By Hindy Pearson
Is it possible one of the reasons people are hesitant about adopting an aging canine, is because they don’t know how to housebreak an older dog?
If this is why you’re reluctant, than I’m glad you found me. It would be a shame to let that stand in the way of you saving a life, and finding a new best friend!
I understand your concerns
You’re thinking of adopting an older dog, but you don’t want them peeing and pooping all over your carpet. I don’t blame you, but why does that necessarily have to be the only possibility?
Are you sure he’s not housebroken?
Most dogs when first brought home will have accidents in the house. You can say it’s pretty much a given. New environment, strange people, overwhelming! It’s unlikely a dog would have reached “older” status and never been housebroken, but nothing is impossible.
Are you sure it’s not a health problem?
Unless your dog has been checked by a vet recently, it’s a good idea to make an appointment. It is possible a health issue is causing this problem, and not a lack of training. It could be something as simple as a bladder infection, or not health related at all, either way it’s better to know for sure.
Give it time
If the dog has spent any amount of time in a shelter, it’s entirely possibly he simply “had to” forget his training, because he wasn’t getting out enough or at all. He would have had no choice but to pee and poop in his kennel. He’ll need some time to understand that is no longer the case.
For arguments sake
You’re willing to adopt a “wait and see” attitude for now, but you like to play devil’s advocate and you simply must know how long it will take to train him.
The answer is “I don’t know.” Of course it’s not the answer you were hoping for, but it’s an honest one. There is no timetable to follow, no time limit to be aware of. It will take the dog as long as it takes, and of course a lot will depend on you. In addition to the steps we’ll talk about in a minute, patience is key.
Some housekeeping is in order
I’m guessing you’ve already been dealing with some accidents in the house, am I right? It’s important to thoroughly clean all the areas with an enzymatic cleaner, because they get rid of both the stains and odours.
You probably don’t know much about your dog’s past life, so it’s unlikely you’re going to know if he had a schedule, or what it was. Even dogs that have been with their families since puppyhood don’t often have a schedule, so it’s not a problem to get one started right now.
When I say schedule or routine, I mean eating and going out at roughly the same time every day. It creates order and consistency, and helps your dog understand what happens when. It won’t take him long to realise he will now be getting out on a regular basis, and no longer has to resort to having accidents in the house.
Feed him meals at set times
I am not a fan of free feeding, meaning leaving food out all day for dogs to graze on. I prefer feeding twice a day at around the same time each day, unless there are reasons your vet recommends more often than that.
Even if you insist on leaving food out, I would wait until after he’s housebroken. If he eats whenever he wants, it’s impossible to know when he’s going to need to pee and poop. Feeding him on a schedule means you can see how quickly after his meals he needs to go out.
If your dog is waking up in the middle of the night to pee, try limiting the amount of water he can access after a certain time in the evening. Leaving a little bit of water in the bowl will allow him to quench his thirst, without overdoing it and causing him to pee.
I should note that if your dog has a medical condition which causes an increase in thirst, leave the bowl full as always.
Your dog needs plenty of exercise, the length and intensity will depend on his physical fitness. Try and get in at least two 30 minute walks a day, longer if he’s able.
Pee and poop breaks
Although your dog will get a couple of pee breaks in between his normal walk schedule, until he’s housebroken he’ll need to have those more frequently – every hour or two perhaps. To makes things easy, choose a place in the garden for these breaks.
As soon as you wake up in the morning take him for a quick pee. It’s helpful if you create a cue so he can pee almost on demand. I use “go pee” – not original but effective nonetheless. As he’s peeing say “go pee” then give him a treat when he’s done. Doing that every time will create an association between the word and the action, so when you take him out and tell him what to do he’ll know.
Don’t do anything to make him think you’re out there for play time. Don’t talk to him, other than to use your cue, and keep him on a leash if that helps.
If you’ve been outside for five minutes and nothing is happening, bring him back into the house and try again in a few minutes. An untrained dog needs to be supervised at all times. You absolutely do not want him coming back inside after not peeing, then having an accident the second he’s in the house. You’ll be sabotaging all your great training efforts.
