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Housetraining Adult Dogs

As of writing this, I’ve fostered almost 400 dogs. The majority of them have been adult dogs- some of them have been housetrained, and unfortunately, some of them have absolutely no reason to be housetrained. The dog fighting dogs have been the hardest for me to house train. They’ve been on a chain all their life, they have literally ZERO reason to know not to pee in the house or whenever they damn well please. “holding it” doesn’t serve a purpose for them, they can feel relief whenever they want.

We have to remember with dogs, that everything we are asking them to do makes sense to US but not necessarily to them. For example, a leash is something that we may understand but dogs don’t come hardwired with the understanding of the leash. Similarly, they don’t come housetrained. Of course, there are many adult dogs in shelters that are housetrained already, but even these dogs will likely have accidents in their new home- whether this is marking or just not understanding how to tell you they need to go out.

One of the hardest parts of housetraining adult dogs that are not housetrained is that they are reinforced by the relief of pressure (think about when you really need to pee- that relief is amazing once you find an appropriate place!) so the behavior is easy and self reinforcing for them to do.

The thing that does come naturally to dogs is to not pee where they sleep/eat if possible. This is just one of the benefits of crate training. The first step in housetraining to me, is crate training. Crate training can help the dog learn how to hold it since they don’t want to pee where they eat/sleep. For more information on crate training, see my happy crating blog. The benefits of crate training go WAY beyond housetraining.

Many times, adopters will ask me how the dog they are interested in adopting tells me they need to go outside. A lot of times, this is as simple as the dog just starts sniffing around. If you watch dogs before they go to the bathroom outside, they will sniff a bit and maybe do some circling. When you see this happen inside, it’s in your benefit to take the dog outside just in case.

On this point, I always make sure that I let the dog out the same door to go to the bathroom. Keep things as simple as possible. I have found it very helpful to use potty bells for housetraining adult dogs. These hang from the door handle. The potty bells are pretty simple- every time the door opens, the bells ring just by default from the door being open. It is easy for the dog to make a connection between the bells and going outside. Eventually, when the dog wants to go outside, he will just nose the bell. When this happens, you want to make sure you’re paying attention and you immediately take the dog out on a leash and say “go potty” and walk around in one small spot for up to 5 minutes. If the dog goes to the bathroom, make a big party out of it, feed the dog, and then you can let the dog have freedom to the outside or you can bring the dog back inside. If the dog doesn’t go to the bathroom, you can bring them back inside after 5 minutes and then take them out again in 15 minutes and repeat the “go potty” cue and stand in the same small area where the dog usually goes to the bathroom.

My recommendation would be to put the dog back in the crate or keep your dog on leash with you when you bring the dog back into the house if he has not gone to the bathroom so you don’t run the risk of the dog going to the bathroom inside when he comes back inside.

Umbilical training and engagement are incredibly helpful for housetraining and bringing new dogs home in general. Umbilical training is having the dog attached to you so that the dog is under constant supervision. This way, you are making sure that you are able to catch the dog in the act, correct them, and redirect them to the right spot (outside).

Remember this process can and will take months or potentially years to be totally learned. Management will be your friend here.


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