How to Potty Train an Older Dog in an Apartment or House

Kate Basedow, LVT

Potty training an older dog is done in the same way as potty training a puppy. However, it can be more difficult in an apartment as stairs can be quite demanding for dogs as they get older. 

In this article, we’ll explore the alternatives to walking your dog down all those stairs every time they need to go. Here are the topics we’ll discuss:

  • Can an Older Dog Still Be Potty Trained?
  • Reasons for Soiling Inside
  • How Do You Toilet Train an Older Dog in an Apartment?
  • Consider Crate Training
  • How to Know When Your Dog Needs to Go
  • What Do I Do if I Notice My Dog Soiling Indoors?
  • Don’t Punish Your Dog for Accidents
  • How to Clean up Pee and Poop Accidents
  • Make Plans for While You’re Away

Can an older dog still be potty trained?

Surprisingly, house training an older dog can often be easier than potty training a young puppy. An adult dog can refrain from urinating and defecating for several hours

The only challenge might be if the older dog had spent his entire life freely eliminating indoors. In this situation it may take a little more patience to train your older dog. 

Reasons for soiling inside


Although potty training an older dog is possible, there are several reasons they may be soiling inside. Reasons include aging, medical issues, and behavioral problems.


The commonest cause of an older dog having accidents in the home is old age. As dogs age, their muscle tone reduces, which can diminish their bladder and bowel control. Meaning they can’t hold it as they used to go to the toilet. They may also need to go more frequently.

Medical issues 

Chronic kidney disease, urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence, bladder stones, diabetes, and Cushing’s diseases can all make bladder control more difficult for your dog.

Chronic kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is when the kidneys become inefficient at filtering out waste products from the bloodstream. CKD is associated with aging, and if it’s going to affect a dog, it will usually do so later on in life. 

Early symptoms of CKD include increased water intake and urine production. Whereas more advanced symptoms indicate kidney failure and include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, mouth ulcers, and weight loss.

CKD is treatable in two phases. The first phase is a process called diuresis, which is the flushing out of the kidneys. If diuresis is successful, your vet may prescribe medication, fluid therapy, or a particular diet in the second phase. 

Urinary tract infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are pretty common in dogs. Symptoms can include:

  • Frequent urination.
  • Straining to urinate.
  • Yelping in pain when trying to urinate.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Leaking urine.
  • Frequently cleaning their genitalia.

Your vet can treat UTIs with antibiotics. Sometimes a change to your dog’s diet may be recommended.

Bladder stones

Bladder stones are mineral formations that develop in the bladder. There are different types of bladder stones, but they can all cause:

  • Straining when urinating.
  • Frequent urination in small amounts.
  • Blood in the urine.

You can treat some types of bladder stones by putting your dog on a vet-recommended diet. However, some stones may need to be flushed out or require surgery. 


Diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, which causes the inefficient use of blood sugar (glucose). If your dog’s body doesn’t have enough insulin, glucose levels increase; this is known as hyperglycemia. 

When too much glucose is in the bloodstream, it overflows into the urine and takes large volumes of water with it

Some of the symptoms of diabetes are:

  • Increased appetite.
  • Increased water-intake
  • Weight loss.
  • More frequent urination.

Diabetes can occur at any age. Sadly, certain breeds such as pugs, dachshunds, and Samoyeds are among many that may be at higher risk of contracting diabetes.

Most diabetic dogs require insulin injections, a vet-recommended diet, and a moderate and consistent exercise routine to help control the condition.

Cushing’s disease

Cushing’s disease is a medical condition often caused by a pituitary or adrenal gland tumor. This stimulates the adrenal gland to overproduce cortisol. 

Excess cortisol can lead to other conditions and medical problems such as diabetes and kidney disease.

Middle-aged and older dogs are at higher risk of developing Cushing’s disease. Symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst.
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased appetite
  • lethargy
  • Excessive panting
  • Delicate skin.
  • Hair loss
  • Recurrent skin infections.
  • Enlarged abdomen, which may look like bloating.

Your vet may recommend surgery to remove the tumor from either the adrenal or pituitary gland. However, it is uncommon for a veterinarian to suggest the procedure due to the complexity and risks. It is more likely for dogs to be prescribed medication to control the symptoms.

Behavioral issues


If your older dog has suddenly started soiling inside, it could be down to one of these issues:

  • Incomplete training.
  • A new schedule.
  • Submissive/excitement urination
  • Territorial urine marking.
  • Separation anxiety.
  • Fear of loud noises.

Incomplete training 

Some breeds take longer to train and need more repetitions to complete the training process. An intelligent dog like a border collie may learn a new skill in less than five repetitions, whereas a basset hound can take 80 plus.

Dogs that take longer to train can often be given up on, with their owners feeling like they’re untrainable. In reality, they require patience and more training than most.

