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How to house train your adult dog but patience needed! 

Golden retriever with toy

Through no fault of their own, some pet dogs reach adulthood without being fully house trained.

Fortunately, with time and patience, it is possible to establish new habits and teach your dog to stay clean in the house.

However, it does require time and patience, and if you want your dog to do well you need to make sure you are dedicated.

Usually just a few areas in the house are used as the toilet. These are usually near the exit or entry points of the rooms used and the dog will return to these sites again and again.

Most of the time, your dog will sneak away to go to the toilet rather than go in front of humans. Your dog may do this at any time, not just when left alone in the house. Even after a walk, your dog may come back to the house and go to the toilet.

Before starting the new routine

Carefully clean all areas where your dog has previously ‘been’ using a warm solution of biological washing powder (for example, a teaspoon of powder dissolved in a cup of warm water) or a specially formulated product from your vet, which will remove all traces of the smell from your house.


Every day

When you first wake up, last thing at night and very regularly during the day, take your dog outside to a place in your garden that you have chosen. Put soiled newspaper or faeces in this area as the smell will help your dog to know where to go to the toilet. Let your dog walk up and down or run about and sniff the area (both exercise and sniffing help stimulate going to the loo).

Avoid playing exciting games in the garden during this process, as this is likely to distract your dog from the main purpose of going outside! If they want to come back inside straight away, or look confused, patiently walk up and down slowly to encourage them to move about and sniff the ground. Stay outside with your dog until they have done their business at which point you can give gentle praise.

If they still haven’t gone to the toilet after five minutes, come back inside the house, but keep a very close eye on them. Repeat this process 20 minutes later (and 20 minutes after that if they still haven’t gone) and hopefully your dog will eventually toilet in the right place. Set aside lots of time for this and be prepared for several visits to the garden at first as this is a new routine your dog will have to learn. Be patient and your persistence will eventually pay off!

Between trips to the garden, supervise your dog when in the house. This means keeping your dog in view at all times and being aware of what they are doing – this is especially important in the first two weeks of this training. Pay particular attention to the times after your dog has eaten, woken up or after periods of excitement, such as play.


Signs to look for

Watch for the typical signs that your dog needs to go to the toilet – these may include sniffing the floor, circling, looking restless or going into a room they have previously toileted in. Take your dog immediately to your chosen place in the garden and wait patiently until they have done their business and praise gently.


When you go out

During the initial stages of this training, it’s best not to leave your dog alone at all – ideally you should wait until their new toileting habits are well established.

If you do have to go out and it is for less than two hours, you could leave your dog in the dog crate, but only if you know they will be able to cope with this. Make sure your dog has had the chance to exercise and go to the toilet before you leave them. If you will be out for longer than this, leave your dog in one room only, preferably one that is easy to clean, should there be any ‘accidents’. You could leave out some paper for dog to toilet on should they need to go, or cover the area with a large sheet of polythene. While this won’t teach your dog where you would like them to go to the toilet, it will make any mess easier to clean up and stops the area becoming soiled.

At night

Most adult dogs will sleep during the night and won’t need to go to the toilet. However, some may still need to go, especially if they haven’t got the hang of doing their business outside yet.

The easiest solution is to put your dog’s bed or crate either in your bedroom or nearby. If they are outside the bedroom, leave your bedroom door open so that if your dog wakes up and needs to go during the night, you will hear whining or moving around. Get up and calmly take your dog outside, following the daytime routine. Put your dog back to bed quietly when you come back in. At night, it is especially important not to excite your dog in anyway as you don’t want them to learn that going out into the garden in the early hours is ‘fun’!

If you are unable to have your dog near your bedroom and you are waking up to a few accidents, then you will have to set an alarm clock and experiment with the time in which to get up to see if you can coincide it with the time in which your dog needs to go. Although this sounds like a lot of sleepless nights for you, it shouldn’t last for long, only until new habits have been established.

If you find a puddle or mess

It’s important not to punish your dog for any ‘accidents’ discovered too late. You may feel angry or frustrated, but dogs are unable to associate your feelings of annoyance with something that happened in the past or when you were not there, so it won’t teach them anything constructive. Instead it’s likely to make things worse as your dog will become even more anxious about your return home (as they will begin to anticipate a telling off), which may cause even more toileting indoors. If your dog has gone to the toilet– greet them in the normal happy way before cleaning up any mess.

You need to continue with this routine for at least two weeks, although some dogs may need extra time and help.

After two weeks of the above routine, gradually increase the time between visits to the garden. Your dog will eventually want to go to the toilet at a time other than the one you choose

House-training will happen more easily if you keep to the same routine of feeding and exercising each day.

Information courtesy of Blue Cross animal charity.