how to potty train an older dog

How to Potty Train an Older Dog

Not only puppy parents have an issue with potty training. If you bring home a new adult or senior dog you will probably have to house train him too.

Adopting an older dog is just as rewarding as it is with a young puppy, so the bonding process will be the same. Meanwhile, you have to teach your adopted dog the daily routines of your household, feeding and walking schedule and where he has to go to potty.

Like I said in my blog post about how to house train your puppy, he has to have a spot which will be his potty area while the training process.

It is actually much easier to potty train an older dog than a young puppy. And the basic steps are the same.

Medical Conditions

Before we get into training, make sure that your dog has been checked by a vet and confirmed that no underlying medical condition causes the eliminating inside.

Causes can include gastrointestinal upset, medications, incontinence or a change in diet. They all will need special treatment, so consulting a vet will be mandatory.

Behavorial Reasons

The most common reason for a rescued dog to pee inside is an incomplete or lack of house training. We will talk more about the different reasons and how you can solve this below.

Your adult dog can also eliminate inside due to anxiety. Past experiences can lead him to be afraid of being in a vulnerable position when eliminating outside and he will choose to rather do it inside. You will have to work on building up his confidence and giving him the reassurance that you are there for him.

My dog refuses to go outside when it is super cold or rainy which made her house training much harder in Germany’s cold winter. Other dogs may mark the house by urinating which can occur both in female and male dogs. This territorial behavior can also be triggered by stress or anxiety. You can read more on this topic here if you suspect that your dog marks the house.

Separation anxiety is a condition that results in huge distress in a dog right when the owner is about to leave the house. This type of anxiety will be triggered by keys rattling or you putting on your jacket. Please read this article on separation anxiety for further information.

If you see your dog hunching over, exposing his belly and tucking his tail between his legs right before he pees, this is a sign of submissive urinating and is caused by abuse or physical punishment. Your dog is afraid of you and will show it through his body language. The same can happen out of the contrary reason when your dog is too excited he might urinate while greeting or playing. Here you can learn more about submissive urinating.

Reasons for Accidents Inside

When you bring home your adult dog, having a few minor accidents inside will be totally normal. He is very excited and nervous to visit his new home. Many shelter dogs have never been inside a home and were used to living on concrete.

Many have been mentally and physically abused and their fear causes them to eliminate. Make sure that you provide him with a safe and calm environment when he comes home for the first time.

Don’t overwhelm him and start with showing him only one room as a whole new house can be too overwhelming. In the next couple of days, you can expand the space slowly.

Sometimes adult dogs can have accidents inside when they get too excited when greeting new people or playing. Always make sure to check any abnormal elimination with your vet.

Some dogs in shelters come from places where they had to pee on paper or in the crate. They may have never experienced stepping outside on grass or on the contrary, were always chained outside. They now will have to get used to the concept that there will be a whole house or apartment where they live and grass areas are the only potty place.

What to Expect

Be prepared to clean, a lot! You may be surprised by how often a dog or a puppy can pee inside especially if they are nervous or excited. Some dogs only pee inside and defecate outside and others do both inside. They will usually eliminate in entrances and exits of room or the house and will come back to the spot if not properly cleaned with an enzymatic cleaner.

Dogs do not only soil when being left alone, it can happen directly in front of you. Many dogs will prefer to pee out of sight in another room especially if they have been punished before. A dog doesn’t understand punishment the way we do. He will not make the connection that it was bad that he peed inside. He will only get that it was horrible to pee in front of you, so he will choose to be alone next time.

Although dogs do not soil their sleep area, some dogs had to life all day on paper or confined in a crate or a kennel. He has learned that he must do this and it will be normal for him to do it in his new home inside the crate. It will be harder to train this type of dog because you cannot use the crate as a safe zone that he won’t soil.

House Training an Adult Dog

Older dogs can hold their bladder much longer than puppies can do which makes it easier for you to avoid accidents. You should take your adult dog out after waking up, after breakfast, after dinner, before bedtime and a few pee breaks in between.

Make it a schedule and stick with it. Feeding times should also be fixed without “free feeding”. Remove the bowl after 10-15 minutes even if there is still food inside.

Choose a spot outside near your home and wait until your dog eliminates himself. Quickly and strongly praise him for doing that, verbally and with yummy treats. If your dog has accidents inside and you catch him in the process, say a firm “no” and ignore him for a few minutes.

