April 28, 2010
Housetraining Adult and Senior Dogs
It's also possible he's never been housetrained. Give him a few weeks to settle in to his new home and follow the procedures for housetraining puppies »
Here are some reasons why adult and senior dogs might have accidents in the house:
As your dog ages, he may need to eliminate more often than in the past. Just as people can have difficulties as they age, so can dogs. They may not be able to "hold it" as long as they used to. They also may become incontinent. This is not a housetraining issue.
If your senior dog has accidents frequently, your vet should examine him for possible medical problems. If the vet says it's not a medical issue, you will have to manage the situation instead of trying to housetrain the dog.
If you are at work all day, you may need to:
- Hire a pet sitter to visit your dog to let him outside.
- Confine him to a room of the house where accidents will be easy to clean up.
- Try sanitary products on your dog, such as doggie diapers. They fit like little pants and hold a disposable absorbent pad to catch the urine. These work best on female dogs. Belly bands—fabric bands that wrap around the dog's waist and contain an absorbent pad—are available for male dogs. They're available at most pet stores and online.
Because of their short legs and small size, you may need to make some special accommodations for your small dog:
- Provide a sheltered spot near the house or under a porch or deck for your dog to eliminate in bad weather.
- Provide a bathroom spot covered with mulch or gravel so your little dog won't have tall and/or wet grass pressing against his tummy when he eliminates.
- Clear a path or other area for your dog to eliminate when it snows.
Other types of house-soiling problems
If you've consistently followed the housetraining procedures and your dog continues to eliminate in the house, there may be another reason for his behavior, such as:
Medical problems: House-soiling can often be caused by physical problems such as a urinary tract infection, a parasite infection, or even a seizure. Check with your veterinarian to rule out any possibility of disease or illness.
Submissive or excitement urination: Some dogs, especially young ones, temporarily lose control of their bladders when they become excited or feel threatened. Submissive or excitement urination usually occurs during greetings or periods of intense play, or when they're about to be punished.
Territorial urine marking: Dogs sometimes deposit small amounts of urine or feces to scent-mark their territory. Both male and female dogs do this, and it most often occurs when they believe their territory has been invaded. Prevent urine-marking behaviors »
Separation anxiety: Dogs who become anxious when they're left alone may house-soil as a result. Usually, there are other symptoms as well, such as destructive behavior or vocalization. Learn more about separation anxiety »
Fears or phobias: When animals become frightened, they may lose control of their bladder and/or bowels. If your puppy is afraid of loud noises, such as thunderstorms or fireworks, he may house soil when he's exposed to these sounds. Learn more about fear of thunder and loud noises »
Housetraining your dog or puppy requires far more than a few stacks of old newspapers—it calls for vigilance, patience, plenty of commitment and above all, consistency.
By following the procedures outlined below, you can minimize house-soiling incidents. Virtually every dog, especially puppies, will have an accident in the house, and more likely, several. Expect this—it's part of living with a puppy.
The more consistent you are in following the basic housetraining procedures, the faster your puppy will learn acceptable behavior. It may take several weeks to housetrain your puppy, and with some of the smaller breeds, it might take longer.
Establish a routine
Like babies, puppies do best on a regular schedule. The schedule teaches him that there are times to eat, times to play, and times to potty.
Generally speaking, a puppy can control his bladder one hour for every month of age. So if your puppy is two months old, he can hold it for about two hours. Don't go longer than this between bathroom breaks or he's guaranteed to have an accident. If you work outside the home, this means you'll have to hire a dog walker to give your puppy his breaks.
Take your puppy outside frequently—at least every two hours—and immediately after he wakes up, during and after playing, and after eating or drinking.
Pick a bathroom spot outside, and always take your puppy to that spot using a leash. While your puppy is eliminating, use a word or phrase, like "go potty," that you can eventually use before he eliminates to remind him what to do. Take him out for a longer walk or some playtime only after he has eliminated.
Reward your puppy every time he eliminates outdoors. Praise him or give him a treat—but remember to do so immediately after he's finished eliminating, not after he comes back inside the house. This step is vital, because rewarding your dog for eliminating outdoors is the only way he'll know what's expected of him. Before rewarding him, be sure he's finished eliminating. Puppies are easily distracted. If you praise him too soon, he may forget to finish until he's back in the house.
