If you've taken in a grown dog, your new pooch may not be housebroken or may be trained in a manner that doesn't work for your household. Don't worry; it's never too late to teach an older dog new potty tricks. It just takes patience, consistency, and yummy treats.
Start from Scratch
When you bring home an adult dog, it's best to just start from scratch with housebreaking, as if she were your new puppy. You don't know exactly where and how your new canine companion was taught to relieve herself and you don't know her signals that she needs to pee or poop. Also, the stress of a new home environment can cause a grown dog stress and anxiety that throw off her normal behavior. If you have other pets, their scents may also prompt some territorial urine marking that makes you think a new grown dog isn't properly potty trained. The bottom line is, there's too much confusing the situation at first, so the best way to proceed is simply to start from the beginning.
Identify the Potty
Figure out exactly where you want your grown furry friend to eliminate. Pick a spot outside for most dogs; if your dog is elderly, it may be more convenient to provide her with a litter box or pee pad inside. Lead your dog to her potty, preferably on a leash at first. Keep on eye on her as much as possible, watching for circling, sniffing the ground, scratching at a door or window, whining and other ways she might be saying, "Hey, I need to go!" Confine her in a crate or small room where she won't want to go when you can't watch her. Bring her to her potty when she wakes up, after meals and after playing, as well as once every hour or two.
Reward, Reward, Reward
Positive reinforcement is the only way to train a dog, young or old. When yours relieves herself where she's supposed to, immediately hand-feed her a delicious treat, rub her head, and enthusiastically tell her what a great job she did. It's important that you offer the rewards and praise right away; otherwise your pooch won't realize she's getting them for going potty as you want her to. Accidents are bound to happen, especially if your dog is confused by a conflict between prior training and what you're doing. Don't ever punish or yell at her; it won't do any good. Instead, clap in her general direction and tell her no with a disapproving tone of voice. Take her promptly to where she should be going potty and reward her when she finishes where she's supposed to.
Rule Out Health Concerns
If your adult four-legged friend is soiling the house regularly or otherwise seems to have a hard time controlling her bladder or bowel movements, your vet needs to investigate for possible health problems. Senior dogs may suffer from canine cognitive dysfunction, the dog version of Alzheimer's. They may also just have difficulty moving fast enough or recognizing the urge to go. Digestive disorders, food allergies and intolerances, intestinal parasites, anxiety disorders, certain cancers, kidney dysfunction and other illnesses can also cause incontinence. Some medications may also cause your pooch to pee or poop in an untimely way, and your vet might be able to find a suitable alternative treatment with more manageable side effects (or, ideally, none at all).
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.