Housetraining an Older Dog
When my sister-in-law passed away, we took on her seven-year-old Chihuahua. She let out the dog in the morning, then put it in the bathroom with newspapers on the floor. We put her out before we go to work, pen her in the kitchen during the day and leash her to the bed at night. She won’t let us know when she needs to go out, she urinates on carpets and such and goes in the bathroom when we forget to close the door. What can we do?
Training a dog with such long-standing learned behaviors can be frustrating for both you and your Chihuahua. Besides being a problem of housetraining this dog may also be suffering from anxiety about being rehomed. Also, it is possible that this dog has a urinary disorder (such as infection or kidney disease) that makes her urinate more often, so please take her to your veterinarian for an exam to make sure she is healthy.
First, close the bathroom door so she does not have access to this area. Second, she will have to be confined when you are unable to observe her, using a large crate or a child’s playpen. This pen is not to be punishment or used for a long period and she will have to get used to being in the pen for very short periods of time (i.e. starting at 30 seconds) when you are home and during the day so she does nor associate it with social isolation. Once she can do this, then you can start using this pen when you are not home or when you can’t watch her - like bedtime. It should be comfortable with thick bedding and favorite toys.
As soon as you get up in the morning or come home from work, take her directly outside, each time to the same area of the yard. Give her plenty of time to eliminate. Give a pleasant command to “go potty” as she eliminates so she comes to associate the words with eliminating. Be sure to praise her and give her treats to make her enjoy going in front of you. Stay with her so you can give her praise and treats -- and so you can make sure she performs. Repeat the procedure after she takes a nap, after she eats, prior to going to bed and prior to leaving for an extended period of time.
When you are home during the day, she should stay in the room with you
so she can’t wander off to have an accident. A leash attached to
you will keep her close so you can observe her and also prevent wandering
off to eliminate in other areas. Keep bathroom and bedroom doors shut
when you are in the living room.
As she becomes more trustworthy, you can increase intervals between trips outside and even try leaving her unsupervised for increasing time periods. Go back to the starting point immediately if she relapses. Watch for signs that the dog needs to eliminate - rapid movement, sniffing the floor, circling. If she heads for the door (use the same door each time you take her out) or toward the bathroom, take the move as an indication she needs to eliminate. If she does anything at the outside door -- standing there, whining, looking up or touching it with a paw -- praise her enthusiastically as you take her out.
If the dog has an accident in the house, thoroughly clean the soiled area with urine or stool odor eliminating products available at pet stores and veterinarians. If you catch her having an accident, quickly scoop her up, tell her “no” but do not spank her or raise your voice and above all, do not rub her nose in it. Rather, take her out with lots of praise and treats. If she has an accident and you do not see her, do not take any action. Correction must be done immediately to be effective.