Housetraining your Adult Dog

If you have an adult dog who has recently started eliminating in your home, your first stop should be your vet’s office for a full physical exam possibly including urinalysis and/or blood work. Dogs are clean by nature and a sudden change in elimination habits could indicate a health concern.

Many adopted adult dogs were housetrained in their previous homes. While at the shelter, however, they may not have gotten enough opportunities to eliminate outside, and consequently, they may have soiled their kennel areas. This tends to weaken their housetraining habits. Additionally, scents and odors from other pets in the new home may stimulate some initial urine marking. Remember that you and your new dog need some time to learn each other’s signals and routines. Even if they were housetrained in their previous home, if you don’t recognize their “bathroom” signal, you might miss their request to go out, causing them to eliminate indoors.

Therefore, for the first few weeks after you bring a new dog home, you should assume your new dog isn’t housetrained and start from scratch. If they were housetrained in their previous home, the re-training process should progress quickly. If your adult dog is healthy and suddenly starts eliminating in the home or was never reliably trained, start from scratch. The process will be much smoother if you take steps to prevent accidents and remind the dog where they are supposed to eliminate.

Establish a Routine

Take your dog out at the same times, or around the same “event”, every day. For example, first thing in the morning when you wake up, before you leave, when you arrive home from work, and before you go to bed.

Praise your dog every time they eliminate outdoors. You can even give them a treat, or race them back into the house for a treat. This step is vital because rewarding your dog for eliminating outdoors is the only way they will know that’s what you want them to do.

Choose a location not too far from the door to be the bathroom spot. Always take your dog, on a leash, directly to the bathroom spot. Take them for a walk or play with them only after they have eliminated. If you clean up an accident in the house, leave the soiled rags or paper towels in the bathroom spot. The smell will help your dog recognize the area as the place where they are supposed to eliminate.

While your dog is eliminating, use a word or phrase like “hurry up,” for example, that you can eventually use before they eliminate to remind them of what they are supposed to be doing.

Feeding your dog on a set schedule, twice a day will help make their elimination more regular.

Supervise, Supervise, Supervise

Your dog should be watched at all times when they are indoors. You can tether them to you with a six-foot leash, or use baby gates, to keep them in the room where you are. Keep them from practicing the unwanted behaviour! Watch for signs that they need to eliminate, like sniffing around or circling – or even just stopping in the middle of play. If you see these signs, immediately take them outside, on a leash, to their bathroom spot. If they eliminate, praise them lavishly and reward them with a treat. If they do not eliminate, they should be confined to their crate for 5-10 minutes and then you should take them out and try again. House freedoms are earned by eliminating.


When you’re unable to watch your dog, they should be confined to a crate or an area small enough that they won’t want to eliminate there. It should be just big enough for them to comfortably stand up, lie down and turn around. This could be a portion of a bathroom or laundry room blocked off with boxes or baby gates, or you may want to crate train your dog and use the crate to confine them (see our handout: “Crate Training Your Dog”). If they have spent several hours in confinement, when you let them out, take them directly to their bathroom spot and praise them when they eliminate.


Most dogs, at some point, will have an accident in the house. You should expect this, as it’s a normal part of your dog’s adjustment to his new home.

If you catch your dog in the act of eliminating in the house, do something to interrupt them like telling them “Outside!” (try not to scare your dog). Immediately take them to their bathroom spot, praise them, and give them a treat if they finishe eliminating there.

Don’t punish your dog for eliminating in the house. If you find a soiled area, it’s too late to administer a correction. Do nothing but clean it up. Rubbing your dog’s nose in it, taking them to the spot and scolding them, or any other type of punishment will only make them afraid of you or afraid to eliminate in your presence. Animals don’t understand punishment after the fact, even if it’s only seconds later. Punishment will do more harm than good.

Cleaning the soiled area is very important because dogs are highly motivated to continue soiling in areas that smell like urine or feces (see our resource Cleaning Odors and Stains).

Other Types of House-Soiling Problems

If you’ve consistently followed the house training procedures and your dog continues to eliminate in the house, there may be another reason for this behavior such as:


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