How do I teach an old dog new tricks? (Housebreaking An Adult Shelter Dog)?


My boyfriend and I adopted a 2 year old cocker spaniel mix two months ago from the local no-kill shelter. The woman at the shelter told us that he had been adopted once before and returned…which should have been a red flag. Anyway, after two months of potty training, Cooper still goes on the floor when he gets the chance. He was outside for half an hour this morning, and when I let him inside, he promptly poo’d on the floor..which means he held it ALL night and then the whole time he was outside! He has his own kennel, and is in a confined space, but doesn’t seem to mind going to the bathroom in "his area". My boyfriend has more or less given Cooper a time line of when he needs to start showing some improvement…two weeks or he has to go back. We would hate to have to take him back to the shelter, as we’ve become very attatched, but we’re at the end of our rope here! We’ve tried everything! Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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    8 Responses to “How do I teach an old dog new tricks? (Housebreaking An Adult Shelter Dog)?”

    1. through_the_broken_glass says:

      Well, I’m not clear on how you were potty training your dog before, but I would suggest that you let him adjust to the new surroundings. If this dog has been locked away in a cage for a while, s/he may not have the same respect for potty places vs. eating and sleeping places. It’s a common problem for plenty of caged animals. Also, your new dog probably doesn’t understand that you’re home is its "cave" (its home, in otherwords). This will take time. If you’ve had him/her for a long time and there are still no results there are a few things you can do.

      It is important that you take your dog outside when you want her/him to pee. Now, that doesn’t mean just standing at the door while you watch. No, you need to lead your dog to a specific corner and encourage him/her to go there. You have to do this every time until s/he gets it. When you get to the corner, use a command like "Pee" or "Go"…hell, you can even use "Do you Business" if you want. It just has to be consistant. Make the backyard a very boring place to be when it’s time to go pee. Don’t play with him/her, or walk around. Sit and watch until s/he goes. When s/he does go, praise extensively. Make a scene, no matter if your neighbors are watching or not. Maybe if give him/her a treat.

      If your dog does go inside, put him/her outside immediately and have your boyfriend clean up completely (or whoever wants to do the nasty deed). Use vinegar to get the smell of urine out of the carpet/floor. Sometimes the smell of urine encourages the older and younger dogs to pee inside and vinegar neutralizes the smell.

      During bedtime, make sure you take away the water and food and make one last trip outside. And, always pay attention to the warning signs that your pup may be needing to go outside. s/he may circle, whine, nudge your hands, bark, stop playing suddenly. They always give you a warning. The best way is to prevent accidents in the house!

      If this doesn’t work, then there is obviously another problem. Every dog is trainable. So, if two weeks goes by and there is no improvement (not even a little), I would suggest heading to the vets to ensure your pup doesn’t have a medical problem.

    2. gentleannie says:

      Please talk to a trainer before you send him back, poor little guy, I got a returned greyhound and she turned out to be the best dog i ever or will ever have, she was stubborn, but once we understood each other she was my best friend and "my" dog she trained 2 more adopted adult dogs in 1 day she was the Alpha, not me, so give cooper a chance and I hate to tell you but cocker spaniel’s are hard to housebreak my neighbor’s still has accidents and he is 7 and wasn’t good at all till close to 3 but they love him and it does help if they get a nice long walk

    3. burnt_in_wood says:

      And for the gross advice..
      take his mess’s outside to where you want him to go… back corner of the yards.. where ever. Sadly the odds are you have a cocker that spent alot of time crated or confined to a small space. Take cooper out on a leash to the place you put the poo and keep him there until he goes. It will mean you investing time in this, several times a day. Clean his crate/kennel/ and anywhere he poo’d or pee’d except where you want him to go, and then give it a rub with a rag soaked in white vinegar. It will change the scent from his place.. to yours. Be consistant. get him out on a schedule and take him to that same spot everytime for a while. He will get the message, and then you can start cleaning up that place in your yard. Seen this work a number of times, even had a friend that finally got a fake hydrant to mark the " dog zone" in her yard.

    4. margaret m says:

      cockers are a tough breed, he may not know any better depending on how long he was in the shelter. consider a personal dog trainer, they may have some techniques that will work for him….love him anyway good luck

    5. mojos1966 says:

      First thing first…If you feed a dog once a day, he will poo once a day…If you feed him twice a day, he will poo twice a day….Get the picture ?
      If you’re allowing him to "free feed", you CANNOT predict his poo time…
      In general, if you feed a dog once or twice a day you’ll quickly be able to predict when he has to go…When you can get him outside just in time and praise him for doing his duty outside, he’ll quickly get the idea that going outside makes you happy.. 🙂

    6. cherokee_mydog says:

      We got a dog from the shelter that did that we had to spank her and stick her in a small cage for an hour and not play with her. She learned that if she wanted attention and not spanked she had to do her buisness out side.

    7. woerden says:

      In 30 years of dog training, and at least a decade specializing in re-training aggressive dogs, I worked almost exclusively with shelters and rescue groups. Many of the adult dogs I received for re-training also had housesoiling issues. Some of them were very difficult, committed housesoilers. I’ve never been unsuccessful, though.

      Here’s an online link to an article I wrote on the subject.

      I hope it helps. It sounds like your dog is just not "getting" the concept of going outside. Just being outside isn’t enough to crystalize that message. I think I’ve outlined the steps and the reasoning as best I could in the above article. In short, go back to the beginning. Keep this dog confined to a small area in the house (just big enough to stand, turn around, and lie down) when you can’t be scrupulously supervising it (to watch for signs the dog is about to "go"), and take it outside for potty breaks, ON A LEASH, every two hours, day and night. Exercise and feed, as usual, all supervised, of course. Once you go for a period of time with no accidents between potty breaks, you can start to allow the dog more freedom, or extend the length of time between outdoor trips, or both. Make sure to praise like crazy when the dog does go outside, on the leash. Consider teaching a word/command, so the dog learns what you want, and is rewarded when it complies.

      Best of luck!