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How to Housetrain an Adult or Senior Dog in 6 Steps

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Learn how to housebreak an older dog.
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Dogs bring a lot of joy and love to their owners, but one of the most frustrating aspects of ownership is when they repeatedly urinate or defecate in the house.  Here’s what may be causing the behavior and what you can do to prevent accidents.

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An older Labrador relaxing on a blanket.

Why Is My Adult Dog Soiling in the House?

Your adult or senior dog may behave this way for several reasons, but the most common is that they were never properly housetrained in the first place. Often, owners think they have housetrained their dogs, when in reality the dog only knows not to relieve themselves in the owner’s presence.

Shelter dogs, strays and dogs that have spent part of their lives outside on a chain or in a kennel often have difficulties with housebreaking. Additionally, an older or senior dog may have an underlying health condition that causes them to need to eliminate more frequently or have poor bladder control.

Luckily, housetraining an older dog can be as straightforward as housetraining a new puppy. In fact, it may be easier, because older dogs tend to have much better bladder control. They are also better at paying attention and more inclined to please their owners.

How to Housetrain an Older or Senior Dog

1. Establish a “Bathroom” Spot

The first step to housetraining your adult dog is designating an area of your yard as the “bathroom,” where you consistently take your dog to eliminate. Choose a spot close to the door so your dog doesn’t have to go far if they’ve been holding it. Establishing this outdoor bathroom area is instrumental to the next steps.

2. Supervise Constantly

Discipline won’t be effective unless you catch your dog in the act. Keep them in the same room as you by installing baby gates or shutting doors. Some dog trainers suggest keeping your dog on a leash, even inside the house, gradually offering more and more freedom as they get more familiar with the bathroom routine. If your dog is particularly sneaky, a leash will keep them from slipping out of sight.

When you catch your dog using the bathroom inside, startle them with a loud noise, like a clap, to interrupt them in the act without being aggressive or scolding them. Use words like “no” or “outside,” but do not call them by their name, as this could teach them to associate their name with negative feelings. Immediately usher them outside to the bathroom area and praise them when they complete their business.

3. Crate your Dog

Obviously, you can’t watch your dog 24 hours a day. Whenever you can’t supervise your pup, crate them. Make sure the crate is big enough for them to stand up and turn around in, but no larger. Dogs don’t like to soil in areas where they sleep or spend a lot of time, so it’s unlikely they’ll relieve themselves in the crate. Having your dog spend a few hours each day in a crate is a good way to help improve their comfort level with the crate as well as get into a bathroom routine. Take them outside to the bathroom area as soon as you let them out of the crate.

4. Maximize Outside Time

Praising your dog for going to the bathroom outside is just as important as interrupting them when they eliminate inside, if not more so. As soon as your dog finishes their business, it’s time for celebration! Praise them in an excited tone and give them a treat. Don’t wait to come inside to reward your dog — if you do, they won’t know why they’re being rewarded.

Most dogs enjoy spending time outside. Occasionally, let them stay out for a while after they finish eliminating. Play a game of fetch, take them for a walk or do other fun exercise activities together. If your dog realizes they’re forced to come back in as soon as they go, they may become prone to lingering.

5. Establish a Routine

“Free-feeding” your dog — allowing them to eat as much as they want, whenever they want — can throw off their bathroom routine and make it more difficult to keep track of their food intake. Give your dog two meals a day, and take them outside five to 10 minutes later; many dogs will need to relieve themselves soon after eating.

In total, take your dog outside five or six times a day, always around the same time. Once your dog is confident about when bathroom breaks occur, they will be more inclined to hold it. Dogs are creatures of habit, so this routine should be lifelong, not just for the duration of training — otherwise you risk undoing your efforts.

6. Clean Up

When your dog messes in the house, stay calm and move swiftly. Don’t punish them for accidents you haven’t witnessed firsthand. Your dog won’t know why you’re punishing them and could become anxious in your presence. Simply clean up the mess and move on.

That said, you can use solid waste and wet paper towels as part of your dog’s training. Scoop up the waste and put it outside in the dog’s bathroom area. Dogs are scent-driven, so smelling the waste outside will help your dog realize this is where they should relieve themselves.

Do not use ammonia-based cleaners on messy spots; it smells like urine to dogs and can encourage your dog to mess in the same spot. Instead, use a cleaning product with live enzymes formulated to completely remove the odor.

Troubleshooting the Housetraining Process

It’s important to note that almost all dogs will occasionally slip up and go in the house. This can occur when they feel excited, scared, territorial or simply haven’t gone out enough times in the day. A single incident should not cause you to feel that you have to retrain your dog.

However, look for changes in your dog’s bathroom behavior. If your dog is perfectly housetrained but suddenly starts pooping or peeing in the house, it could be a sign of a medical problem. If your dog’s accidents go against their natural instincts, such as urinating in the crate or on their bed, that could signal a medical or behavioral problem. Consult with a veterinarian if anything about your dog’s behavior seems out of the ordinary.

With practice and patience, your older dog’s accidents will become a thing of the past, so you and your pet can focus on what really matters — strengthening your bond through long walks, playtime and cuddling.

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