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Toilet Training your Adult Dog

Best paw forwards! Janey C PreCert CCAB Member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (01402) BSc (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare ABTC Registered Animal Training Instructor

Toilet training an adult dog can be a lengthy process. There are many reasons why an adult dog may not be clean inside the house. They may have missed out on toilet training as a puppy, they may have learnt a preference to toilet on specific surfaces, they may have been punished for soiling, there may be something in the desired toilet area that is worrying for them, they may be struggling with separation distress, or they be experiencing a medical issue that has led to incontinence. When starting your toilet training journey I recommend you start with a medical check to rule out any contributing health factors.  


Why is my dog toileting inside? 

The first stage in your journey is to understand the reason why your dog is toileting indoors.  

Dogs will naturally choose to toilet away from their sleeping and eating areas and will develop a preference to toilet on specific substrates as puppies. Dogs that have been reared in confinement (such as crates or kennels) may not have had the ability to toilet away from their eating or sleeping areas and so may have missed this early learning. It can be very hard for these dogs to distinguish between ‘indoors’ and ‘outdoors’. Dogs that have been reared on puppy pads may have learnt to toilet on soft substrates and this can lead to a preference for toileting on soft furnishings such as carpets. Dogs that have experienced a scary event outdoors (such as high winds, or a passing bin lorry) may avoid going outside to toilet as they do not view it as safe. Dogs that are stressed may choose to toilet on their owner’s belongings as the owner scent soothes them and makes them feel safe.  


Removal of scent profile 

Once you have ascertained the reason behind your dog soiling indoors the next stage is to clean the home from any current scent profile. If your dog has toileted indoors and the scent remains they will return to this place to toilet in the future. 

Many household cleaners remove the smell for us but not for our dogs! I recommend using a biological urine cleaner that has been formulated for dog urine and faeces. When using these cleaners follow the directions carefully. Many of them require you to saturate the area around the initial mess to account for seepage. Many of these cleaners need time to work and must be left in contact with the affected area for a prolonged period of time to work.  

A black light can be useful in identifying hidden areas that may not be apparent to the human eye.  


Management in the home 

You will need to manage your adult dog carefully in the home to ensure success with toilet training. I recommend reducing their access to areas in the home and containing them to a smaller area to minimise accidents. This will also allow you to keep an eye on them and quickly identify any signs that your dog needs to go to the toilet. 

Alongside a rigorous cleaning routine I recommend blocking your dog’s access to areas they routinely are toileting in. This can be done with pens, stair gates or strategically placed furniture and will help to prevent a habit forming. You can also move your dog’s bed and/or food bowls to an area that has previously been toileted in. This will help your dog differentiate between a ‘toilet’ area and a sleeping/eating area.  


Toilet Training 

When first toilet training your adult dog you will need to take them out frequently to the garden (or desired toilet area). If your dog is comfortable with a lead this should be done on lead. Many dogs become excited when let into the garden and will focus on playing or having fun and forget they need the toilet…until they go back into the house. Toilet breaks should be boring so that your dog does not get distracted and forget they need to go.  

Take your dog on lead to a spot in the garden and wait with them. Allow them to sniff the area and look for signs they may go to the toilet. If they do so, wait until they are finished and verbally praise them. If your dog has not gone to the toilet after 10 minutes of waiting take them back inside. Keep a close eye on them after this time. If you notice any signs of needing the toilet (sniffing, circling, going into another room) take them back out to try again. 

At the start of your journey you should offer your dog a toilet break every hour. This may seem excessive and it is unlikely that your dog will need the toilet every hour. However by doing so you increase your chances of a successful toilet outside. 

Keep a diary of each successful and unsuccessful attempt. This will help you to learn when your dog is most likely to need the toilet. Once you have their schedule you can begin to reduce these hourly attempts and take them out at the most ‘likely’ times instead. Key times for requiring the toilet are: after your dog wakes up, after eating/drinking, and after vigorous or exciting play. 

If your dog is not comfortable with a lead you can pen/fence a small area of the garden to act as your ‘boring toilet place’. 


Indoor toilets 

For some dogs, going to toilet outdoors causes them fear and concern. You should consult a qualified behaviourist to address this and work to build your dog’s confidence when outside the home. If your dog is so worried by the outside that they cannot toilet outdoors you may wish to consider an indoor toilet. 

These can be purchased or made yourself. The training process for these is exactly the same, whereby the dog is taken frequently to the toilet area. 



It will take your dog time to learn to toilet outside and they will inevitably have accidents in the home during this process. It is imperative that you do not punish your dog for accidents within the home. Your dog will not understand why they are being punished and very often this can lead to dogs that still toilet inside but hide when doing so to avoid punishment.  

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