Housebreaking an Older Dog: How To Do It Successfully

housebreaking an older dog

housebreaking an older dog

Don’t let your concerns about the “perceived” difficulties of housebreaking an older dog, deter you from at least considering welcoming one into your home.

Before I get started I want to mention one thing – I may be talking about senior dogs, but the information presented in this article will help no matter what age your dog is so don’t let the title put you off because your dog is only 2. 

It’s natural to assume it would take a lot longer to house train an older dog, or to wonder if it was possible at all. You can safely put those fears aside because the news is good – you can most definitely train an older dog, it just might take a bit longer than training a younger one…or not!

With some of my handy tips, patience and perseverance from you and everyone involved, you can go out there and adopt your senior dog. If you’ve already given one a home, then don’t worry because help is here.

A quick note

Don’t assume the dog has never been trained. If you are adopting an older dog, it’s possible but not likely he would have lasted all this time without having been trained. Due to circumstances in his former home(s) he might not have gotten out much so had to pee and poop in the house, or the dog was in a shelter for such a long time he couldn’t get out much there either. It could just be a matter of a refresher course. 

My experience

Because my seniors were in a shelter for quite some time, none of them were housebroken when I brought them home. That’s when I realised I should have bought stock in a pee pad manufacturer. After some time (a few days, a few weeks) of having a schedule they learned, and of course I had to learn their habits as well. One of my dogs, a mini poodle named Emma would get up from her nap and pee. So I learned that as soon as she would open an eye, I had to take her out.

Red was in the shelter for 2 years before I brought her home. I’ll never forget the first day with us she peed in her bed. Again, after a routine and lots of quick pee breaks, she remembered her training.

Let’s get started

Patience

You need to be patient and you need to be calm. Even when you’re feeling frustrated you need to be patient, and calm. Keep one thing in mind – your dog may not have had a very easy time in his life, and now he’s relying on you to give him a second chance. He’s coming into a new environment full of strangers, new sights and sounds, so he’s bound to be feeling a little unsettled if not downright terrified.

It will take as long as it takes, but if you’re following the tips, it should happen sooner rather than later.

Cleaning

Your dog has obviously been having accidents in the house, so you want to thoroughly clean the areas using an enzymatic cleaner. It not only gets rid of the stains, but the associated odours as well.

Routine

Your dog may or may not have ever had a routine in his life before you, but that’s going to change as of right now.

Peeing and pooping

Every day when you first wake up, take your dog outside. Choose a place in the garden where you’d like him to go for his pee and poop breaks (when he’s not on his walks that is). It’s good to associate the act with a cue which will help him learn what it is he needs to do. Choose a word, or a couple of words (I say “go pee”). Every time he pees say your cue, the point being to get him to go almost on command.

Let your dog walk around and sniff the area, as that will help him choose the spot(s) he wants to use. Keep him on a leash because you don’t want him thinking it’s play time. Don’t do anything that might make him think he’s out there to play, it’s strictly business.

Once he’s done, praise him with words and a treat. You won’t always use a treat, but it’s a good way to start the training and teach him good things come with peeing and pooping outside.

If nothing happens after about 5 minutes or so, take him back in and try again in a few minutes. The reason you do this is so your dog doesn’t think he can just hang around sniffing the yard for half an hour. There’s a purpose to that particular outing, and if it doesn’t happen then he has to go in.

When you’re waiting to take him out again, supervise him. You don’t want him not peeing or pooping outside, then doing it the second you bring him back in.

Of course you’re still going to be taking him for scheduled walks, the length and distance will depend on his physical capabilities.

Until your dog is house trained he must be supervised at all times, and I do mean at all times. If you’re not going to crate train, attach his leash to you and where you go, he goes. The reason you do this is because if you aren’t watching him constantly and he has an accident in the house, he’ll be getting a bit of a mixed message and training will be less effective. 

I hope that didn’t sound harsh. Despite your best efforts accidents may still happen. Even if you’re supervising it’s  impossible to keep your eyes on him every second. It’s incredible how you can turn your head for a moment and he pees – I speak from experience. I just wanted to stress the importance of avoiding accidents as much as possible, but don’t beat yourself up if it happens. Just carry on from there. 

Eating

It’s never a good idea to free feed (meaning leaving food out all the time), and especially not if you have an un- housebroken dog wandering around. Feed him two meals a day (unless for health reasons your vet recommends more often), and you will see how soon after his meals he has to poop.

Pay attention to the signs

Believe it or not, some dogs go to the door when they have to go out. They weren’t necessarily trained to do that, they just do. Ideally you’d like to be taking him out often enough so that doesn’t happen, but sometimes your dog just has to go.

Most dogs have some sort of ritual, or give off signs they’re about to pee or poop. If you know what they are you can catch him before it happens, and take him straight outside to his spot.

Usually they start sniffing the floor, restless in the house, not settling, circling. Rather than wait to see if you were right that your dog really had to go, take him straight outside. 

When no one is home

Okay so you’ve been great at supervising your dog when you’re home and there have only been a few accidents, or maybe none at all. What happens when you have to go out?

Could you get someone else to take over when you’re out? If not put him in one room, or block off a small area and leave him there. Put some pee pads down just in case.

Take him out for a walk before you go. Depending on how often he has to pee he may be okay until you get back. If he’s tired from his outing he may just nap. Until he’s fully trained is it possible to keep your outings short so there’s less chance of an accident? 

