House Training an Older Dog
Tips on Potty Training an Adult Dog

In many ways, house training an older dog is similar to housebreaking a young puppy, but there are some important differences.

Also, if your dog was previously house trained but has had a relapse, consider that the faster you address the underlying issue, the better chances your dog will be back on track.

Another important thing to consider...

There are several medical conditions capable of causing inappropriate elimination in adult dogs, so the very first step before beginning the process of houses training an older dog is to rule out any medical conditions.

Once medical and behavioral causes have been ruled out, you may then start implementing an appropriate house training program meant to help a dog succeed.

Evaluating House Training Problems in Adult Dogs

Not all adult dogs eliminate in the house because they were not effectively house trained. Understanding better the underlying causes for elimination problems warrants some investigative work.

As already mentioned, some dogs may be suffering from underlying medical causes such as urinary tract infections and gastrointestinal problems. But if your dog receives a clean bill of health, you may then need to consider the following behavior problems that can cause an adult dog to eliminate indoors before you begin house training an older dog:

House Training an Older Dog
  1. Is your dog eliminating primarily when left alone? If so, you may be leaving him alone for too many hours or he may be suffering from a condition known as separation anxiety.
  2. Is your dog an intact male and is lifting his leg to eliminate only a small dribble of urine mostly on vertical surfaces? If so, he may be urine marking his territory. This is a behavior common in intact dogs and can be reduced in 60 percent of cases if the dog is neutered. Keep in mind though that female dogs or neutered males may urine mark as well.
  3. Is your dog stressed? If there have been recent changes in your home or lifestyle, stress may cause a dog to eliminate inappropriately. Is there a new baby in the home? Do you have guests over? Have you recently moved? Did you recently adopt a new pet? In many cases, dogs will eliminate on items that smell unfamiliar such as your guest's suitcase, the baby's blanket or a new piece of furniture.
  4. Is your dog urinating after not seeing you for a while? If so, your dog may be displaying excitement urination. Is your dog instead urinating when you scold him or correct him? In this case, you may be dealing with submissive urination. Both of these forms of urination are most often seen in shy, submissive puppies, but this behavior may sometimes endure throughout adulthood.
  5. Is your dog in his golden years? Senior dogs are prone to having accidents in the home. Your older dog may have arthritis and find it painful to get up and go outdoors or he may be suffering from urinary incontinence. In some cases, older dogs start eliminating in the home when suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction, a condition similar to Alzheimer's disease in humans.

Identifying the above problems is important because they are not adult dog potty training problems. They, therefore, require a different treatment plan. Once you have excluded the above problems, you can then proceed to actually potty training your dog.

Tips for House Training an Older Dog

When compared to a puppy, house training an older dog has a mix and match of pros and cons.

On one hand, the house training process is easier because an adult dog has attained better bowel and bladder control. This means fewer trips outside during the day and no dark circles around your eyes from getting up repeatedly in the night. On the other hand, more patience is required because non-housetrained dogs that have lived outside, in a kennel or at a shelter for some time, may have long-established habits that are more difficult to change.

Following are some tips on making the house training an older dog process easier and less stressful:

