The Ins and Outs of Potty Training Older Dogs

PetMD Editorial
Sep 25, 2018
6 min read
Image: Photo Grapher / via Image Bank

Whether you’ve decided to adopt a mature dog from a shelter, or you’ve taken in a dog from a friend or relative, you may assume that the dog is potty trained, but find out otherwise when you get home.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but when it comes to potty training older dogs, experts agree that you can teach an older dog just as effectively as a young puppy. 

“The truth is that old dogs can learn new tricks with proper training,” says Dr. Carol Osborne, a veterinarian and owner of Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. “If the dog doesn’t have any medical problem, the issue can be handled, dealt with and corrected.”

Dr. Osborne says there are plenty of benefits to adopting an older dog—they typically are lower energy than a puppy, you don’t have to wonder how big they will get, and they are usually already spayed or neutered. “On the flip side, you may have a potty training issue if the dog wasn’t properly trained in its former home,” says Dr. Osborne. 

If you know your dog was relinquished to a shelter or rescue due to potty training issues, Dr. Osborne says that although “it may take more time, more love and more patience” to correct any previously learned behaviors, the effort will be well worth it.

Rule Out Medical Issues Before Potty Training Older Dogs

Dr. Osborne recommends taking your new adult dog to a veterinarian for a checkup when you bring him home, especially if he is going potty inside the house.

“It’s a good idea to get a full physical exam,” says Dr. Osborne. “If your dog is having problems with eliminating in the house, you will want to have stool and urine samples taken to rule out parasites or infection.” Blood testing is also important.

Your veterinarian will take into consideration any medical conditions or dog medications your dog may be on that could be contributing to the issue. If your dog does have a medical or mobility issue, you can try using dog diapers,  reusable dog diapers or belly bands. Be sure to discuss usage with your veterinarian as some dog harnesses can lead to sores and infections of the skin if used inappropriately.

If your veterinarian gives your new dog a clean bill of health, it’s time to learn how to potty train a dog.  

How to Potty Train Older Dogs

Potty training an adult dog or an older dog is very similar to potty training any dog, says Russell Hartstein, a certified dog behavior consultant and certified dog trainer and owner of Fun Paw Care in Los Angeles, California.

If you want to learn how to potty train adult dogs, Here are the steps Hartstein recommends:

  • Limit access to space. Hartstein says if you’re crate training your dog, you should use the dog crate to limit the dog’s space. He cautions never to use the crate as punishment. “It’s not a punishment to leave them in the crate as long as the dog is being exercised and given playtime appropriately,” says Hartstein. If you’re not crate training your dog, give him only limited space to a room using baby gates or dog pens. If your dog has eliminated in the home, don’t give him access to that same space. Each time your dog eliminates where he is supposed to, increase the amount of space until he finally has full access to a room and then the house. Hartstein says immediately giving a dog full access to the house is one of the most common mistakes dog parents make when they bring a new dog home. 
  • Tether your dog to you. If you’re home, you can tether your dog to your belt. Bryn Nowell of South Hadley, Massachusetts, found this method very effective when bringing home Yoda, a 2 ½-year-old Boston Terrier two years ago. Nowell says Yoda was a male breeding dog kept in an outside run, and she didn’t realize he wasn’t potty trained. Tethering him to her belt every day allowed Nowell to watch him anytime he wasn’t in his crate and also allowed her to learn his cue when he had to go.
  • Decide where your dog is going to eliminate. While most dogs are taught to eliminate outdoors, some people may live in a high-rise apartment or may be physically unable to take their dogs outside. Hartstein says you can train your dogs to use dog potty pads, like Frisco potty pads, or indoor restroom potty trainers, like the Petmarker indoor restroom, by limiting them to the space with these training aides.
  • Take your dog out at appropriate times. All experts agree that during dog potty training, you should take them out (or put them on their potty patch) as soon as you wake up, after meals, upon returning home and after you learn to read their cues that they need to go out.
  • Hartstein says if your dog has had accidents in the home, make sure to use an enzymatic cleaner to eliminate the “mark.” Products such as Nature’s Miracle Oxy Pet Stain & Odor Remover will discourage pets from going in the same spot.
  • Use a reward-based system. Hartstein says to make sure you’re actually accompanying your dog outside. “Just opening the door and letting him outside means nothing to him,” says Hartstein. The most favorable method, if you can, is to take your dog for a walk. Hartstein says to carry “high-value” dog treats with you and give your dog one as soon as he eliminates. However, don’t immediately turn around and come back home or inside after the deed is done. “The dog sees having to go inside as punishment, so continue with your walk or play afterward.”
  • Learn the cues. Sometimes your dog will simply jump up suddenly and act anxious, as Yoda did, or he may learn to walk to the door. If you’re successful at potty training your adult dog, you may even teach him to give you a cue such as ringing dog training bells at the door.

Hartstein says if you’re not having success at potty training an adult dog, look at all of the factors that might be causing the issue, such as your pet drinking too much water before bed or before you leave. Eliminating could also be due to anxiety or fear-based, such as when you leave or come home (the dog gets too excited) or during thunderstorms.

If you’ve been patient and consistent and have given it at least a month and are still not having success, you might consider contacting a professional trainer. What you don’t want to do is give up, says Nowell.

“Patience is really important. A lot of individuals have an idea of how smoothly it should go, and a lot of dogs are surrendered because of potty training issues,” says Nowell. “I can’t imagine where Yoda would be if we’d given up, but now that he’s trained, I can’t imagine life without him. It’s so worth it.”

By: Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

Featuted Image: Spiky and I/

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