Overnight

It’s quite possible your dog will sleep through the night, the flip side is it’s quite possible he won’t until he’s used to his new environment. If you can, put his bed (or crate if you’re crate training him) in your room so if he does have to go out you will hopefully hear him.

Don’t talk to him, just grab the leash, take him out, use the cues you’ve been practicing and when he’s done, give him a treat and back to bed. You don’t want him to mistake any of this for fun times, otherwise he’ll be getting up in the middle of the night every night.

If, for whatever reason, he can’t be in the bedroom…. You may have some idea of how long he can wait between pee breaks. Try setting your alarm for just before that deadline, and see if he’s about to wake up to pee. You may have to experiment with the timing a bit, but don’t worry – once he understands the routine and is housebroken, you should have no trouble sleeping undisturbed.

Never punish your dog for having an accident

I know it can be terribly frustrating to find a mess on the floor after all your hard work. It is not your dog’s fault, and yelling at him will accomplish nothing good.

If you catch your dog about to pee say “no” loudly, clap your hands or whatever to distract him, then take him out. If it’s after the fact, there’s nothing you can do just move on. Your dog cannot associate you yelling at him now for something he did before. It just doesn’t work that way.

Contrary to popular belief, your dog is not spiteful or doing it on purpose. He doesn’t know, and that’s why he needs you to teach him.

A final thought

Obviously I don’t know your situation, but I’m going to assume he’s been checked by your vet so you know the status of his health. If not, or if you find for some reason the training isn’t working and he’s having accidents even though he goes out quite often, he may have a urinary tract infection or other issue that needs medical attention.

Schedule an appointment as soon as possible, just to rule out health reasons for his frequent peeing.

Housebreaking an older dog – conclusion

I hope you have found this information helpful, and it addressed your concern about adopting a senior dog. Put a schedule in place, get everyone in your home on board, and you’ll see housebreaking an older dog can certainly be done. 

 

 

Housebreaking an Older Dog: How To Do It Successfully
Hindy Pearson
Helping people care for their senior dogs
I am a certified dog trainer and pet care consultant, specialising in working with rescue dogs and first time pet parents. I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and advocate for shelter adoption of all animals, particularly older dogs and cats. I am currently working on a spay/neuter program in Spain.

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8 thoughts on “Housebreaking an Older Dog: How To Do It Successfully

  1. Hi Hindy,

    I always love reading your posts 🙂
    My mother used to take care of a senior dog, which my uncle had revived a few times using cpr himself when she had passed. Needless to say, she had a much longer life than she would have had but this came with many problems and going to the toilet was one of them. My mother used to have to walk behind the dog and tickle her bottom with a straw to help her bowel movements. It was humiliating for mum but it allowed the dog to go.
    I appreciate you saying never to punish your dog for having an accident cause as we get older we tend to have problems as well and it can only be expected that our animals will be the same.
    Great information.
    Love and light
    Vivia

    1. Hi Vivia, thanks I’m so glad to hear that. How kind and compassionate of your mother to take such good care of that dog. No matter how old, and no matter what your dog did that you aren’t happy about, physical punishment is never the answer. It is cruel and never solves anything, but can turn your dog aggressive or fearful, and no good comes from that. Training is always the answer.

  2. Hi Hindy, thank you for sharing such a great aricle! I always thought that it’s almost impossible to train an older dog.. I personally don’t have a dog, but my sister has golden retriever. The dog is about 7 years old, but he is really bad behaved. The biggest problem is that we can’t touch his food while he is eating otherwise he bites us.. Would you have any advice what to do? 😉 I would really appreciate it!

    Thank you and wish you good luck:)
    Iveta

    1. Hi Iveta, thank you for your comment. It’s definitely possible! I can definitely give you some advice about “resource guarding” which is what the dog is doing, but you mention he’s very badly behaved so protecting his food bowl could be part of a larger issue. Why don’t you give me some more information about the behaviour issues, and perhaps I can help. Funny enough I will be writing an article about this topic shortly. It’s a bit difficult to advise you in the few lines I have here, as the post will cover it in detail but for now your sister can try the following: pick up the bowl and pretend to fill it up, then put it back down. When the dog looks at her, throw a couple of pieces of food in the bowl. When he finishes and looks up again, do the same. Walk away, come back and throw a couple of pieces of chicken (for instance) in the bowl. The point is to teach him that good things happen when she is around the bowl. Hope this gives you a starting point.

      1. Hi Hindy, thank you for your comment back 🙂 I left you a personal message and I look forward to reading your next post 🙂

        PS. I really like your website…a lot of useful info here 🙂

        All the best,
        Iveta

  3. Hi Hindy,
    I enjoyed your article on Housetraining an Older Dog,
    I also thought it couldn’t be done once they reach a certain age but, with your tips, I have changed my opinion.
    I especially like when you say to not play with him when he is out to do his business and also, take him straight out during the night.
    I can see how it might confuse the dog about what he is supposed to be doing if you are playful with him during those times.
    Great advise!

    1. Thank you Forrest. Many people have expressed their surprise when they read that older dogs can still be trained. That is my primary goal in creating a site for seniors – I’m hoping to smash misconceptions about older dogs, and get people to consider adopting them. When housetraining it’s important for them to understand that pee time is pee time. If you start interacting with them it sends mixed messages.

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