Housetraining Older Dogs

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Establish a Routine

Taking your dog out at the same times each day is crucial. Start with mornings, after meals, and before bedtime. Eating activates the digestive system, so they'll usually need to go shortly after.

Praise and reward them immediately after they go. Have treats on hand outside. A chunk of cheese, a pat on the head, or their favorite praise can make a big difference. The goal is to make it clear that outside is the bathroom.

Take the dog out on a leash initially, even if your yard is fenced. This will guide them to the specific area you want them to use. If they don't go within a few minutes, bring them back inside and keep them close. Try again after a short while.

Accidents will happen, so don't get discouraged. Each outing is a learning opportunity. Set alarms if needed to stay on track with frequent trips outside.

If your dog does their business right away, reward them with a few minutes of their favorite activity, like a game of fetch or sniffing around. Throughout the day, maintain this routine by taking your dog to their designated spot at every scheduled break.

Training an older dog to a new routine can take time, but with consistency and rewards, they'll get there. A reliable schedule not only helps with housebreaking but also builds a stronger bond between you and your furry friend.

Supervision and Confinement

When you're home, keep a close eye on your dog. Watch for signs that they need to go, such as:

  • Sniffing
  • Circling
  • Leaving the room

If you notice these behaviors, guide them to their designated spot outside.

If direct supervision isn't possible, use confinement. Baby gates can limit access to certain areas, or consider crate training. Choose a space small enough that your dog won't want to soil it, but large enough for them to comfortably stand, lie down, and turn around.

For dogs not used to crates, a small pen or a sectioned-off room can work. Make this area engaging with toys or stuffed Kongs. Crate training taps into a dog's natural denning instincts, helping them see it as a safe retreat rather than punishment.1

Confining your dog when you can't supervise prevents accidents and reinforces that outside is the proper place for toileting. This proactive approach minimizes setbacks and clearly communicates expectations.

In the initial stages, it might feel like you're spending more time watching your dog than anything else, but this vigilance pays off. Fewer accidents inside mean a quicker learning curve, leading to a cleaner house and a happier environment.

When mistakes happen, handle them calmly. Redirect and reinforce the behaviors you want to see. Dogs respond wonderfully to positive reinforcement. By keeping a close watch and providing a structured space when you can't, you're guiding your dog towards becoming a well-behaved and housebroken companion.

Addressing Accidents

If you catch your dog in the act, gently interrupt by making a small noise to grab their attention. Quickly guide them outside. If they finish eliminating there, immediately praise and treat them to reinforce the behavior.

Refrain from punishing your dog for accidents. Punishment can create fear and confusion, making it harder for them to learn. House training is about creating positive associations. Punishment may result in them sneaking off to do their business where you can't see them.

When accidents occur, calmly clean the soiled area using an enzymatic cleaner. These cleaners break down the proteins in urine and feces, removing the scent and preventing your dog from returning to the same spot.2

By responding to accidents with redirection and positive reinforcement, you're nurturing an environment where your dog feels safe and understood. This patience and consistency will help solidify their house training and deepen your bond.

Handling Special Cases

If accidents persist despite consistent training, consider potential underlying issues. Sometimes, factors beyond simple training can contribute to ongoing house soiling.

First, consider medical problems. Dogs can suffer from urinary tract infections, gastrointestinal issues, or other health conditions affecting their ability to control their bladder or bowels. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out medical causes. If your dog is experiencing discomfort, no amount of behavior training will resolve the issue until the health problem is addressed.

Another consideration is anxiety or stress, especially in rescue dogs or those adjusting to a new environment. Pay close attention to signs of stress, such as:

  • Excessive barking
  • Chewing
  • Pacing

If you suspect anxiety, creating a calm and stable environment can help. In some cases, you might need to consult with a canine behaviorist or specialized trainer.

Adjustment periods for new homes or significant changes can sometimes disrupt a dog's elimination habits. During this time, adhere strictly to your house training practices and be patient.

Engaging a professional trainer can be beneficial if your dog continues to struggle. Look for trainers with reputable certifications, such as a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), who use positive reinforcement techniques.3

If your dog is prone to accidents due to specific circumstances, like fear of thunderstorms, create a safe space where they can feel secure. Desensitization training can also be effective.

Persisting accidents can be frustrating, but they often signal that your dog needs more understanding and support. With patience, empathy, and the right guidance, you'll help your furry friend achieve success and comfort in your home.

  1. Horwitz DF. Behavioral and Environmental Factors Associated with Elimination Behavior Problems in Dogs: A Retrospective Study. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 1997;52(1-2):129-137.
  2. Karsh EB, Turner DC. The Human-Cat Relationship. In: Turner DC, Bateson PPG, eds. The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour. Cambridge University Press; 1988:159-177.
  3. Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. How to Choose a Dog Trainer. https://www.ccpdt.org/dog-owners/how-to-choose-a-dog-trainer/.

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