dog sitting on wooden floor | House Training Regression in Rescue Dogs

House Training Regression in Rescue Dogs

You adopted a new rescued dog that the shelter listed as fully housetrained. But, after bringing home your new family member, you noticed that they are regularly having accidents in the house. Were you misled about your dog’s training? Or is it something that you did wrong when bringing your dog home? This is a surprisingly common condition called house training regression.

What is House Training Regression?

House training regression, or potty-training regression, occurs when a dog’s training backslides, leading to a previously house-trained dog suddenly having accidents indoors.

It’s important to note that this isn’t necessarily due to a lack of previous training. In fact, it is completely possible that your new rescue dog was fully house-trained in the shelter or their foster home before being adopted.

The first step to eliminating accidents and re-potty training a dog is to identify the cause.

Is My New Adopted Dog Peeing in the House Out of Spite?

One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to any dog behaviour regression is that your dog is acting this way out of spite.

If your dog is looking guilty after you come across an accident, know that it’s not an admission that they have done this intentionally. The guilty reaction is usually a response to your dog recognizing that you’re upset about something.

Rest assured; your dog is not doing this purposely to upset you!

Common Causes of Dog House Training Regression

Medical Causes

Before you take any steps to assess your dog’s behaviour and learn how to re-house train a dog, you should rule out any possible medical causes.

One of the more common reasons for a dog that was potty trained to have accidents in the house is that they are suffering from a urinary tract infection or crystals/stones in the urinary tract.

Make an appointment with your veterinarian and explain your concerns. They will be able to run the tests necessary to rule out a medical reason.

Other possible medical problems associated with accidents in the house include:

  • Cystitis (Bladder inflammation)
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver problems
  • Prostate issues
  • Cushing’s disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Genital skin infections or irritation

If your new dog is older, it is also possible that the medical reasons are directly related to their age. This includes arthritis, incontinence, or dog dementia (otherwise known as canine cognitive disorder).

Medical causes can often be treated or managed to stop accidents from happening in the house. If treatment isn’t going to stop accidents from happening, your veterinarian will be able to provide you with some recommendations to manage your dog’s condition and adjust to their needs.  


Your new rescue dog has just gone through a major life change. Everything is new and different, and this can lead to feelings of stress, fear, and anxiety.

Rescue organizations and workers often refer to a rule called the ‘3-3-3 Rule’ when a rescue dog first goes to stay at their new home. This stresses the importance of giving your dog time to decompress and adjust to their new surroundings before focusing on any training or major expectations.

This was a struggle that my parents had when they first brought my brother Indiana home.

If your dog is having accidents due to fear or anxiety, the best solution is to focus on building your dog’s confidence both inside and outside of the home. The more confident they are, the fewer fear-related accidents will occur.

Keep in mind that scolding or punishing your dog is only going to add to that fear, not make the situation better.

Fear of the Designated Bathroom Spot

While this technically falls under the heading of ‘anxiety/fear’, it is unique to a very specific fear – fear of the area that you are trying to train your dog to use as their bathroom.

Take a moment to assess your chosen bathroom area with your dog in mind.

Is it a loud or heavily trafficked area? Asking your dog to use a corner of the property near a busy street could be unsettling or uncomfortable. It’s possible your rescue dog wants you to know that they don’t feel safe in their bathroom area!

Try switching the potty spot to somewhere quieter with fewer distractions.

dog laying on wooden floor next to wire pen | House Training Regression in Rescue Dogs
My parents used a wire exercise pen to keep me contained in a single room at first

Improper Cleaning of Previous Accidents

Did you previously have a dog in the home that may have had an accident in the past? If so, there is a chance that your new rescue dog is picking up on the scents from that accident.

A good indicator that this is the problem is a dog that regularly has accidents in one isolated area of the home. For example, you may notice that your dog’s accidents are always in one specific corner of the house or on a single rug.

In these situations, consider purchasing an enzymatic cleaner to ensure that all evidence of these accidents has been removed.

If your dog has started creating a habit of going to the bathroom inside based on identifying a spot they believe is okay due to previous scents, you will need to do some retraining to break this habit.

Misunderstanding Expectations

There is the possibility that your dog simply doesn’t understand your expectations in terms of house training. They may associate the “no bathroom in the house” rule with their previous home and haven’t yet made the association with their new home.

This could also be confusion as to the type of flooring. I was house-trained by my parents in a house that was all wood floors. When we moved to a house with carpet, they had to take me through that training process again because I had never learned that carpets were a surface that I shouldn’t potty on.

Just as miscommunications can cause trouble in human relationships, they can put a strain on your relationship with your new dog too.

Take a step back and return to the house training basics. If your dog has been house-trained previously, they will likely move through the process quickly. But, it will help to reinforce your rules and boundaries in the home so that you and your dog are on the same page.

Important Tips for Re-Potty Training a Dog

If you are working on addressing your dog’s house training regression through retraining, there are a few important things to consider. After all, you want to set yourself up for success!

  1. Never punish your dog for accidents. Instead, focus on rewarding going to the bathroom in the designated area.
  2. Make a schedule that includes frequent bathroom breaks for your dog, more than you think you need in the beginning. Stick to it.
  3. Keep your dog confined to a smaller area in the home when they can’t be supervised. This will help to manage accidents. The best place to do this is in an area of the home with an easy-to-clean floor or where items like pee pads are used to minimize the mess.
  4. Promptly clean up any and all accidents with an enzymatic cleaner to remove all evidence.

Have you ever dealt with house training regression in a rescue dog? If so, what did you do to overcome it?

7 thoughts on “House Training Regression in Rescue Dogs”

  1. We had that with our rescue Floyd, and all we had to do was make sure he understood when and what he did wrong, he is a very clever dog! Plus a lot of help came from having a big brother around him to show him what was good!
    PS – Lucifer you are so cute and have the best name ever!

  2. Great and informative post! I particularly like the area of rewarding your dogs instead of punishing them for accidents. It teaches them that good things happen when they make a good choice. Thank you for sharing!

  3. This is such helpful information! My husband worked at an animal sanctuary for quite some time and frequently came across newly rescued dogs that struggled with this kind of behavior. It’s really necessary to understand ALL the factors that go into adopting a sheltered animal because it can create a much more comfortable environment for all parties in the long run!

  4. This is such a helpful post for anyone who is having difficulties with their rescue or thinking about homing a rescue dog. We have two dogs and they show each other how to act. Thank you for sharing your information. Adorable photographs.

    Lauren – bournemouthgirl

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