Take him outside immediately and show him the spot where he should have been peeing. Make sure to properly remove any odor from the accident with an enzymatic cleaner.

The easiest way to potty train your older dog is to use a crate. It will give you much more control over the process and provides your dog with a safe space when you cannot supervise him. I have already shared how to crate train your puppy in 4 steps in my blog post that you can also use for your adult dog.

If you attach a leash to your dog, you will have much more control over his accidents as he cannot hide it from you. Pay attention to every signal that your dog gives you when he has to go outside. Is he trying to leave the room or becoming a bit nervous? My dog used to excessively sniff right before she had to go potty.

House Training Method

Now that you have read all the basics, we can jump right into the exact method that you can follow for the best housetraining results. For this, you will need a long leash, treats, and a crate.

  1. Start by attaching the long leash to you and your dog to confine his space and keep him supervised. Crate him if you have to leave him unsupervised for a short period of time.
  2. Stick with a procedure and take him out every hour to give him a chance to relieve himself. Always go through the same door to the same spot that he has peed before.
  3. When he starts peeing, repeat whatever verbal cue you want to use like “potty” until he is finished and give him lots of praise and treats as a reward. Repeat this for many days to charge the cue until you can use it as a command. Really make a fuzz out of it and only talk to him in a happy voice. He will quickly learn that it is nice to do his business outside.
  4. If your dog has an accident inside, stay calm and correct him with a firm no. Do not yell at him or punish him for that. Quickly take him outside and repeat the step from above to show him where he should have peed instead.
  5. Once your dog had no accidents for about a week, you can detach the leash but keep him confined and supervised. You can use baby gates to keep him from going into other rooms. If there were no accidents for a whole month then you can provide him with more freedom and he can enter another room alone for a short period of time.
  6. You can declare your dog as house trained if he had no accidents for 30 consecuative days. He can now have access to the whole house.

Dog Refuses to Go to the Bathroom Outside

Some rescue dogs seem so stubborn and won’t pee outside. While this can be very frustrating, you will have to remember that the dog is never guilty although it may seem that you have tried everything.

If you are following the steps from above and your dog won’t potty outside, then you will have to just stay consistent with your training. To avoid accidents inside always supervise your adult dog. Attach a leash or refine him to the room you are staying at.

Crate him if you have to leave the house or cannot supervise him for any reason. If an accident happens you will have to catch him in the act and take him outside immediately to the chosen spot. Only stay there for 10-15 minutes at max and take him inside again if he didn’t go potty. Repeat it after a few minutes until he eliminates.

Really encourage your dog to pee outside and use the chosen potty cue every single time your dog eliminates outside. Stay persistent and calm at any time and if the housebreaking seems to have no progress at all or worsens after a long time then take him to the vet for a check.

Mistakes to Avoid

Just like in every training, there are certain mistakes that you will need to avoid to prevent a regress in the house training process:

Not cleaning accidents properly – If you watch your dog peeing in the same spot every time, this means that you have not cleaned the area properly. Your dog will eliminate in this spot as long as he smells his own pee. Use an enzymatic cleaner that will get rid of the ammonium smell.

Do not punish – Punishing a dog or puppy for peeing inside will only make things worse. Your dog will fear to eliminate in front of you and will go into another room where you do not see it. This will make the house training process much longer. Punishments, like hitting your dog or sticking his nose into his own pee are no-gos and teach nothing.

Leaving him unsupervised – You will have to treat your adult dog like a young puppy. Confine him to the area where you can have an eye on him to avoid accidents that you cannot correct. This way you can also watch his early signals to bring him outside immediately.

Not using a crate – The crate is an amazing way to speed up the house training and get you reliable results. You should at least try it and properly introduce your dog to the crate which can also be used for transportation.

Leaving him alone in the garden – Many people just open their back door and let the dog outside to learn potty training on his own. After a short period of time he will want to go in again and pees on the floor. Why does this happen? You have to teach the dog the connection that only outside is the potty area, he won’t learn it on his own. It will be very uncomfortable for a rescued dog or a puppy to be left outside alone, he will want to get back inside as quick as possible because he has no idea why he is outside.

I hope that this article has helped you and feel free to share your experiences with others in the comments below!

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