If you’re wondering how to train an older dog, you’ve come to the write place. Whether you have just adopted an older dog, or your existing senior has taken a backslide in potty training, it can be frustrating to deal with an accident-prone pooch. Don’t give up! An old dog CAN learn new tricks, and in this article we are going to cover how to potty train an older dog.
Before you can potty train an older dog, you have to define the problem. What kind of accidents is your dog having, and when are they having them? Do you have a new senior dog who sneaks off behind the sofa to relieve themself? Has your older dog started to have accidents out of nowhere?
Start by making a list of the problems and situations where your dog is having these accidents. Note if the accidents are happening when you are home, or when you are away. Is your dog awake and deliberately eliminating, or is it happening in their sleep? Are they using one location consistently, or is it happening all over?
Why Are They Having Accidents?
Now take a look at your list. Do most or all of the situations fall under a single category? Is your dog always making mistakes when you are gone during the day, or at night when you are asleep? Are they soiling their crate or your living room carpet?
Has anything changed in their diet or schedule? Sometimes changing between regular and daylight savings time can throw older dogs off their usual potty timing, for instance.
Watch this short video on house training an older dog.
Whether your dog is new to you, or has lived with you for years, it’s a great idea to start with a veterinary check. Have them do bloodwork, a urinalysis and a fecal exam before attempting to potty train an older dog. Sometimes medical problems masquerade as behavior issues in older dogs. You don’t want to work on retraining your dog if they need antibiotics for a bladder infection.
Diseases like diabetes and kidney disease often cause frequent urination, so if your dog is suffering from these kinds of medical problems then you will need to get them under control before you can tackle the soiling issue.
Talk to your vet about how to potty train an older dog. They are a great resource for information!
Another common reason for senior dogs to have accidents is doggy dementia. One early sign of dementia is a retraction in their potty training. Does your dog go outside, and then come straight in and have an accident? Are they having accidents right in front of you and not trying to hide it?
These could be signs of early stage dementia, so have your vet take a look at things to determine if this is the problem.
Older dogs often can not hold their bowels and bladders as long as healthy adult dogs. It could be that your dog is having accidents because they need more frequent access to the outdoors.
You might want to read: Are Poinsettias Poisonous to Dogs?
Also, as the weather turns to winter, it could be that going outside is harder for your senior. You may need to encourage them more, and provide more support in the colder months. There may be a simple fix instead of having to potty train an older dog.
If medically and mentally your dog checks out, then most likely you are dealing with a behavior problem. These are the hardest kinds of soiling problems to change, especially if your senior has been doing this behavior for a long time.
If your senior is new to you, check with their previous home to see if they had this problem there as well. If it is a new problem, then chances are good that some time and patience will take care of things!
Strategies for Retraining
While learning how to potty train an older dog is is similar to training a puppy, there are a few differences. A puppy genuinely doesn’t know where they should be going to the bathroom. A senior dog should know to go outside, so if they are having accidents (and there are no medical reasons for them) then it is being done despite their prior training.
Consistency, Opportunity, Rewards
The best way to get house soiling issues under control is to get your senior dog onto a strict schedule. Make sure you are feeding them at the same time, everyday (yes, even on weekends).
Erratic feeding times can throw your older dogs digestion off schedule, making it hard to predict when they need to go to the bathroom. If you feed them at the same time, they should need to potty at the same times. It makes their eliminations more predictable.
Be sure to offer your senior dog a chance to go outside more often than you have previously. During the day, give them the chance to go every 3 hours. Take them outside after they wake up from a nap and after eating, just like you would for a puppy. Reward your dog when the eliminate in the proper place.
Crate training can help some seniors regain their potty training, so if you haven’t done crate training on your dog, now is a good time to start. Crate your dog any time you will be away from the home, or if you can’t directly supervise them. Make the crate comfortable by providing a (washable) bed and a safe toy. You can even feed your dog in the crate to make it a positive place for your dog.
If your dog soils the crate when you are away, then it is likely that they can’t help themselves. Dogs do not like to go to the bathroom where they sleep. This is an indication that your dog needs more frequent access to the outdoors. If you can’t provide that, then you may just have to accept the soiling and limit the damage as you can.
Eliminate Previous Accidents
Just as with puppies, your older dog is drawn to eliminating in locations where they (or another animal) have eliminated before. You need to clean these areas and remove all traces of the previous accident. Using an enzyme-based cleaner on your carpets, like Nature’s Miracle, will break down the urine residue and remove the odors from the fabric.
While vinegar and other natural home cleaners cover the smell to our weak human noses, canine noses can easily smell the urine underneath the vinegar. Use a cleaner designed for animal accidents so that the odor can really be neutralized.
Limit Accident Possibilities
The key to retraining is to make it so your dog can’t wander away and have an accident out of sight. You will have to limit the access your senior has to the house until you are sure they have figured out the rules. You can use baby gates and other barriers to physically prevent your dog from leaving the room.
Leash Them in the House
The best way to retrain an older dog who can manage their eliminations but is choosing not to is to leash them to you at all times while they are inside. That way, they can’t get more than a few feet away from you. If you see them starting to sniff around for a nice spot, take them outside and wait until they go to the bathroom. Reward and praise!
Do this for two weeks straight, and then try your dog off the leash. If they have another accident, leash them again for a couple of weeks, take them out for potty and praise and reward all successful outside eliminations.
Final Thoughts on Senior Accidents
Sometimes, despite everything we can’t get a senior dog reliably potty trained. If they have had a lifetime of urinating indoors, they may never be trustworthy when left on their own. Do your best to prevent them from going inside and provide them with rewards for going outside.
For older dogs who go backwards in their training, retraining can often help a lot. As long as the dog is capable of holding it as long as they are being asked to, they should pick up on the retraining quickly.
You may need to provide your older dog with more opportunities and rewards for successful outside elimination. If you can’t get your dog outside (like in the middle of the night) you may have to keep your dog in a kitchen or bathroom, where they can have an accident that is easier to clean up.
For seniors, sometimes we have to flex to accommodate their needs. I have a 17 year old schnauzer who can not go more than 3-5 hours without having an accident. Crating her is cruel, because she can’t get away from the mess in a crate and can’t help needing to go potty. So she gets gated in the kitchen when we are away, and at night. We just mop the floor frequently.
Avoid using diapers if at all possible. Diapers keep the mess off your floor, but make it likely that your dog will develop skin infections and bladder infections from contact with the soiled diaper. Belly bands can be helpful in some male dogs who mark inside, however.
Good luck, with patience and persistence you can find a new normal with your senior dog!
Jen Clifford has a B.A. in Biology from Reed College. She was a field biologist for several years, and then spent 10 years working in veterinary medicine as a receptionist and technician. Jen is currently a freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest with her Tribe of pets. She is a passionate animal lover who is dedicated to helping people find solutions to their pet-related challenges.
You can find more of her work at her website https://MyWickedTribe.com.