Put your puppy on a regular feeding schedule. What goes into a puppy on a schedule comes out of a puppy on a schedule. Depending on their age, puppies usually need to be fed three or four times a day. Feeding your puppy at the same times each day will make it more likely that he'll eliminate at consistent times as well, and that makes housetraining easier for both of you.
Pick up your puppy's water dish about two and a half hours before bedtime to reduce the likelihood that he'll need to potty during the night. Most puppies can sleep for approximately seven hours without having to eliminate.
If your puppy does wake you up in the night, don't make a big deal of it; otherwise, he will think it is time to play and won't want to go back to sleep. Turn on as few lights as possible, don't talk to or play with your puppy, take him out to do his business, and return him to his bed.
Don't give your puppy an opportunity to soil in the house; keep an eye on him whenever he's indoors.
Tether your puppy to you or a nearby piece of furniture with a six-foot leash if you are not actively training or playing with him. Watch for signs your puppy needs to eliminate. Some signs are obvious, such as barking or scratching at the door, squatting, restlessness, sniffing around, or circling. When you see these signs, immediately grab the leash and take him outside to his bathroom spot. If he eliminates, praise him lavishly and reward him with a treat.
Keep your puppy on leash in the yard. During the housetraining process, your yard should be treated like any other room in your house. Give your puppy some freedom in the house and yard only after he is reliably housetrained.
When you're unable to watch your puppy at all times, he should be confined to an area small enough that he won't want to eliminate there. The space should be just big enough for him to comfortably stand, lie down, and turn around in. You can use a portion of a bathroom or laundry room blocked off with baby gates.
Or you may want to crate train your puppy and use the crate to confine him. (Be sure to learn how to use a crate humanely as a method of confinement.) If your puppy has spent several hours in confinement, you'll need to take him directly to his bathroom spot as soon as you let him out, and praise him when he eliminates.
Expect your puppy to have a few accidents in the house—it's a normal part of housetraining. Here's what to do when that happens:
- Interrupt your puppy when you catch him in the act of eliminating in the house.
- Make a startling noise (be careful not to scare him) or say "OUTSIDE!" Immediately take him to his bathroom spot, praise him, and give him a treat if he finishes eliminating there.
- Don't punish your puppy for eliminating in the house. If you find a soiled area, it's too late to administer a correction. Just clean it up. Rubbing your puppy's nose in it, taking him to the spot and scolding him, or any other punishment will only make him afraid of you or afraid to eliminate in your presence. In fact, punishment will often do more harm than good.
- Clean the soiled area thoroughly. Puppies are highly motivated to continue soiling in areas that smell like urine or feces. Check with your veterinarian or pet store for products designed specifically to clean areas soiled by pets.
It's extremely important that you use the supervision and confinement procedures outlined above to minimize the number of accidents. If you allow your puppy to eliminate frequently in the house, he'll get confused about where he's supposed to eliminate, which will prolong the housetraining process.
When you're away
A puppy under six months of age cannot be expected to control his bladder for more than a few hours at a time (approximately one hour for each month of age). If you have to be away from home more than four or five hours a day, this may not be the best time for you to get a puppy; instead, you may want to consider an older dog, who can wait for your return.
If you already have a puppy and must be away for long periods of time, you'll need to:
- Arrange for someone, such as a responsible neighbor or a professional pet sitter, to take him outside to eliminate.
- Train him to eliminate in a specific place indoors. Be aware, however, that doing so can prolong the process of housetraining. Teaching your puppy to eliminate on newspaper may create a life-long surface preference, meaning that even as an adult he may eliminate on any newspaper lying around the living room.
When your puppy must be left alone for long periods of time, confine him to an area with enough room for a sleeping space, a playing space, and a separate place to eliminate.
- In the designated elimination area, use either newspapers (cover the area with several layers of newspaper) or a sod box. To make a sod box, place sod in a container such as a child's small, plastic swimming pool. You can also find dog litter products at a pet supply store.
- If you clean up an accident in the house, put the soiled rags or paper towels in the designated elimination area. The smell will help your puppy recognize the area as the place where he is supposed to eliminate.
The key to helping your new dog make a successful adjustment to your home is being prepared and being patient. It can take anywhere from two days to two months for you and your pet to adjust to each other. The following tips can help ensure a smooth transition.
Prepare the things your dog will need in advance. You'll need a collar and leash, food and water bowls, food, and, of course, some toys. And don't forget to order an identification tag right away.
