How can I potty train an adult dog?
October 29, 2020 10:09 PM   Subscribe

My dearly beloved Italian Greyhound who was named by this very site has made it to the tender age of 9, but still is not properly potty trained and is starting to take a toll on our house. I still think he has another 5-6 years left in him - is there any hope of housetraining him, or should I just give up on the idea?

When I initially got him, I was fastidious about training and did everything to the letter. I lived in an apartment but no matter what I did, I don't think the training ever took. I tried every method, every wee pad and artificial lawn, but no matter what it was just a total gamble. Half the time he would go on a mat, half the time it would be on the carpet. I basically just decided to live with it and never own any soft furnishings while he was alive.

Now it's 9 years later and the house we eventually moved to is worse for wear because of it. I am constantly cleaning up both #1's and #2's, and our floors and cabinets are getting damaged and it's just a bit gross overall. We installed dog doors everywhere, he has ample access to go outside and in nature, but I think because of his initial training (or lack thereof) it's just ingrained now.

He's overall very healthy and happy (as far as both i and the vet can tell) and I reckon has at least another 5-6 years of life in him. I think it's got to the point where I am happy to recommit the time and energy to retrain him, but I guess I'm just not even sure if it's even possible!

So my question is - Has anyone else done this before and been successful? If so, please share your tips or suggestions, I'm all ears!

Thank you so much :)
posted by LongDrive to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yes you can potty train a healthy adult dog! Here is the method I have been successful with in the past (note this is with full size racing greyhounds who are crate trained): dog never leaves my sight until they are potty trained. That's it :) basically I put a leash on them and they don't have any opportunity to sneak off and go to the bathroom. I take them outside (on leash) frequently and they get a lot of praise attention and play when they go to the bathroom outside. Especially I think 15-30 minutes after meals is a good time to take them out. The benefit of crate training is if I do need to leave the dog during potty training, I can leave them in the crate. But even if your pup isn't crate trained I recommend using doors and baby gates to keep them in a close area. Dogs like to go off to another room to soil.

Now, training to use a doggy door is a different kettle of fish. I can't advise that as we've never had a doggy door.
posted by muddgirl at 10:16 PM on October 29, 2020 [9 favorites]

Oh I forgot to add what to do if, while they are leashed up to you, they start to pee or poop. Basically you immediately take them outside to finish and then praise them for finishing outside. Try not to wait for them to finish inside, use a "hup hup" or a hand clap to get them moving.
posted by muddgirl at 10:18 PM on October 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

Pee pads train the dog to pee anywhere soft, like on carpet or clothing. Don’t let them pee anywhere in the house at all.
posted by waving at 1:32 AM on October 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

We're three months into our project to retraining a pee pad trained 7-year-old dog to exclusively pee outside, and in the last two weeks she's only had 3 accidents, all when we let her out of our sight around soft things she didn't yet know were "hers". This is almost certainly possible, but it's likely to take a few months of continuous effort. And everyone is going to give you advice that is good intentioned, but some of it might not work for your dog, which is frustrating. Mine has mild crate anxiety/separation anxiety/barrier frustration, which meant using a crate to keep her from having accidents was itself a several month project and not helpful with the house training, but it's the most frequently recommended way to housetrain a dog.

In terms of thinking about where you're starting from:
Does your dog *ever* pee outside? Ours had serious anxiety about street noises, so we spent a month on counter conditioning, feeding her treats outside where we wanted her to pee whenever loud trucks passed by and taking her for walks to get used to city noises. When your dog pees outside, give him his favorite treats and get really excited about it, and when he pees inside, ignore him and calmly clean up the mess. We also found having a neighbor's dog show her how it was done and getting her excited by playing with the dog was extremely helpful the first few times.

Does your dog have any consistency in where he pees? If he semi-consistently pees in one spot, you can almost certainly retrain him to another spot - one way is to put down a pee pad where he most frequently goes, get him comfortable with it, and then move it 2-6"/day towards the door he'll go out in the future. If he doesn't have any consistency, you'll need to be much more intentional about restraining him by keeping him on a short leash or on a crate so that he doesn't have an opportunities to make mistakes. There are silicone things you can put under the pads to keep them from leaking as much during this process, ymmv as liquid sometimes gets stuck underneath them and is a pain to clean.

Have you been cleaning up the messes with enzymatic cleaner? There's a few brands - Rocco & Roxie, Nature's Miracle - all of which remove the scent so a dog doesn't just return to the places they've gone before. Pick up a gallon before starting this project if you haven't already, and make a go of cleaning your floors with it. Follow the directions on the bottle and if possible fence off areas where he has accidents for a day or two afterwards so he doesn't build wrong habits.

Can you tell when your dog is about to go? If you can tell the signals, usually sniffing and circling until you make some progress on housetraining and then you might get whining, the dog staring at you, barking, or standing next to the door, you can intercept your dog when he needs to go and take him outside like muddgirl suggested.

