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October 4, 2011 at 3:26 PMComments: 9 Faves: 0

Potty Training an Older Dog

By Victoria Swanson More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Paws & Awws Blog Series

Potty training your puppy is one of the most important parts of being a pet-parent. I receive calls from clients all the time asking for help with the potty training of an adult dog who is still having issues.

So, how to do teach your older dog to go potty outside only?

First and foremost - the 70's era of dog training is over!


  • Punish Your Dog For Accidents. Do not yell and rub your puppy/dog's nose in their potty mess, nor take a newspaper and hit them with it. If you're hoping that will teach them not to do it again, it won't. What it WILL teach them is that you and people like you are to be feared. That being touched will hurt. Not the lesson you want to convey. Think of it this way: you would NEVER spank, yell or rub a 2 year old toddler's nose in their potty, would you?
  • Make Inside Potty Places. Don't use newspaper to potty train on. This goes for those new puppy pads too! These do one thing and one thing only - teach your puppy to use the indoors as their potty place. Unless you plan to continue using puppy pads or newspaper throughout their life, this route is only going to set you back.

Got that? Now that we've covered what DOESN'T work, let's talk about what DOES.

Setting a Potty Routine for Your Dog

Make sure they get their walk time. Adult dogs should get a a 30-45 minute walk at least once a day. Puppies should be walked 5 minutes X the number of months they are old. ( For example, a 3 Month old puppy should get a 15 minute walk every day, while a 5 month old puppy is ready for 25 minute walk each day.)

Feeding schedule is a must.A feeding schedule is a MUST - especially for puppies 1 year old or younger, and especially while potty training. You need to be able to predict WHEN they will need to go to make sure they get outside at that time. Dogs older than 1 year should be feed twice daily at the same times every day. Puppies should be fed three times daily at the same times each day. NO FREE FEEDING. Remove water dish in the evening and replace with a few ice chips until your dog is fully potty trained. Never put water or food in your dog's crate.

Tether and crate training. Crate training is the quickest way to teach a puppy to be potty trained It is not fair to expect your puppy to understand house-training if you give him free run of the whole house. Until a dog is potty trained, they should be within your sight or in their crate any time they are in the house. Attaching a leash from your dog's collar to your own belt loop is great way to make sure they are in you view so you pick up on signs they need to go. Dogs don't want to pee or poop where they sleep, so when you can't have your dog attached at the hip to you, crating prevents them from using the bathroom - so long as their crate is not too big for them.

Look for signs your dog needs to go potty.Some dogs never get the idea of going to the door to let you know they need to go potty. Instead, they may:

  • Look at you,
  • Circle around,
  • Whine or
  • Sniff the ground. 

Consider bell training - teaching them to ring a bell when they need to go potty.

Remind them what they're out there to do. When it's time to go, don't just let your dog out the door. Pick a "potty location" and use the same spot every time you take him out. Once you are there say "Go Potty." Repeat this command when your dog is actually doing his business in a calm voice. It may take some time for them to learn, but eventually, when you say "Go Potty," your dog will know exactly what to do.

Reward them. After using the potty outside, be sure to offer lots of praise. Say "Good Potty!" and give your dog a little treat or favorite toy.

What to do if they have an accident. Again - Never discipline a dog for pottying in the house if a mess happens, simply put your dog outside and clean up the mess. Consider purchasing an enzymatic cleaner to remove any scent. To a dog - if it SMELLS like a potty, it's a good place to go. It can be frustrating, but continue on with the training and they'll get it.

Spay or neuter. Spaying and neutering a dog helps prevent the urge to mark indoors - and yes, both male and female dogs can mark. Ideally this should be done at or before 6 months old.

How to Bell Train Your Dog

Bell training is a great way to teach your puppy to signal you when they have to go outside. When they need to go, they simply ring a bell.

  1. Attach the bell to the door knob/handle of which you will be using to let your dog outside.
  2. Sit next to the door you will be letting them out of and put treat as close as you can to the bell.
  3. When your dog goes for the treat, he should bump the bell. (Never force your dog to touch the bell, we are teaching your dog to do this on his own)
  4. Once he rings the bell, release treat and offer lots of praise. "Good Job!!" or "YES!!"
  5. Once it seems like they've got ringing the bell down, begin letting them outside when they do it - but don't forget to continue to reward with treat when your dog touches the bell!
  6. Once outside, take them to their "potty location" and use the command "Go Potty" both to signal it's time and while your dog is actually eliminating.
  7. Offer lots of praise and treat when they go potty outside.

A word about bell training rewards.You should continue this bell training with the treats for 2 weeks. After this period of bell training, verbally praise your dog for ringing the bell to be let out and only reward your dog with a treat for going potty outside. Remember lots of verbal praise, make it like a party!

If they treat the bell like a game. If after the first time you bring your dog in your dog decides to turn around and ring the bell again, reward and bring your dog outside. After coming in from doing this, give the bell a "time out". Take the bell off of door and set a timer for 15 minutes. Put the bell back on the door when the time goes off. By then your puppy/dog will have moved on to something else.

How to Stop a Dog From Marking

Is it marking or an accident? Adult dogs that were previously house trained and are now eliminating inside the house more than once a week in a few favorite spots are probably marking rather than having an accident. (and yes, even female dogs do this)

If your dog is marking their territory inside your home, the problem is actually a lack of respect and understanding for who's in charge. It's time to regain control.

If your dog isn't already - SPAYING OR NEUTERING is a MUST!!!

