a urine sample for analysis.

Medical conditions can increase urine and faecal production causing an ‘overflow’ effect where a dog cannot contain the excess levels of urine and faeces overnight.

Medical Causes of Behavioural Problems

Some behaviours have a medical cause and this must be treated otherwise the behaviour will not abate. For instance house-soiling can be caused by bladder or bowl disease. Self-mutilation of a paw can be due to skin disease and aggression can be caused by pain. More details from the link on the right.

Is there a ‘barrier’ which stops house-training and is it an anxiety-based problem?

Barriers to effect house-training can be physical or emotional.

Physical barriers can be a door which is closed when it is normally open. Or the lack of a dog-door to allow easy exit, especially at night when owners may not notice the dog is signalling to get out.

Occasionally other pets will guard a dog door to prevent the subject pet from exiting.

Emotional barriers are anxieties and phobias which may make a pet reluctant to travel to a preferred soiling area.

‘Wet foot fear’ is a very common problem with small dogs and some larger ones. Some dogs dislike getting their feet wet and will choose to soil inside (often on dry mats which is a grass alternative) than to travel the ‘Mount Everest trek’ to the wet garden.

It’s just too difficult for them.

Other dogs experience traumatic incidents in the garden (my dog was attacked by a carpet python at night when 4 months old) and that creates a phobia of the garden which is an ‘emotional barrier’ that stops the dog soiling where it should.

For Blossom, there was a suggestion that ‘wet foot fear’ was an issue but it was not obvious.

Pulsed, reward-based training can often overcome anxieties and fears and the ‘alarming technique’ below is a version of that which was implemented to ‘unstitch the ugly jumper of discontent’ and to re-knit the jumper the way it should be.


Implementing the Alarming Technique to Solve House-soiling

For Blossom this involved:-

  1. Knowing that dogs should be able to retain urine and faeces overnight and then soil on rising when an opportunity is given.
  2. The Alarming Technique means setting an alarm to remind the owners many-times-per-day to provide the opportunity for Blossom to soil outside.
  3. This creates a mathematical ‘practice run’ of the ‘Mount Everest trek’ to the garden thus creating many opportunities to reward soiling where it should be occurring.
  4. Refer to the Alarming Technique below for more details.
  5. This technique un-stitches any fear of the outside garden.
  6. It also gave Blossom’s owners the opportunity to more accurately know if she is ‘empty’ on retiring at night.
  7. Implementing the Alarming Technique to Solve House-soiling


    Additional Considerations:-

    • Should be confined to the bedroom at night to prevent soiling in the kitchen?
      • Placing a barrier/baby gate at the bedroom door will prevent her exiting to soil in the kitchen. While that creates a risk that she may then soil in the bedroom, it also may mean that the owners are able to pick her signalling that she wants to soil so she can then be taken outside where soiling is rewarded.
      • That requires the owners get up in the middle of the night so it’s not a preferred technique. It also means the owners could be establishing a new pattern of promoting night-time soiling, thus ‘creating a rod for their backs’.
      • Mostly these problems can be prevented in the long-term with the proactive technique in the next section. The owners were advised that a movement sensing alarm could be used to waken and alert them to Blossom’s movements at night so that if she leaves the bedroom they are alerted and can move to take her outside. Again this is not a preferable technique because it requires the owners to wake up in the middle of the night.
    • Proactive training means ‘getting in front of’ the behaviour. In this case the owners could choose to set an alarm to get them to rise at say 2am to allow soiling. This is done for two nights. The time is then changed to 3am, 4am, and then 5am in two to three night jumps so that Blossom is trained to withhold urine  and faeces, knowing she is given an opportunity to soil ‘in the near future’.  Being a labour-intensive ‘getting up at night’ method, this technique is usually only implemented for complex cases.
    • Crating overnight in the bedroom would prevent soiling and will move the production of urine and faeces to the morning when the owners could take Blossom outside. However, in this case, Blossom was not crate trained and that added another involved step in the training regime to create that.

     Cleaning up Blossom’s Deposits

    Additional advice was given on how to clean up Blossom’s urine and faecal deposits. This is best achieved with cleaners that are odourless but that have enzymatic qualities. SmellGone is our preferred product for that.



    1. Medical causes of soiling need to be examined and treated if present.
    2. Look for physical or emotional barriers that prevent the journey to the preferred soiling area.
    3. Teach dogs to soil where they should by allowing many opportunities to do that and then rewarding soiling when it does occur.
    4. Clean up in the most effective way by leaving no odour behind.