December 6, 2023

From Rescue to Refined: A Guide to Successful House Training for Adult Dogs

Embarking on the journey of house training an adult or rescue dog can be both rewarding and challenging. Learn how to navigate common challenges, establish a consistent routine, and build a strong bond with your dog as you pave the way for house training.

Adult beagle going outside in the yard

New Accidents Indoors

If your dog has been reliably house-trained and is now eliminating indoors, check with your veterinarian first. A sudden change of behavior in adult dogs can often indicate an underlying health problem. Take note of the frequency, the volume (full bladder or small amount) your dog eliminates, and the location. For example, letting your vet know that your dog is urinating while asleep may bring up different considerations than if your dog is going behind the couch during the day or urinating a small amount on the corner of the furniture.

Keep track of the time or situation. For example, if a dog only eliminates when left home alone, we may be dealing with separation distress rather than a house training problem. A dog who urinates while greeting guests may need confidence around people rather than more house training. Both male and female dogs can mark; marking is often associated with stress and may be more likely at certain times of the day. 

Environmental stressors such as construction next door scaring your dog while she is in the yard or extreme weather may also impact a dog’s bathroom habits. Dogs and people don’t like to spend as much time outside in poor weather, so some dogs don’t fully eliminate in bad weather. Small dogs and short-haired dogs are especially sensitive to wet or cold weather. 

How to House Train an Adult Dog

House-training an adult dog is very similar to house-training a puppy. Take your dog out frequently, especially at transition times. Make a quick trip outside as you transition from rest to action or meal time to playtime. Take treats outside with you and reward your dog immediately after she eliminates. We want her to connect eliminating in your presence with good things happening.

If you have a fenced yard, some adult dogs do better with more privacy and space. For other dogs, keeping a dog on leash, even in a fenced yard, is better. Once she eliminates, she can be off leash so that the freedom is part of the reward. 

If you live somewhere without a fenced yard, you may try a longer leash, such as 10-15’, to give your dog a little more privacy on leash. You can try different surfaces to see if your dog prefers hard surfaces, grass, or dirt.

Use a dog-proofed smaller room or area in the house when you can’t watch her. A crate would be another good option if she is comfortable in there. A dog-proofed room gives her less chance to sneak off and eliminate in a corner and can make it easier to clean anything up if needed. 

Keep a chart of when you take your dog out and if your dog eliminates. If you find anything in the house, note the approximate time/what/where. This chart will help us know when to increase supervision and trips outside and when your dog might not need as many trips out. 

Are Adult Dogs Harder to House Train?

It depends! Some adult dogs that get rehomed are already house-trained and will eliminate outdoors when given the chance. This is a great bonus and is much easier than house-training a puppy or adult dog.

Some adult dogs who have previously lived only outdoors will not have been formally house trained but will prefer to eliminate on grass or dirt, which makes the house training process much easier since they already have this preference. 

If an adult dog has a long history of eliminating indoors or in a small space, then house training may be a more challenging process. House training is still possible, but we may need additional creativity and patience.

How Long Will House Training Take?

How long it takes your dog to get comfortable with house training will depend on her and her previous life experiences. For some dogs, we need a week to get on track, and for other dogs, it may take a few weeks to get a solid plan in place, plus a few more months for her to earn freedom in the house.

Asking To Go Out

While some dogs may naturally pace or bark, some dogs don’t. You can keep track of the time and your dog’s usual habits. You could also teach your dog a signal, such as ringing a bell, standing on a doorbell mat, or pushing a doorbell button. This process takes some work to teach your dog how to make the signal that the signal is for bathroom breaks and only for bathroom breaks and not just playtime! You can read more about the process here. 

Note that the process is much easier if your dog is easily and reliably eliminating outside. 

If you’re having trouble with your dog’s house training, please keep track of house training habits for 2-4 days and schedule a training session with our team. We can help you modify your plan and work towards success for you and your dog.