How can you restrain the dog so you can always watch him and avoid accidents? We used a combination of living in a small apartment so there was nowhere to hide, attaching her to us on a short leash, fencing to keep her near us, fencing to keep her out of the one place we couldn't easily see, and crating over night during the second phase of the training process when we knew she could go outside but was choosing not to.

Are there times of day when your dog is more likely to go and can you use them to your advantage? For us, we crated our dog overnight once we could get her to sleep in the crate, then got her out first thing in the morning, put her on a leash so she couldn't have an indoor accident, ran down the stairs with her, and waited outside for her to go, which sometimes was 5 minutes and sometimes was 2 hours. Giving your dog water and/or chicken broth can sometimes speed up the process.

Does your dog know how to go out the dog door and does he choose to use it for any reason at all? I've never trained a dog to use one, but I have been training our dog to use the stairs, and I'd consider training the dog to go through the door to be an entirely separate training exercise. That means first teach him that he can go in/out the door by using lots of treats. Then get the dog consistently going outside when you take him out on a leash, then when you just open the door for him, and then when you lure him through the door with treats when he needs to go. One of the bonuses of going out with him at first is that you can teach him a cue words - "go potty" or "get busy" are popular - and if you continuously say it while he's going for 4-6 weeks, he'll probably start to recognize it and maybe pee on command if he needs to.

I've obviously spent a bunch of time thinking about this for the last 3 months, so feel free to memail me if you want to talk more. We still don't have any carpets on the ground so we can't say we're done with the project, but I think we will get there someday and you can too.
posted by A Blue Moon at 6:49 AM on October 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

I second the tethering method. Keep the dog attached to you at all times. Any time he starts sniffing or circling, take him outside to go and then reward him generously with yummy, meaty, smelly treats and verbal praise when he does (Keep bags of treats by the door to grab on the way out. I've found dehydrated lamb lung to be an especially high-value reward and it doesn't need to be refrigerated). If you miss an accident, just clean it up and resolve to keep a closer eye. Overcoming years of going in the house will take more time and patience than training a puppy from scratch, but it can be done if your pup is healthy (no UTI or back injury that might affect bowel function). It's also helpful to make a schedule and always take the pup out at those times anyway: first thing in the morning, right after eating, right before bed, and, more variably, right after playing.
posted by ruddlehead at 6:57 AM on October 30, 2020 [2 favorites]

A Blue Moon has lots of excellent advice.

The big stress saver for me was belly bands. Basically reusable dog diapers. He wears them whenever he's in the house, I change them when dirty, when I have a full bucket of dirty ones I wash them after a quick oxyclean soak & they're good to go again. The five minutes of grossness getting them into the washing machine from the bucket is so much better than cleaning up all the things.

Once I combined the belly band with he goes out every 2 hours like clockwork for some band free peeing time, staying with him while he goes & then praising him like he shit gold when he goes outside I've managed to cut his accident rate right down to maybe one or every week or so (if I relax & let my guard down) as opposed to 3 or more a day.

If it makes you feel less alone I know exactly where you're coming from. I had to replaces all our carpet with LVP & actually put metal legs on a lot of our furniture to lift up bookcases etc as it was easier to clean pee off. Our couch is 99% pee/natures miracle & febreeze a this point despite all the deep cleaning with a carpet cleaner.
posted by wwax at 7:00 AM on October 30, 2020

I housebroke my adult rescue dog (50lbs female hound), and it was very frustrating and took about six months to get really right, but now she's great. I don't even remember the last time she had an accident. So I really think you can do this, but it's a commitment.

The things that worked for me:

-- Taking her out A LOT. For us, it was about every two hours starting from wake up. That has been gradually reduced to 3-4 times a day, but I only started reducing it when she was pretty consistent about going outside (maybe 0-1 accident a week).

-- A very consistent schedule. Nowadays, I take her out at 8am, 2pm, 7pm every day -- rain or shine, weekend or workday. We might be out more than that but we will definitely be out at those times. The schedule is very important because her body is used to that routine and can "perform" well with it.

-- Getting her very comfortable with being outside. I live in a high rise, so there were a lot of struggles getting her comfortable with the elevator, with eliminating in the same areas as a lot of other dogs, etc. Dogs are stoic, even timid dogs, so your dog might be more afraid than you think (I know that's the case for mine). I used A LOT of treats, a lot of praise. Like, way more treats than I would have expected beforehand! But they work wonders. Even the behaviorist I saw said that it's better to successfully train now and maybe reduce her weight a little bit later -- and my dog actually hasn't gained any weight from it anyway, because she eats less at meals.

-- A very consistent "potty spot." When we go outside, we go to the exact same spot first thing every time. And if she ever wants to go to that spot later on the walk (like on the way home), I will always let her. She apparently associates that spot with eliminating now, so she'll go basically as soon as she gets there.
posted by rue72 at 7:20 AM on October 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

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