How to Potty Train an Older Dog in an Apartment

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how to potty train an older dog in an apartment

Whether you just adopted an untrained shelter or rescue dog or recently moved to a new place, you may be asking yourself, “How can I potty train him inside my apartment?”

Even though the task may initially seem quite daunting, the tried and true method behind potty training an adult dog is really not that complicated.

It really just boils down to two very simple actions that make the entire process a whole lot easier on you and your good boy.

That said, don’t set your dog up for failure by leaving him alone for too long, especially in the initial stages of the training process.

How long is too long? While it mostly depends on your individual dog and his age, 6-8 hours between potty breaks is usually the sweet spot.

In this post, I’ll share some apartment dog potty training tips, and walk you through the steps on how to house train an older dog (using pee pads).

Indoor Potty Training for Older Dogs

First of all, you must be sure to reinforce and reward wanted behavior. This means using positive remarks and praises each time your dog does what you want him to do rather than resorting to yelling or harsh discipline.

Oftentimes, simply giving a treat, a scratch behind the ears, or a few kind words is more than enough.

Second, as already mentioned, you need to be aware that even the healthiest, fully grown dog will have a hard time holding it in after a while. You as the pet owner must be sure to limit any opportunities for mistakes or bad behavior.

Sure, when you have a private yard and a doggie door, potty training isn’t such a big deal. But those who live in an urban environment, such as an apartment building, may not always be able to get their dog outside in time.

This is where pee pads come in handy!

Note: these pads sometimes called potty pads, puppy pads, training pads, pee-pee, or wee-wee pads.

They’re particularly beneficial for senior and small breed dogs, but also for pups who are recovering from surgery, injury, or illness.

Ideally, using pee pads shouldn’t be more complex than taking your dog for a potty break outdoors. Even though puppies are usually associated with potty training, older dogs are also very capable of acquiring the skill.

However, keep in mind that potty training your dog indoors in no way replaces the need for taking him out on regular walks. After all, he still needs to exercise his legs in nature.

So, are you ready to teach an old dog a few new tricks? Here we go.

13 Steps to Potty Train an Older Dog in an Apartment

1. Know Your Dog’s Breed and Background

It’s important that you do some homework about your dog’s breed. This means knowing the basic facts, such as the general disposition, expected weight, height, etc.

An 8-pound dog will obviously have a much smaller bladder than one weighing 50 pounds. This requires a pee pad that’s extremely absorbent, yet smaller in size.

In order for a pee pad to work as well as it should, you need to make sure it fits your dog’s characteristics.

RELATED: Best Pee Pads For Dogs

Additionally, it’s very important to note that sometimes soiling and frequent accidents can be a sign of a potential health concern that your vet should look into.

An unexplained regression in potty training can also be a behavioral problem, as some dogs will mark their territory when they’re anxious.

Likewise, it could indicate anything from something as simple as a recent food change to a more bigger issue like adjusting to a new home.

This may seem like your dog refuses to potty train, however, it may just require some lifestyle changes.

2. Find a Potty Spot in Your Apartment

Next, you need to decide where you’re going to lay down the pee pad.

Ideally, you want a place that’s private and removed from the day to day chaos of the home, like the laundry room. Wherever you choose, don’t pick a somewhere with a lot of traffic and activity.

You need to be sure to place the pee pad as far away as possible from where your dog eats, drink, and sleep as he won’t eliminate close to it.

Also, unfortunately, even with the best training and intentions, it’s no secret that dogs have accidents. So you’ll want to gravitate towards a surface that’s easy to clean.

Once you’ve decided on a spot, stick with it!

Consistency is key with dog potty training. If you move the pee pad around to a new location every day, your dog will understandably become confused as to where he’s supposed to go inside. This is especially true if he’s not confined within a smaller area located nearby (more on that next).

3. Keep a Close Eye on Your Dog

To avoid accidents, mess, and stress, you should keep your dog close to you.

Look for signs that your dog needs a toilet break, such as barking, circling, digging, sniffing and/or whining. If you want to be on the safe side, simply take him to the pee pad every hour or less to ensure that he gets plenty of opportunities to relieve himself.

4. Confine Your Dog Using a Pen or a Gate

Keeping an eye on your dog is easier when you can confine him inside a playpen or behind a pet gate.

Be sure that there’s enough room to walk and play, but not too much, or there’s a chance that your dog will lounge on one side and use the other one for peeing.

However, always take care to set any confining space up so that you can see your dog in case he signals you that it’s potty time. You can also use a dog crate, however, it may be a bit tricky. I’ll explain why in step #12.

5. Utilize a Leash for More Control

If playpen and pet gate aren’t your dog’s thing, you can use a hands-off leash to have some control over him.

That way, your dog will be able to move freely while you watch over him, and you can take him with you when you move to another room. A combination that’s highly convenient.

