Has your senior dog developed health problems that make a trip outside to the toilet area challenging? Perhaps stairs are too difficult for his arthritic joints or he can no longer hold it through the night. There are many health conditions that can interfere with your older dog’s bathroom routine, and in some cases, indoor potty training might be the solution to accidents in the house and painful trips outside.
As most dogs prefer peace and quiet when doing their business, be sure to place your dog’s indoor toilet area in a low traffic part of the house. It can be as simple as a piece of newspaper or a potty pad, but a more hygienic option is a litter box. You can make your own doggie litter box with a large, shallow plastic storage bin. Simply cut a doorway in one side, so your dog can easily step in and out. Alternatively, you can use a cat litter box. Just be sure it is uncovered and large enough for your dog. Finally, there are commercial doggie litter boxes on the market. Some look like large cat boxes, but others are more complex, with artificial grass.
Whichever option you choose, you can line your dog’s indoor toilet with whatever you like, such as newspaper, potty pads, artificial grass, or even cat litter. Be sure it’s either disposable or easy to clean. Also, think about safety. If your dog loves to chew on whatever he can get in his mouth, be sure you either supervise him whenever he has access to the indoor toilet, or choose safe materials.
The real trick is to pick something your dog will actually use. Dogs develop preferences for certain surfaces. For example, if your dog has spent a lifetime going to the bathroom on grass or the concrete of the sidewalk, that may be the only surface he feels comfortable using for that purpose. Transitioning him to litter or potty pads might take some time and patience.
There are two ways to tackle this obstacle. The first is to take a puppy pad, or whatever else you are using indoors, outside and place it in your dog’s usual bathroom spot. This will help him link the new surface with the old behavior and should smooth things along indoors. The second way involves placing the outdoor surface inside. For example, you could place a square of sod or a small patio tile in your dog’s indoor toilet area to give him the right idea of what you expect.
And don’t underestimate the importance of scent. Dogs like to do their business in places that already smell like doggie toilets. You can help your dog appreciate a new location’s purpose by placing some of his urine there. Simply take a paper towel with you on your dog’s walk and mop up a bit of his urine when he goes. Then place that soiled paper towel in the new indoor toilet spot. The smell will reinforce the behavior you expect in the new location.
Another important trick for helping your older dog transition to an indoor toilet is to teach him a potty cue, such as “Hurry Up” or “Go Potty.” This involves joining him outside when he is relieving himself, either out in the yard or on your daily walks. Say your chosen potty word right before your dog goes to the bathroom, and when he is finished, give him a wonderful reward, like a small food treat or praise and a cuddle. This will teach him that when you say that word, he can earn a reward by simply going to the bathroom. After sufficient repetition, you will now be able to ask your dog to go where and when it is convenient for you, including in the new indoor toilet area.
Now that your senior dog has a convenient and pain-free indoor place to do his business, don’t neglect his mental and physical exercise. He may be unable to take those daily walks, but be sure to find other ways to keep him active. Indoor potty training can be very useful for senior dogs, but shouldn’t prevent them from getting all the stimulation they need.