House training an adult dog – solving common issues

House training an adult dog: An elderly choc Lab lying on a bed

© / Hannamariah

When an adult dog starts to potty in the home when they didn’t before, there are many possible reasons why.

It could be triggered by medical issues, changes in their life and environment or one of many different behavioral reasons. The situation calls for careful investigation and a solution designed to tackle the precise cause of the issue.

Or maybe you have a newly adopted dog? They might have spent their entire life outside, or locked in a kennel 24/7? Maybe house training began yet was never fully completed? Or perhaps they’ve never been house trained at all?

If so, you may have a dog that’s come with years of bad habits, deeply ingrained that you now have to correct.

Video: Blue Cross Pet Advice: Housetraining an adult dog

While old habits can sometimes be hard to break, and older dogs don’t learn as quickly as puppies, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks and you can certainly train them acceptable toilet habits.

This article will show you how.

Contents & Quick Navigation

  • 2 A Note On House Training Newly Adopted Dogs
  • 3 Investigating The Cause Of Your Adult Dog’s House Soiling Issue
  • 4 Rule Out Medical Issues Before You Do Anything Else
  • 5 Check For Issues Around Diet And Food
  • 5.1 A Change In Diet
  • 5.2 Food Allergies And Sensitivities
  • 5.3 Table Scraps And Human Foods
  • 6 Have There Been Changes In Your Dogs Life Or Environment?
  • 6.1 Changes In Your Dogs Environment
  • 6.2 A Change In Schedule Or Routine
  • 6.3 Is Your Dog Potentially Stressed?
  • 7 Behavioral Causes Of House Soiling
  • 7.1 Separation Anxiety
  • 7.2 Urine Marking
  • 7.3 Submissive Or Excitement Urination
  • 7.4 Surface Preference
  • 7.5 A Dislike Of Eliminating In Cold Or Rainy Conditions
  • 7.6 Fear Of Loud Noises, Thunder And Fireworks
  • 7.7 Lack Of Or Incomplete House Training In Their Lives
  • 8 Conclusion
  • 9 My Complete House Training Program
  • Start With The Techniques To House Train A Puppy

    Regardless of the reason for your dog eliminating in your home, you should  start by using the same techniques and methods used to house train a puppy.

    This means feeding to a schedule, supervising closely when inside your home to intervene and correct mistakes, visiting the bathroom spot often and all the other methods and techniques at a house trainers disposal.

    This is because the more mistakes you allow your dog to make in your home, the harder it will be to train the behavior out of them. And the more you can praise them for doing the right thing, the quicker they learn what it is you expect of them.

    For a detailed guide on general house training tips and techniques that you should use in all cases, please see my guide: How To House Train A Puppy. But you should be aware that with an adult dog:

    Often, House Training 101 Just Isn’t Enough!

    Most of the time there is an underlying issue that’s causing your dog to eliminate in the home.

    The inappropriate toilet habits may not be the problem, but a symptom of something else. It’s the underlying issue that needs addressing and then the inappropriate toilet habits will disappear with it.

    The rest of this article will help you to investigate and identify any such underlying issues, then show you how to treat it.

    Your plan should be to follow the advice in the rest of this article IN ADDITION to my puppy house training advice. This will give you the greatest chance at finding success in the shortest time possible.

    A Note On House Training Newly Adopted Dogs

    When you adopt a dog through a rescue organization, they will tell you if they’re house trained or not. With a bit of luck, they will be.

    Yet when you get you home, it might seem as if they’ve not been house trained at all! You might feel you’ve been told a pack of lies, but usually there is a far more logical reason.

    Your dog has just been through a highly stressful time with a 100% change of every little thing in their life and they need time to adjust.

    They will have a new family, a new home, new schedules and routines, a new diet, a whole new environment. This is highly stressful which often leads to house training mistakes.

    Therefore, before you try to identify house training problems with any new dog, you should first apply the advice from my guide to house training a puppy for a couple of weeks. Otherwise you could be looking for issues where there are in fact none and your newly adopted dog just needed time to settle in.

    Finally, for the first few days of having your new dog home, taking a few days off work to completely dedicate yourself to the process and helping them to settle in is of massive benefit. This is something that comes highly recommended.

    Investigating The Cause Of Your Adult Dog’s House Soiling Issue

    There are many things can lead to an adult dog urinating or defecating in the home. So to solve the issue, you first need to spend some time investigating the cause. The 4 areas you want to look into are:

    Video: House Training a Puppy - Common Mistakes

    • Medical reasons
    • Dietary reasons
    • Changes in the dog’s life or environment
    • Behavioral reasons

    With careful observation and a little thought, you will be able to determine exactly why your adult dog is pottying in the home. This is true for both scenarios, whether it’s a newly adopted dog or your previously house trained dog whose toilet habits have suddenly changed.

    So let’s discuss in some detail the 4 areas you need to look into.

    Rule Out Medical Issues Before You Do Anything Else

    An elderly choc lab looking sad next to a puddle of wee

    Adapted from photo: © / eriklam

    With any adult dog that’s soiling in the home, getting their health checked by a vet is the first thing you should do.

    Many people straight away blame bad behavior but the truth is there are so many medical problems that can lead to a dog being unable to control their toilet habits that health is more likely to blame.

    And if a medical issue IS to blame, no amount of training will help. In fact with some issues, the dog may not even know they are leaking themselves, maybe even doing so in their sleep!

