Older Dog Potty Training Tips

trusting paws

by Naomi Heck, M.Ed., CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

Older Dog Potty Training Tips

We just received the following letter from one of our readers.  This is not the first on the subject on potty training an older dog so I decided to post it.

Hello German Shorthaired Pointer Greatdog GSP, hope you can help us with a potty training issue we have encountered with our newly rescued German Wirehaired Pointer.  We rescued an 18 month neutered male German wirehaired pointer 10 days ago and we have been following your website with interest, as it has been very helpful in settling our new dog down. I have attached a doc which explains the help we are looking for in helping our new adolescent dog potty outside. We would be very grateful if you could perhaps give us some pointers as to how we could best approach potty training an older dog as what we have been doing doesn’t seem to be working.

Dog history

The dog we adopted, Breac, is an AKC registered neutered male German Wirehaired Pointer, age 18 months old.  He was born, Aug 2015 and at age 4months, our new dog was purchased from the breeder and brought home to live indoors with a family with three kids (age 9, 12, 18) and their two dogs. The dog has always been “a handful” and needs daily exercise. Family fed him 5 cups quality dogfood daily. Dog let himself out of the house into the family’s 18 acre property on a regular basis as the door handles pulled down when he stood on them. He is VERY prey driven.

December 2016: The owners had approached the National German Wirehaired Pointer Rescue Org in search of adopters for him as he had shown aggression to the family’s 9 year old (pawed him in face when 9 year old disturbed him by putting his  arms around dog’s neck and squeezed while dog lay on a sofa asleep) and also the dog held onto the coat of a stranger who recently let themselves into the family home unannounced.

The family had been informed by the local shelter they would euthanize the dog due to aggression shown to humans. He has never done this before, and has shown no aggression with other dogs, but has been very protective of his toys and of the family home. Shelter would not take the risk of adopting him out.

Our rescue dog

On Dec 29, we saw a facebook posting from National Wirehaired Pointer Rescue about this dog possibly being euthanized without intervention as the possible adopter could not commit time and effort to dog as he first  believed he could.. We have some experience with gun dogs, have always had one or two Labrador retrievers at a time, and have been puppy raisers for Guiding eyes for the blind, New York for 10 years too – so we have lots of dog experience with smart, large dogs from breeders and rescue dogs too. Our latest two labs died age 14 (thyroid cancer), and 16 years (old age), three weeks apart in November 2016.

10 days ago we were vetted by NGWP Rescue. and as we have no young children in the house, are in our 50’s, live an energetic outdoor lifestyle, have 3 acres with invisible wire fence for dog to run in, live 1/2 mile  from a new large dog park,  and I am not working, we were allowed to adopt him. Usually NGWP Rescue vet and foster out a dog before he is adopted out, but the dog was still living with the family who owned him, and they were crating him extensively for fear of him being aggressive again and were reluctant for him to be fostered out rather than adopted. Working with NGWP Rescue, we decided to look at him in the original family home, and decide if he would be a match for our home situation. If successful, we would make a donation to NGWP Rescue charity in lieu of an adoption fee.

We travelled 5 hours each way to pick up our rescue dog from the previous owner. He is everything we thought he would be – smart, VERY energetic, loving, playful, willful and stubborn. We took him home and love him already. BTW we do not have any dogs in our home at the moment, except Breac.

BUT our problem is that at 18 months, even though we were assured Breac was housebroken, we have discovered that he is NOT house broken. Strangely, this applies to pooping, not peeing indoors. It may be the change of household, his stress at being extensively crated in his former home, or fear of unknown “new” family.

Since the day he came home with us, he has pooped in the hardwood floor in the dining room daily. We have tried calling the former owners to discuss this issue, but they continue to be unresponsive to us. Although NGWP Rescue enabled the rescue, they are not liable for what happens to our dog, as he was not vetted or assessed by them.

It is not that we want to give him up or anything like that, just need some help in potty training him regarding successful outdoor pottying. I think he was just not the right kind of dog for the first owners and didn’t get the full time training and attention he deserved, so he has developed some bad habits that need to be corrected. Correcting this behavior in an 18 month highly prey driven adolescent dog had been very challenging so far.

