Toilet training an adult dog can be a challenge, but it is by no means impossible. Your first step will be to consult your veterinarian – a full check up will help determine if your dog’s inappropriate urination may be caused by a medical condition or behavioral issue. Once you have the all clear from your vet it is time to start training.
The principles of toilet training an older dog are much the same as training a puppy; routine, consistency and praise will be the keys to your success. Positive reinforcement is a must! Do not yell, hit or tell your dog off if he/she makes a mistake. Clean the accident up with a non ammonia based cleaner and start again. A negative response to accidents could result in your dog being fearful to eliminate in front of you, causing major behavioural issues and what is know as closet toileting (your dog will find secret places away from you to eliminate instead).
The good news about toilet training an older dog is that their bladder control is much better than a puppy, so if they are urinating inside we can usually figure out why. Take note of when accidents occur, does it happen when you are out or at home? Have they had access to the outside? Is it occurring overnight? Once you know this information the problem may be as simple as making sure you take them outside more often, random feeding times or your dog not understanding the difference between different surfaces such as carpet and puppy pee pads. (I would NOT recommend training your dog to toilet on puppy pee pads as they are very similar in texture to carpet and fabric – you may be training your dog to target those areas to eliminate on in future).
Let’s start with routine:
When we talk about routine we are referring to your entire day, the time you get up, when you feed the dog, how often the dog exercises, how often they have access to the outside and when you go to bed. When toilet training your dog you will need to set a strict routine and stick to it – routine provides consistency and repetition – without these your dog will struggle to learn.
To start your training process you will need to limit access to your house, keep your dog initially to areas that are easily cleaned, your dog will earn more areas as their toilet training progresses – this includes overnight. At night settle your dog in a secure area with their bedding – a laundry, bathroom or kitchen are usually the best (if your dog normally sleeps in your room but does not eliminate overnight you can continue to have them sleep there).
Here comes the hard part for most of us, you are going to need to get up at a consistent earlier time of the morning to take your dog out to the toilet and ideally a small amount of exercise. First thing in the morning when your alarm goes off get up and take your dog outside and stand with them. Keep an eye on what they are doing, when your dog starts to eliminate give your chosen command (“toilet” or “quick quick” for example), say the command once and when they finish give them praise and a treat. What you are doing is training your dog to go to the toilet on command.
Now comes the exercise – it need not be long, a 10 minute walk around the block can be enough, what you are aiming to do is get your dog’s bowel moving and teach your dog that elimination and defecation should happen outdoors. If your dog needs to eliminate while on your walk give your command and praise before continuing on. (This routine will help set their bodily functions to occur in a much more predictable timeline when used in conjunction with regular set feeding times).
When you get home from your walk you will need to feed your dog their first meal of the day – just like us our pets need a meal in the morning to help give them energy and to control their metabolism. If they are only being fed at night they are much more likely to put on weight and the timing for defecation is much harder to predict.
During the day your toilet training will differ depending on if you are home or if your dog is left on its own. If you are home it is best if you set an alarm and take your dog outside every 2 hours (as your dog gets better with its training you can extend this to every 3 hours) give your command to eliminate and praise your dog when they do. If your dog does not seem to want to go try a bit of exercise – a game of fetch, a quick jog etc. if this does not work try again in an hour.
If you are not home you will need to leave your dog in an area that they are allowed to eliminate, if they are staying indoors you will need to limit the areas they have access to. It is also recommended that they are left with a long lasting chew or appropriate toys (such as a kong or kong wobbler) and if possible a visit from a dog walker if you work long hours. This will help not only with your toilet training but also relieve boredom and try to avoid destructive behaviour and separation anxiety.
When you get home (from work or going out) acknowledge your dog, take them out to the toilet and repeat your routine (command, praise and simple exercise – fetch, jog etc.). Feed their evening meal and go about your evening remembering to give access outside every 2 hours. Before bedtime take your dog outside one last time so they have a chance to eliminate before settling in for the night.
While this may seem very extreme it is the combination of repetition, consistent routine and praise that will help your dog understand what you teaching them. As they get better at their training you will see less accidents and have a better understanding of your dog and their needs. You will be able to anticipate how often they need to go out and work with them, in most cases you will be able to extend the time in between going outside and be able get them to go on command rather than waiting for them to go. Your dog is not considered fully toilet trained until they have gone six weeks without an accident. While it will take some hard work initially, it is well worth it for the end result!
Remember: be consistent, set a routine and praise your dog when they do the right thing.