House training your adult dog

by | Dog Care |

Many adult dogs are not fully house-trained for a variety of reasons, including their family’s lack of commitment or training knowledge, illness, or the dog’s prior history.

Fortunately, adult dogs, even those who’ve had a disadvantaged start in life, can learn an appropriate time and place to go! By following the 10 steps below, you’ll be well on your way to having a house-trained adult dog. 

Step 1. Supervise your dog inside 

How thoroughly and consistently you watch your dog when they are inside will determine how successful you are at preventing accidents, and how quickly your dog is house-trained. 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 they can lie or sit at your feet. When you’re in the house, but not watching your dog, they should be confined as described in Step 2. 

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

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 that dogs are less likely to soil where they sleep or eat.

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

It’s important to note that while some dogs can go all day without eliminating, other dogs find it physically impossible – particularly 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 as needed to let them out, or consider day boarding your dog at a reputable kennel. This is also helpful if your dog hasn’t yet learned to hold it for longer periods.

If this is not possible, confine them to an area where toilet behavior is acceptable, so your dog does not make 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 your dog outside regularly. That way they can learn to hold it when you are at home. 

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

If your dog is currently eliminating in their 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 they have 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 their new space by leaving them 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 your dog’s needs before they have the opportunity to make a mistake. At the same time make sure you take your dog outside as soon as they wake, after they eat or drink, 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 they go outside. When they go in the correct spot, immediately reward their 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 – but many clues are very small and unique to your pet. 

Step 8. Oops! Don’t punish accidents

If you do catch your pet in the act (mid-stream), you can interrupt them by calmly saying their name or walking over to them to then rush them outside. Reward them as soon as they finish! Never reprimand or punish your dog if you catch them 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 them 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 they are 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 their freedom indoors. For example, if their confined space is a crate, you might begin by moving them to an x-pen or a portion of the kitchen blocked off with baby gates. As your dog proves that they are reliable in the slightly larger area, leave them confined to the whole kitchen. Slowly increase their confinement area until they are reliable within your entire home. If your dog makes a mistake, which is to be expected while they are learning, back up to the last reliable step where they were successful and take it slower. 

Patience and praise bring success

Remember there is no magic time for when your dog will be house-trained. It depends on many factors, including the dog, you, and the situation. Supervise and confine, stick to a schedule, reward them when they go outside, never punish them for making mistakes, and with diligence you can avoid most accidents within a few weeks, if not earlier. 

Not all house-soiling problems are related to a lack of house-training. Consider: 

  • Health problems. Some medications, illnesses and infections can contribute to house-soiling. 
  • 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 positive reinforcement-based trainer to help resolve your dog’s anxiety. 

For more training tips, visit our blog.