10 steps to house training your adult dog

by | Dog Care |

When you make the choice to adopt an adult dog, there may be some obstacles to overcome – like house training. To help make the process as smooth as possible, here are our 10 tips for house training your adult dog.

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Step 1. Supervise your dog inside.

To be successful preventing accidents, you need to thoroughly and consistently watch your dog when he’s inside. Supervision means watching your dog at ALL times. If you can’t give your dog your undivided attention, use the “umbilical cord” technique. For example, when you’re watching TV, have your dog on leash and tie the opposite end around your belt or waist. The leash should be short enough to alert you if your dog makes a move to eliminate, but long enough so he can lie or sit at your feet. When you’re in the house, but not watching your dog, confine them as described in Step 2.

Step 2. Confine your dog when you are unable to supervise them.

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If you can’t supervise your dog, leave them confined in a crate, x-pen (a metal exercise pen for dogs that comes in a variety of sizes), bathroom or other secure space small enough that they won’t want to eliminate. Baby gates can also be used to block off a small portion of a room. In the beginning, your dog should only have enough room to stand up, turn around and lie comfortably on their bed. The reasoning is dogs are less likely to soil where they sleep or eat.

Note : This normal instinct is often damaged in dogs raised in places such as pet stores or puppy mills. Those animals have experienced living their formative weeks or months in a tiny cage where they could not avoid sleeping in their own waste. These dogs can be housetrained, but extra patience may be required as you work through the steps. 

Step 3. If you leave the house for longer then your dog can “hold it,” think of alternatives.

It’s important to note while some dogs can go all day without eliminating, other dogs find it physically impossible. This is particularly true for elderly, young and small dogs, or dogs with a medical problem. If it’s not possible for your dog to hold it for the time you are away from the home, have a neighbour, pet sitter or dog walker drop by during the day to let him out. You can also consider day boarding your dog at a veterinarian or elsewhere. This is also helpful if your dog hasn’t yet learned to hold it for longer periods.

If this isn’t possible, confine him to an area where toilet behavior is acceptable. This way, he doesn’t make house soiling mistakes around the house. This larger confinement area, or doggy playroom, should have a doggy toilet in the furthest corner away from your dog’s bed and water. Only use your small confinement area when you are in the house and available to take him outside regularly. That way he can learn to hold it when you are at home.

Step 4. If your dog already eliminates in her confined space, use a new one.

Is your dog currently eliminating in her crate or other confined space? Try to create a new living area with no former associations for your dog as a place to eliminate. For example, if she has been using a crate in the kitchen with a pillow for bedding, change to an x-pen in the living room padded with a blanket or thick layer of newspapers. Help your dog adjust to her new space by leaving her alone there for brief periods while eating meals or treats.

Step 5. Establish a routine and stick to it.

Make your dog’s elimination needs more predictable by setting up regular feeding (remove the food between meals), sleeping and waking times. Keep an elimination log (with times) over 10 days so you can start anticipating his needs before he has the opportunity to make a mistake. At the same time make sure you take your dog outside as soon as he wakes, after he eats or drinks, after play, before leaving home, as soon as you arrive home, and before bed – at a minimum!

Step 6. Show your dog where to eliminate.

Go with your dog on leash when you put her outside, and when she goes in the correct spot immediately reward her decision with a super yummy treat and praise. You want your dog to think, “I can’t wait to do my business in the yard and get treats!”

Step 7. Look for clues your dog needs to go outside.

Dogs don’t always bark or paw at the door to be let outside. Common clues your dog needs to eliminate include acting restless such as pacing, whining, sniffing, leaving the room, and circling just before eliminating. Many clues are very small and unique to your pet so keep a wary eye out!

Step 8. OOOps! Don’t punish accidents.

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If you do catch your pet in the act (mid-stream), you can interrupt with a clap or other noise and then rush him outside. Reward him as soon as he finishes! Never reprimand or punish your dog if you catch him in the act or find the accident afterwards. All it will do is make your dog afraid of you and/or eliminating in front of you – and make house training much more difficult. Instead, reread this article to determine any steps you missed – and keep working with your dog to help him succeed!

Step 9. Remove pet odours completely.

Thorough cleaning of areas where your dog has soiled indoors is critical to successful house training. Areas that smell like urine or feces flash like washroom signs – encouraging your dog to continue soiling in the area. Clean up the accident immediately with an enzyme neutralizing cleaner, available at pet stores. Avoid using chemicals, especially those with strong odours, such as ammonia or vinegar, that don’t eliminate the odour.

For washable items, add baking soda to your regular detergent or an enzymatic cleaner. For carpeted areas or upholstery, soak up as much of the urine as possible with newspaper and paper towels. Repeat until the area is barely damp. Rinse the area with clean, cool water and dry again and use an enzymatic cleaner to get rid of the smell. You may need to replace an area of the carpeting if urine soaks into the underpadding and your dog continues to return to the same spot. If your dog soils in a particular room or area, try to block off that area or room from your dog while he is housetraining.

Step 10. Gradually expand the “safe” area.

After you’ve established an inside routine where your dog is either supervised or confined, is taken outside with you on a schedule, and doesn’t have any accidents for a month, slowly start to increase freedom indoors. For example, if the confined space is a crate, you might begin by moving your dog to an x- pen or a portion of the kitchen blocked off with baby gates. As they prove themselves reliable in the slightly larger area, leave them confined to the whole kitchen. Slowly increase the confinement area until they’re reliable within your entire home. If your dog makes a mistake, which is to be expected while learning, back up to the last reliable step where they was successful and take it slower.

A few more things to consider

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Not all housesoiling problems are related to a lack of housetraining. Consider:

  • Health problems. Some medications, illnesses and infections can contribute to housesoiling.
  • Marking. Male and female dogs can mark territory with urine and feces outside and inside.
  • Submissive urination. Dogs who pee when they meet new people, during greetings or during play may be exhibiting submissive or excitement urination – a confidence issue.
  • Fears/phobias. Loud or frightening noises such as those made by thunderstorms can cause dogs to urinate or defecate in fear.
  • Separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety may eliminate a short time after you leave the house (come back to the house in 30 minutes to check if you’re not sure). Consult with a behavior professional to help resolve the dog’s anxiety.


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