House Training An Older Dog


Have you recently adopted an adult Labrador, who has never been properly house trained before?

If your new rescue dog is unclean in the house, then don’t panic.

In this article we will show the trick to successfully house training an older dog.

Housetraining an older Labrador can be easier than you might think.

But it can also be more difficult.

However, given the right knowledge it is almost always achievable – provided the dog is healthy.

Benefits Of Potty Training An Older Dog

There are some real benefits to potty training an older dog. Healthy adult dogs have pretty good bladder and bowel control.

Unlike puppies, most adult Labs can last at least four hours without urinating, unless they are unwell.

This is really helpful when teaching them where and when it is appropriate to go to the bathroom.

Unfortunately, there is another aspect that can make things trickier.

Difficulties Of House Training An Adult Dog

The tricky part with house training an adult dog is that bad habits may have been established.

old-yellow-labradorThe dog may have been used to emptying himself wherever he pleases. Or he may have been punished for going to the toilet in front of people.

Both obstacles you will need to overcome when potty training an older dog.

And to do this you will need to teach your dog two new concepts.

These concepts are:

  • This is your den
  • This is your toilet area

And to commit to making sure that the dog is never out of his ‘den’ when his bladder is full,  and is taught that eliminating in his toilet area is a great idea.

You can do this by rewarding and restraining the dog.  We’ll look at that below.

Your Older Dog’s Sleeping Place

A den is a small cosy space that the dog knows well and regards as his own sleeping quarters.

If your dog is new to your home,  he won’t have a den yet.  All he will have is a new bed that means nothing to him.


It will become a den once he has slept there a few times, provided he is not allowed to sleep in many other places.  So to begin with, make sure that his den is where he sleeps.

Dogs won’t soil their own dens with a couple of exceptions.

  • The dog is ill
  • The dog has spay incontinence

Bladder infections can cause bed wetting.

This can be treated, and it is a good idea to get a urine test for any dog that is wetting his or her bed.

Getting a sample can be tricky, but it is worth the effort.

Take the sample to your vet whilst it is fresh and he will send it off for analysis.

Some female dogs become incontinent as their female hormones decline due to being spayed.  This is usually treatable!  Your vet will advise you and prescribe tablets.

Once you have made sure that your dog is physically able to hold his or her bladder, you can start a programme of training.

Your Older Dog’s Toilet Area

The first step is to establish that the ‘toilet area’ is a great place for your Labrador to empty his bladder and bowels.

You can do this with rewards, and an event marker.

Every time your dog empties himself in the toilet area, you need to let him know he has done the right thing.

That means you need to be right there with him, watching him, and waiting.

It is no good just chucking him outside in the garden and crossing your fingers.

You have to go with him!

As soon as he wees or poos tell him ‘Good’ or ‘Yes’. (Choose a marker word and stick to it)

Then immediately reward him with a tasty treat or a game with a toy, whichever you think he will like best.

“But wait!” You cry.  “My dog won’t use the toilet area.  He waits until we get back indoor and then goes in the house.”

This is where the den comes in.

My Older Dog Won’t Go To The Bathroom Outdoors

If your dog won’t empty himself outside in his toilet area he needs to be returned to his den for a while after which you can then take him back to his toilet area again.

It is vital, that he is confined to his den or very closely supervised when his bladder is full, and there are three ways to do this.

  • Crating
  • Leashing
  • Tethering

Potty Training An Adult Dog By Crating

If your dog’s den is in a small enough crate, he won’t soil it.  Just close the door so he cannot leave until your next trip to the toilet area.  If the crate is too big, he will soil one end and make his den at the other.  So you need to get the right sized crate for your dog.

If you don’t like to see dogs in crates, remember this is a temporary situation whilst you solve the housetraining problem.  But, you can choose one of the two following alternatives if you are prepared to be constantly at home throughout the training period.

Using A Leash To House Train An Older Dog

One system that works very well is leashing the dog to your belt.  So that wherever you go, he goes.  This means you can watch him at all times.

Most dogs will not empty themselves when tied to a person.  If you are going to be sitting down for any length of time, have his bed next to you so that he can relax in it.

Leashing a dog to you, is also a great way to bond with a new rescue dog.  You soon get to know one another when you are together at all times.

Using A Tether To Potty Train An Older Dog

Another alternative is to tether the dog to his bed, but this can only be attempted if you are next to the dog.

When you leave the vicinity of his bed, you will need to untie him  –  dogs can quickly tangle and choke themselves if left tied up unsupervised.

The House Training Cycle For Older Dogs

Housetraining success is dependent on setting up a cycle of behaviour

  • Take the dog to the toilet area.
  •  If successful and the dog eliminates allow the dog the freedom of one room with a washable floor for two hours.
  • Babygate doorways so that the dog cannot leave the room.
  • At the end of the two hours confine the dog to his den (see above) for one hour.
  • Repeat the cycle.

If the dog eliminates in the house during the two hours,  reduce this time to one hour.  If he eliminates during this one hour,  reduce it to half an hour.  And so on.

If the dog is clean, build up his free time gradually, until he can remain clean in this one room for four hours.

This room is now acquiring the properties on his ‘den’.  It is becoming a place where he will be reluctant to eliminate, and that he will try hard to keep clean.

When the dog has accepted this one room as his den and keeps it clean,  you can begin to extend his privileges to other room.  Wherever possible introduce washable floors first.  Dogs are far more likely to have an accident on a carpet, and it is much harder to it clean.

Keeping Up Your Dog’s House Training Habits

Don’t forget, new habits are vulnerable, and your older Labrador will easily fall back into his old ways for some months.  Never leave him alone too long, and don’t expect him to last ‘all night’  yet, without being crated.

A reluctance to use a crate is often a big stumbling block for those housetraining an older dog,  but a good crating routine can be the difference between failure and success.

Good luck with housetraining your older dog,  and when you have succeeded,  do leave your tips for others in the comments box

You can find more articles about housetraining and crate training in our Puppies section.

More information On Labradors

labrador-jacket-800You can find out more about how to keep your Labrador as fit and healthy as possible in the Health section of our website.

If you’d like all of our best Labrador information together in one place, then get your copy of The Labrador Handbook today.

The Labrador Handbook looks at all aspects owning a Labrador, through daily care, to health and training at each stage of their life.

The Labrador Handbook is available worldwide.

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. My dog is a rescue that I got about a year and a half. She was successfully trained after a couple accidents inside the house. she began peeing on my bed if I left her in there. My way of fixing this was leaving the dog outside all day and sleeping inside at night. Now we moved and she doesn’t have a yard to run around all day and with that has come a lot of accidents. I will implement this routine and take advantage that I am home all day right now and get this potty training in order. Thank you for all the tips.

  2. My Labrador is 9months old, he had been successfully toilet trained including overnight (he is crated overnight) but has recently started soiling at night again any advice welcome. Thanks