Housetraining a Rescue Dog: 7 Ways to Successfully Potty Train Your Pet
On the list of struggles that owners experience with a rescue dog, housetraining is among the top 5. Little is worse than your dog treating your home as its toilet. Perhaps, one of the only things more frustrating than your dog’s potty problem is not knowing why it happens and how to deal with it.
There could be several reasons why your dog is having accidents. Maybe your dog could not frequently relieve him or herself outside when at the shelter and went to the bathroom in the same place it ate and slept. Or, perhaps, your dog is “marking its territory,” which is a perfectly normal response for pets in a new environment. Regardless of the cause, there are just as many ways to resolve the issue. If you are at a loss on how to housetrain your rescue dog, we’re here to help. Below we’ve rounded up a list of 7 ways to successfully potty train your pet.
7 Ways to Housetrain Your Rescue Dog
1. Schedule potty breaks.
Plan your dog’s potty breaks at the exact times every day—and yes, this includes weekends, too! Take it out first thing in the morning, after every meal, and before bedtime. Allot enough time during every break, so your dog can relieve itself properly. Start with 10 minutes and extend if necessary.
An extra tip: If your dog doesn’t go, try bringing your dog to another area outside. Visit a spot with a different surface (instead of grass, for instance, pavement)—and if not then, take it to an area where other dogs have gone potty. Just be sure that where you take your dog isn’t too far from home; it should be quick and easy to access.
2. Feed your dog at the same time every day.
Schedule your dog’s feeding time as you would its potty breaks: at a consistent time each day. Feed your dog twice a day, or three times if it is younger, allowing no more than 10 to 12 hours to pass between every meal. This will help keep your dog’s system regular.
An extra tip: Avoid “free-feeding”—the method in which food is left out at all times—as this may interfere with your dog’s schedule. Whether your dog’s food bowl is empty or not, take it away after 10 to 15 minutes after feeding it. The approach might sound rigid, but trust, it works.
3. Reward good behavior.
Every time your dog uses the bathroom when and where it should, regard it as a tiny victory and reward it. Tell your dog what a good boy or girl it is. Give it a pat on the back. You might even want to offer your dog a treat. When your dog is rewarded for its behavior, they are most likely to repeat it again.
An extra tip: When housetraining your dog with positive reinforcement, timing is everything. The reward must occur immediately (we’re talking seconds) after performing the desired behavior. Otherwise, your dog may not associate with the right action.
4. Teach your dog a “potty cue.”
Typically, a “potty cue” is a word or phrase used to signal when it’s okay for your dog to eliminate. You can use the command, “Go potty!” or simply say, “Potty.” Say your chosen word or phrase right before your dog goes to the bathroom. After enough repetition, your dog will associate your cue with the action.
An extra tip: Combine your potty cue with a reward—be it a kind word, a treat, or a cuddle—for more success. Rewarding your dog immediately after your dog goes will bolster the association between your signal and the action of using the bathroom at the right place and time.
5. Supervise your dog.
You should constantly supervise your dog as you are housetraining it. Keep your dog near you with a long leash, so you can watch over it when possible. This will help prevent any unwanted accidents in the house: should your dog exhibit any signs of wanting to eliminate, you can act before it happens.
An extra tip: When dogs want to go potty, you might see them sniffing around furniture or doorways, pacing, circling, or whining. Not all dogs will show these signs. But if your dog does, immediately go outside where it can finish its business. Don’t forget to reward your dog once the deed is done!
6. Confine your dog when you’re away.
When you cannot supervise your dog, you should confine it in a crate, pen, or a small room behind baby gates. The confinement area should be big enough for your dog to comfortably move, stand, and lie in, but small enough to discourage it from eliminating inside the space.
An extra tip: If an accident occurs in the confinement space, refrain from punishing your dog—consider why it might’ve happened instead. Did you confine your dog for too long? Forget to take it outside before leaving the house? If there’s been no change to your dog’s environment or routine, you might want to speak to your vet about it.
7. Clean up accidents quickly.
Housetraining your rescue dog inevitably comes with a few accidents here and there: on the carpet, the hardwood floor, the living room couch. If you see (or sniff out) an accident, act promptly to prevent the odor from lingering long after it should. Dogs tend to continue soiling in areas that smell like urine or feces, so clean-up is imperative.
An extra tip: Remove pet stains and odors using pet-friendly cleaning products. Avoid formulas loaded with chemicals like bleach and ammonia, as they can be hazardous to dogs. Alternatively, and if you have the means for it, you might also want to hire a professional cleaner who specializes in removing pet stains and odors.
What to Do When an Accident Happens
So, your rescue dog peed inside the house—now what? Accidents come with the territory of housetraining a dog. In fact, you should expect them. Your first instinct might be to punish your dog for it. However, you should only correct it if you catch the mishap in real-time. Interrupt your dog as it is happening by making a loud noise (Just don’t scare it!), then take it, where the act can be completed. When done, reward it with praise or a treat. That way, your dog will be more inclined to use the bathroom outside—not inside—the next time.
If, on the other hand, your dog soils your home while you’re away, it’ll be too late to correct the act. Dogs won’t understand why you’re punishing them long after the deed is done. The best path of action, then, is just to clean up the mess. Follow these suggestions, and your rescue dog will be housetrained in no time. If none of these tips work for you, get in touch with your vet as soon as possible, as a recurrent potty-training problem may be symptomatic of an underlying issue. Good luck!