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The Scoop on Poop - How to House Train the Adult Dog.

By Linda Keehn CPDT-KA, DN-DBC


I hate coming home to poop. How frustrating and disheartening is it to come home after a day at work and find a “present” on your living room floor.  It’s even worse when the dog has urinated on the carpet. UGH, we expect puppies to do this if not supervised and contained but not an adult dog Really Fido, again?  


Maybe you have a new rescue or your dog has had a regression or was never fully housetrained to start.  Whatever the reason you don't have to just accept it. Even older dogs can learn. Once you teach your dog where he should eliminate it can actually go faster with an adult than a puppy because they have adult bodies and physically can hold it longer.


We often say the dog has had an “accident” or made a “mistake” but from the dog's point of view it wasn’t either.  He had to eliminate and found a suitable place to do it.  They don’t do it out of spite, anger or to get back at us for some imagined slight. Dogs seem to like their products of elimination. They sniff it like it was roses, so I don’t think they would use that as a way to get back at us. Even if that was their motive which I do not believe it is.


But don’t worry, You just need a plan, persistence and a bit of time to make significant progress. .

First rule out any medical issues, especially if the house training problem is new. Then you can begin.


Your adult dog may already have a negative association to eliminating in front of people or in a particular area.  If this is a new rescue to the home you may not know anything about his house training history or if he was ever fully house trained.


Many adult dogs have been punished in the past for eliminating in the house.  You may not have done it, or you may have inadvertently punished your dog for eliminating in the house.  Dogs are really sensitive to our moods and reactions.  They know when we are upset or angry.  Some people mistakenly use old school methods like putting the dog’s nose in it or yelling at the dog for eliminating in the house. Dogs do not understand why this is happening. They just become scared of their owners and may refuse to eliminate in front of the owners.  That is how we get the dog who you can walk for hours and does not go. Then comes home and pees the minute you blink.


Let’s get started, first, think about where you want your dog to eliminate?  Are you using potty training pads?  Will you want to keep them as an option later on? Will you want your dog to eliminate in the backyard or only on walks?


Then think about how you will prevent your dog eliminating where you don’t want him to.  Can he be crated? Will you use a puppy pen or have him gated in a small room?


Can you put time away to focus on house training for at least a week.





While working this house training plan your dog will have three options.


Your dog is empty. He has just peed and pooped where you want him too and you are reasonably sure that he will not eliminate for a time period. I would start with an hour or two the first day while awake. In most cases you will not have to take an adult dog out overnight.

Your dog is contained in an area you are reasonably sure he will not eliminate in.  This could be a crate, Ex-pen or small room.  Most dogs will not eliminate in their crate so this can be a valuable house training tool. Try taking the bedding out of the crate if your dog eliminates in the crate.  Do not crate your dog for hours on end. This is for when you cannot watch him or are not home. Many dogs cannot not be left in a crate more than 4 hours at a time.

You are actively watching your dog.  Not you are in the same room checking email. I mean eyeballs on the dog.  This is an adult job. It is unlikely the kids will watch the dog closely enough.


Dogs do what works and behaviors that are rewarded are repeated.  So we have to get the dog to eliminate where we want him to so we can reward that behavior.  The best way to do that is to take advantage of the dog’s natural instinct to not eliminate where it eats and sleeps.  If your dog does not eliminate in the crate that’s a great place to start.  Remove your dog from the crate upon awaking and take him straight to his potty area on leash. Do not stop for coffee or anything else. With a small dog, you can even carry him out. As soon as you get to the potty area let him sniff around. Be calm and don’t interact with him much. We want him to start sniffing.  It is likely he will eliminate quickly and you can have a little party. Give him a treat right there, tell him what a great dog he is, anything that will make him happy and show him how pleased you are with him. Then come inside and give him his morning meal.  This will encourage him to eliminate quickly every morning. If he did not poop on the first trip out do not take your eyes off of him and take him back out about 20 minutes after he eats. You can keep his leash on just to make sure you are watching.  


After he has “done it all” you will be able to give him some freedom in the same room you are in for about an hour or two. After that I would be watching carefully for signs that he has to eliminate. Signs are sniffing, circling and trying to slip off especially for a shy eliminator. Even without signs take him to his potty area after 2 hours.


If you are leaving the house or cannot watch him, you will want to put him in his crate or confinement area so he does not eliminate. When you return let him out it’s, another chance for him to get it right.  Every time, you will be rewarding him with treats, lots of praise, and/or play.


Over a few days you should start to build a pattern. You will start to notice when your dog is most likely to eliminate and can make sure you have him in the right place at the time. H will then get it right, each time you will reward him again. Remember behaviors that are rewarded are repeated. He will start to want to eliminate in the correct spot and may even start to “tell" you he has to go. Watch for this carefully, dogs “tell" in different ways. Some dogs will stand by the door, some will bark, some will just stare at you. Watch for your dog's way of asking. Then take him out and REWARD that like crazy.


If mistakes happen, own them they are human mistakes, not the dog’s mistake. You were not watching carefully enough, gave him too much freedom too fast or made him wait longer than he was ready to at this point. Record the times and places mistakes happen and figure out how to do better.

If practical, assign dog watching time to family members so it does not all fall on one person.  Remember it means really being with the dog. Use leashes, gates and crates, right now your dog should not have free run of the house.


Pick up water one hour before bedtime and give the dog one last potty break before bed. Then wake up and start again. The better he does the more freedom you can give him and the less you have to watch him.  


Write out a plan, make sure all family members are on board and give it at least a week.  You should be seeing significant improvement by then. Not perfect but improvement.   House training the adult dog is simple, but not easy, But it’s totally worth it. If you need help reach out to a force free training professional a bit of help planning and some much-needed support will make this so much easier.


Linda Keehn CPDT-KA, DN-DBC

Positive Canine Training, LLC


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