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Whether you're thinking of getting a new puppy, adopting a rescue dog, or you'd just like to learn more about man's best friend,
we have brought together dog trainers, groomers, behaviourists and owners to bring you some interesting stories and sound advice.

How to house train an adult dog

8 Feb 2019

Liz Marden owns and runs Nature’s Therapies, offering animal behaviour and training, as well as Reiki therapy for both people and animals. Liz has worked in the animal industry for over 10 years with a wide range of animals and in a variety of roles, from a kennel supervisor and behaviourist for the RSPCA to an FE Animal Management College Lecturer. Liz has a passion for understanding animal behaviour and uses natural, force free methods. She has also been a Reiki practitioner since 2013, trained in Jikiden and Sekhem Reiki.

In this interview, Liz helps tackle the tricky subject of adult dog toilet training.


1. How is it best to approach toilet training with an adult dog who has never been house trained? 

It’s exactly the same as you would train a puppy – it’s all about watching your dog’s body language to see if they need to go out and keeping consistent with that. The trick is giving them plenty of opportunity to go where you want them to. Take your dog outside or to the area you wish them to toilet after every meal and drink that they have, last thing before you go to bed and first thing when you wake up in the morning… after all what goes in must come out! You may have to take them outside on other occasions throughout the day – what you are looking for is searching behaviour, as in they look like they are searching for somewhere to go. This can look as obvious as restlessness, whining and going to the door but can also be as subtle as sniffing the floor in circles or even sniffing a plant. The key to this training is to praise when they go where you want them to and completely ignore if they have an accident inside. This is important! Do not in any circumstance push your animals nose into their poop or wee! It’s a pointless exercise as it only teaches your animal that bad things happen if they go to the toilet in front of you, so they then won’t go when you take them outside either. Dogs have around 200-300 million olfactory or scent receptors in their noses, compared to our 6 million, so when you push their noses in to their poop you actually do permanent damage to these receptors which can cause pain and discomfort to your animal along with lasting damage to their sense of smell. It’s also messy with no actual benefit. If your dog has an accident indoors then calmly put them outside (if it’s secure to do so) then clean up the mess. Be sure to use a cleaner that is antibacterial to help remove the smell. You may experience repeat accidents in the same area if odour remains. Teaching a dog to toilet on command will help you ask them to go to the toilet before you have to leave them indoors for a while.


2. When adopting a rescue dog, is it likely that they may not be toilet trained or need additional training once rehomed? 

In my experience of working at a rescue centre, often if the animal comes in as an adult and is given the option, they will choose to go to the toilet outside. However yes, you do get some dogs who will need to be taught from scratch or require additional training due to their previous life experiences, such as animals who have never been allowed outside or those who have never been given any form of direction and training. On the whole animals like to be clean in terms of not going to the toilet where they sleep or eat, meaning responsibility does often fall to the owner as dogs, same as people, can only hold the need to go for so long and accidents will happen if they are not given ample opportunity to relieve themselves! Occasionally misunderstandings can take place where to the animal the outside seems to be on the inside in the form of a nice large plant… however these misunderstandings are easy to resolve. 


3. If a dog was successfully toilet trained as a puppy, what reasons might there be for it to regress during adult life?

There are a few things that we can consider here. First and foremost I would take the dog to the vets for a health check to ensure that is not medical related. If it’s medical then no amount of training will help until the vet has done their bit. If medical issues are ruled out then it could be due to an anxiety related issue or lack of confidence, this can occur if punishment methods are used on the dog. When a dog