How To Potty Train an Older Dog

An adult dog sleeps in their crate.

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If you’ve adopted an adult or senior dog, you may assume that they're potty trained but find out otherwise when you get home. Don’t stress—potty training an older dog is possible.

So, how do you start?

When it comes to potty training methods, crate training for older dogs can be just as effective as it is for puppies.

Plus, having a crate available for your dog is not just for potty training. These havens give your dog a safe, calm place where they can relax or even relieve their anxiety.

Crating should not be used as punishment, but instead to help with potty training and to provide a safe, happy place for your pet. Here are some tips and steps for potty training an older dog using a crate.

How To Potty Train an Older Dog

Here are some tips when it comes to house-training an adult or senior dog.

  • Old dogs can learn new tricks. Just because your dog is an adult or senior does not mean they can’t be trained.

  • Having accidents in the home could come from underlying medical conditions. Have your pet checked out for any condition that might be leading to them having accidents. If you notice that your dog has trouble walking, is reluctant to go in and out of their crate, and/or continues to have accidents, these are signs that your dog may have a medical condition. Always have your dog examined by their vet and tested before assuming their accidents are a behavioral issue.

  • Routine training using positive reinforcement can go a long way. This means rewarding them for going potty outside or letting you know when they need to go potty, and never punishing your dog for accidents.

  • Always watch for signs that your dog needs to go out and take them right away. Signs include barking at or scratching at the door, sniffing the ground, and circling, and acting restless.

  • Walking is a wonderful form of enrichment. Always use a leash and take your dog on a walk to go potty instead of just letting them out in the yard. This way, they get stimulation, and you can reward your dog with a high value treat every time they potty outside. You can also consider doggy playdates to help relieve excess energy and to ensure that your dog gets adequate socialization.

How To Potty Train an Older Dog With a Crate

Your dog will use the crate during potty training when you're away from your home for short periods and when you are unable to directly supervise them while at home. Be on the lookout for signs that your dog needs to go out.

After potty training, you won’t need to place your dog in the crate; they will be able to use it freely whenever they need to retreat to their safe space. Follow these steps for using crates when potty training an older dog.

Step 1: Have your dog checked for medical issues.

It is important to remember that some dogs may have potty accidents due to underlying medical issues. Before potty training an older dog, take them to the vet for a complete examination to rule out any potential medical diagnoses. 

Step 2: Choose a crate.

If your dog has no medical issues, the next step is to pick out a crate. Some recommended crates include:

You will use the crate during potty training at any point where you leave the house or are unable to supervise your dog. You will also use the crate after potty training is complete as a place where your dog can relax and feel safe.

A crate should resemble a cave. A standard crate can be converted into a “cave” by covering the top and sides with a blanket or using a cage cover. The size of the crate should allow your dog to:

  • Stand up straight with their tail erect
  • Lie down on their side
  • Turn around easily
  • Have access to clean, fresh water 

Step 3: Choose a location for the crate.

The crate should be placed in a low-traffic area, such as a spare bedroom, and should be free of loud noises, kids, and other pets. This ensures that your dog not only has a place to hide but knows that this space is free of things that might trigger anxiety or fear.

Some dogs prefer this safe space near their humans. This location could be the corner of your living room or the edge of the kitchen so they can still see what’s going on.

Teach your children not to chase or follow your dog into their space. Ensure that the family knows that no one is to enter the crate because this space is your dog’s sanctuary.

Step 4: Make the crate comfortable.

You can turn on a white noise machine, TV, or talk radio to help decrease any loud noises from the outside world. A canine pheromone diffuser can help ease anxiety and familiarize your dog with the idea that the crate ensures their safety.

A nice comfortable mat (for chewers) or a soft blanket should be used to make the space cozy and comfortable. To make the space complete, include:

Have these items ready in the crate before you leave for any period. These specific toys and special treats should only be given when your dog is in the crate, so they have an incentive to want to be in the crate.

Step 5: Introduce your dog to their new crate.

Having the crate available always is ideal. Do not force or drag your pet into the crate. Do not yell at your dog or use high-pitched noises to get your dog to go into the crate. These actions encourage anxiety and fear, which can create negative responses and stress.

First, ensure that your dog is relaxed. If your dog is prone to anxiety, speak with your veterinarian about calming supplements or a prescription for short-acting anti-anxiety medications to help with behavior modification and adjustment to the crate.

Leave the front door of the crate open and leave your dog to roam the room freely. Check in to see the progress. When your dog enters the crate, reward them with a special treat that is only used when they are in the crate.

Use this special treat any time your dog is relaxed in and around the crate. Think about a routine that you can use every time your dog enters and leaves the crate. Consistency is key.

Once your dog is relaxed in the crate, try closing the crate door for a few seconds, and reward your dog for staying calm. You can gradually increase the time that the door is closed. Then try leaving the room for short periods at a time while your dog is in their crate. Do not rush this part; it won't happen in a day.

Eventually, you can try leaving the house for short periods of time. When you come home, try not to create a stressful environment by yelling or using a high-pitched voice to greet your dog.

Step 6: Establish a schedule.

For potty training success, you must create a routine for mealtimes, potty walks, and crate time. This routine should be simple and easy to follow by all the members of your household and should be followed seven days a week. It’s important for all family members to follow the same routine. It may look something like this:

  1. Wake up. Take a short walk to allow your dog to go potty. Leash walks only are essential anytime you expect your dog to go potty, even in a fenced yard.

  2. Give your dog their breakfast.

  3. Take a 10-minute walk around the block to let your dog go potty and to provide enrichment.

  4. Head back to the house and give your dog a special treat in their crate.

  5. Leave for work. If you can't come home to walk your dog during the workday, have someone (friend, family member, dog walker) walk your dog. This person should use the same high-value treat for rewarding your dog for going potty outside, and they should follow the same protocols for walking your dog as you do.

  6. Come home and let your dog out of their crate.

  7. Head out for a 20- to 30-minute late afternoon walk.

  8. Give your dog dinner.

  9. Take your dog out for another 10-minute walk soon after dinner.

  10. Take a walk just before bedtime. If accidents are happening, have your dog stay in their crate at night.

Practice the same routine every day. Being consistent with your routine decreases your dog’s anxiety and fear of not knowing what is coming next. If your pup has an accident, do not yell or speak; simply clean it up.

After your dog is potty trained, you can remove the front door of the crate to encourage your dog to use the crate as their haven.

What To Do If Your Dog Has An Accident

If your dog has an accident, it’s important to only correct them if you saw the event take place.

If you see them having an accident, swiftly take them outside or where they are supposed to go and use your training word like “go potty” to let them know this is the correct place to go.

If you don’t see them having the accident, then no corrective action is needed. Don’t yell or punish them for having accidents—only using positive reinforcement can establish a good relationship with your pup and going to the bathroom.

How Long Does It Take to Potty Train a Dog?

Every dog is different in how long it takes them to be fully potty trained.

You can teach an old dog new tricks, it just might take a little longer to unlearn their previous habits and learn where the right place to go to the bathroom is. In general, potty training an older dog can take as little as a few weeks up to a few months.


Tiffany Tupler, DVM, CBCC-KA

WRITTEN BY

Tiffany Tupler, DVM, CBCC-KA

Veterinarian

Dr. Tiffany Tupler is a graduate from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine with a certificate in shelter medicine and...


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