Help! My Puppy Pees Inside Just After I’ve Taken Him Out

Updated April 6, 2023

You spend an hour standing around on the grass and nothing happens. Then, almost as soon as you come back inside, your puppy pees in the house right in front of you!

You’ve read all the tips for toilet training. You understand the theory. So why does this happen?

There’s actually quite a simple explanation and a not-so-simple solution. Be prepared for some basic neurology!

Why A Puppy Holds Pee Until Inside

The explanation has everything to do with how our nervous systems work. By oversimplifying, I’ll put it into two basic categories:

  1. The voluntary nervous system
  2. The autonomic nervous system

The voluntary is you in control of your body, walking, talking etc. At the start, this isn’t what a puppy is using when they urinate. They’ll learn this later.

The autonomic nervous system is attending to all our basic functions. A bit like the computer I’m using, it’s chugging away in the background doing major tasks while I use a simplified interface to type. The essential fact today is that this system can be further divided into two arms: sympathetic and parasympathetic.

I have no idea why they’re named this way, but that’s not important. What matters is to know that these two arms are in opposition like a seesaw: when one is high the other is low.

The Sympathetic Nervous System

The sympathetic nervous system is our ‘fight or flight’ network. It’s activated during stress or danger. When there’s high sympathetic tone, you have:

  • suppressed gut function (which is why you feel butterflies in your stomach)
  • increased heart rate, dilated pupils and sweating (humans)
  • increased blood supply to the brain, lungs and muscles
  • shut down of rectal and bladder function

This last one is obviously the key point here. The result is either an absence of ‘feeling the need to go’ or with even higher sympathetic tone, letting it go uncontrollably.

We all know this. When you have a stressful day, you often forget to eat, drink or go to the toilet. A bad fright and you might even wet yourself.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System

A state of high parasympathetic tone is our body in ‘maintenance mode’ when we have:

  • feelings of hunger and thirst
  • low heart rate and blood pressure
  • reproductive behaviour
  • regular urination and defaecation

This is the resting state, and it’s clearly what we need puppies to be in when we want them to toilet. So hopefully you can now see the explanation as clearly as me.

Even if a puppy knows to pee outside, they physically can’t if they have high sympathetic tone.

Getting A Puppy To Pee Outside

The reason puppies hold on outside and then pee immediately once they get back in is that the house is their happy place and the yard is not. As soon as they come inside, their parasympathetic tone increases and only then do they feel the urge to urinate.

Your job is simple in theory: make outside a happy place too.

In practice this is not so simple. They need to spend enough positive time out there to make it no longer stressful. There are issues like:

  • wet grass
  • bad weather
  • unusual noises
  • the sky above
  • impatient (or absent) people

You certainly can’t just shove them out and wait for them to pee. Your task is to get them to relax and enjoy it instead of wishing they were safe and sound inside. You’ll need treats, protection from wet, cold or heat, and fun stuff to do.

The older a puppy is acquired, the harder it will be. You want them to be able to adjust quickly, which is often best between 8 and 12 weeks. But you can do it for all ages, it just takes longer.

Once they start going, it gets easier and easier. Eventually you can just open the door, they run out to pee, and then run back for their reward.

This is your reward too, for all the hard work!

You might also like: Simplified Toilet Training Advice

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Andrew

21 Replies to “Help! My Puppy Pees Inside Just After I’ve Taken Him Out”

  1. Hi Andrew,

    I’m having a lot of trouble with my 11 week old cocker spaniel/samoyed puppy. I’ve only had her a few days, but I get so anxious because she pees immediately after leaving the crate, even when I try to pick her up first and take her outside as fast as possible. I’ve tried to make outdoors more fun, like playing with her out there, taking her to shortest grass, its even nice and warm outside right now! I’m just anxious its not going to get better.

    1. Hi Rebecca. My best guess is that the intervals between trips out of the crate are too long so that she is busting to go when you get her out. Until she gets better control you might have to double the number of trips. The other option is that she is just urinating from excitement, which is never a problem as they grow out of it. However, it should not be more than a few sprinkles if so.

  2. I also forgot to add. She’ll not have any accidents at night and will wait. When then take her out straight away, she still won’t do anything and as soon as she’s back inside, she’ll go.

    1. Hi Sarah. This is exactly the scenario which is covered in the main article above so all my thoughts can be found there. Good luck.

  3. Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for this advice. We’ve only started bringing our puppy outside at 19 weeks old because we live in an apartment in the city and our vet advised us to not bring him outside to the street until this past weekend when he was fully vaccinated. He is so used to the pee pads and keeps holding his pee until he is back inside. We take him out first thing in the morning and he will do it then, but for the rest of the day, he waits. We have tried gating off where he is inside so he won’t be able to pee on the floor, but he still won’t pee outside and we finally have to give up and let him use the pad. It’s still only his fourth day of trying, but we are getting discouraged. Do you have any advice for this kind of situation?

    1. Hi Grace. That’s a tough one. You will definitely need to keep using pads a lot just so he doesn’t also learn to go on the floor when he’s desperate. I think just accept that it’s going to be slow and take pads with you when you go out. I would then try and make them gradually get smaller (over weeks to months), until he’s more on the grass than the pad. That way he should learn to go on the new surface without distress, which would set him back.

    2. Wow I am sore you are going through this but also happy to know I am not alone. I used pee pads until my puppy was vaccinated and it was safe to expose him outdoors and not get sick. He absolutely refuses to potty outside. I’ve been taking him regularly for at least 1 month and he has only pottied 3 times. I keep him outside sometimes for hours at a time he whines and cries because he has to potty and thinks he’s supposed to hold it until he gets to his pee pad. I’m starting to think pee pads are not a good idea because it confuses the puppy when it’s time to go outside.

