Kids & Pets
August 18, 2017
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Here is how you housebreak a new dog

By: Mickey Zeldes
July 21, 2017
All About Pets

A young dog that was recently adopted was just returned.  The reason? She wasn’t housebroken and kept having accidents in the house. The adopters were irritated and didn’t want to continue dealing with the mess. There was an interesting study done a few years ago, showing that when polled more people were willing to keep a dog that bit than one that wasn’t housebroken! Seems counter-intuitive yet the reality is that even dogs with a biting history only bite occasionally (not a daily issue by any means – people learn to not provoke the bite) but dogs that aren’t housebroken often have accidents – sometimes multiple times each day. So it’s a constant issue and irritation.

There’s a lot of stigma around adopting an adult dog. Some people say that they know too much – some of it bad habits. Other’s feel they won’t bond to new people. Well anyone who has adopted an adult dog can tell you that most of that is not true. If anything, you get the benefit of a dog that has received some training and is mature enough to learn quickly. The most common issue is that it takes a while to learn to communicate with each other.

The info from the previous home might have stated that the dog was housebroken. And it probably was – he told his previous owner that he needed to go out by standing at the appropriate door.  Now you take home the dog with the expectation that he will tell you he needs to go out by barking, as your last dog did. No wonder there is an accident or two! You missed his signals and he didn’t know you were waiting for a verbal cue. These issues can be easily resolved by going back to potty training 101.

Before you go there, though, it is important to make sure there’s not a medical issue going on.  Anyone who has had a bladder infection knows about the sudden urgency to empty the bladder.  Not fair to get angry at a dog with a urinary tract infection! And since stress is a key contributor to UTI’s, along with being surrendered to a shelter is stressful (can you think of much that can be more upsetting than losing your home and family, being put into a kennel surrounded by other dogs, then suddenly going to a new house with strangers?) it’s not too far-fetched to think that this should be checked out.

Once you’ve either ruled that out or treated the infection you can go back to basic housebreaking training. What that involves is treating the dog like you would a puppy. No expectations – just start at the beginning by setting him up for success. Take the dog out (the door you want him to use) and go with him while he potties. Reward when he does – really, get excited and tell him what a good boy he is! Don’t give the dog any freedom to have accidents – he should be leashed to you or baby-gated into the same room so you can monitor his behavior. Most dogs won’t mess where they are; they tend to go into a different, often less used, room – to them it is far enough away. We prefer it a bit further – all the way outside! So we can’t allow them the freedom to go out of sight into a different room.  

By not allowing the dog to have an accident you are slowly showing him what is expected.  We go to this door, then we go outside and potty, and then we have a party!  Who wouldn’t like that!  It’s also important to properly clean any place there has been an accident with an enzyme cleaner (sold at pet stores) so that the smell is gone and won’t attract him back to that spot.  The great thing with an adult dog is that, if you are consistent, they should get the hang of it within a week or two.  Isn’t that amount of time worth investing for a lifetime of love (and proper bathroom habits)?

Upcoming Events:

“Get Them Back Home” Campaign – Every lost pet should have a way to get back home.  FREE pet ID tag and a back-up microchip are available to all residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati.  No appointment necessary, just come by the shelter during our regular open hours: Wed 1-6:30 p.m.; Thur-Fri-Sat 1-5:30 p.m.; Sun 1-4:30 p.m.

Fix-it Clinics – Free spay and neuters for cats; and $60 dog surgeries (up to 80 lbs) for low-income Rohnert Park and Cotati residents.  Call 588-3531 for an appointment.


Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at