Rules for Dogs the Mark

Rules and boundaries are also must for your dog. Dogs with control issues, should be:

  1. Earning their food with a Sit and Stay.
  2. Earning toys or treats with a Sit and Down.
  3. Sleeping in their crate. They should NOT be sleeping on your bed while control issues persist.

Prevent Your Dog From Marking

  • Watch your dog at all times when they are indoors.If they are marking, go back to the tether and crating only period. Watch for signs that the dog is thinking about urinating. When you're unable to watch your dog, put your dog in confinement (a crate or small room where they have never marked)If you bring your dog outside and the dog decides it is not time to go yet, bring them back in with you and tether dog to you, wait 10-15 minutes bring dog back outside and try again
  • If your dog begins to urinate, interrupt themwith a loud noise such as clapping the hands or whistling or saying "uh-oh" and take dog outside. Praise your dog and give a treat if they urinate outside, use the command "Go Potty" while dog is doing his business.
  • If it's too late and your dog has marked inside, immediately grab squirt bottle filled with water or cleaning solution and with your dog watching you (keep dog on leash to make sure they are next to you while you do this) remark territory by squirting the bottle in that area. Then release your dog and clean up the mess.

Do NOT yell, spank, or rub your dog's nose in it. Can't say that enough!

I hope these tips help you and your dog be successful in getting potty training under control and completed. You will be so thankful to not live with a dog that uses the inside of your home as the potty place for the next 15 years of their life.

More from Health Coach Victoria Swanson Others Are Reading


  • We've been taking our dog, on leash, to the same spot for a year and a half. There's actually a trail of worn grass to it, and a little dirt circle where we stand. This spring, I painted a bright orange circle (kids nicknamed it 'The Ring of Poo') to mark the boundaries for his pottying. The other day, for the first time, he was playing ball, and instead of pooping wherever the fancy struck him (he seems to have exercise induced defecation syndrome), he ran over to The Ring of Poo and did his businesst!!!!!!

    I know it sounds psychotic, but nobody enjoys stepping in dog poop, and we love to play in our field without having to watch where we're going. How can you play frisbee if you have to watch for poop? Now I'm hoping we'll be able to just let him go out and do his business (in the ring, of course) when it's cold and windy out.

  • Thanks for the tips - my little teacup likes to poop in the house - she never pees but it's sometimes easier to just let her go (like at 3:20 this morning), after she woke me up 3 times (I think she had a belly ache).

    I will try and follow some of your rules to stop being lazy (I would say it was my fault) not her's I new she had to go because she started panting and running back and forth. Like I said I'll work on it.

  • Potty training does take a lot of work and patience, if done correctly, majority of dogs can be potty trained by 6 months old! That is a small price to pay for a long time reward! Good Luck Nancy, keep up the hard work, you will truly be thankful you did!

  • I adopted a 4-6 yr. puppy mill Yorkie yesterday. She was fostered about 15 mo. and I was told she was house trained. She finally peed once on a throw rug but that is it. I take her outside often. I just don't know how her little bladder can hold so much. She hasn't pooed yet but that I can understand a little better. Is this common?

  • Yes. Some little breeds can hold it for a long time, but it the best scenario. This can lead to UTI's (bladder infections). She may still be confused of her new transition and trying to get acclimated to her new routine and surroundings. I recommend getting her outside for a potty break (when you are home) about every hour, this will set a routine for her. I typically get my 2 small breeds outside every 1 to 2 hours when I am home with them.

  • My rescue dog was an owner surrender since she worked 14. Hour days and for 1 1/2 years of his life he spent 14 hours a day in a plastic crate . When I adopted him they advised me he has severe anxiety if you put him in a crate .
    I tried the crate ( larger metal one ) in short intervals . His saliva from anxiety created a soaking wet stuffed animal from his anxiety. Taking him outside to go potty , he would be out for 30 minutes before he finally went potty , then I praised him
    And gave him a training treat. He has rhe urine part down but the poo not so much . I will try the leash .
    Any ideas for this specific problem ?

  • Hi Ruth~ You are doing everything perfectly! So sorry to hear about his situation, I am glad you rescued him!

    In regards to the pooing issue, the main thing is to have him on a Feeding Schedule as well as a Potty Schedule, so after feeding time, take him out every 30 minutes. Also, keep him close to you (meaning in the same proximity) so you can keep a watchful eye on him to prevent poop accidents in the house.

    If he poos inside the house, take the poo and put it outside - so when he goes out there he can smell it, and hopefully that will trigger something in his head that he goes out there.

    I hope this helps.


  • We adopted a 2 year old German Shepherd one week ago. We thought she was house trained but unfortunately she is not. She was a stray prior to us adopting from the rescue so we don't really know her story. She is very skittish and nervous, but doesn't seem head shy, so not sure if she was abused or just abandoned.

    We are working on the bell ringing at potty time. We take her out often and we are working on her feeding schedule, however she is still too nervous to eat or drink in front of us. The only time she will is when we put her in her crate and leave the room. How would you recommend we go about fixing this? She also wouldn't go potty in front of us for over 24 hours (we were worried). She will now but it takes awhile being outside.

    Any advice is helpful. Thanks!

  • Hi Monica~

    Does she take treats? You could try hand feeding her a little kibble at a time. I would make sure when you do this that you do it a quiet area. Are you giving her any type of anxiety medicine?

    I would also treat her when she goes potty outside to help build up her confidence of doing a "good thing."


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