Why Is My Dog Peeing On My Pillow? (Or Revenge Of The Turds)
“He started peeing on my daughter’s bed after she scolded him.”
“He never did this until we boarded him when we went on vacation!”
“She only does it on the rug on my husband’s side of the bed.”
“My dog is sneaky. He waits until we aren’t looking and then jumps onto the sofa and pees!”
Why Your Eyes Tell You Lies
Dogs have become such a part of our lives that it is hard to remember they are an entirely different species with entirely different social customs. We forget that they are not us. We dress them up, place them in strollers, take them on vacations and bake them doggie birthday cakes.
But they are not us.
Improper elimination in the home stirs up lots of emotion in humans. Bafflement, anger, frustration, are a few that come to mind. But for some, the explanation that comes to mind is revenge on the part of the dog. Once this explanation enters our thoughts, it becomes our nature to defend our view. We create stories around other events that seem to confirm our perspective and it can be very difficult to unlearn what we think we know.
Human House Training
Early on, we are taught that elimination of urine and feces is to be performed in special areas only. We teach children that “poop goes in the potty!” and we take care to give them time to learn the rules of polite potty habits. We do not expect older children, teens, or adults of average ability to stray from these rules and it is the rare person that does. We likely expect the same from our dog, considering he or she as grown once puppy appearance shifts to that of an adult dog, despite how immature the pup may actually be socially.
Because we can’t ask dogs “Why did you do this?” it is easy to imagine the dog is trying to tell us something. Because the experience of finding urine or feces where we sit, sleep, or walk is disturbing, this may lead to dark thoughts when contemplating the 'why' of the event. We review everything that preceded, trying to make sense of it. “Hmmmm…we did leave Fido with Aunt Betty for a few days. Did he do this because he is mad at us?” No, and I’ll tell you why. For those who would like the bottom line so they can move on, here it is: your dog does not possess Theory of Mind.
Theory of mind in a nutshell is the ability to understand another’s beliefs, emotions, and intent. To exact revenge, a dog would need the ability to reason out some pretty complex scenarios. “I know Peter hates poop. He is such a jerk for not walking me this morning because he was running late for work. We both know he could have made the time. Well, he won’t be home anytime soon, so I am going to trot over to the purple rug next to his bed and leave him a little surprise. Muah ha ha ha ha ha! I can’t wait to see how he likes those, um, apples.” As entertaining as this scenario is, it is in fact not just improbable, but impossible. Dogs may sense when we are angry, sad, or playful, but that is a far cry from understanding our lives, hopes, desires and thoughts. We’ll talk about more likely reasons for improper elimination habits further on. But first, let's stop to consider that dogs themselves don't consider bodily fluids as we do.
Dogs take a different view towards bodily fluids, old socks, and road kill
Dogs love body fluids! They love sniffing and rolling in (and sometimes even eating) poop. Poop would be the last thing that came to their mind as an item of revenge. If they had opposable thumbs and theory of mind, they would be more likely place a nice poop specimen in a box, tie the box with a bow, wrap it in gold foil and present it to you as a gift. Happy Birthday!
So why is my dog peeing in my bed?
Here’s where it gets complicated. The answer is, I can’t possibly tell you why your dog is urinating or defecating in places you would rather they not, as there are so many possible reasons. Here are a few.
- Always, always, always assume that there may be a medical reason behind sudden behavior changes. Any shelter worker can tell you that the saddest surrenders are those of dogs that “are stubborn and will not be house trained” only to find a bladder stone, tumor, or infection was the cause of the behavior.
- Dogs “go” on absorbent materials. Carpet is absorbent. Rugs are absorbent. Pillows, mattresses, blankets, favorite robes, all are absorbent. Keep them out of reach or close the door to those rooms when you cannot supervise the dog.
- Some dogs, especially young or shy dogs, will dribble a bit of urine to defuse what they perceive as confrontation. Make sure you are not confusing this action with a dog purposefully urinating (by that, I mean urinating as elimination of bodily waste). They are two different things. How sad is it to think of an animal desperately trying to communicate that they are afraid and being completely misunderstood?
- Male dogs (and sometimes females) mark. This is also a separate behavior (and a separate subject than what this article attempts to address) from purposeful urination.
- Lack of proper housetraining.
It takes a good year or two for small humans to become reliably potty trained. It is said that an adult dog is roughly as intelligent as a two-year old human. Your dog’s successful housetraining is directly correlated with how much supervision you give, multiplied by how patient and kind you are during the process.
By that I mean, sometimes people insist, “My dog sneaks off and poops in the kitchen. He never does this when I am present, therefore he is sneaky and vengeful.” The truth is far simpler than that. The dog has learned that poop in kitchen is safe when the humans are not there. He doesn’t understand why, he only knows that it is.
Dogs that are punished (and for sensitive dogs, this could simply mean that you are visibly upset or frustrated) when the person comes home after he has already pooped in the kitchen will often begin displaying appeasement behaviors like lip licking, cringing, and looking “guilty”. The human assumes, a-HA! He knows he has been bad!
No, no, and no again. He only “knows” that sometimes when poop is present and you come home, you are upset. Again, he doesn’t understand the why of the event as he sees his behavior as normal.
So, here’s the real bottom line. If dogs were as smart as we give them credit for, we would all be in big trouble (and likely hesitant when opening any wrapped gift from them). Give them the benefit of the doubt and use the Rule of Parsimony: The simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Not as exciting, perhaps, but much more likely.
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Articles from Victoria Stilwell
- 2021 Dog Behavior Conference Announced
- Why I’m Not a Purely Positive Dog Trainer
- Becoming a Dog Trainer
- Social Bullying
- Does Your Dog Respect You?