Try to arrange the arrival of your new dog for a weekend or when you can be home for a few days. Get to know each other and spend some quality time together. Don't forget the jealousy factor—make sure you don't neglect other pets and people in your household!
Animal shelters take in animals with widely varying backgrounds, some of whom have not been previously vaccinated. Inevitably, despite the best efforts of shelter workers, viruses can be spread and may occasionally go home with adopted animals. If you already have dogs or cats at home, make sure they are up-to-date on their shots and in good general health before introducing your new pet dog.
Take your new dog to the veterinarian within a week after adoption. There, he will receive a health check and any needed vaccinations. If your dog has not been spayed or neutered, make that appointment! There are already far too many homeless puppies and dogs; don't let your new pet add to the problem. Most likely, the shelter will require that you have your pet spayed or neutered anyway. If you need more information about why it is so important to spay or neuter your dog, read our online information on spaying and neutering.
Work out your dog-care regimen in advance among the human members of your household. Who will walk the dog first thing in the morning? Who will feed him at night? Will Fido be allowed on the couch, or won't he? Where will he rest at night? Are there any rooms in the house that are off-limits?
Training and discipline
Dogs need order. Let your pet know from the start who is the boss. When you catch him doing something he shouldn't, don't lose your cool. Stay calm, and let him know immediately, in a loud and disapproving voice, that he has misbehaved. Reward him with praise when he does well, too! Sign up for a local dog obedience class, and you'll learn what a joy it is to have a well-trained dog. Also be sure to read our tip sheet on training your dog with positive reinforcement.
Assume your new dog is not housetrained, and work from there. Read over the housetraining information given to you at the time of adoption and check out our housetraining tips for puppies or adult dogs. Be consistent, and maintain a routine. A little extra effort on your part to come home straight from work each day will pay off in easier, faster housetraining.
A crate may look to you like the canine equivalent of a jail cell, but to your dog, who instinctively likes to den, it's a room of his own. It makes housetraining and obedience-training easier and saves your dog from the headache of being yelled at unnecessarily for problem behavior. Of course, you won't want to crate your dog all day or all night, or he will consider it a jail cell. Just a few, regular hours a day should be sufficient.
The crate should not contain wire where his collar or paws can get caught, and should be roomy enough to allow your dog to stand up, turn around, and sit comfortably in normal posture. More on crate training »
If a crate isn't an option, consider some sort of confinement to a dog-proofed part of your home. A portion of the kitchen or family room can serve the purpose very well. (A baby gate works perfectly.)
Let the games begin
Dogs need an active life. That means you should plan plenty of exercise and game time for your pet. Enjoy jogging or Frisbee? You can bet your dog will, too. If running around the park is too energetic for your taste, try throwing a ball or a stick, or just going for a long walk together. When you take a drive in the country or visit family and friends, bring your dog and a leash along.
A friend for life
Finally, be reasonable in your expectations. Life with you is a different experience for your new companion, so give him time to adjust. You'll soon find out that you've made a friend for life. No one will ever greet you with as much enthusiasm or provide you with as much unqualified love and loyalty as your dog will. Be patient, and you will be amply rewarded.
You mark your stuff by putting your name on it; your dog marks his with urine. We've covered why dogs mark territory,now here's how to prevent urine-marking behaviors before they happen in your house.
Before doing anything else, take your dog to the veterinarian to rule out any medical causes for the urine-marking behavior. If he gets a clean bill of health, use the following tips to make sure he doesn't start marking his territory.
Spay (or neuter) first
Spay or neuter your dog as soon as possible. The longer a dog goes before neutering, the more difficult it will be to train him not to mark in the house. Spaying or neutering your dog should reduce urine-marking and may stop it altogether.
But if he has been marking for a long time, a pattern may already be established. Because it has become a learned behavior, spaying or neutering alone won't solve the problem. Use techniques for housetraining an adult dog to modify your dog's marking behavior.
- Clean soiled areas thoroughly with a cleaner specifically designed to eliminate urine odor. Read more about removing pet odors and stains »
- Make previously soiled areas inaccessible or unattractive.If this isn't possible, try to change the significance of those areas to your pet. Feed, treat, and play with your pet in the areas where he marks.
- Keep objects likely to cause marking out of reach.Items such as guests' belongings and new purchases should be placed in a closet or cabinet.
- Resolve conflicts between animals in your home. If you've added a new cat or new dogto your family, follow our tip sheets to help them live in harmony.
