House Training the Older Dog

You and your family have made the decision to adopt a mature dog from the shelter rather than a young puppy.  The big day has finally arrived!  You are bringing your new companion home with you.  Everyone is happy and excited, including your new dog!

It’s important for you to remember that your new companion finds these new experiences very stressful.  You and your home are unfamiliar to him.  He doesn’t know where he is or even where the doors are that lead outside.  The food and water may be different.  He doesn’t know where he is going to sleep.  He may or may not have been housetrained previously.

It would be wise to assume that he has not and start with him as you would with a young puppy.

One of the most important things you should do upon arriving home is introduce the dog to his yard or exercise area and let him eliminate before entering the house.  He may or may not have been exercised on a leash before.  He will be curious and want to explore.  Be patient and wait for him to eleminate.  Be certain to praise him and let him know this was the right thing for him to do.

Keep the dog on a leash when you enter your residence, and walk him around from room to room, letting him sniff things.  Males dogs, and some females, try to mark their territory and leave their scent, or try to cover up an another animal’s scent that is already in the home.  If the dog gets into a position to urinate, give a firm tug on the leash, and say “No” in a firm voice, and move him away from the area or object.

Changes in food and water, plus the stress of a new situation, can result in episodes of diarrhea.  It would be a good thing to make certain he has frequent access to his outdoor elimination area the first few days.  Don’t expect him to tell you when he needs to go out.  Go outside with him and praise him each and every time he eliminates.

Housetraining should be based on the prevention of accidents rather than discipline after the fact.  If your  dog makes a mistake because you didn’t get him out when you should have – it’s not his fault.

Since your dog is no longer a young puppy he will have better bowel and bladder control.  Place the dog on a regular elimination schedule and take him outside at certain times, whether he needs to eliminate or not – first thing in the morning, after meals and play and the last thing at night.  It is essential to accompany him to make certain he is, indeed, eliminating.  Dogs are creatures of habit; the more quickly you turn good behavior into a habit, the faster your training will go.

If you haven’t already decided on a crate for your dog, you may want to investigate purchasing one for him.  The most effective way to teach him to eliminate outdoors is to prevent him from using the house in the first place.  If you have a specific area of your yard that you want your dog to defecate in, once he’s had a bowel movement, pick it up with a shovel and place it in the area you want him to go to.  When you take him out to eliminate, take him to that specific spot and he will mostly likely keep returning to that area on a consistent basis.

Dogs are den animals and have an instinct not to soil their den.  The crate will become your dog’s den.  Confinement to a crate overnight or for a three to four hour period during the day when he is unsupervised will help speed the housetraining process.

Despite your best efforts and diligence an accident may occur.  Expect your male dog to try to ‘mark’ his territory in the first few days, but this behavior will stop once he’s settled in.

If it should happen, treat the incident in a matter-of-fact manner.  It is critical that you not scare or confuse your dog by physical punishment or yelling.  The dog won’t understand why you’re upset, and you are only creating more stress for your dog.  Put the dog outdoors or in another room while you clean.  If the accident should occur on carpeting, use lots of paper towels and blot with fresh paper until you have lifted as much of the liquid as possible.  Neutralize the odor with plain white vinegar and water, or a commercial pet odor eliminator.  A diarrhea stain on carpeting or uphostlery can be lifted with a solution of lukewarm water, dishwashing soap and white vinegar.

Housetraining your mature dog requires patience, humour, understanding, compassion and time.  He wants to please you by doing the right thing.  Help him make the adjustment to his new home a successful one.

Recognizing Dehydration

Dehydration can be a serious problem in animals (and humans), particularly during warm summer months.  It is caused simply by lack of water in the body.  Without water, our body ceases to function properly.  Thus, the intake of fluids is extremely important to all living things in order to maintain a level of health.

Water makes up around 80 percent of a dogs’ body, and takes on a major role in dissolving substances in their body, as well as generating bodily functions such as digestion and circulation.  If the level of water in the body drops below average, dehydration occurs.  Generally, water levels drop for two reasons: lack of water intake, or an increase in the loss of fluid (usually do to illness).

Some animals can be more susceptible to dehydration than others.  Typically, dogs with illness such as cancer, kidney problems, or other illnesses can develop dehydration more quickly than others.  Older dogs and pregnant dogs are also more prone to this condition.

If a dog does become dehydrated they will become lethargic, depressed, lose their appetite, have a very dry mouth, and have sunken eyes.  However, it is often difficult to tell whether or not the animal is dehydrated.  You may want to try a “home test”.  Gently lift the skin between the dogs’ shoulder blades and let it drop.  It should rapidly return to normal. If the animals’ skin does not fall back into place, or falls slowly, he/she could be dehydrated.  In these cases it is important that the dog visit a veterinarian.  Dehydration can sometimes suggest a more serious medical condition and it is best to have the animal reviewed.

Generally, the veterinarian will provide intravenous fluids for the dog to bring body fluids back up to a normal degree.  The dog may also undergo further testing to ensure that there are no underlying health issues that may have led to this condition.

In essence, it is important to ensure that your dog always has access to fresh water.  It is best not to tie dogs outside, as they may get tangled and not be able to reach their water supply.  Water bottles with attached bowls can also be purchased so that dogs can take drinks while out walking with you (it is best not to drink from puddles, which may contain harmful bacteria).  Weighted bowls can also be purchased that prevent the dog from tipping their water bowl.

For more information and additional topics, visit the American SPCA at

Additional fact sheets can also be found at the Ontario SPCA site: