House Training Adult Dogs
What to Do About the Problem
Treatment for Lack of House Training, Incomplete House Training or a Breakdown in House Training
If given a choice, dogs prefer to eliminate away from areas where they eat, sleep and play. You can accomplish house training by rewarding your dog for going where you want her to go (the yard, for example) and by preventing her from going in unacceptable places (inside the house). Crating and confinement should be kept to a minimum, but some amount is usually necessary to help your dog to learn to “hold it.”
House training takes time and effort in the short-term but gives you the long-term benefit of a dog who can be a part of your family. Realize that adult dogs adopted from shelters, rescues and kennels are often not house trained. If your dog came from one of these settings, she might need refresher training, or she might need to start from square one. No matter what your dog’s history, it’s best to adopt as many of the following recommendations as you can, as soon as you can. The longer your dog is allowed to soil in her living area (your home), the harder it will be to teach her to eliminate outside.
- Keep your dog on a consistent daily feeding schedule and remove food between meals.
- Take your dog outside on a consistent and frequent schedule. All dogs should have the opportunity to go out first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and before being confined or left alone. Fully house-trained adult dogs should have the chance to eliminate outside at least four times a day.
- Know where your dog is at all times. Watch for early signs that she needs to eliminate so that you can anticipate and prevent accidents from happening. These signs might include pacing, whining, circling, sniffing or leaving the room. If you see any of these, take your dog outside as quickly as possible. Not all dogs learn to let their caretakers know that they need to go outside by barking or scratching at the door. Some will just pace a bit and then eliminate inside. If letting you know that she needs to go out seems to be a challenge for your dog, consider installing a dog door. You can also try to teach your dog to ask to go out.
- If you can’t watch your dog, you must confine her to a crate, put her in a small room with the door or a baby gate closed, or tie her to you with a leash that’s approximately six feet long. If you confine your dog in a crate or small room, the area needs to be just large enough for her to lie down comfortably. Dogs don’t like to soil where they sleep and rest. If the area is too large, your dog might learn to soil in one corner and rest elsewhere. Gradually, over days or weeks, give your dog more freedom. Right after she eliminates outside, give her some free time in the house (about 15 to 20 minutes to start). If all goes well, gradually increase the amount of time your dog spends out of her confinement area.
- Accompany your dog outside and reward her whenever she eliminates outdoors with praise and treats, play or a walk. It’s best to take your dog to the same place each time you let her outside because the smell can prompt her to eliminate where she’s eliminated before. Keep in mind that some dogs tend to eliminate right when they go outside, but others need to move around and explore for a bit first.
- If you catch your dog in the act of urinating inside the house, clap loudly, just enough to startle but not scare your dog. (Avoid yelling or punishing your dog. It’s not necessary, and if you do, she might decide that eliminating in your presence is a bad idea and start to sneak away from you to urinate in other rooms.) If startled, your dog should stop in mid-stream. Immediately and quickly lead or carry her outside. If you take your dog by the collar to run her outside, do so gently and encourage her to come with you the whole way. Allow your dog to finish eliminating outside, and then reward her with happy praise and a treat or two. If you don’t catch your dog in the act but find an accident afterward, do nothing to her. She can’t connect any kind of punishment with something she did hours or even minutes ago. If your dog seems upset or scared by your clapping, just clap a little softer the next time you catch her in the act.
- Clean accidents with an enzymatic cleanser designed for cleaning pet urine. You can find one at most major pet stores and some grocery stores. This will minimize odors that might attract your dog back to the same spots to eliminate again.
- If you’re unable to get your dog outside quickly enough, possibly because of mobility problems (yours or your dog’s), or if you live in a high-rise apartment, consider training your dog to eliminate on paper or in a dog litter box.