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How to House Train an Older Dog

Updated on February 20, 2013
Train your older dog to potty outside
Train your older dog to potty outside | Source

How to help Older Dogs Get Housetrained

There seems to be an abundance of articles and books about how to successfully house train a puppy, but what about older dogs? Older dogs require quite a different approach compared to puppies. On one hand, dog owners may assume that house training older dogs may be easier for the simple fact that they have much better bowel and bladder control, but it is also true that older dogs may be more challenging because of learned behaviors that have been allowed to put roots for a long time. Some adult dogs may also have had negative associations with crates in the past, posing some further challenges.

It may be difficult, therefore, for an older dog to learn to hold its bowel and bladder movements if for several years it has been used to going potty anywhere when nature called. New rules need to implemented so to help the older dog understand it needs to hold it until he is taken outside. Also, it is important for owners of dogs to distinguish the difference between urinating and urine marking. Urinating is a physiological need, whereas, urine marking is carried out for various reasons such as claiming territory, leaving "pee mail" or leaving familiar scent when the dog feels anxious.

Tips on House Training an Older Dog

Was your newly adopted dog kept outdoors or was he from a shelter? If so, you may have some homework to do if you want him to be house trained. Patience, consistency and determination are all qualities that will help make the process easier. Following are some important tips to keep in mind.

  • Clean up Messes Properly

One of the most important steps to house train an older dog is to completely remove traces of previous mishaps. If your dog therefore soiled indoors, you need to make sure you clean the area properly. To a dog, the smell of previously soiled spots has the effect of a flashing "bathroom sign", explain Patricia McConnell and Karen London in their book "Way to Go". The best approach is to invest in enzyme-based cleaners that successfully eat up odors. The worst approach is using ammonia-based cleaners which cause the area to smell similar to urine further attracting the dog to soil in the area.

  • Close Supervision

This means, always keeping an eye on the dog and not giving him the whole run of the house. A good way to accomplish this is by leashing him to your waist sort of like an "umbilical cord". This will prevent your dog from sneaking away from you to soil around the house. With your dog right next to you, chances are you may see warning signs your dog may need to go outside. If your dog is not outdoors going potty or by your side, then your next choice would be to keep your dog in a crate. If your dog has never been in a crate before, it may be a bit scary to be cooped up in such a small place, so try to get your dog used to the crate gradually, making it a safe and secure place to be. If your dog gets too agitated, skip the crate and create a comfy area in the home with an easy-to-clean surface where you can safely keep your dog when you cannot directly supervise him.

  • Stick to a Routine

If you feed your dog at the same time each day and take him out at the same time to potty, chances are high your dog will get used to that routine and this will ultimately make the process of potty training easier. For instance, you can take your dog out first thing in the morning, once midday, once in the early evening, and once right before going to bed. Feed at the same time in the morning and evening. If your dog tends to want out in the night, it helps to limit consumption of water prior to going to bed.

  • Praise Lavishly For Going Outdoors

Every time your dog goes successfully potty outdoors, praise lavishly and reward. Make sure you praise right after your dog does business and not when your dog is walking up to you to go back inside! In order to make it clear your are praising your dog for doing business and not walking up to you, it helps to keep your dog on leash, so he is right near you and you can praise immediately after the fact.

  • Recognize Pre-Potty Signs

It is very important that you recognize warning signs that your dog needs to go potty so you can promptly take him out. Look for whining, sniffing, circling, acting odd, an abrupt stop in play and pacing. In this case, say "come, come, come!" and walk swiftly to the door inciting your dog to follow quickly. Then once out, praise your dog for going outdoors.

  • Use Kind Methods

Avoid rubbing your dog's nose in poop, smacking his butt with a rolled newspaper or scolding him. These are outdated training methods! Your dog has possibly never been in a home before and he is just starting to trust you. By ignoring mistakes and rewarding success, your dog as an opportunist will figure out that going potty outdoors is advantageous. This means he will be more likely to go outdoors in anticipation of a reward.

Note: not all adult dogs do well in a crate. Several may need lots of gradual introductions. If your dog panics and gets distressed from being closed up, use a small dog-proof area or an x-pen. For tips on how to introduce the crate read:

How to Make Your Dog Love its Crate

How Long is Too Long to Crate a Dog?

Important Considerations to Keep in Mind

There are some considerations to keep in mind when dealing with house training problems and not all derive from not being properly house trained. We already discussed how some dogs tend to mark territory which is not a problem related to lack of bladder control. However, there are other considerations to keep in mind. If your dog urinates and defecates in the home only when left alone, chances are he may be suffering from separation anxiety. If your dog urinates when you scold him or greet him, you may be dealing with submissive urination. If your dog is older in age and is not responding well to your house training techniques, there are chances she may be suffering from the first signs of canine dementia. Finally, but not less importantly, your dog may be suffering from some medical problem. There are many medical conditions in dogs that cause increased urination and the inability to hold urine normally. Learn what are some common causes for Dog Urinary Incontinence and Causes of Sudden House Soiling Problems in Dogs


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    • debbie roberts profile image

      Debbie Roberts 5 years ago from Greece

      It's good to see that with patience older dogs can be house trained, it would be a shame for an older dog not to be given a loving home because it wasn't properly house trained. Hopefully this hub will be seen by people wanting to take on an older dog.

      A well written informative hub.

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 5 years ago from Alabama

      Great hub. I wondered if those old treatments were still in existence, the newspaper,etc. That's training way back in my young, young days and don't make sense.

      Agree not all dogs like crates. My youngest hates them and she's like a wild animal in it. but that was all very temporary for all my dogs. Crate time is long gone.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      Thank you, these adult housetraining tips have helped me tremendously when fostering and training adult dogs for my local shelter.

    • Diana Lee profile image

      Diana L Pierce 5 years ago from Potter County, Pa.

      Good hub and very interesting reading for older dog owners.

    • Cosmic Bus profile image

      Cosmic Bus 5 years ago from Maryland

      Great, sensible advice! Thank you. Voted up.