15 Tips on Potty Training an Older Dog

  1. Invest in a good crate before you begin house training adult dog. Because dogs do not like to eliminate in areas where they sleep, eat or play, they will feel compelled to hold it and wait until they can be taken outside. Consider though that this may be a bit of a challenge if your dog comes from a puppy mill or a pet store. Visit crate training an adult dog for additional information.
  2. Put your dog on a feeding schedule. The advantage of this is the fact that scheduled feedings translate into better control of when the food goes in and, most important, when the waste comes out. For instance, if your dog is over six months of age, he most likely can hold his bladder and bowels for about 7 hours. You can, therefore, feed him in the morning and evening at the same times each day. Consider taking him outside four times a day: first thing in the morning, in the afternoon, early evening, and finally, right before bedtime.
  3. As a general rule of thumb, when house training older dog, it is important to learn how to read your dog. Most dogs are explicit when they need to be taken outside. Watch for pacing, sniffing, circling, and whining. These are all signs that may translate into "I need to go potty!"
  4. Clean previous accidents correctly. Ammonia-based products will actually encourage your dog to eliminate because of its smell, while other products may not be effective in removing odors. To a dog, the smell of a previously soiled area is basically like a flashing restroom sign saying "go potty here!" Instead, invest in a good enzyme-based feces and urine cleaner that will remove traces of previous accidents.
  5. Use the same area for your dog to potty. Dogs are not great in generalizing and are creatures of habit, so if you teach your dog to use the same potty area over and over, he will associate that area as his bathroom. The smell will take care of the rest.
  6. Reward and praise lavishly when your dog goes outside. Timing is very important; you need to praise right when your dog eliminates outside and not when he is done eliminating and walking around!
  7. Start adding a cue to the act of eliminating. You can accomplish this by saying "go potty" or "hurry up" the moment your dog starts eliminating. With time, your dog will learn to associate the verbal cue with the act of eliminating.
  8. Supervise, supervise and supervise when housebreaking adult dog. Don't set your dog for failure by allowing him the whole run of the house. Your dog may secretly eliminate when you are out of sight. Keep an eye on him instead by confining him in a room with you or keeping him in a crate.
  9. If you catch your dog in the act of eliminating in the home, there is no need to scold or punish. Simply, clap your hands so to interrupt him. Immediately coax him to follow you outside or pick him up. Once outside, he should finish eliminating. If so, make sure to praise lavishly!
  10. If your long-term goal is house training an older dog to eliminate outside, it is best to directly teach him to go outdoors. This means your best bet is to skip the indoor pee pads, newspapers or a litter box.
  11. If on the other hand, if you work long hours and taking your dog outdoors every so often is not feasible, you may instead consider house training an older dog by paper training or getting him used to eliminating in a litter box made for dogs.
  12. If your dog tends to repeatedly eliminate in a specific area of your home, you can place your dog's food and water there after cleaning it up properly. Keep in mind though that if you fail to watch him properly, he may select another area.
  13. Some rescue or older dogs may dislike being confined in a crate. If you have a dog that does not like the crate despite all your attempts in making it feel like a great place, consider adult dog potty training by using an exercise pen or closing off an easy-to-clean area with baby gates.
  14. If you want your dog to alert you when he needs to be taken outside, you can start house training an older dog by teaching him to ring a bell. You can easily accomplish this by clicker training your dog to ring some bells hung over the door knob.
  15. Finally, taking some days off from work may be helpful for the very first days when house training an older dog.

Common Mistakes

No house breaking an older dog program can be successful without considering some common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Avoid rubbing your dog's nose in his mess, hitting him with a newspaper or yelling at the top of your lungs. This will only teach your dog to fear you, and possibly, eliminate in secretive places out of your view.
  2. Avoid scolding your dog long after the fact. Your dog will have no clue what he is being corrected for.
  3. If your dog loves being outside, don't allow him to eliminate only to return back inside. Your dog will associate eliminating with going back inside so he will hold for longer and longer. Make it a good habit of walking a little bit or playing right after your dog eliminates.
  4. However, when potty training a dog from a puppy mill, you may take a different approach. A puppy mill dog may find the outdoors intimidating and taking him back inside right after eliminating may be the best way to reward him.

Here is a brief video that talks about some of the things we just covered in this article and provides additional information on house training an older dog...

Final Thoughts...

As seen, house training an older dog requires adherence to certain guidelines. If you are persistent and provide lots of gentle guidance, your dog will soon learn the new rules of the house. It may take some time to successfully house train an older dog, but the good news is that your hard work will eventually pay off.

Related Articles

You may also wish to explore the following articles:

Want to learn more?

Puppy Training

Another good source of information on house training an older dog is this house training guide. It offers several potty training methods, including crate training. What I like about this guide is that it has a separate section that address house training problems unique to older dogs.


Find this article interesting? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and as always, your +1's, Shares, Facebook likes and retweets are appreciated.



Search this site or click here to search the Web


House Training an Older Dog » Adult Dog House Training

Association of Pet Dog Trainers - Dog Training Professionals Member#: 73641
Puppy Rescue Adoption in your Area
Puppy Rescue Adoption in your Area

Featured Article

Puppy Training

Easy Guide to Crate Training your Puppy

"As a new puppy owner, you may be interested in learning the many benefits of crate training your puppy. When introduced properly, the crate will likely become your puppy's..."
...continue reading