It’s 3:15 a.m… Tags clang together as Birdie shakes and climbs from under the covers to head to the kitchen for a drink of water. Do I get up? She’s getting better, but she doesn’t quite have our trust, so I follow her and let her outside to do her business.

Birdie joined the family a couple of months ago. She’d been dropped off at the Franklin County Dog Shelter, but because she was an Ohio Basset Rescue alum, the shelter contacted the rescue. We saw her on Facebook and fell in love. We were only going to foster. That idea lasted less than two weeks.

Her story is one that’s fairly common. Her owners needed to enter an assisted living facility and there was nowhere else for her to go. She’s around six and has so much love to give. We are thrilled that she’s a member of the pack.

It’s just that she can’t hold her bladder for longer than a couple of hours. At first, we’d leave the house and come home to a puddle or two, but we weren’t too concerned. We thought it was an adjustment to her new home because she does go outside when we’re home and awake.

But she hasn’t adjusted. We took her to the vet and she was given a clean bill of health, which leaves us thinking that she never had to hold it for very long since her previous guardians were elderly. So, we’re working to correct this behavior.

Birdie is six, but that doesn’t mean we should treat her much differently than a younger dog. David Taylor, in his book, Old Dog, New Tricks: Understanding and Retraining Older and Rescued Dogs, recommends that we housebreak her as if she is a puppy. What does this mean?

  1.  We praise her when she goes outside.
  2.  We don’t punish her for mistakes, especially if we don’t catch her in the act. If we do catch her, we get her outside – under her own power.
  3.  If we’re gone for long time periods, we restrict her space and try paper training or pee pads.
  4.  We’re being patient. It will take some time, but dogs are smart, she’ll figure it out.

And the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has additional information for training an adult dog that includes:

  1. Rule out medial conditions that might cause the urination.
  2. Keep an eye on your dog at all times.
  3. Keeping a consistent feeding schedule.
  4. Confine the dog to a small space, like a crate when you can’t keep an eye on her.

One difference between the ASPCA and Taylor’s book is the use of paper training. The ASPCA recommends using paper training only if necessary (e.g. you live in a high rise apartment) as it teaches the dog that it’s okay to use the bathroom in the house. Since we live in a ranch home with a fenced yard, we’ve adopted this stance and are working paper-free.

As we spend more time with Birdie, we’re learning what works and how to adjust. If we’re going to be gone for less than two hours she has our trust. If we’ll be gone longer than 3 hours we crate her with a plush cushion and blankets. She’s been crated for over 5 hours, on rare occasions, and she’s never soiled the cushion.

We weren’t crazy about crating her since we have another dog, Daisy, who’s 12.5 years old and hasn’t been crated since she was a puppy. To see how they reacted we recorded video the first time we crated her. We learned that with her cushion and blanket she was very happy to sleep quietly while we were gone. I think crating Birdie is harder on Daisy based upon her excitement when we get home and let Birdie out of the crate!

It’s the 2-3 hour range where we’re experimenting. If she goes outside before we leave, or pretty close to that time, we’ll let her stay out. We might pull up the water if we remember, but mostly she’s doing very well in this time range.

Even though we can’t really keep an eye on her night, we can’t bring ourselves to crate her. She likes to burrow under the covers and snuggle. And as cold as it’s been in January, we’ve appreciated the additional warmth!

Our solution is to leave her tags on, without silencers, so that when she gets up we can hear her. We can see the improvement, but she doesn’t have our complete trust yet.

What do we do if she does have an accident? We’re fortunate that we have hardwood floors, so the clean up is pretty easy. Nature’s Miracle is a big help in getting the floors clean and odor free.

Completing Birdie’s house-training may take a little longer since we don’t know what things were like in her previous home. No matter how long it takes, she’s worth the time!

Have you ever had to house-train older dog? If so, what techniques worked for you? What would you recommend? – Chris Niehoff

Chris is a Central Ohio animal lover who wants to see the lives of non-human animals, and human animals, improve individually and collectively. He believes this will happen only when human animals recognize the interconnection of all life and begin to act accordingly. He knows he has a lot to learn and hopes to connect with others on a similar journey.

Photo Credit: Chris Niehoff