Supervision could mean crate training, or it could mean attaching a leash to your belt and having him go wherever you do in the house. Don’t worry it won’t be forever, only until he’s housebroken.
Pay attention to what your dog is trying to tell you
Most dogs have some sort of ritual or give off a sign when they’re about to pee. Some dogs go to the door, others circle, some sniff the floor and others get restless. There are lots of cues a dog will give off, do you know what your dog’s “tells” are?
With the number of extra pee breaks he’s getting you should be fine, but there’s still a possibility it isn’t enough, or the timing isn’t right. As soon as you see your dog giving off a sign, don’t wait to see if you’re right immediately take him outside and give him the cue (“go pee”).
Punishing your dog is not an option
I know it can be terribly frustrating to find a mess on the floor, but it is not your dog’s fault, and yelling at him will accomplish nothing good.
If you catch your dog about to pee say “no” loudly, clap your hands, whatever it is to distract him, then take him out immediately. If it’s after the fact do nothing, other than clean up the mess of course.
Contrary to popular belief, your dog is not spiteful or doing it on purpose. He doesn’t know, and that’s why he needs you to teach him.
What to do when no one is home
Okay so you’ve been great at supervising your dog when you’re home and there have only been a few accidents, or maybe none at all. What happens when you have to go out? Could you get someone to take over? If you really don’t have anyone to help, put him in one room or block off a small area for him.
Taking him for a nice long walk before you go may tire him out, and decrease the chances of an accident.
It’s quite possible your dog will sleep through the night, the flip side is it’s quite possible he won’t.
If you can, put his bed (or crate if you’re crate training him) in your room so if he does have to go out you will hopefully hear him, and can take him before he has an accident. Don’t talk to him just grab the leash, take him out, use the cues you’ve been practicing and when he’s done, give him a treat and back to bed. You don’t want him to mistake any of this for fun times, otherwise he’ll be getting up in the middle of the night every night for a play.
If for whatever reason he can’t be in the bedroom, you may have some idea of how long he can wait between pee breaks. Try setting your alarm for just before that deadline, and see if he’s about to wake up to pee. You may have to experiment with the timing a bit, but don’t worry – once he understands the routine and is housebroken, you should be able to sleep undisturbed.
*a helpful tip – keep your shoes, flashlight, a jacket and his leash next to your bed so there’s no fumbling around wasting time.
Decrease the frequency of visits outside
It shouldn’t take long before you can start decreasing the number of daytime pee breaks, but do that gradually she says, stating the obvious!
I’m a huge fan of the pee pad, and sometimes I regret not having bought stock in one of the companies. Nothing wrong with keeping a one or two down in a corner just in case. It’s certainly better to give him something to pee on in an emergency, than him using your carpet.
My experience with housebroken dogs
I think it would be easier to talk about my experience with non-housebroken dogs, as that’s what they all were.
I adopt seniors who have been in the shelter for a long time, so if they were ever housebroken that training was long forgotten. I would take them out as soon as I saw an eye open, then take them out frequently throughout the day. With lots of opportunities to pee and poop outside, and a feeding and walking schedule they soon learned they didn’t have to pee as soon as they felt like it.
Of course the dogs I adopted all had issues, or quickly developed some, so my best friend was the pee pad. To this day, as often as my dog Red goes out, I keep some down at night in case she can’t wait, or gets up before I do.
Housebroken is overrated!!
I can’t say I wouldn’t appreciate never finding a pee stain on a carpet, of course I would, and I can’t say I love the look of pee pads on the floor, of course I don’t. Having said all that, it’s a small price for me to pay in order to share my heart, and home, with an older dog.
This post was written by author Hindy Pearson. She is a long time shelter volunteer, dog trainer, and runs the Saffy Pearson Resource Centre. A mobile centre offering free advice for people who share their lives with cats and dogs. She has a website called Caring For a Senior Dog and thinks the pet stroller is the greatest invention.