Tips for housetraining an adult dog!

Tips for Housetraining


One of the benefits we usually tout about the adoption of an adult or senior dog is the fact they’re housetrained.

“I sure enjoy cleaning up dog pee and poops off my floor,” said No One ever.

During their stay at the shelter though, some housetrained dogs lose their housetraining skills and will do their business in their kennel area. Additionally, scents and odors from other pets in the shelter may cause them to do a little territory marking.

But don’t worry. This is a problem that is easily fixed! 

Once you have Fido home, a grace period may be necessary at first. Fido’s bathroom signals (or potty dance) need to be learned and you might even miss his usual cues that it’s time for business.

For the first few weeks after adoption, you should assume he isn’t housetrained and start from scratch. Unless you’re one of those lucky adopter’s whose new dog transitions easily from fire hydrant to fire hydrant with no problems. If Fido was previously housetrained, the process to re-train him should be quite easy!

Establish a Routine

  • Take Fido out at the same times every day. First thing in the morning, when you get home from work and before you go to bed. Dogs like routine and do well on a schedule.
  • Praise Fido when he does his business outside! High five Fido! Treats are a great option here (and probably work better than a high five) – praise Fido and give him a treat immediately after he’s finished eliminating (the academic term for going number one and two) outdoors.
  • Choose a bathroom location not too far from the door. Always take Fido, on leash, directly to the bathroom spot. Walks and playtime happen only after Fido has eliminated. Did Fido have a wee pee in the house? Put the soiled paper towel in the outdoors bathroom spot. The smell will help Fido recognize the area as the place where he’s supposed to go.
  • While Fido is doing his business, use a phrase like ‘go potty’ that you can eventually use before he eliminated to remind him of what he’s supposed to be doing.
  • Feeding Fido on a set schedule. This will help make his bathroom breaks more regular.

Supervise, supervise, supervise!

Don’t give Fido the opportunity to have an accident – this is key! Until you fully trust his bathroom routine, Fido should be watched at all-time indoors. You can tether him to yourself, use baby gates or keep him in the room you are in. Watch for the tell-tale signs: sniffing around and circling! If you see these, it’s time to hit the bathroom spot ASAP!


Confinement has such a negative sound to it, but it’s really the best word for the situation! If you’re unable to watch Fido (re: you need to leave the house for a bit), confinement is the best choice. It can be a crate or kennel, but baby-gated area of the house is also a great option. Dogs don’t like to lay near their business, so size of space is important. You just need to ensure it’s not too large of a space, so the option of eliminating is not appealing. When you’re back, rather than simply letting Fido out, take him to the bathroom spot first.

The more you set Fido up to succeed, the quicker he will catch on. (And the fewer times you’ll be cleaning pee off your rug)

Oh, crap! (Literally)

  • Most dogs, at some point, will have an accident. You should expect this as it’s a normal part of Fido’s adjustment to his new home.
  • Catch Fido in the act? Do something to interrupt him, but don’t scare him. Take him to the bathroom spot right away and praise him for finishing his business there.
  • Don’t punish Fido for an accident in the house. If Fido has already finished eliminating, its too late to alter the behavior. Just clean it up! Rubbing your dog’s nose in it does nothing – only makes Fido scared to be scared of you. Animals don’t get punishment after the fact and will do more harm than good.
  • Cleaning the soiled area is really important! Like really, really important! Dogs are highly motivated to continue soiling in an area that smells like pee or poop. Enzymatic cleaning products are available at the Calgary Humane Pet Gear store.

So Fido is housetrained, but has suddenly started having accidents? There may be another reason for this behavior:

  1. Medical Problems: house soiling can be caused by a physical problems like urinary tract infection or parasite infection. Visit your vet to rule out the possibility of disease or illness.
  2. Submissive/Excitement Urination: Some dogs, especially young one, temporarily lose control of their bladders when they become excited or feel threatened. This usually happens during greetings, intense play or when they’re about to be punished.
  3. Territorial Urine-Marking: dogs sometimes pee or poop (usually in small amounts) to scent-mark their territory. Both male and females will do this and its usually when they feel their territory has been invaded.
  4. Separation Issues: Dogs that become anxious when they’re left alone may house soil as a result.
  5. Fears or Phobias: when an animal becomes frightened, they may have an accident.