How to Potty Train an Older Dog in an Apartment


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Whether you just adopted an untrained shelter or rescue dog or recently moved to a new place, house training can be a daunting task for both you and your new furry friend.

However, 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.

In this post, I’ll share some apartment dog potty training tips, and walk you through the steps on how to house train an adult dog.

Indoor Potty Training for Older Dogs

First, 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.

That said, 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.

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.

For those of us who live in an urban environment, such as an apartment building, we may not have the option to take our dog out every few hours.

This is where pee pads come in handy!

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? Let’s 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.

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 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, drinks and sleeps 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 toward 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 a 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.

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 do his business. 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 house smells like dog urine, there are way better options out there.

11. Walk Your Dog Regularly

Remember, pee pads 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!

About the author

Li-ran Bukovza

Li-ran believes that dogs can teach us more than we could ever teach them. He is fascinated by the dog-human bond and loves researching and writing about new dog trends. With the help of Richie, his trusty sidekick, he has been able to learn even more about dogs and their needs.