How to Potty Train an Elderly Dog

Your dog is never too old to be potty trained.
i portrait of old husky dog image by sarit saliman from

If you’ve adopted an old dog that was never potty trained, or your dog is used to living outside, it may be necessary to house train him. This is normally taught to puppies, but fortunately you can teach an old dog new tricks, too.

Step 1

Alter his environment. Since elderly dogs are less mobile than puppies and often need to toilet more frequently than young dogs, it’s smart to remove any obstacles to appropriate toileting. Place his basket or bed near an outside door, so he doesn’t need to travel far to get to the garden. Put newspaper or an absorbent toilet pad near the door, in case of accidents.

Step 2

Observe his toilet routine. Note down how long after waking, eating and drinking your dog typically needs to go to the toilet. Note down the typical amount of times he goes during the day and also look out for any tell-tale signs of needing to go. These typically include pacing near the door, circling, whining and sometimes scratching at the door. An elderly dog, regardless of potty training, will instinctively avoid soiling his sleeping area. This gives you an advantage, as he will do his best to eliminate far away from this area and will become agitated if he can’t.

Step 3

Encourage appropriate toileting. Using your understanding of his routine, leash your dog at times when he is likely to need to eliminate. Calmly walk him into the garden and wait. The trick here is to “catch him in the act” of appropriate elimination so you can reinforce this behavior. It’s much easier than attempting to correct inappropriate elimination.

Step 4

Reward appropriate toileting. Just before he begins to eliminate, begin issuing your chosen command, for example “go potty.” As he is eliminating, issue verbal praise such as “good boy!” Once he is finished, give him a treat. Timing is crucial. The command should just come just before the act, the praise during the act and the reward at the end. This teaches the dog that performing the act of elimination upon hearing the command has a positive outcome.

Step 5

Discourage inappropriate toileting. If you miss your cue and your dog appears to be about to go, distract him. Call his name, jangle your keys or clap your hands. As soon as he turns his attention to you, clip on his leash and calmly walk him outside. If it is urgent, walk him to the emergency potty area that you set up.

Step 6

Ignore accidents. They will happen during potty training, so it’s best to accept the fact and deal with it. If you find that your dog has soiled the house, you’ve already missed your chance to distract and correct his behavior. He can’t associate an act from the past with a consequence he experiences later, so there’s no point punishing or scolding him. Never rub his face in the mess.

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