6. Maintain a Neat Potty Schedule

Just like humans, dogs usually need to eliminate as soon as they wake up, after they eat or drink, and sometimes when they’re excited. Be aware of these times and use it as an opportunity to rush your pup to his potty spot to do his needs.

Take your dog to his pee pad when he wakes up from one of his naps, or as soon as he finishes his meal. You can also throw in some playtime to try to speed things up a little.

A regular feeding schedule can also help provide a regular elimination schedule. For simplicity’s sake, feed your dog every day at the same time to induce bowel movement right before you lead him to his pee pad. Additionally, remove his food bowl between meals so that there will be no surprises.

7. Teach Your Dog a Potty Command

This is where things are starting to get exciting, and honestly, this step is likely simpler than you think.

You can use any word as long as it’s not overly complicated, and be sure to use it consistently. Pick ones like ‘Go‘, ‘Pee‘, or ‘Potty‘, and say it out loud while your dog does his thing on the pad.

Tip: Want to learn more basic commands? Check out the obedience 101 section in our online dog training course review!

8. Only Use Positive Reinforcements

Positive reinforcement works so much better than shouting or becoming frustrated. Praise is a good method to let your dog know you’re pleased with him.

Dogs crave our approval, so be sure to offer praise while (and after) your dog eliminates on the pee pad to reinforce that behavior.

Remember that dogs can figure out whether you’re angry or happy, so use the right tone and facial expressions to convey the message clearly.

Dog treats are another great way to encourage your pup to use pee pads. In my opinion, they’re the ultimate training tool since most dogs are highly food motivated.

However, give them to your dog in moderation as it could lead to unhealthy weight gain.

9. Don’t Get Angry at Your Dog

Only if you catch your dog eliminating outside his pee pad in real-time, you should do something that will startle him. For example, you can clap your hands to make him stop what he was doing, and take him to straight to the pad so he could finish.

Yelling or getting angry doesn’t only not help the situation, but it can also create anxiety that can make the situation worse.

Yes, you want to ensure that your dog knows that anywhere aside from the designated bathroom spot is off-limits. Yet, resorting to harsh discipline methods, such as pushing his nose in the mess only leads to more stress and avoidance.

10. Remove and Minimize Potty Accidents

Your dog should know by now where to go for his toilet breaks. However, to minimize the chance of accidents, you should clean your dog’s old messes using an enzyme cleaner. This product is designed to eliminate the urine smell, which is unpleasant and has the potential to attract your dog.

In contrast to popular belief, bleach is only going to make things worse and it may even be dangerous when combined with dog’s urine.

If your home smells like dog pee, there are way better options out there.

Bear in mind that cleaning will become less of an issue after your dog learns how to pee inside the pad.

Tip: wipe your dog’s urine puddle using paper towels or wet wipes, and put them in the middle of the pad so it attracts your dog there.

11. Walk Your Dog Regularly

I’ll say it again, all of the pee pads in the world aren’t an excuse to leave your dog inside the house forever. Your dog needs to have his exercise, develop social interactions, and learn how to eliminate outside as well.

12. Think Twice About Crate Training

In some cases, you may want to consider house training an older dog without a dog crate.

While you should definitely use a crate for separation anxiety, it may not always be the best solution for potty training an older dog.

Some dogs can get really nervous when you lock them inside a kennel, mainly due to poor past experience. This may cause them severe distress, sometimes to the point where they actually soil themselves.

If you want to give the crate a try, make sure to watch this video first.

13. Finally, Be Patient

Potty training older dogs require a schedule and consistent action. You have to be willing to be persistent and not give up on your dog or show frustration the first time he has an accident.

Similarly, you need to be willing to devote your own time to the process of properly training your canine companion. Generally speaking, housebreaking an adult dog should normally take about a week.

Bottom Line

Dogs that spend their life having acres of land and woods to explore almost certainly never have a need for indoor potty training. In our modern world, the reality is that many pet owners live in an urban environment that simply doesn’t allow for regular, outdoor potty training.

So can an older dog still be potty trained?

He certainly can! Pee pads are a wonderful way to potty train a dog in an apartment. They provide an absorbent, protective shield against your floor while creating an ideal place for indoor potty training to occur.

Nevertheless, you’ll want to protect your floor or carpet by using a nylon sheet or something similar underneath the pad or its placeholder.

And remember, always offer your dog constant and consistent positive reinforcement, as well as a private place well away from his food and/or bed to do his business, and you’re sure to experience success!

10 thoughts on “How to Potty Train an Older Dog in an Apartment”

  1. I know this post is fairly old, but if you could give some advice on my situation I would be grateful.

    Essentially a 5yr old pug is used to going outside in a house yard with 4 other dogs.

    She now lives with me in an apartment with my gf and I (its her dog) I have tried to keep a schedule, 30min walk at 9am, 2pm, 8pm, (times when she used to go pee/poo)

    She refuses to go while on a leash it seems. As soon as I leave for an hour or two, she pees in her kennel, which she never did before.

