- You *can* teach an old dog new tricks — While old dogs being “untrainable” is a common misconception, we’re here to help you bust that myth. Older dogs can be trained to potty where they should.
- It’s often easier to house train an adult dog than a puppy — Many owners prefer house training after the one-year mark, as adult dogs can “hold” their pee for longer.
- Body language is everything — Knowing your dog’s “go” signs (such as whimpering, shifting, or scratching) can help you to expedite the process. Not sure what to look for? Make note of cues the next few times they “go.”
Wondering how to house-train a seemingly “untrainable” dog? We’ve got good news for you—no dog is truly untrainable. Most adult dogs just need the right combination of training tactics and positive encouragement to “go” on the go, so long as there are no underlying medical issues.
Potty training an older dog can be frustrating, as you may not feel that it’s something you should be doing at this stage of development. However, there may be plenty of reasons why your dog isn’t trained yet. Maybe no one housetrained them as a pup, or maybe they’ve never lived indoors. You training them now helps to boost their quality of life (and yours!)
Luckily for you, this process should be easier than it otherwise would be if you were potty training a puppy. In general, older dogs can focus more than puppies might, making your job simpler.
If you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry—we’re here to help. We’ve put together this helpful, vet-approved guide to help you potty train an older dog in confidence.
Step 1: Assess your dog’s needs
Senior dogs may have different needs compared to puppies, and their lack of potty training could be due to medical problems that have gone unaddressed. Taking the time to visit the vet and determine if it’s a behavior issue vs. a medical one can give you peace of mind and your pup an appropriate course of action.
Possible medical issues that can cause toileting troubles in adult dogs include:
- Diabetes mellitus. While this condition generally affects the pancreas, excessive hydration is a symptom of diabetes that can disrupt your dog’s toileting “flow.” Your veterinarian can diagnose this clinically and through lab work.
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs). Infections of the urinary tract cause painful urination and frequency, which can cause accidents. Vets can identify this through urine samples and can treat it with medication.
- Kidney failure. While extreme, early signs of kidney failure or disease (such as irregular or frequent urination) can hinder your dog’s toilet training. Your vet can diagnose this with lab work and you can support your dog using lifestyle changes and dialysis.
In addition to diagnostic medical conditions, your pup may be dealing with some psychological barriers that can prevent proper peeing habits. Rescues, in particular, may be experiencing a traumatic response that can cause excessive or irregular urination, which can lead to accidents. It’s always best to proceed with patience as you determine the root cause of your dog’s potty training issues.
Step 2: Establish a routine
Creating a potty time routine with your pet can help them realize that they’re in the right place for a pee or a poop. After health issues have been ruled out or addressed you might see routine creation as a first step to helping your pet find and use a routine bathroom spot.
Here are a few tips to help your pet identify the right place to pee (such as pee pads or another spot in your home) — all of which you can use to start their routine formation today.
- Identify a designated potty area in your home. Whether you want them to potty outside or you prefer indoor urinary pads, there’s no wrong way to start identifying your pet’s peeing-safe space.
- Choose a set time and place for meals. Animals are creatures of habit. Choosing specific times of day and places to feed your pet can help encourage regular toileting, especially if you notice that the two seem to go together anyway.
- Monitor feeding routines. Over- or under-feeding can cause an increase in your dog’s consumption of fresh water, which can cause accidents. Learning how much to feed your dog or investing in an automatic dog feeder if you’re gone frequently can help your efforts.
- Take it outside. If you haven’t set a location yet, refer to Step 3 below (and don’t panic!) Often, it’s easier to encourage toileting with physical activity, which is why you might see pet parents taking their dogs out for walks after meals. Feel free to do the same, and give your dog extra time to explore and play. They may be tempted to mark their territory as they run into new scents and experiences.
- This post-meal potty walk is brought on by the gastrocolic reflex, which urges your dog to “go” about 5-60 minutes after eating. If you’re not sure when your dog’s internal clock is, watch out for signs that signal your dog is ready for a walk. Many owners see these as door urgency, whimpering, or the “potty walk” — which is a quick tippy-tap walk by a door or exit point that signals that your pal wants to be outside.
Step 3: Choose a potty location
You might try frequently enticing your dog over to the designated area with a treat or a toy, choosing regular intervals to help avoid accidents. As you pick your space, remember to stay consistent and make sure it’s within your pet’s physical ability to reach when they feel the urge.
Here’s a quick summary of the pros and cons of each option, summarized by our veterinarian and pet experts.
A designated space inside — Few pet parents are home all of the time, and even if they are, it’s near impossible to catch every pee cue your dog might be giving. This is the reason why many choose to have an “inside pee spot” in their home, allowing dogs to have consistency and a place to go if the outdoors isn’t an option. It’s also especially helpful if they have mobility issues or if they can’t make it outside in time consistently. It doesn’t have to be big; it can simply be a small area away from people that can allow your pet to pee in peace. Pet owners choosing this route may opt to invest in pet pee pads to keep floors clean.
