How to house train an older dog

By | November 16, 2015

Some of you may think “Why would you need to house train an older dog?”. It’s true in most cases that house training is usually done at the puppy stage, and just like children learning is perhaps easier at this early stage. However, there is one big reason why someone might find themselves with an untrained adult dog.

What about rescue dogs?

If you are one of those great people that takes on a rescue dog, you might find he/she has never been house trained or the process has not been carried out properly. First and foremost, dogs don’t house train themselves – well not usually anyway! So the most important thing is to be patient and positive with your dog. Also for an adult dog, you should always have them vet checked to make sure there is no underlying issue around their bodily functions. Alongside this, there are three factors that you need to think about when you start.

Cleaning

For a start there are bound to be accidents, and how you clean up these accidents can make a whole lot of difference! Because these are bodily fluids (or solids – sorry if this is the case!) then there will be proteins present. It’s important to use a biological washing powder or detergent. Without the “bio” part, the proteins won’t be broken down properly, which means even though you clean up and can’t see anything, your dog will still be able to smell it. Remember they have amazing powers of smell! If so, it’s quite possible they have marked that as a toilet spot inside your house and are likely to return to it if they can still find it. Remove the smell and remove the “marked spot”!

Setting a Routine

House train an adult dogYou must start a routine with your dog, unless you want to make it super hard for yourself, and them! The obvious ones are letting your dog out at the same time in the morning and the same time last thing at night. However, to assist with house training it’s also important to feed your dog at the same time each day and until they are house trained, you should exercise them at the same time also. This will allow patterns to develop, which link eating, toileting and exercise.

Training

You may not be James Bond, or some other super spy, but hopefully you have good observational skills! If you watch your dog, you will start to notice patterns of behavior around their toilet habits. It may be they start sniffing the ground, circling or in some cases become excitable.

When you see this, you should let them out immediately. Supervise your dog while outside, but don’t interact with them – you may distract them from what they are out there to do. If after about 5 minutes they haven’t gone, then take them back inside – but watch them like a hawk! Keep letting them out every 20 minutes or so, letting them stay outdoors for up to 5 minutes, until they have actually gone to the toilet. Give praise, but in a gentle way – don’t go over the top.

My advice, if you get a new dog (and the same applies for a puppy) you really need to be at home initially – especially to get into good house training process. If you are working, take a holiday to coincide with your pet’s arrival – it’s an investment you won’t regret!

If you are out of the house and return to find an accident, please don’t punish your dog. Just clean it up and carry on as if nothing has happened – otherwise your dog will associate your arrival home with a negative experience, which can lead onto more behavioral issues in the longer term, particularly around anxiety issues.

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There is a misconception out there that dogs look or act guilty when they have done something wrong – this is not the case. Any appeasement displays, (such as a tail between the legs or a “hang dog” expression) are in response to your own emotion – i.e. disappointment, cross tone etc – not because they think they have done something wrong.

Putting the time in = a long and happy relationship with your dog and their toilet habits! 

if you have any thoughts or comments of your own, I would love to hear them. Please leave any feedback or questions below.

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16 thoughts on “How to house train an older dog

  1. Chuck

    Very interesting post. Many have said that once the habit is form, it is very difficult to change. So I always think it is almost impossible to train an older dog.

    Lucky for me, I have my dog when he was only a month old. So I taught him everything when he was still a puppy. I used some of the technique you mentioned in the post as well like cleaning the place where I don’t want him to marked spot.

    Although I am not a good trainer, at least now my dog knows he is not supposed to toilet inside his house.

    Another thing caught my interests is dogs look or act guilty when they have done something wrong. Is it really a misconception? Because my dog always look guilty(his ears will turn backward and have a guilty face) when he has done something wrong. So he knows his wrongdoings, doesn’t he?

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi Chuck,

      It is definitely more difficult to train an older dog, and it can take longer to re-condition them to form new habits, instead of continuing on with their existing ones. It’s not impossible, but it will require a lot of patience and perseverance. I think you are being a bit hard on yourself saying you are not a good trainer. I often compare this to having children – no matter how prepared you are, every child may be different, and we also have to be prepared to learn as we go along. I think it’s the same for puppies and dogs. Yes, there are lots of books, videos and guidance available, but it still has to be done in a way that works for you and your dog. 

      On your last point, it’s not a misconception. Your puppy is starting to learn what you expect of him, so just like a young child, he might do something by accident, or because he is young and enthusiastic, but then he realizes it’s wrong in your eyes. He may not even know this until he hears your tone of voice and knows you are disappointed. this is a sign your training is working, and your puppy is starting to learn what you expect of him.

      Thank you for your interesting questions and sharing of your own experiences. best wishes with your ongoing training, and big pats to your puppy! Mara

      Reply
      1. Chuck

        So he do know he has done something wrong! He just tear apart my newspaper and slipper this morning! Oh, forgot to mention, he is no longer a puppy, he is currently a year and 8 months old already. Big dog now. HAHA

        Thank you for answer! Will definitely come back again!