    Really hope for any advise anyone can provide.

    • Hey Greg,

      Sounds like your dog has recently moved in with you and is going through a transition period, which may create some behavior issues.

      First, use an enzyme cleaner to remove the pee smell from the kennel. Then, every few hours, take your dog to a spot she is familiar with (a small lawn area nearby or a pee pad) and wait for her to do her business.

      If that doesn’t work, keep her close to you and watch out for common potty signs, such as circling and sniffing around the crate.

      When she finally succeeds, reward her with lots of praise and treats or a long walk if you’re outside.

      Hope that helps!

  2. My son in law has a fairly young dog who was previously abused and who is afraid of males. This dog spends the day hiding, either in the closet, or under the bed, but I have gotten her to trust me nough that she will lie down by me, and fall asleep. He can no longer keep her, and I would love to have her, but she is not potty trained.
    I have never had a dog, and I live in a small apartment. I also work irregular hours, so I don’t know if this is even doable.
    I have no idea of how to proceed. If I get your book, which I plan to do, is there any other advice you can give me that will be helpful? Anything will help. I want to help her and don’t know what I’m doing.
    Thank you in advace for your help.

    • Hey Adriana,

      Good for you for gaining that dog’s trust!

      Puppy pads are usually a good option for people with irregular work schedules, especially if the dog is young or of a small breed.

      Also, I can say from experience that pee pads fit perfectly into a one-bedroom apartment, so don’t worry if you have little space.

      However, make sure to take a few days off or bring the dog over the weekend so you can start the housebreaking process, as I explain in the post.

  3. Hello, I know this post is old but I’m hoping you could shed some light on my current situation. I have moved into a big city and into an apartment 5 months ago. Prior to, my 2 year old 7lb Yorkie was used to running around in a backyard whenever she needed to potty. I have tried to pee pad and dog litter train her. Unfortunately, she seems terrified of the pee pads and dog little. She continues to use our spare room as her potty room. She avoids the pee pads and dog litter at all costs. We have both tried getting her on the per pads and dog litter with tons of positive reinforcement including treats and praising her. I am continuously washing the floors nonstop. It has now been 5 months, I’ve seemed a trainer and still have come up with no results. She used to be able to hold her urine 6-8 hours. Now, regardless of my husband working from home, she does not notify him, she just sneaks out to our spare room to potty. Please help.

    • Hey Kat,

      Since you mentioned that your dog had no problem doing her needs in the backyard, why not try a real grass dog potty? Chances are she will already know what to do.

      As for the spare room, I suggest that you use a cleaner specifically designed to eliminate urine odor, such as an enzyme cleaner. Otherwise, your dog will continue to mark that same spot later. Another option would be to simply close the door.

  4. Hi, I have a 1 yr. old morkie and she does go out to potty, but at night she goes on a towel.
    We are moving into a town house where she can’t run around the yard. How do I get her
    to go out all the time? Also she barks at everything & at us. I can’t have her doing this
    at our town house because of the neighbors. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
    Thanks, God bless you.

    • Hey Sherry,

      If you’re planning on allowing your dog to do her business inside, you’ll need a better solution than a towel.

      Doggielawn is a good example as it acts just like a small yard and it teaches your dog to relieve herself on actual grass instead of on your towels or clothes.

      As for the barking issue, it’s a bit irrelevant to this post, but I’ll make sure to cover it in one of my future articles.

  5. My girl is a Australian Keplie and just turned one. She is so great not anything like people have written and extremely smart. She has always been extremely difficult to potty train but I refuse to give up. I know it’s my fault and need advise. I started working when she was 8 months old and only stayed at the new job for 2 months during that time I put pee pads(mind you she’s always used them), on the patio to reassure no accidents because the breeder told me NOT to crate her. She became reliant event though I still had my mom(who she trust) come take her out while I worked and she would pee outside sometimes. I live on second floor apartment and after I got let go I decided I needed to fix the situation and know that she is more important than work. I now work from home and I’ve been consistently taking her to dog parks where I am socializing her and she is doing great she gets scared and anxious at first then loves it. I take her out now every two hours but she will NOT Poop outside only on her pads on patio. She just turned one and I know I can fix this. I’ve read up on several ways and I Want to ween her off pads. I am now with her all the time and can do whatever I need to to make this happen. What would you suggest?

    • Hey Christina,

      You can start by gradually removing the pee pads from the patio. I would even suggest bringing a used pad outside to attract and encourage your dog to do her business on it.

      Also, make sure the potty breaks are relatively short and only praise her for using the pad outdoors. If she refuses to ‘go’, put her in her crate and take her out every 10 mins until she goes.

      Once she succeeds, be sure to reward her with pets and treats to let her know how good she is. It may take a while, but it will be worth it!


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