Many adult rescue dogs come with imperfect housetraining skills — or none at all — and even dogs who were pottytrained in their previous homes will need a refresher course if they didn’t get regular walks at the shelter. The good news is it’s fairly easy to teach an old dog this new trick. In fact, adult dogs are easier and faster to housetrain than puppies, especially if you use a crate.
The key to rock-solid pottytraining is to start the day your dog comes home. If you stick closely to the following routine, you should be able to housetrain an adult dog within a week, or less.
1. Take time off to housetrain your dog properly.
2. Start using a crate the day you bring your pup home.
3. Give your dog at least six bathroom breaks daily.
4. Shower him with praise when he does a good job.
5. Don’t punish your pup for accidents you haven’t seen them make with your own eyes. (The picture above is exactly what you should NOT do.)
How to housetrain an adult dog
1. Take time off to housetrain your dog. Someone needs to take your dog out for midday bathroom breaks, so experts recommend taking time off work when you first get your dog. If that’s not an option, you could also hire a dog walker.
2. Start using a crate the day you bring him home. Crate training is the easiest way to teach a dog bladder and bowel control because dogs don’t like to soil their sleeping and eating areas.
The crate should be big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down in comfortably, but no bigger. If it’s too spacious, your dog may feel like he can eliminate in one corner and still keep his living space clean. Keep the crate in a high-traffic part of the house, so your dog won’t feel isolated. Also make sure to give your dog lots of time outside the crate for exercise, training, and just hanging out and bonding with you. If you keep him in his crate too long, he’ll feel trapped and frustrated.
If you’re among those people who don’t like putting their dogs in a crate, keep in mind that with adult dogs you won’t have to use it very long–maybe as few as three days–before he’s safely housetrained.
3. Give your dog at least six bathroom breaks daily, at least until you’ve finished housetraining.Aim to take out your dog first thing in the morning, before you leave for the day, twice during the day, once after dinner, and before going to bed. Once you know he’s got it, you can move him to four bathroom breaks a day, the standard for adult dogs.
Basic guidelines for using a crate:
- Never confine your dog for longer than she can hold it. If he’s ever forced to go inside his crate because you didn’t let him out in time, you’ve made housetraining much, much harder.
- Use the same “elimination station” each time. Dogs develop a preference for pooping and peeing in the same spots. Make it easier on yourself by choosing, right from the start, the place close by where you want her to go.
- Don’t distract your dog with games and chit-chat; just stand still and let her circle and sniff. As soon as your puppy begins to go, give her a command, such as, “Go pee or poop” or “Do your business.” Before long, your dog will eliminate on cue–a handy skill when you’re traveling or don’t want to spend your walks carrying a bag of poop.
4. Shower him with praise when he does a good job. Make sure the treats and praise come right after he finishes eliminating, and make the praise enthusiastic and the food treat top-notch. You want to make it crystal clear that eliminating outside is a great thing. Don’t wait to get back to the house to give him the treat; he won’t connect the reward with what prompted it.
Important: Take your dog for a walk or give him some playtime as a bonus reward. If he always comes straight back inside after eliminating, he’ll learn to hold it to prolong his time outdoors.
5. Don’t punish your dog for accidents you haven’t seen. Clean up thoroughly so he’s not drawn back to the same place by the smell of residual poop or urine. If you catch your dog having an accident, startle him midstream with a shout or clap and then quickly hustle him outside to finish the job. Praise him when he’s done so he learns that eliminating outside isn’t just allowed, it’s generously rewarded.
- Use a cleaning product that contains live bacteria or enzymes that break down the mess, rather than masking it with another fragrance.
- Stay away from ammonia-based cleaners; they’ll smell like urine to your dog, and he’ll want to pee again on the same spot.
- Leave some soiled towels in your dog’s “elimination station.” The scent reinforces for your dog that this is the potty area.
Bottom line: Use a crate to prevent accidents and make it more likely that your dog will eliminate when you take him outside; and reward your dog handsomely whenever he does the right thing in the right place. Punishing your dog for mistakes can actually make housetraining harder.