    3. Hi Andrew,
      I’ve had my puppy now for 1 full week. She’s 14 weeks old and we were told she was 90% house trained. She was great at the start, doing her business outside, on walks and just around the house. A few days later the accidents started to happen, I just assumed it was my fault and didn’t take her out often enough or didn’t catch her when she had a drink. I’ve now realised she’d rather go inside! We could be on a walk and she’d be loving it but will never go but as soon as we get home, within seconds she will have either peed or pooed in the house. I have tried over the last few days to start putting her in a pen as I know she won’t go in her bed. I done this for 5 hours yesterday and not once did she do anything outside, I forgot to lift her into the house on my last try and as soon as she was in the front door she peed. I really don’t know what I’m doing wrong or what I can do to help her. If you have any guidance for me it would be much appreciated! Thanks, Sarah.

  4. Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for an informative article and an interesting view on the neurology. Very enlightening and it really makes sense. I got my Samoyed puppy home just one week ago after she had spend her first 12 weeks at her old home, still with her mother and one sister left. Back then she was ‘almost completely potty trained’ as her previous owners phrased it and that was also my impression the first few days I had her home, no accidents inside the house and she seemed to really get the idea that peeing and pooing is an outdoor activity. I thought that it was almost too good to be true and it turned out that maybe it was, because when the first two days had passed it was almost like she began to prefer going inside the house rather than outside in the garden – despite the fact that she seemed to have gotten comfortable being outside and that we had spend a lot of time there in order for the garden to be a safe place with no rush – maybe even a little boring at times, as I didn’t want her to feel overwhelmed outside.
    I closed off one of the rooms in the house to limit the area that she can access, but it doesn’t seem to have done much of a difference to the fact that she still seems to prefer to pee and poo inside the house. However it also seems that she definitely doesn’t want to go in the bed where she sleeps and she’s doing a very good job going the whole night sleeping without any accidents. We’re always off to a good start at the break of day, waking up at approximately 6 am going outside and pees almost right away. Only after the accidents will start to happen throughout the day.
    I make a big point of supervising her and repeatedly take her outside immediately whenever I catch her in the act of peeing or pooing inside. However there are a few times that she manages to sneak a pee or a poo in (if I’m in the bathroom for example). The peeing and pooing doesn’t bother me too much itself, but it all makes me feel that I’m somehow worsening her learning, as she was totally capable of going outside when I first got her and for the first couple of days, but now seems to have completely regressed – which makes me a bit sad and frustrated as I don’t want to be doing this wrong and only want what is best for her, of course.
    Do you have any thoughts on this? It would be great to hear your opinion.

    1. Hi Julie. It sounds like you’re doing things pretty well. My two thoughts are that firstly, it’s often just a matter of persistence and things come good. You don’t have to have perfection, just consistency, and the dogs will eventually pick it up. The second is that the problem probably occurred in those first few days when you were given a false sense of security. It’s those days when prevention of toileting inside makes the greatest difference, as it prevents the action being normalised.

  5. Our 4 month old lab pup has taken well to ringing the bell to go outside and during the day has very little accidents when it’s just my wife home with him. After 5pm when our 4 year old son and I am home he seems to forget he has to go until the last second and leaves a trail all the way to the door. He also often goes out and pees but comes back in and pees inside 15 minutes later. On the weekends it is often the same pattern with everyone home all day. Little to no accidents during the day, several in the evening. He goes all night in his crate no problems, and we treat almost every time he pees outside.

    1. Hi Jordan. There’s not much to worry about if he is trying to go outside and doesn’t make it, as that will improve with time. It’s much more of a concern when they don’t appear to make any attempt. My guess is that when your son is at home, he’s having too much fun!

  6. We spens 30 min to an hour outside but my 4 months old puppy won’t pee or poo outside, I feel like she is too scared, and doesn’t even give me a chance for her to do her business and reward her. Any advice?

  7. Our dog is 8 months old.. he was doing good with potty training but when the snow came he has been struggling to go potty outside and we could have him out with us for 30 min and he will wait j til we are back inside

  8. Hi my puppy is 22 weeks old. He goes outside as soon as he wakes, eats, drinks and every 30mins and also after a nap
    He goes out for a good half hour walk, where he has started pee marking so he goes about 6 times. He also pees for 10/15 secs.
    But within 10 mins of getting home he will just stand and go pee no attempt at going to the door, just goes pee. What can I do to stop this

    1. Hi Paul. I wouldn’t be too worried with all the other good things that are happening. Maybe if you know he’s going to go shortly after you get back, place a puppy pad close by so you can swish him onto it straight away to finish. You just don’t want him learning to go inside the house, so if he doesn’t get to do it where he wants, the habit should eventually die out.

  9. That info is ok but my main problem is my puppy, who I’ve only had for 10days actually poos in the house too after only just being outside and I’ve also caught him eating it?

    1. Hi Maureen. The same phenomenon I’ve described for urinating also does occur for pooing, I’ve not mentioned it only because it’s less common. The same principles should apply in resolving it. As for puppies eating poo, follow the link to read more.

  10. My puppy seems to hold it til he gets in & i read the above advice to make it fun.
    What im wondering am i making it worse be picking him up & putting him to finish his wee on a pad or outside.

    1. Hi Shema. That’s a good question. It all depends on whether moving your puppy causes stress. If I am close to a place that I would like my puppy to learn to go on, I will move them while they are peeing and then reward them with a game and a treat when they finish in the right spot. It does seem to help as long as you do it gently.

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