House Training an Older Dog

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Old Dog with BallBringing home an adult dog is a particularly large undertaking for any family. Whether this is your first or fiftieth dog coming into your home, there are a few things which you should always keep in mind. The challenges of bringing home an older dog are significantly different to the challenges of bringing home a new puppy. While one is not easier nor more difficult than the other, there are challenges that you should be prepared to handle before bringing an older dog home. A unique and unexpected challenge that we often see in rescue cases is the necessity of house training an older dog.

Puppies vs. Adult Dogs

Many families choose to bring an adult dog into their home after deciding to adopt a family pet and realizing that they were just not cut out for puppyhood. Many animal shelters and rescue organizations are overflowing with adult dogs that offer a few perks that do not come with new puppies. Not only are you saving an older animals life but you may also be fortunate enough to skip a few steps in the training process when you decide to bring home a fully grown dog rather than a puppy. Many full grown dogs come into your home house trained and crate trained and some have even been taught their basic obedience commands. Many rescue organizations make the extra effort to ensure that their older dogs are trained with basic commands because they understand that this makes them more desirable for families and give their older dogs a chance at finding a home.

House Training Basics

While there are perks in bringing home an adult dog, there are some aspects which may need to be addressed with your new dog, primarily: house training, crate training, basic obedience, fear issues, dominance issues, health concerns and bonding.

House training may or may not be an issue that arises when you bring home your adult dog. Some older dogs come from homes where their owners became too elderly or sick to care for the dog anymore, and in most cases, these dogs come to you already house trained and require very little to brush up on this skill (generally just a few lessons in where the front/back door is). But this is not the case with all – house training an older dog may be a necessity so be sure to ask lots of questions before adoption if this is a concern for you.

Recognizing Your Dog

Some adult dogs, however, come in to rescue organizations or shelters after being confiscated from homes where they were left tied to a tree in the back yard. These dogs have no concept of being an “indoor dog” and, while rescue organizations do their part in trying to teach house training, it will also fall on your head as your dog’s new owner to ensure that your dog learns when and where to “go potty.” House training for older dogs is no different to house training younger dogs except for the fact that most older dogs have the ability to “hold it” longer than puppies do. Senior dogs may begin to lose the ability to “hold it” for extended periods of time, but adult dogs can hold it longer than puppies meaning that you only need to come home from work once during the day to let your dog out. House training is a fairly simple task with older dogs in which you make sure your dog is taken out to the bathroom each time he eats and whenever he wakes up and before bed; when your dog uses the bathroom outside make sure to give praise and/or a treat. Older dogs tend to catch on to this process fairly quickly, and your adult dog should be house trained in no time!

Crate Training

Crate training is another skill that your adult dog may or may not already know based on his history with owners. A dog that is crate trained may sometimes even come with his own crate, but if not crates are available for purchase at all pet stores. A crate should be sized to your dog so that they are tall enough for your dog to stand in and just wide enough for your dog to turn around in so that they can “den.” Having a crate gives your adult dog a place to call their own and allows them somewhere to retire to when they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed. Allowing your adult dog this option allows you to pick up on signals that stress out your new adult dog. Crate training also allows you a safe place to keep your dog when you leave the house or when your dog is suffering from anxiety. The crate not only keeps your house safe from destruction but it also keeps your adult dog safe from harming himself while destroying your property out of fear or anxiety.
Basic obedience is something that every dog should learn. Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, basic obedience is a rite of passage for a dog; it gives them structure as well as a small dictionary of words that you both understand. Imagine how stressful the move to a brand new family can be for an older dog. Basic obedience classes allow your new adult dog the opportunity to learn what you expect from him as well as teach you of your dog’s capabilities. Some adult dogs are already taught their basic obedience commands in rescues and shelters or else they were taught basic obedience by their previous family; this should not be a reason to avoid taking another obedience class whether it is a repeat of basic obedience or a more advanced class. Another particularly important aspect of obedience classes is to allow your dog to bond with you. The teaching, learning and rewarding process of obedience classes allows you and your new adult dog to become closer.

Fear Issues

Fear issues should be something to consider when bringing home an adult dog. Depending on a dog’s past history you may or may not be made of any fear issues before bringing your new adult dog home. Common fear concerns with older dogs include separation anxiety, the fear of thunder/loud noises, the fear of traffic and the fear of strangers. These fears are particularly common in dogs who have previously been abandoned or who have lived on the streets for any amount of time. Separation anxiety is particularly common with older dogs that have been given up by their original family or in adult dogs that are not used to being left alone. There are a variety of solutions to separation anxiety including crating, leaving the television or radio on when leaving the house, pheromone sprays and collars and medication. The fear of loud noises is a particularly common fear among dogs in general, especially the fear of thunder.

