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First, the old adage that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is patently false. Your dog may, in fact, be easier to teach than a young puppy since the attention span will be better.
You should definitely look up obedience training in your area and enroll yourselves. You will probably both enjoy yourselves quite a bit, and it’s a good way to build a strong relationship with your new dog.
In addition, it is important to get the dog into obedience not just to teach them good manners, but to get them socialized for other dogs and people. Plus, it will give your dog something to do, which is often very beneficial with older adopted dogs.
Now, let’s talk about how to house-train an older dog.
How to House-Train an Older Dog
Sometimes dogs have trouble with house-training when they are first placed. There are a number of reasons:
- They may never have been properly taught. Many dogs wind up in the shelter because their humans didn’t know how to teach them correct elimination habits.
- Or perhaps the dogs have spent much of their lives outside or in kennels. They may not understand that elimination is reserved for outside.
You should train these dogs exactly as you would a puppy, with the big difference that they will catch on much more quickly, being adult and having a full set of bladder muscles.
Patience and consistency
Confine them to a crate (much more on crate training below) or otherwise watch them. Take them outside regularly to eliminate. You might try using a phrase such as “Do it” or “Go potty.” Patience is your best ally — keep your dog’s schedule consistent until you’re sure they understand where you expect them to go.
Don’t punish a dog for going inside. You will get much better results much more quickly if you anticipate their needs and have them go outside, to your praise, each time. In fact, it is generally your fault, rather than the dog’s, if the dog eliminated inside.
Note that some aggressive male dogs may mark your entire house in an attempt to claim the house as their territory. You should first get them neutered, and then, because such aggression is likely to be a problem in other areas (such as growling when you approach his food), you should consult a book such as People, Pooches and Problems (affiliate link).
Some dogs urinate submissively. If they are lying down, even on their back, when they urinate, this is not a house-training problem. These dogs need work to raise their self-esteem.
For now, avoid the problem by toning down your approach to the dog:
- If they are urinating submissively when you come home, make your arrival much less exciting. Don’t look at them for a few minutes, then just talk to them.
- Scratch them a bit on their chest (petting a dog on the head is very dominant).
- Avoid bending at the waist over your dog. Squat instead.
In the long term, to deal with the problem of a too submissive dog, you will have to teach them confidence and help them build up self-esteem. A good way to to do this is obedience training, though take care to use motivational methods with little or no corrections — try Communicating With Your Dog (affiliate link) for some good hints.
Be unstinting in your approval when the dog does something right.
Crate Training an Older Dog
Take some effort to crate train your new dog, if they are not already so trained.
There are several benefits: If you have to house-train, a crate is most helpful. It gives your dog a place of their own, which helps the adjustment period, and it gives you a means to train the dog toward being left in your house all day.
Before you lock your dog into a crate, they must be as comfortable with the crate as possible. If you put them into the crate while they are afraid of the crate, their fear may build while inside and the resulting trauma may be impossible to overcome.
To become comfortable, the dog must first learn not to fear the crate, and then to like it. To alleviate fear, try some of the following:
- Put treats or food into the crate. Start near the mouth of the crate, and then move the treats farther inside each time.
- Leave the door off or tie it back at first. The door can swing shut on the dog while their head is in the crate, startling them with the contact and the strange sound.
- Get your dog used to only part of the crate. For instance, take the top half of the crate off and use all these tricks to get the dog used to that alone, then repeat the process with the whole crate.
- If the crate is big enough, get in yourself. (Seriously!)
- Get the dog excited about a toy and throw it in the crate for them to chase.
- Think of the crate as a good thing yourself. Dogs are good at reading their human’s attitudes. Never use the crate as punishment.
- Once the dog will go into the crate, feed meals in the crate.
- If the dog seems particularly averse to the crate, try a different type of crate (for example, instead of a wire mesh, try the plastic kind or vice versa).
- Once the dog is unafraid of the crate, put them inside and close the door. Immediately lavish them with praise and food for a short time, then let them out. Do not, at this time, leave them alone in the crate, or they will associate the crate with your leaving. Also, before they are fully acclimated, they may grow panicky if you leave them in the crate for very long.
- Finally, put the dog inside for progressively longer periods of time, always praising them as they go in, and perhaps giving treats.