Puppies can be tough to housebreak, but the challenge of housetraining an older dog who has become accustomed to pottying inside is a whole ‘nother bag of chips, so to speak. While the most important part of housetraining a puppy is capitalizing on his or her natural instincts, an older dog may have had their natural elimination instincts eradicated by a life of confinement. Dogs “retired” from breeding at commercial kennels are usually in this category, having lived most of their lives forced to eliminate in crates.
Introducing Outdoor Elimination
Let’s assume that your older dog has never been consistently taught to eliminate outdoors. If that’s the case, the first step is to introduce the concept of outdoor elimination. Some dogs will initially resist pottying outdoors as strenuously as a housebroken dog might avoid having an accident in the house. Others will urinate and defecate while being walked outdoors, but simply haven’t been taught to wait until a walk or outdoor play session to do their business. If your dog is in the latter category, simply begin quietly praising him each time he eliminates outdoors, and proceed to the next step.
If your dog is in the former category, and staunchly refuses to eliminate outside, you may need to get creative. One method is to encourage the dog to exercise strenuously, then offer a nice, big bowl of water. After the dog has gulped lots of water, take her straight outside, head for your usual walking route, and don’t come back in until she’s urinated. Another method is to hitch the dog to your belt loop with a six-foot leash so that, as you go about your daily routine, you’ll notice signs she may need to eliminate, such as sniffing and circling or squatting. When you see these signs, immediately go out and don’t come back in until she has eliminated outdoors.
Prohibiting Indoor Elimination
Once you have a dog who will go outdoors, but who would just as soon eliminate wherever he is when he feels the urge, the only thing left to do is convey the message that indoors is not a toileting area. Unfortunately, you can’t use the same simple technique with older dogs as with puppies. Puppies can be taught to go outdoors by making clear that indoors is for eating and play only. However, an unhousetrained older dog will usually have lost the normal canine distaste for toileting where he eats or plays. In this case, only supervision and consistency can get the desired results.
Use baby gates, a leash, and careful supervision to keep your dog within eyesight at all times while you’re home. Crating usually is ineffective for unhousetrained older dogs, because many have been forced to eliminate in a crate until they lost their dislike of being confined with their own waste. Instead, watch carefully for any signs that the dog is about to urinate or defecate, and rush outside immediately. Give soft, soothing praise for outdoor elimination. If you catch the dog in the act of having an indoor accident, don’t yell or spank him– that will just teach him to hide when he eliminates. Instead, without saying a word, pick the dog up or put its leash on and take it outside. Then praise it for finishing its business outdoors.
For at least the first several weeks of housetraining, your dog will need to go outside at least every four hours, day and night, as well as after eating, drinking, playing, waking up from sleep, or getting more than a couple of small treats. Once your dog has no accidents on this schedule, you can go to five hours or after the previously mentioned events, then six. Only when the dog is reliably housetrained should you ask it to go as much as eight or nine hours without a potty break. This may mean that you need to come home on a lunch break to take your dog out, or hire a neighborhood kid to drop by and walk your dog mid-day.