        Reply
        1. Mara Post author

          Hi again Chuck,
          Sorry, I didn’t realise he was older now. I’m sure he will definitely know he wasn’t meant to chew your slipper or newspaper – and I bet he had his guilty look! Does he have plenty of his own toys? Sometimes es they chew something that smells of you if you are not there, but otherwise having a variety of his own toys may help. There are some good options on the Toys tab on my website – including some interactive ones if your dog is a clever boy! Thanks for sending another message – I did laugh about your slipper and newspaper. Most dog owners have been there 😀
          Best wishes, Mara.

          Reply
  2. Jackie

    We have two toy poodles that we got when they were 3 years old. They were not potty trained (well) so there were lots of accidents in the house.( I was happy to learn about the cleaner that breaks down the protein in the waste.)
    Also, after about 2 years all of a sudden one of them started pooping in the house at night while we were sleeping! I can’t figure out why! It was like acting out or something!! Anyway, thanks for all the good info on your site.

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi Jackie,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your own experiences. There are a couple of things to try regards the pooping at night, if that’s still happening. I’m sure you already let them out last thing at night before you go to bed. Try a short walk or leaving them out for a slightly longer period of time. If your poodle is pooping in the same spot, clean it with the bio detergent as well to ensure it’s not a “marked toilet spot” for your dog, and even try blocking access to that particular point. I’m wondering if it’s a delayed anxiety symptom too – i.e. doesn’t like being separated from you at night. Try taking a look at some of these training books, as they may be able to give you some more practical advice as well.

      Reply
  3. Jaime

    And who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Thank you for dispelling this long held myth! I feel older dogs typically do not get the love they deserve because they are not as energetic and eager to learn as their younger counterparts. However, they are just as loyal and loving and deserve the best that we can give them.

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi Jaime,

      Thanks so much for your positive feedback, and it’s great to hear you too think older dogs also deserve the best!

      Have a great day, Mara 🙂

      Reply
  4. LindaJPederson

    You have definitely given some great advice for house training an older dog. I have always assumed that all dogs have been house trained as puppies, but I guess that is not always the case. Setting a routine for the dog is a great idea. Just like humans, I would imagine that dogs can get used to a set routine pretty easily and learn to enjoy that set routine.

    Reply
  5. NemiraB

    Hello, thanks for great advice in your blog about dogs training.
    I never thought that proper cleaning after accidents can make a difference. I know that dogs can smell a hundred times better than we do, but this detail is interesting.
    Dogs overall are intelligent animals. With gentle care and following your recommended steps, it would be not so complicated to adapt a new dog.
    For everybody, I think for humans too, a change is stressful. Giving a dog the opportunity to have a new home and family, I think is important. It requires patience from both parties.
    I hope that owners will have good progress following your described methods.
    All the best, Nemira.

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Thank you so much for your comment Nemira. I agree that dogs are very intelligent, and good training techniques carried out with care and attention should be very successful. You are so right about change being a stressful time, especially for rescue dogs that may be older, and patience is a key element when bringing home any dog or puppy.If anyone gets stuck they can get more help online.

      Best wishes, Mara.

      Reply
  6. suzie

    I enjoyed reading your site. I have 2 rescue Poms and they had to be trained to go out the doggie door. I was very lucky that both turned out to be great dogs. I have one that loves little stuffed monkeys and that is the only toy she will play with. She carries it everywhere. Pomeranians are easy to train to sit and stay because they know they will get a treat. I look forward to reading future updates on your site.

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Thank you Suzie, it’s great to hear from you. Your Pomeranians sound lovely and it’s very sweet that one has a favorite monkey toy. It’s amazing how they can get so attached to certain things. If you would like to receive our latest information and special offers as they happen, you can sign up on our contact page.
      All the best, Mara

      Reply
  7. Chuck

    House training a dog takes lots of love and commitment. You must be ready to put up with the time and rigors of dog ownership. If you are not committed to your dog you will resent having to do so much work and not truly appreciate him/her.

    My rottweiler, Koda, and I, had a real love affair and I never minded the accidents, taking him out in the cold, having to be home for him after x number of hours, etc. It did not feel like work or an inconvenience.

    Since I don’t think I could ever forget Koda I’m not so sure I would be as willing to take on the work of another dog. Am I being selfish since I know the dog would “have it made in the shade?” Even worse, would I do a bad job training him?

    Reply
    1. Mara Post author

      Hi Chuck,

      Thank you for sharing your experiences with Koda and I’m sorry he is no longer with you. I don’t think you’re selfish at all and the fact you are questioning yourself, I think means that you are not yet ready to take that leap. Since we lost Rocky, my daughter and I are desperate to get another German Shepherd. However, my husband feels a bit like you and can’t forget our previous “love affair” with Rocky. I don’t think it’s fair to bring another German Shepherd into our home unless we are all 100% ready as a family, or as you say there may be some resentment. The last thing I would want is a constant comparison of “new vs old”!

      I don’t believe you would do a bad job training another dog, because I genuinely don’t think you will go ahead unless you’re 100% sure. And there is always online training help available if you need it. You will know if and when the time is right to do it all over again.

      All the best to you, Mara.

      Reply

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