- Restrict your dog's access to doors and windowsso he can't observe animals outside. If this isn't possible, discourage the presence of other animals near your house.
- Make friends.If your pet is marking in response to a new resident in your home (such as a roommate or spouse), have the new resident make friends with your pet by feeding, grooming, and playing with your pet. If you have a new baby, make sure good things happen to your pet when the baby is around.
- Watch your dog when he is indoorsfor signs that he is thinking about urinating. When he begins to urinate, interrupt him with a loud noise and take him outside. If he urinates outside, praise him and give him a treat.
- When you're unable to watch him, confine your dog (a crateor small room where he has never marked) or tether him to you with a leash.
- Have your dog obey at least one command(such as "sit") before you give him dinner, put on his leash to go for a walk, or throw him a toy.
- If your dog is marking out of anxiety, talk to your vet about medicating him with a short course of anti-anxiety medication. This will calm him down and make behavior modification more effective.
- Consult an animal behaviorist for help with resolving the marking issues.
What not to do
Don't punish your pet after the fact. Punishment administered even a minute after the event is ineffective because your pet won't understand why he is being punished.
If you come home and find that your dog has urinated on all kinds of things, just clean up the mess. Don't take him over to the spots and yell and rub his nose in them. He won't associate the punishment with something he may have done hours ago, leading to confusion and possibly fear.
Excitement urination is common in young dogs and puppies who don't yet have complete control over their bladders. It usually resolves on its own as a dog matures. In some cases, however, the problem can persist if the dog is frequently punished or if the dog's behavior is inadvertently reinforced—such as by petting or talking to your dog in a soothing or coddling tone of voice after he urinates when excited.
Signs of excitement urination
- He urinates when excited, such as during greetings or playtime.
- He urinates when excited and is less than 1 year old.
- Take your dog to the veterinarian to rule out medical reasons for the behavior.
- To avoid accidents, play outdoors until the problem is resolved.
- Take frequent walks to make sure your dog's bladder stays as empty as possible.
- Make sure your dog gets plenty of vigorous exercise.
- Don't punish or scold him for urinating when he's excited.
- Keep greetings low-key. No high-pitched baby talk, hand-clapping, hugging, or rough-housing.
- When he's excited, ignore him until he's calm.
Submissive urination is common and normal in puppies, who will usually outgrow the behavior. But some puppies remain timid into adulthood, and submissive urination can become a problem in the home.
Signs of submissive urination are when he urinates:
- When he's being scolded.
- When a person approaches him.
- When he's being greeted.
- When there's a disturbance such as a loud argument or sirens blaring.
- While making submissive postures, such as crouching, tail tucking, or rolling over and exposing his belly.
If your dog urinates when he's playing or being greeted but doesn’t exhibit submissive postures, he has a different problem: excitement urination.
Why does my dog do this?
Dogs who urinate in submission are usually shy, anxious, or timid and may have a history of being treated harshly or punished inappropriately. A dog who's unclear of the rules and unsure how to behave will be chronically insecure. He urinates and adopts submissive postures to mollify anyone he perceives as a "leader" and to avoid punishment.
First, take your dog to your veterinarian to rule out any medical reasons for the behavior.
Then, start building up his confidence with these steps:
- Teach him commands using positive reinforcement training methods.
- Keep his routine and environment as consistent as possible.
- Gradually expose him to new people and new situations and try to ensure that his new experiences are positive and happy.
- Keep greetings low-key (no bear hugs or loud voices, which your dog may perceive as acts of dominance).
- Encourage and reward confident postures such as sitting or standing.
- Give him an alternative to submissive behaviors. For example, have him "sit" or "shake" as you approach, and reward him for obeying.
- Avoid approaching him with postures that he may interpret as dominant or confrontational. Avoid direct eye contact; look at his back or tail instead. Get down on his level by bending at the knees rather than leaning over from the waist. Ask others to approach him in the same way. Pet him under the chin rather than the top of his head. Approach him from the side, rather than head on, and/or present the side of your body to him.
- Eliminate odors wherever your dog submissively urinates, especially if he isn't completely house-trained.
- Don't punish or scold him for submissive urination. This will only make the problem worse.
- If your dog is extremely fearful, ask your vet about medications that may help during the retraining process.
Above all, be patient. It will take time for your dog to gain confidence, but with you leading the way, he can overcome his fears and blossom into a happy, secure dog.