If you’re having trouble potty training an adult dog, or your adult dog was house trained at one point, but is starting to have “accidents” in the house, don’t despair. This is a case where you really can teach (or re-teach) an old dog new tricks.
Few things are more frustrating (and more odorous) then coming home and finding that your adult dog has urinated or defecated in the house. This kind of behavior is accepted in puppies that are still going through the potty training process, but not so much in older dogs who “should know better.”
This can lead to understandable frustration in the owner. Unfortunately, some owners handle their aggravation by “taking it out” on their adult dog. This can lead to a downward behavior cycle, a stressed-out, frightened animal, and it often makes the problem even worse.
What makes potty training an adult dog even more challenging is the fact that the bad behavior has most likely been around a long time. The dog has becoming accustomed to relieving itself inside the home, and this habit can take time and a lot of patience to break. But it can be done, assuming that there isn’t an underlying medical problem that is causing the dog to soil inside the house.
Why adult dogs have potty training problems
When an adult or adolescent dog (more than 6 months old) is soiling inside the house, it’s a problem. While the dog in question may “do his business” in any part of the home, usually the animal will choose specific locations in which to urinate or defecate.
Often the dog will attempt to hide the soiling by going in an infrequently-used room or location in the home. Other times the soiling will occur on a specific surface, or on a fabric or carpet that contains a certain odor, especially if the scent of urine or feces is still present from a previous soiling.
Other times the dog will soil in response to over-stimulation, such as when he or she is being punished, or there are hyperactive children, strangers, or other pets in the home. And some pets are simply left too long in the house without an opportunity to relieve themselves, and “can’t hold it any longer” and so go out of necessity.
Eliminate medical issues first
There are a variety of medical issues that could be causing your adult dog house training problems, so it’s important to take the animal to the vet for an examination before you begin any training program.
Some of the most common medical reasons that an adult dog will
soil in the house, and be difficult to potty train, include the following:
Behavior issues that can lead to potty training problems.
There are also a variety of behavioral problems that can lead to adult dogs soiling in the home. These can include such things as anxiety, which can be brought on by a major change in the dog’s life such as moving into a new home, or a new pet or strange human in the household. Dogs are also sensitive to the passing of a master or other important personal in the home, and this can lead to stress-related behavioral problems as well.
Dogs can also develop a fear of going outside, either due to bad weather or lightening, a neighbor dog that intimidates them, people in a neighboring yard, traffic noise, or anything else that frightens the animal.
And lastly the adult dog may have never been properly house trained in the first place, or the training was never completely. These dogs may act potty trained most of the time, but then suddenly lose control and soil in the home at unexpected moments. There’s nothing like coming home and finding an accident in the middle of the livingroom or bedroom, especially if you’re bringing guests into the home.
Ways of correcting the problem
Okay, so we’ve discussed some of the issues that could be causing your adult dog to soil in the home, now you’ll need a plan of action as far as potty training your beloved pooch so this unwanted behavior goes away.
Unfortunately, you’re likely to run into some frustration as you house train your adult dog, simply because the bad habit has probably been around for years, and it takes time to recondition the behavior. Young puppies are a “clean slate” so to speak, and they don’t have any bad habits to unlearn before they can be potty trained. Adult dogs (and their owners) aren’t so lucky.
That being said, you should go about house training your adult dog the same way you would with a puppy, and use the same steps as if you were teaching the dog a trick. Repetition is the key here, drilling the new behavior into the animal’s brain by going over what you expect of her again and again until it sticks.
An important step when beginning to potty train a dog is to try and eliminate the odor of past mistakes as best you can. You don’t want the scent of soiling in the house as a marker for future reference. Usually standard household cleansers won’t work for this, so try to find an enzymatic cleanser that’s made for specifically for pet urine. These are available at most pet stores.
Another thing to keep in mind is dogs will usually try to do their business as far away from where they eat and sleep as possible. By crating the dog or confining her to a relatively small area while in the house, you make it harder for her to find a spot to soil. Then, by taking her farther away (as in the front or back yard) and then rewarding her with a treat when she goes there, you’re reinforcing the desired behavior.
In the beginning of this process, you’ll also want to keep a close eye on your dog at all times while in the house. Most dogs will “tell” when they’re getting ready to urinate or defecate, especially if they’ve had some housetraining in the past. So watch for things like pacing back and forth in front of the door, sniffing around the furniture, circling, whining, etc. If you see one of these signs, take the dog outside immediately.
If you catch your canine in the act of going, clap your hands loudly to startle her, then immediately pick her up or lead her by the collar (but gently, and with encouragement) out into the yard.
While outside, try to take her to the same spot in the yard each time, so that she has a past scent as a reference point. This will reinforce the idea that the yard is the proper place to go (and not in the house). Some dogs like to wander around the yard for a while before going, so this might not be practical in all cases.
It’s also good to try and keep a strict schedule for taking the dog outside, even if she doesn’t have to go at that time. Every three or four hours is best if you can, so that it becomes part of the daily routine. If you have to work and it’s not practical to come home during the day, considering having a doggie door installed so that the dog can go outside on here own when she needs to.
Then reward the dog with a treat and lots of praise when she’s eliminated successfully. With luck (and a lot of patience) your adult dog will gradually get the message, and soiling in the house will become a thing of the past.
Animal Career Tips & Articles to guide you on your way to a rewarding new business or career in the growing animal services industry. Or visit or blog for up-to-date industry news and information.