So, you rescued an adult dog? Adopted an older dog? Congratulations! You have taken a brave and rewarding step. You are about to welcome the warmth and love of a dog into your life. It can come with its own messes, but in the end, the affection of a pet can outweigh all the messes.
Despite that, though, worries are paramount. An adult dog, you may think, can’t be easily house trained. You may worry that with your busy schedules, you can’t commit the time, money, and energy needed to ensure that this beautiful dog can be trained in the right manner. But that’s a worry. And there’s always a way out of worry. With the right information and tools, we show you that bringing an adult dog home doesn’t have to be a drain on your own mental well-being. Use our simple, step-by-step process to pull off the house training of a fully grown adopted dog.
Step 1: Understand your adopted dog
“It’s a myth that adult dogs can’t be trained,” says Dr Indhuja, a veterinarian. Newly adopted older dogs may be confused about their new surroundings. Keep in mind that these dogs come with their own anxieties. Unless you adopted the pet from someone you know, you might often struggle to understand the dog’s psychological baggage. The dog may be lacking in confidence and unsure where to relieve themselves.
Some of the reasons why your dog may be struggling:
Anxiety over the new environment
Your dog was never trained as a puppy
Your dog may have spent all their life on the streets
The dog may have been used to certain surfaces such as paper or concrete and may not be finding a similar surface in your home
Be gentle and understanding with your dog, therefore. Also, make sure that your vet can confirm that your dog’s poor potty training isn’t due to:
Any medical issue
Any behavioural issue
Some of the behavioural issues that may be interfering with your pet’s house training could be:
Aggressive, previous house training
Fear of the outside (social anxiety)
“Specifically, when it comes to house training, focus on behavioural issues they have developed over time,” suggests Dr Indhuja. “Sometimes, urinary incontinence and other health issues could also be the cause. These must be ruled out.” If your dog wets herself even while sleeping, this is a classic sign that she may be having incontinence issues.
Once your vet rules out either of these two issues, then you are on track to creating a new routine for your adopted dog. Remember that while a vet can handle a medical issue, only a canine professional can handle a behavioural issue.
Need a vet? Consult a vet for your adult dog right here from the comfort of your home
Step 2: Establish a training strategy for house training your dog
Approach training your adult dog with patience and consideration. Keep a few strategies in place on how you can make your dog understand the rules of its new environment. Spend a lot of time bonding with your dog. This will help in making the dog comfortable and more secure.
It might sound a bit harsh, but a dog that is yet to be house trained should not be allowed to roam free. Let the dog make the connection between their potty habits and the freedom allowed within the house. This is not to suggest that you chain the dog. No. You can confine your dog to areas within the house where you can watch and observe. Partition off certain areas like your living room or kitchen until your dog can eliminate outside.
Confining your adopted dog to a space like this can also help you identify the signs and signals your dog gives that indicate a need to release its bowels.
Consider crate training
Get a dog crate. Although crate training is often associated with puppies, it can be a useful tool in potty training your adult dog.
It’s highly recommended that you choose the right crate for your dog. This short video explains how to crate train an older dog.
The key to remember is a positive association. Your dog needs to associate the crate as a place of rest and not view it as a negative place. The crate should create a sense of safety and reduce their anxiety. One of the ways to use positive associations is to periodically reward your dog with treats or play games while they are in the crate. However, if your dog has already had bad memories of previous crate training, this method can induce more stress in your dog and cause more accidents.
It’s not about imprisoning your dog, and one of the biggest mistakes that dog owners can make is to make the crate a place of punishment.
Don’t allow your dog to be in the crate for more than four hours at a time. When you do take your dog out of the crate, make sure that the dog goes outside the house so that they can immediately relieve themselves. Praise your dog when they do eliminate. You can reward them with some treats and chews or just a loving pat.
Pick a walking routine
Make sure that your dog is taken out at the same time every day. Try to keep a routine around this, such as first thing in the morning, then probably once in the evening, and finally, once before you sleep.
Take a treat with you when you do to reward your dog if she relieves herself outside.
Establish feeding schedules
Feed your dog at regular times. Having a set schedule for feeding, once or twice a day, will make the dog’s bowel movements more regular. Control your dog’s diet. Be careful what you feed and the amount you feed. Make sure that you take the dog outside or to the bathroom shortly after the meal.
Pick a regular potty space
When you are house training your dog, make sure that you take your pet to the same spot every day until he starts to associate the space as his “bathroom.” Dogs pick up scents very easily, as we all know. Your dog’s nose will pick up the smell and induce more of an association with this spot as her potty space. Be patient with this process, as it might take time and error to figure out the best schedule. Reward your dog immediately if they eliminate it. Don’t be in a rush when you take your dog out during this time. Give your dog enough time when you take her out.
It’s perfectly normal, despite all the precautions you may take, for your dog to still have an accident indoors. When this happens, do not punish your dog. Scaring your dog is only going to reinforce any existing anxiety. Your dog does not understand the reason for the punishment. Interrupt your dog with some kind of distraction, startle them, and take the dog to the bathroom or outside to eliminate there. If your dog does finish eliminating there, reward your dog. If you find that your dog has created a mess in your absence, don’t yell. Clean up and repeat the routine again.
Wagr Top Tip: Always clean up if your dog has soiled in any of the main areas of your house. The smell of faeces or urine will motivate your dog to use that spot again. Using that same logic, keep the soiled cloth rags or towels in the bathroom so that the dog associates that place as one where they are supposed to eliminate.
Observe your dog’s behaviour
Dogs give themselves away with their body language. Train yourself in looking for signs that your dog is looking to relieve herself. Observe these signs:
Moving around in circles
When you see this behaviour, take your dog out to the designated potty space. Reward immediately with a treat.
Step 3: Bringing it all together
Adult dogs can be successfully trained with a lot of love, patience, understanding, and the right techniques. To wrap it up, here’s what you need to remember:
Check with your vet for any physical or behavioural issues
Once you rule them out, prepare your house well. Restrict access to specific areas of your house for your dog until he is fully house-trained.
Get a crate for your dog, making sure it’s the right size.
Establish a routine for everything: walk times and feed times as well as your walking path.
Never punish your dog for any accidents in the house.
Be gentle and patient!
Common questions about house training adult dogs
How long does it take to house train an older dog?
With time, trial, and patience, you could expect your adult dog with no major behavioural issues to be house trained or potty trained in about two weeks.
What cleaning products should I use if my dog eliminates inside my house?
Don’t use ammonia-based cleaners. These will smell like pee to your dog and entice your dog to use that space again for elimination. Instead, use any cleaning product that breaks down the mess and doesn’t mask with another fragrance.
My dog is 8 years old. Can I still house-train him?
There’s no age limit to working with dogs. Abused dogs may have behavioural issues, or older dogs may have physical ones. But age by itself shouldn’t be a hindrance. Lack of patience maybe.
Start your dog training routine now
Once you understand your dog’s needs and adjust your expectations, house training an adult dog gets easier and easier. And if you have a non-medical question about your pet, head over to Wagr Advice for free suggestions and tips over email or chat. Yes! It’s free.