Why do puppies hide to poop? So you have noticed a new trend, the moment you are out of sight, your puppy manages to poop behind the couch or under the bed, what gives? This behavior is not all that uncommon. Many puppy owners claim that their puppies sneak away to poop “on spite” and that when they are caught in the act, their puppies acknowledge their wrongdoing and “act guilty.” Other puppy owners may believe their puppies have a sense of modesty or shame, so they hide to poop so they can do their things in privacy. Well, these are our human interpretations of what’s going on, but things can be quite different from our puppy’s perspective. Understanding why puppies hide to poop in the first place is important so we can take a more positive approach to potty training.
One main reason puppies may hide to poop is because they were punished in the past for doing the deed. If you have been pushing your pup’s head into a pile of poop as you scold him, stop! If you have been hitting your puppy’s rump with a newspaper, stop! If you have been going ballistic and acting angry with your puppy when he has accident, stop!
What do all these harsh techniques train your puppy? To fear you. These methods not only put a dent in earning your puppy’s trust, but will also backfire as your puppy risks becoming fearful of pooping in your presence, so don’t be surprised if he’ll sneak away and do the deed out of sight.
Sensitive to Displeasure
Some puppy owners say: “My puppy hides to poop, but I never hit him with a newspaper, nor did I ever shove his face in a pile of poop.” Let’s face it, puppies are sensitive creatures and even though they may not be punished harshly, they can be intimidated by some of our reactions. You may not physically punish your puppy, but your body language speaks volumes when you’re upset about something.
So if you ever caught your puppy in the act of pooping and got up suddenly and stomped your feet, clapped your hands or manifested some sort of anger, frustration or displeasure, your puppy may have been startled so don’t be surprised if he decides that it’s safer to poop behind the couch next time so to avoid all that commotion. After pooping behind the couch not only does the puppy feel relief from emptying his bowels (pooping is self -reinforcing as it makes the sensation of fullness go away) but he also feels good because he’s away from the owner’s presence and nothing bad happens! Double relief!
Normal Puppy Instinct
What if you never really did anything that would startle, intimidate or make your puppy fearful of you when he had an accident? If so, kudos to you! You are on the right track! In such a case, you may want to re-evaluate your pup’s environment so to make him more successful. Puppies have an instinct to soil away from their eating, drinking, sleeping and playing areas.
So if your puppy repeatedly soils in a corner or farthest area of a room, it could be he is simply adhering to this instinct. This is not a bad thing. It’s actually thanks to this instinct that pups can be potty trained using a puppy apartment, crate, exercise pen or enclosed area of home. You may therefore consider keeping an eye on your puppy when he moves to these areas so you can redirect him quickly outside or another option is to remove furniture that blocks your view so you can always actively supervise your puppy. A third option is to make the areas your puppy frequents smaller so you can more accurately monitor for pre-potty signs (whining, sniffing, stop playing) suggesting it’s time to take your puppy outside.
Suppression of Potty Signs
Punishing a puppy for pooping in the home has many negative effects. As mentioned, it can put a big dent in earning the puppy’s trust and it triggers a puppy to seek out areas that are out of the owner’s sight because the act of pooping and/or the presence of the owner may been associated with punishment. On top of that, punishments also risks suppressing those important pre-potty signs that are crucial for successful potty training. Because the puppy has associated going potty with punishment, next time Nature calls, instead of whining, sniffing, circling or going to the door, the puppy instead rushes behind the couch when the owner is away or not actively looking. Owners of such dogs are therefore at a disadvantage, which sets the puppy for failure.
Problems Down the Road
But wait, there’s more! Owners who regularly punish their puppies for soiling in the home (and other behaviors) may evoke another behavior problem which is not related to potty training: submissive urination. It goes something like this: the owner finds the poop behind the couch several minutes after the deed. He sees the puppy and tells him in an accusatory tone: “You sneaky, bad puppy!” accompanied by nervous, intimidating body language. The puppy shows appeasement gestures such as ears back, tail between the legs, lowered body posture, not because he feels guilty, but simply because he feels intimidated and is trying to calm down the owner. In puppy language, he may be saying something in the terms of “please don’t hurt me!”
