How To House Train A Rescue Dog

Add a sprinkle of extra patience 💖

house training a dog

If you’re adopting an older rescue dog who isn’t housebroken yet, you’re probably wondering how you’re going to potty train him.

Since rescue dogs come from all types of backgrounds, there are some who’ve never lived in a real house before — so you can’t really blame them for not knowing where the bathroom is!

If this is the case for your newest family member, all you need is a little strategy — and a whole lot of understanding — to get the job done.

To help guide you during this potty training journey, The Dodo reached out to Shelby Semel, head trainer at Animal Haven rescue in New York City, for some tips on how to potty train a rescue dog.

“Same way you would any dog,” Semel told The Dodo. “With a schedule of food and water, properly timed outings, and a ton of patience!!”

According to Semel, your dog will likely need to be taken outside within 5 to 15 minutes of doing any of the following:

  • Eating or drinking
  • Waking up from a nap/sleep
  • Activities like fetch and playtime, training, a playdate with another dog, or a case of zoomies

So just like if you were to housebreak a puppy, these are the same steps you should follow when working on housebreaking your new rescue dog, according to Semel.

#1: Closely supervise when your dog’s free roaming

Just like with a young puppy, a rescue dog who isn’t housebroken can’t be trusted (at least, if you want your floors to stay clean). “If you cannot keep a close watch but would like your pup with you, put him on a leash and attach it to your belt loop!” Semel suggested.

  • Close supervision is essential any time your dog isn’t crated indoors
  • It only takes a few seconds for your dog to have an accident, so Semel suggests watching for signs that your dog may need to go out — like sniffing the floor, circling, running out of sight or wandering away from a toy

#2: Confine your dog when you’re not home or he’s unsupervised

“Confinement, whether a crate or pen, is recommended for puppies and most adolescent dogs when left unsupervised or alone in the house,” Semel said. That also goes for any rescue who isn’t housebroken yet.

  • When properly introduced and used appropriately, crate training is an efficient and humane way to prevent house training accidents and keep your dog safe when unsupervised.
  • “The crate should not be used for excessive periods of time, or as a punishment (although brief ‘time outs’ in the crate are fine),” Semel said.
  • “Sufficient daily companionship, interactive playtime and exercise are important,” Semel said. Note that excessive periods of isolation can be very detrimental to your dog and can contribute to numerous behavioral problems including hyperactivity, destructive behavior, digging, self-mutilation and excessive barking.
  • “You can leave them in the crate for as long as they can hold their bladder with the caveat that they are also very well exercised before you leave them,” Semel said. “With a young pup I start with two hours when tired and work up to four. An adult can be four to six if very well exercised. Longer than six I don’t typically advise without a break in between.”

#3: Praise & reward your dog when he “goes” outside

If you take your dog outside and he goes in the right spot, make sure you give him tons of praise — and a high valued treat — immediately.

  • “Delayed reinforcement is not effective, so witnessing him going in the right spot and immediately rewarding is important,” Semel said.
  • A trigger word (ie: "potty", "get busy" etc.) said a single time can be added immediately before your puppy gets down to business, to train your dog to eliminate on cue.
  • Avoid walking your dog continuously and then going home immediately after they go potty. This will teach your dog to delay using the bathroom so that they don’t have to go back inside. #genius

#4. Neutralize Urine Odors With Enzyme-Based Deodorizer

Your dog will probably have a few accidents inside, so make sure you neutralize any soiled areas with a pet odor neutralizer such as Nature's Miracle. This will help make sure your dog doesn’t keep having accidents in the same spot over and over due to smelling their urine.

#5. Cut off water two hours before bed

Generally speaking, Semel recommends taking your dog’s water bowl away about two hours before bedtime, unless he seems very thirsty or weather conditions are exceedingly hot.

#6. Don’t discipline after the fact

“Never discipline (verbally or otherwise) your puppy or dog for house soiling accidents, regardless of whether you witness them or not,” Semel said.

According to Semel, punishment only teaches your dog to hide from you when he needs to go, and punishing for an accident you didn’t see will show your dog that you’re unpredictable and kind of frightening — and your rescue really doesn’t need that kind of stress.

#7. Never discipline your dog for submissive urination

Submissive and excitement urination are completely involuntary, so never discipline your dog if they do it. “Eye contact, verbal scolding, hovering over, reaching out to pet your dog's head, animated movements, talking in an exciting or loud voice, as well as strangers/visitors approaching your dog, may all potentially trigger your dog to piddle,” Semel said. Disciplining your dog for involuntary piddling should always be avoided or the problem will only get worse.

With these tips, and that extra bit of patience, you should be able to housebreak your new dog.

“Undoing and reteaching could be harder than teaching from scratch, so make sure you are calm and understanding of the situation at hand and don’t expect miracles overnight,” Semel said.

If you need further help, reach out to your veterinarian for advice — some medical conditions can make it harder for a dog to be potty trained.

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