How to House Train Your Adult Rescue Dog

Some dogs need a refresher course in their new home, and some may have never been trained. Follow these tips.

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Having to house train is expected when you adopt a puppy, but what about an adult dog? Maybe your new rescue lived outside, or maybe was just never fully trained (and accidents could even be the reason he or she was given up!), but either way, with a little practice your new pup can be house trained, regardless of age!

First, if you have a male dog who is marking around your house (small squirts of pee on walls, corners, legs of chairs/tables, etc.), is he neutered? Most rescues will spay or neuter before sending a dog off to a new home, but not always. If your male dog is not neutered, put that at the top of the priority list! It can also help to see the vet just to make sure nothing medical is going on, like a bladder infection.

Also, be sure to rule out bathroom accidents related to separation anxiety. If your dog is only having accidents when you aren’t home, you may want to consult a positive reinforcement trainer to work on this issue.

Once you have ruled out any medical or anxiety issues, be prepared for cleanup. If your dog has an accident during the training process, you will want to clean up the mess entirely — any trace of urine can encourage peeing in the same spot. A wet vac works wonders for this, and also make sure you use a pet stain remover. Don’t use a steam vac or anything with heat, as that could set the stain instead.

The good news is that house training an adult dog is pretty much the same as house training a puppy. Take your dog out on a regular schedule, especially after he or she eats, drinks, or wakes up. For a dog over 1 year old, I would start with going out every hour when you’re home until you figure out a potty routine. Reward with praise, playing with a ball or toy, or treats for going potty outside.

Dog going to the bathroom by Shutterstock.
Dog going to the bathroom by Shutterstock.

If you’re able to get a doggie door, this can make it even easier for your dog to head out when nature calls. If your dog is initially nervous about the doggie door, go on the other side and coax. You may need to take some treats and/or open the door partially at first. Most dogs pick it up really quickly!

When you aren’t home, crating your new dog will keep her out of trouble. Check out this Dogster article for tips on getting started with crate training. When you are home, keep an eye on your pup. No sneaking off and peeing in a room when you aren’t watching. Whether this means using baby gates or just calling his or her name, keep your dog in your sights.

If your pup goes to the bathroom in the house, and you don’t catch him or her, chalk it up as your mistake and just clean it up. There’s no point in yelling, scolding, or bringing your dog to the mess, because he or she won’t understand the reason for the punishment. Especially with a new dog, create as many positive experiences as possible to develop a wonderful, happy relationship.

If you catch your dog getting ready to go or actually going to the bathroom in the house, just make an interrupter sound (“eh”, “uh-oh”, “oops”, clap your hands, etc.) and immediately take him or her outside to finish. Then reward your dog.

If you are like most of us with rescue dogs, there is no way to know their history, so take it slow and be compassionate. The most important factors in working toward a reliably house-trained adult dog is to be consistent and keep it positive. Good luck!

Top photo: Dog accident by Shutterstock.


Abbie Mood, Dip. CBST

Abbie lives in Colorado with her dogs Daisy, Sadie, and Buster, and can usually be found outside with one of them. She is a dog trainer and freelance writer who loves to explore environmental and animal rights issues. Find out more about her at and Follow her on Twitter @abbiemood and Instagram @abbiemood.


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