NOTE: This information is for educational purposes only and is intended to be a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the expertise and professional judgment of your veterinarian. The information is NOT to be used for diagnosis or treatment of your pet. Always consult your own veterinarian for advice concerning the treatment of your pet.
When your older dog develops a behavior problem, especially a housebreaking problem, the first thing you should do is take him to the veterinarian. A physical problem is often the source of changes in behavior that occur late in life. Urinary or digestive issues, bone and joint problems, vision and hearing problems, and cognitive problems are the most common causes of housebreaking problems in older dogs. Health problems should be ruled out before taking any steps to address the problem behaviorally.
If your senior dog stops using his dog door, it’s most likely because he’s having pain that makes going through the dog door uncomfortable. Even a mild case of arthritis can make it difficult for him to get through the doggie door, especially if the door is the wrong size or at the wrong height and he has to jump or duck to get through.
Your vet will be able to offer solutions to help with any discomfort your dog may be experiencing. If he’s still having trouble getting in and out once he’s under veterinary care, try installing a larger dog door at a height that doesn’t require him to jump or crouch down to get through. If the dog door is too high and installing a new one isn’t an option, it may be helpful to install ramps inside and outside the door to make getting in and out easier.
If these solutions don’t help, you may not be able to rely on the old boy to take himself out to go potty anymore. If you’re unable to get him back into the habit of using his dog door, be sure to take him outside on a regular schedule so he has plenty of chances to go potty in the right place.
Again, this is most likely due to the discomfort that sometimes occurs as our dogs get older. Just standing up from a nap can be a painful experience for an older dog, and getting outside may just feel like too much work, especially if it involves going up and down stairs.
Be sure your dog gets the proper veterinary care and talk to your vet about an appropriate exercise schedule for your senior dog. When your dog slows down, it’s tempting to stop taking him for walks if he no longer seems interested, but in most cases, eliminating exercise will worsen joint problems and slow your dog down even more.
You might want to install a ramp if your dog is having difficulty getting up and down steep stairs. If he’s having trouble keeping his footing on slippery stairs, you may want to consider carpeting the stairs or adding textured edging to the stairs so it’s easier for him to get up and down.
If you’ve been counting on your dog to take himself out on his own for potty trips, it might be time to start accompanying him outside, since he may now need you to prompt him to go out (especially if he’s having vision, hearing or cognitive problems). Be sure to praise him and fuss over him so he knows what a good boy he is for making the trip outside.
If your dog is peeing in his sleep – leaking urine or peeing and not seeming to be aware he’s doing it – he’s having incontinence problems. This is not a training issue, it’s a medical issue, so don’t correct him in any way for these accidents. He’s not able to control his urine like he used to, so this behavior is involuntary and uncontrollable. This problem can’t be resolved using behavioral methods.
It isn’t unusual for older dogs to experience a decrease in bladder control. Talk to your vet to find out the cause and to discuss possible medical treatments for your dog’s incontinence. If your dog is on any kind of medication, be sure to ask your vet if the involuntary urination might be a side effect of the medicine, since a medication or dosage change may resolve the problem if that’s the case.
If your vet isn’t able to resolve your dog’s urinary incontinence problems, there are many supplies that can make life with an incontinent dog easier. Washable dog beds, potty pads, doggie diapers and belly bands can help make life with a leaky dog easier.
Be sure to give your dog more frequent trips outside so he has plenty of chances to empty out. The less urine he has in his bladder, the fewer incidents of leakage you’ll have. You may also want to try a homeopathic product called Leaks No More, which worked a miracle for my incontinent Doberman and has done the same for many of my clients’ dogs with incontinence issues!
The good news is that he may already be housebroken. Just be extra vigilant about supervising him and keeping him on a good schedule the first few weeks that he’s in his new home. With older dogs in new homes, housebreaking problems are often simply the result of confusion due to the change in environment. Your dog needs a chance to learn the layout of your house, where his potty area is, and what his new schedule is going to be – so be patient and help him to do the right thing while he’s settling in.
If he doesn’t appear to be housebroken, don’t worry. Dogs can be housebroken at any age. Just follow the Housebreaking Bible training instructions as you would with any other dog. As with any housebreaking program, you should be sure that your new dog has a clean bill of health, so take him to the vet for a full checkup before you begin.