Dogs that have lived in the wild for any amount of time are particularly susceptible to this fear as well as dogs that are nervous or skittish. Dogs that are afraid of loud noises or thunder often do better when left crated with a radio or television to help mask the noise. The fear of traffic is another phobia which is common among adult dogs that have lived in the wild for any amount of time. As a result of having to duck traffic and having to survive in the wild many adult dogs have a fear of traffic or cars in general. Dogs that are afraid of traffic can be gently conditioned with the help of treats and praise to become desensitized to this fear, with extreme phobias; however, it is always better to enlist the help of a professional animal behaviorist. Lastly is another fear which is particularly popular in older dogs, the fear of strangers. Many dogs that have had their routines upset by being taken to a shelter or rescue organization have trouble adjusting to strangers. Dogs need to be able to trust their people and after having their regular routine upset, they can become doubtful about anyone’s intentions. Some dogs also show fear of strangers when bonded to their new master; this is a situation that should always be corrected with the help of a professional animal behaviorist to avoid aggressive fear responses from the dog.

Bringing Home an Older Dog

When bringing an adult dog into your home, you should also be aware of any dominance issues with the dog. Some dogs have general dominance issues and will fight to show their position as alpha in your household. Some dogs have food dominance and will snap at any other animal or person coming near their dining area. Some dogs have dominance issues with other dogs be it male on male, female on female or any other combination. Dominance issues can be particularly difficult to work with when bringing a new dog home and you should always question a dogs dominance issues before bringing your new dog home. Knowing what you are going to be facing can make it a lot easier to plan out a path for correction. Because dominance issues can, and usually do, generate aggressive responses from the dog in question, they are issues that should be discussed with a vet or an animal behaviorist. Dogs with dominance issues should never be brought in to a house with young children as they can be unpredictable until the dominance response has been neutralized. Adult dogs with dominance issues can be trained by professionals to become desensitized to their dominance triggers, but again this should always be addressed by a professional!

Health Concerns with Older Dogs

One of the biggest concerns when bringing an adult dog into your home is that of health issues. Sometimes due to the adult dog being a wild dog or coming from a questionable home the dog’s health history is unknown. Sometimes, however, when a dog comes from a good home where the owner has passed away or simply cannot care for the dog anymore, the entire health history can be obtained. Even when a dog’s health history is unknown, shelters generally give the dogs a once over exam to check for major health concerns. Simply because an adult dog has a health concern does not mean that it is not a good dog to bring home, but it does mean that you should research the health condition to ensure that you can properly provide for your dog. Providing for a dog with health concerns can be as simple as giving your dog a supplement daily or as complicated as giving your dog shots for diabetes. Making sure that you are completely aware of everything involved in your dog’s health situation will ensure a good match between you and your new adult dog.

Bonding with Your Older Dog

Bonding is a particularly important aspect of bringing your adult dog home. Bringing an animal into a new home life can be a particularly stressful occasion for both you and the dog so it is vital to put aside time to work with the dog on obedience as well as play with the dog so that you can bond. Dogs bond relatively quickly with their master because they depend on a routine that is led by their care taker. Falling quickly into a routine and spending quality time instructing your dog on basic obedience are two of the most important things you can do to ensure that your dog bonds to you and starts to see you as its master.

Attention, Love, and Discipline

Above are only a few of the important things you must consider before bringing an adult dog into your home. When bringing an adult dog home, the points of consideration are different than they would be with a new puppy but they are still there. While an adult dog may not require all of the instruction that a new puppy may require they still require an equal amount of attention, love and discipline to ensure that your new home is a happy one. When bringing an adult dog home the most important thing that you can remember is that your dog is just that, a dog. Don’t set your expectations too high and don’t punish your dog for not understanding what you want from him; the truth is that it was probably your command that didn’t make sense and not your dog that didn’t understand it.

How to House Train an Older Dog [VIDEO]

Zephyr Clarke-Dolberg, a certified professional dog training from Miami, FL, shows us, in a film by Paul Muller, the principles of house training older dogs.

Why did you decide to adopt an adult dog?

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Amy grew up in England and in the early 1990's moved to North Carolina where she completed a bachelors degree in Psychology in 2001. Amy's personal interest in writing was sparked by her love of reading fiction and her creative writing hobby. Amy is currently self employed as a freelance writer and web designer. When she is not working Amy can be found curled up with a good book and her black Labrador, Jet.

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