He does cry to go out when he sees squirrels or birds, as he wants to chase them, and whenever he does, we usually let him out on a leash, to eliminate. His family used the term “go potty: so we are doing the same – “go potty” and “get busy”. We have started off as if he is a new puppy, taking him out every half hour or so. He ALWAYS pees outside, no problem, has only peed indoors once*. He never cries to be let out to eliminate poop, and he has pooped 1 – 2 times daily in the dining room despite our best efforts. Until we catch him in the act, it is pointless clapping hands and saying NO loudly then taking him outdoors, as he doesn’t understand what he has done is “wrong”.  

We have tried to keep to a routine of feeding him 1 ½ cups Merrick no grain dogfood at both 8 am and 6pm as he was pooping every 2 hours when we got him and we were advised by NGWP Rescue that 5 cups was too much to feed him. We will discuss this next week when we introduce him to our vet. Routine is morning long walk, or 1 hour running in dog park, then long walk at night, with lots of play time and potty breaks every 40 minutes or so. It is quite a challenge, but he is such a responsive dog in many ways it is worth the effort. We have not started training him on the boundary of our property or on the electric wire yet, as we had an ice storm last weekend and weather too treacherous. He is always leashed while outdoors, except at the dog park.

We tried confining him to the crate at night, so he would at least not poop in the dining room overnight, but he escaped from the crate by tipping it on its side and pushing his way through the top side of the crate! He peed on the rug in the living room the next day as he watched me move the crate to another room – I think it was out of fear of being put in there again.* After dinner, he is confined to the family room and lies on his dog bed, on a leash next to my husband (so he does not sneak off and poop in dining room – open plan house). He settles there no problem.

We thought we had made a breakthrough yesterday when he did poop at dog park, did not poop indoors during the day yesterday, and pooped outside last night during his nightly walk, BUT he pooped again overnight in the dining room as he was not confined to crate because he tries to escape from it/is afraid of it.

Do you have any suggestions that would help with this house training issue?

Would it be better to feed him only once a day, and if so when? Trying to get optimum time for him to poop while outdoors.

At night should we confine him to a dog bed in the utility room which has a tiled floor until he stops pooping overnight as he seems very stressed by being in the crate and is too rambunctious to be let loose on the main floor – he will counter cruise, knock items to the floor and “retrieve” them to our bedroom door?

We have had our dog 11 days now, and he is still being introduced to our home, his new environment, and family, and is doing really well all things considered. No unexpected aggression, he is sweet-natured and loving and wants to please us. We just need a few pointers to help get him out of this habit. Hope you can help.

Trusting Paws Dog Training Reply

Never assume that a dog that is house-trained in one home will be 100% reliable in a new location.  Stress and/or new scents can de-rail the best trained dogs.  The most important part of house-training is limiting access to areas where the dog should not eliminate.  This dog has been given too much freedom too soon.  He should not be allowed out of his confinement area if the owner’s eyes cannot be glued onto him at all times.  When he is out of confinement, he should be on a leash attached to the owner.  He has already developed a preference for defecating in the dining room.  Every time he goes there, it is solidifying (no pun intended) that area as his toilet.  The dining room is the most preferred bathroom for almost all of the un-trained dogs that I see.  It is away from the central living area, and most dogs prefer privacy or distance when defecating.
He can be fed twice a day, but they should keep a written log of the dog’s activities, mealtimes, snacktimes and what time the dog poops.  A pattern will emerge which will help with timing outings into the yard.  Re-homing is very stressful for dogs, even if they might not show it.  Stress and activity can increase the need to defecate.
He should be taken out on a 20 ft leash or Flexi to the same area in the yard every time he is let out.  Put some of his poop in the potty training area to scent it.  He should earn the freedom to run loose or go for a walk right after he poops or pees.  He can be allowed some freedom in the house (under strict supervision) when he is empty.  When the dog is fully reliable in one room for a month, he can be allowed access to another room (not the whole house yet).  When he proves himself for a few weeks in 2 rooms, add another room, and so on.  With an open floor plan, they will have to get creative with how they will manage where he can roam.
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About Simba's Mom

I was born and raised in California, lived in Pennsylvania for several years, and have recently moved to Delaware. I have gone from being a teacher for 20 years to a blogger and now back to teaching but still blogging. I have a great dog named Simba. Simba is a German Shorthaired Pointer. Life with Simba is an adventure every day. I have had dogs my entire life but I have learned most about dogs living with Simba. German Shorthaired Pointers really do become your best friend. They become extremely attached and that is why they say they have the Velcro phenomenon. Simba now has a sister 8 years younger and her name is Gypsy.
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