As dogs get older they sometimes regress to peeing or pooping in the house. House training an older dog without a crate is actually simple. My 5 step plan works on the basis that for many owners they simply can’t bear the idea of putting their senior dog in a crate when the dog has either never been crated or hasn’t been in a crate for many years.
Understanding why older dogs need house training
I am often consulted by folk whose dog has become incontinent when left alone in the house or when either just coming in from the garden or when returning from a walk. There is usually a psychological reason for this brought about through being left alone in the house for too long a period because they have not been allowed into the garden frequently enough or for a sufficient amount of time to enable them to eliminate properly and completely.
Top tip for cleaning up after older dog accidents
I recommend the use of soda crystals in warm water as a cleaning agent when washing areas of your home that have been fouled but I always try this out on a small patch to ensure you do not damage any affected fabric. This will help to eliminate the odours that would attract the dog back to the same place and repeat the unwanted re-occurance.
Remember, with a little bit of patience and training you will be able to re-teach your dog to eliminate on command, this will ensure that your dog has less stress, is physically more comfortable and is happiest when around you, instead of fearing your return to the house.
5 Simple tips to house training an older dog without a crate
1. Immediately when you get up in the morning you take the dog out into the garden and stay out with him (regardless of the weather) until such time that he performs no matter how long a period of time that it takes. You do not talk or distract him unless he tries to return to the house. If this occurs you call him away across the garden using a pleasant voice.
2. When he eventually starts to perform, whether it’s a number one or a number two, you quietly but positively give him a command such as ‘be busy, be busy’ or something similar. As soon as he has finished you quietly praise him just once with ‘good boy’. He will usually need to go at least twice on this first morning visit. You both now return inside. Prepare and give him his breakfast (you do this anytime within an hour).
3. As soon as he has finished his breakfast take him out into the garden again and stay with him until he has been to the toilet. As he does, quietly and positively, you again give him the command ‘Be busy, be busy’ and when he has finished say ‘good boy’. You repeat this procedure every two and half hours throughout the day for two or three days depending on how quickly he starts to perform. Then you change the frequency to every three hours and eventually four hourly.
4. When you find he is going to the toilet sooner rather than later when you take him into the garden you can start to command ‘be busy, be busy’ before he starts to go, but you must also allow him enough time to have a wander around and stretch his legs before you start to command him. To ensure that he is able to go right through the night without needing the toilet, we will give him his evening meal at around 7.30/8.00pm, then take him out into the garden as before allowing him sufficient time to carry out his necessary toileting routine.
5. When we bring him back into the house we will ensure that he has a drink of water and then we will remove his water bowl, again take him immediately into the garden and follow the established procedure. Repeat the garden routine again at 10.30/11.00pm before you go to bed.
If you find him difficult to get started on this no crate house training programme, request a friend or neighbour that they bring their dog into your garden, ensure that this interloper eliminates in several places. As soon as this trespasser has left your garden bring your dog out and walk him on a lead (if necessary) around the area that has been marked by the other dog.
Your dog will want to reclaim his territory and should therefore start to go to the toilet and cover where the other dog has been. Thereafter, your training programme should easily follow.
Once complete you should be able to confidently use the commands (‘Be busy, be busy’ and ‘good boy’ when he complies) when needed. Final advice… always praise your dog when he obliges you.
Keeping your older dog active both mentally and physically is key to any dog’s mental health and wellbeing.
The extra steps you take to re-train your older dog are designed to actively encourage them to go outside at regular intervals as part of a routine that will also keep them active and less lethargic.
However, sometimes the weather doesn’t particularly make this an easy task so you may not want to be outdoors too long with your dog. If this is the case, make your home the fun zone.
Older dogs have a habit of re-running some of their puppy behaviours. This includes going to the toilet in the house sometimes. They don’t mean to and it’s not that they’ve forgotten their house training, it’s more a physical issue of them no longer being able to hold themselves in for long periods. With simple, patient re-training it is possible to house train an older dog without a crate – so don’t lose faith. Put in the work and be as patient as your senior dog needs you to be.
Mike Mullan is a professional dog behaviourist and Crufts judge.