The puppy owner though takes this body language as proof of guilt which makes him even more upset as he thinks on the terms of “you sneaky brat, you knew this was bad, but you decided to do it anyway out of spite!” After several reps of this scenario, the puppy may start to urinate submissively at the first signs of anger (an instinctual way puppies manifest appeasement) and soon a vicious cycle is established.
If your puppy has a history of being punished for pooping indoors, there are several things you can do to remedy the situation. First though, an important clarification: what should you do if you come back from getting a drink and find a pile of poop behind the couch? What you need to do for the time being is simply ignore your puppy and clean up the mess and then follow these helpful tips so.
- Clean up soiled areas with an enzyme-based cleaner. Enzymes will literally break down all those smelly agents so your puppy won’t get a whiff of his past mistake and keep on repeating the same mistakes as puppies tend to soil on previous soiled areas.
- Stay in a room with plain view. If you decide to keep your puppy in a room with you, (make sure he successfully eliminated recently) you must actively supervise every little move your puppy makes. You may need to temporarily re-arrange furniture so you can always see your puppy and have no blind spots.
- Train your puppy to promptly follow you outside. Instead of stomping your feet, yelling no, grabbing your puppy to carry him out or engaging in any startling behaviors, a better option is to teach your puppy to follow you outside. Every day, walk towards the door and say in an upbeat tone of voice “let’s go outside!” If you walk swiftly and act enthusiastic about it, making it a fun game, your puppy will follow you voluntarily. Once out, act boring and stick nearby so when he goes potty, once done you can tell him “good job” and give a treat (always keep a treat pouch on you when you’re potty training).
- Acknowledge and praise indoor pre-potty signs (sniffing, circling, whining) and reward them by playing the “let’s go outside!” game. This may be the opposite what you may have heard in the past (startling the puppy when he shows signs of going), but it’s the best way of gaining your pup’s trust back and learning that it’s fine to show these signs versus suppressing them and hiding.
- Supervise, supervise, supervise and set your puppy on a potty training schedule where you feed your puppy always at the same time and take him out at scheduled intervals. Remember though to be flexible. Strictly adhering to the rule of counting the pup’s age in months and adding one, may only lead to frustration as there are too many variables and a pup’s bladder doesn’t know how to count!
- Puppies do not poop behind the bed or behind the TV out of spite or because they are sneaky. They do so because they have become afraid of pooping when the owner is around.
- Puppies do not act guilty because they think what they did was wrong. They do so because they are responding to the intimidating body language and tone of angered or frustrated owners.
- Puppies do not poop to make owners angry, pooping is a physiological need and just as we wouldn’t punish a child for soiling a diaper we shouldn’t be punishing a puppy for having an accident, even if it’s behind a couch or some other place.
- Puppies do not understand if you scold them for finding poop when you were in another room. This form of non-contingent punishment does more harm than good as puppies have no idea what you’re making a fuss about and will only think you’re mad at them for behaviors they’re doing at the very moment (looking at you, playing, chewing a toy). Dogs can’t sequence events in their minds the way us humans do, explains veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman in the book “Puppy’s First Steps.”
- Young puppies have not yet attained sufficient bladder and bowel control. It is useless to get irritated as this control only comes with time. For more on this read the physiology behind puppy accidents.
- Puppies do not have a sense of shame or have a need to poop in privacy. To puppies, pooping is natural behavior and they do when they need to. If your puppy regularly poops under a bed or behind a couch, determine if you have been too harsh and evaluate if you have failed to clean previously soiled areas correctly (pups tend to soil the same areas as they smell previous accidents if cleaned up improperly). Perhaps you need to re-arrange things to help your puppy succeed.
- Puppies learn faster if they’re shown what to do instead of punishing them for doing something wrong. Set your pup for success by implementing a smart, positive based potty training program.
Did you know? Puppies and dogs have a gastrocolic reflex which may stimulate them to go potty shortly after eating.
Nicholas Dodman, Puppy’s First Steps, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston New York, 2007