Potty areas outdoors — If your dog has trauma or stress around past accidents (possibly from a previous home, shelter, or other owners before you), you might want to start with an outdoor pee location first. Being outdoors decreases the risk of potty accidents inside and allows you to avoid creating a soiled area of your home. Even if your dog isn’t a “walking regular,” they may enjoy the formation of new habits outside, such as peeing, playing, and socialization.
Step 4: Use positive reinforcement
Potty breaks are best done with some positive reinforcement. Dogs do well with rewards-based systems, which can either be done with materials (such as toys and treats) or lots of praise — whatever works! Some of our top dog toys to use for this type of training include the Mammoth Rope or the KONG Extreme.
What to do if your dog has accidents
Accidents are par for the course when it comes to potty training your dog. Plan ahead and stay cool when the pee (or poop) starts flowing. Instead of yelling, redirect your dog to the toilet area and clean up the accident quickly. This avoids confusion around any emotional outbursts and also limits the risk of the dog toileting again in the same (off-limits) area.
Be sure to use a stain and odor-remover, as the smell of your dog’s pee and poop can encourage them to go back and toilet again…away from the potty spot.
Can older dogs still be potty trained?
Older dogs might need different training methods than puppies or younger dogs. It’s important to seek expert advice for training older dogs, avoiding the urge to expect only “good” behavior starting out. While they can retain more information and can be more trainable in general, they still may have bad habits they need to overcome from puppyhood. Short periods of training, praise, and frequent potty breaks are all key to making your experience a success.
Here are a few techniques that can make potty training your adult dog easier:
- Crate training. Crate training is a helpful tool to teach your dog potty training skills. Crate training adult dogs can be a breeze with some simple tips and a good dog crate..
- Supervised confinement. Supervised confinement is a helpful technique if you find that your pet needs a lot of in-the-moment correction. Being close by through your potty training process can help you jump right in if your dog needs a little encouragement through the process. If you use this method, be sure to avoid distractions , as this can make your effort less effective.
- Tether training. This form of training can be especially useful for toilet training if owners have the space and time to do it. Short sessions are best—allowing the dog to be on the tether for about 30 minutes per training session. During this time, your dog can learn to go to the pads if they need to pee, reinforcing the specific areas of the home that are safe to pee in.
🪢 Tether training can be useful, but it may not be the right choice for every dog. Dogs who have separation anxiety may not be the best candidates for this type of training, as it can trigger their anxiety. It’s always best to talk with a vet regarding your concerns or questions.
Patience is key. No matter what method of training you choose for your adult dog, patience is key to making the experience successful. While older dogs are still trainable, they might need a little extra help when it comes to retaining commands and processes.
They may also be overcoming anxiety or trauma as they potty train, especially if they come from a rescue situation. In this case, there may be weeks or months of “accidents” before your pet can confidently and regularly access the pads.
Getting professional help
Professional help can be a great tool to help your training experience, especially if you’re dealing with an older dog. Beyond providing you with emotional support and knowledge, a professional dog trainer or dog behaviorist can also keep an eye out for specific things that can enhance your training experience. Certain techniques, for example, might be a better fit for some furry friends than others. Your trainer can be an invaluable resource to help you determine what’s right for your pet.
Potty training in older dogs can be difficult, but it can also be immensely rewarding. As you go through the process, you can do so in confidence, knowing that you are teaching your dog the skills they need to reach a higher quality of life.
Frequently asked questions
Can an older dog still be potty trained?
Yes! Older dogs can be successfully potty trained, although they may take a bit longer than a puppy would. Owners can find success using positive reinforcement and techniques from a skilled dog trainer.
Do some dogs never get house-trained?
Although it’s rare, it is possible for a dog to reach adulthood without potty training skills. Old, “bad” habits can be broken, though, especially with consistency and the right training techniques.
Why does my dog poop in the house after walks?
While some dogs may do this out of nervousness or habit, your dog might also be experiencing a medical need that causes urgency or discomfort. Taking them to a vet to rule out a condition is often the best first step to consistent potty training.
What is “dirty dog syndrome”?
This term is slang, and describes what can happen if your dog goes poop or pee in their crate. Over time, they may not see this as “dirty,” as they will begin to consider their crate a safe potty space. This can lead to recurring messes, otherwise known as “dirty dog syndrome.” It’s not a real medical condition in the dictionary, and it can be trained out of a dog.
What smell repels dogs from pooping?
Certain smells, such as vinegar, might keep a dog away from certain areas of the house. We do caution against using this method, though it’s popular on the internet. If your dog ingests the vinegar, it can sour their stomach and make them sick. They may need further medical intervention.
How do you discipline a dog for peeing in the house?
The short answer is –don’t. Yelling, screaming, and otherwise frightening your dog can confuse them (and isn’t healthy for them—at all). If your dog has an accident, it’s best to redirect them to the proper spot to potty, cleaning up the mess as soon as possible. This reinforces the correct toileting area in your dog’s mind in a stress-free way, and lowers the incentive for them to mark their territory on the accident spot.