    Some common medical problems responsible for inappropriate toilet habits are:

    • Urinary tract infection
    • Diabetes
    • Kidney disease
    • Bladder infections
    • Incontinence due to ageing
    • Dementia / cognitive dysfunction
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Intestinal parasites
    • Gastrointestinal upset
    • Arthritis (extreme pain through movement can make a dog reluctant to move)
    • Glandular or hormone related problems
    • Side effects of some medications

    There are many more besides.

    So start your problem solving with a full examination by your vet, including urine and stool sample tests. And make sure you discuss any medication your dog is receiving so they can check if this is part of the problem.

    If your vet rules out medical issues as a likely cause then you should move on to investigating dietary reasons.

    Check For Issues Around Diet And Food

    A change in diet, low quality food and developing allergies are sometimes to blame for inappropriate toilet habits. Let’s take a look at these one by one:

    Video: Potty Training Older Dog - What Work For Us

    A Change In Diet

    Domestic dogs suffer stomach upset with remarkable predictability following any drastic change in diet. So if you’ve recently changed the brand or type of food you’re feeding, this could be to blame.

    You should switch back to your dog’s old food and make the change over more slowly, adding some new to the old in increasing proportions, making the switch over roughly 10 days.

    Not only this, but if you know your dogs ‘natural rhythms’ and have a routine potty schedule, a different food can dramatically alter this.

    Some commercial foods are lower quality, with indigestible fillers. Others are very dry forcing a dog to drink more. Both these facts lead to producing more stools and having to potty more often.

    Your dog may have needed to potty just 2 or 3 times a day on their old diet, but with the new food might need 4 or 5. So you may have to design a new schedule to meet their new needs due to the change in diet. (Or better still, go back to a higher quality food!)

    Food Allergies And Sensitivities

    Much like us, dogs can develop allergies and sensitivities to food that result in an upset digestive system, soft stools, an increase in bowel movements and sometimes impossible to hold diarrhea.

    The most common foods that dogs become sensitive to are: Beef, chicken, fish, lamb, dairy, wheat, corn and yeast…though luckily normally just one or two from the list!

    To identify food allergies, look for accompanying symptoms such as itchy skin on their face, forelegs, armpits, feet and the anus. Recurring ear infections, excessive scratching and hair loss are further signs.

    If you see any of these symptoms alongside changing toilet habits, a food allergy could be to blame and you should seek the advice of your vet who can offer dietary advice and a plan of action going forward.

    For further information and advice on food allergies, please read Food Allergies and Food Intolerance from

    Table Scraps And Human Foods

    Chocolate Labrador in ktichen wearing serviette waiting for food

    © / RustyPelican

    Feeding a dog tables scraps, or other ‘human foods‘ can cause digestive upsets, soft stools and diarrhea which in turn can lead to there being ‘accidents’ in your home.

    Even if you’re following good advice by not feeding table scraps and the odd treat yourself, do you really know if other people are doing the same?

    Your children, partner, other residents in your home or even visitors could be slipping your dog bits of food that’s contributing to an issue.

    You should also remember how it’s possible for your dog to eat things they find while out on a walk such as food from trash and animal carcasses.

    Remind everybody of the ‘no human food rule’, and be extra vigilant watching your dog when out on walks to make sure they’re eating only what’s given at proper meal times.

    Have There Been Changes In Your Dogs Life Or Environment?

    If your vet passes your dog with a clean bill of health, and you’re certain you can rule out dietary reasons, the next area to investigate is possible changes in your their life or environment.

    Changes In Your Dogs Environment

    Dogs connect their behavior with the environment they learn it in, meaning if they learn a command or behavior in one environment, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can take that learning and apply it in another.

    To a dog, hearing ‘SIT!‘ in your living room is NOT the same as hearing ‘SIT!‘ in the pet store. They may well oblige every time in your home, but completely ignore the command in the pet store. They don’t know what ‘SIT!’ means in the pet store because they didn’t learn it there.

    For similar reasons, from dramatic changes like moving to a new home, to more subtle things such as changing the fragrance of the air freshener you use, changes in your dogs home environment can result in changes to their behavioral patterns.

    Any change in what they see, hear or smell in their environment, no matter how large or small, can result in a change in behavior. So If your dogs starts to potty in the home very suddenly, take a good look around to see if anything has noticeably changed.


    Though the most crucial time for socialization during puppy-hood will have passed, it’s never too late to socialize your dog to everything they will encounter in life. This will help them to develop greater confidence in all surroundings and the ability to generalize the things they know and learn to all environments.

    But mainly, as long as the change you’ve identified as the cause is permanent, the cure is simply to allow your dog some time to adjust. During this period, follow house training tactics to keep your house clean and prevent bad habits forming.

    A Change In Schedule Or Routine

    Similar to a change in environment, a change in your dog’s schedule or routine can result in a change with their toilet habits.

    They really are creatures of habit and their mind and body thrive best when living to routines. They get used to eating and eliminating at roughly the same times every day and come to expect these times.

    So if there’s any change to when they are fed or taken outside to potty, they might not adjust too easily which can lead to mistakes.


    It’s a case of allowing your dog time to adjust to the new routine and following standard house training advice in the mean time.

    If the change was dramatic you can help your dog to adjust more successfully by going back to the previous routine and making the change more slowly, going from the old schedule to the new one by moving in 10 to 20 minute steps each day or two.

    Is Your Dog Potentially Stressed?

    Close up of yellow lab resting chin on front leg looking stressed

    © / Chalabala

    Stress can lead to a change in toilet habits, and many things can lead to a dog feeling stressed.

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