As the director of training at The Sophisticated Dog, a Los Angeles-based pet training company, I’ve had many clients with older dogs who are not housetrained. Some of them have recently adopted an adult rescue, but others have had their dog since puppyhood. One family who hired me had a dog who had been pottying in the house for a couple of years—ever since she was a puppy! Fortunately, that pup’s family was able to learn how to potty train an older dog in just a couple of weeks once they put a consistent housetraining plan into place.
If you have an older dog who isn’t housetrained, don’t worry—there’s hope!
The Challenges of Potty Training Older Dogs
Learning how to house train an older dog can be both more and less challenging than potty training a puppy. Older dogs have larger bowels and bladders, and better control of their bladders and bowels, which is helpful in potty training older dogs. Meanwhile, puppies don’t always have the physical ability to hold their waste in for very long.
However, older dogs who don’t have a history of housetraining also have a strong habit of pottying wherever and whenever they want, so they can find it difficult to understand why the rules are suddenly changing.
Also, even an older, well-trained dog may be confused about how housetraining works outside your home. If you’ve recently moved or your dog is pottying in other people’s houses, your dog may think that the rule is not to potty in your house, and not understand that the rule is that the bathroom is outdoors only.
NOTE: If you have an older dog who used to be housetrained but is now having issues, make an appointment with your veterinary right away to rule out medical and age-related factors.
How to Housetrain an Older Dog
Here are some guidelines for potty training older dogs. They work with dogs who have never been properly housetrained and with dogs who need to be housetrained in a new home (or at your friends’ homes).
Let’s start with a few tips for how to potty train an older dog:
Set up a confinement space: This is where your dog will stay in between potty breaks. If your dog is crate trained, you can use a Frisco Fold & Carry Double Door Dog Crate or a Frisco Indoor & Outdoor Soft Dog Crate for up to four hours in a row (though puppies need to be let out of the crate more often). If you’re looking to housetrain an older dog without a crate, you can use the Carlson Pet Products Extra Wide Walk-Thru Gate, the MidWest Steel Pet Gate or the Frisco Dog Exercise Pen to block off a small room, such as the kitchen or bathroom (tile is easier to clean in case of accidents), or create a free-standing confinement area. Keep your dog in this space any time you’re not supervising them.
Clean up accidents properly: The odor from past accidents is like a “restroom” sign for your dog. Clean accidents thoroughly using a cleaner designed for pet stains, such as Nature’s Miracle Dog Stain and Odor Remover Spray. I recommend getting on your hands and knees and sniffing the area after you clean it to make sure the smell is truly gone. (Yes, I do this, and yes, my clients think it’s a bit odd—but you’d be amazed how many “missed” pee spots I’ve found!)
- Create a “legal bathroom” for your dog: If your dog has to be left alone longer than they can hold it, it’s important to give them a legal bathroom. Wee Wee pads give your dog a better option than the floor for times when they’re gated or crated for too long, or if your pup has trouble holding it in general.
Once you have all that set up, follow these instructions for housetraining an older dog:
1. Take your dog outside to potty at least once every hour.
Stand with your dog in an appropriate potty area. Act boring (so you don’t distract your dog from pottying), and wait five minutes to see if they relieve themselves. Praise and offer a treat as soon as they do.
If the dog does not potty within five minutes, take the dog back to the confinement area for 10 to 15 minutes and then take them out again. Repeat until the dog potties outside.
2. Stay outdoors for some playtime after potty time.
After the dog does their business, stay outdoors! If you go back indoors right away, your dog will learn that pottying ends fun outdoor time, and they may hold it longer so they can stay outside longer. Spend at least 10 minutes outdoors after your dog relieves themselves, so your dog learns pottying quickly earns extra fun time outside.
3. Provide limited supervised playtime after you go indoors.
After the dog potties and you go back indoors, give them up to 15 minutes supervised time indoors before returning them to their confined space, so they don’t associate doing their business outside with being immediately crated or gated afterward.
4. Repeat these steps throughout the day.
Take your dog out once every hour when you’re home, giving them praise and treats and extra outdoor time for pottying, followed by limited supervised time indoors before returning to confinement.
Due to these frequent potty breaks, it’s best to start training over the weekend or when you know you’ll be home for a few subsequent days. When you’re not around, you can confine your dog for up to four hours during the training process and hire a dog walker to let them out for a potty break when you’ll be away for longer than that. Be sure the dog walker is aware of and understandes your housetraining routine.
The stricter you are about following this routine and the more often you can take your dog out, the faster your dog will learn. Some dogs learn in a single weekend, while others can take weeks or even months to get the hang of things. Patience is key.
5. Track their potty patterns.
Create a housetraining chart or use a notepad to track when and where your dog potties, so you can learn their patterns. This information will help you learn which times of day your dog most likely needs to go, and when they probably don’t need a potty break.
When learning how to potty train an older dog, remember that accidents will happen. If you see your dog having an accident, calmly take them outside, and then praise and offer a treat for going in the right place. Fight the urge to yell or scold! Yelling and scolding teaches dogs to pee and poop where you can’t see them. In other words, they won’t stop going in the house; they’ll just hide before they do their business.
Having an older dog who isn’t housetrained is frustrating, but most older dogs can be potty trained within a couple of weeks. If you keep records of your dog’s bathroom habits, you’ll also be able to get down to just a few potty breaks a day quickly. For the fastest results, start with frequent potty breaks, take good notes and make sure that every time your dog does their business outside, they are rewarded with praise, treats and fun!