A new schedule 

Many dogs who are rehomed were previously house trained. However, a new schedule can confuse dogs, which may lead to accidents indoors. 

Life doesn’t always revolve around your four-legged friend, and sometimes we may have schedule changes. This could be down to work commitments or moving home, which can cause distress, anxiety, or confusion for your pet

If you’re planning on changing your dog’s feeding or potty routine, try to do this gradually. 

Adjust the timings slowly to prepare your dog and cause the least amount of disruption possible. Dogs like a consistent feeding schedule, and any sudden changes could result in an upset tummy.

When adopting a dog or moving to a new home, odors from existing or previous pets in the new location can stimulate urine marking. Give your home a thorough clean before introducing your canine to their new abode.

Adopting an older dog can be as much of a challenge to you as it is to them. Even if your buddy has had previous house training, they may give you a signal they need the toilet, which you don’t recognize. Be on the lookout for tell-tale signs your dog needs to go.

Submissive/excitement urination

Submissive and excitement urination is when dogs lose control of their bladder out of fear or excitement. 

  • Submissive urination: Some dogs are naturally anxious or may have had an experience that has caused submissive behavior. Submissive urination may occur when someone tries to reach out, stands over, or punishes the dog. Always reassure your dog in a situation where they may feel threatened.
  • Excitement Urination: Some dogs are easily excited by new people in the house or when you return from work. If your dog becomes over-excited, stay calm and take them to their toilet area. You could also try obedience training classes.

Territorial urine marking

Territorial urine marking happens more often with in-tact males due to hormonal influences. However, occasionally neutered males and spayed females will mark.

Reasons your dog may mark their territory include moving to a new house, new furniture, or the smell of other pets in the home. Marking can also be a response to stress or anxiety triggers.

Separation anxiety 

If you find your dog is soiling in the house when you’re apart, they may be suffering from separation anxiety. A dog with separation anxiety will feel uncomfortable when its owner prepares to leave the house. They’ll often begin pacing, circling, or whining as their owner puts on their coat or picks up their keys. 

Alongside house soiling, you may find that your dog is destructive or extremely vocal when you’re away. Soiling due to separation anxiety can happen even if your dog has recently eliminated outdoors.

When treating a dog with separation anxiety, you can’t just re-potty train your dog. Treatment for the anxious behavior will also need to be addressed. 

Fear of loud noises 

If a dog becomes frightened, it may lose bladder or bowel control. Loud noises such as thunderstorms, fireworks, and noisy vehicles could frighten your canine easily as they have sensitive hearing.

To help your dog overcome their phobia, reward calm behavior, and try to distract your dog through play. You could also create a safe space for your dog, such as a crate. Earmuffs, especially for dogs, are also available if your dog doesn’t mind this fashion statement. 

How do you toilet train an older dog in an apartment?


Know your dog’s breed and background

Some dogs are harder to potty train than others. This could be due to size, intelligence, and other traits that are associated with particular breeds.

Miniature dog breeds, such as the chihuahua, have a smaller bladder, and they’re generally quite nervous characters. This makes it harder for them to control themselves, and they often have accidents.

Bulldogs are among several breeds that score low on the canine obedience spectrum. Dogs low on the spectrum also tend to have a short attention span, making them challenging to train.

Breeds like the dachshund and Jack Russell can be difficult to train due to their stubborn nature. Other dogs become excited quickly, and these can be hard to teach too. 

If you’ve recently rescued a dog, ask the shelter about the dog’s background. Your new dog could’ve had a tough upbringing that may require more patience when potty training. It’s also possible that the previous owner never bothered to train them as they’ve always lived outdoors.

Take some time to get to know your dog because each dog is unique. Even though the stereotype of a particular breed may be relevant, it isn’t one size fits all.

Create a potty training schedule 

Use a feeding routine to help you create a good potty training schedule. You should feed an adult dog at least two meals a day. You can fit this around your schedule, but you should give the last meal about three hours before bedtime.

Food should be put down at meal times and left down for 15 minutes. Then clear the dish away whether your dog has finished or not.

Outdoor potty training is always best. If your dog is able, it’s a good idea to stick to a strict walking schedule. Most healthy adult dogs will need to go out after each meal; make sure you allow enough time for them to eliminate

Dogs with medical conditions may need to go out more often. It would also be best to take your dog outside first thing in the morning and the last thing at night and any other time they might need to pee. 

Be sure to praise and reward your dog when they use the bathroom outside!

Use pee pads

Having a walking schedule and encouraging your dog to go outside is always the best option. However,  indoor potty training makes it easier for older dogs who may struggle to get outdoors in time. Pee pads are one of many things you can use when you’re potty training indoors.

Try and give your canine a degree of privacy by placing the potty pads in a corner. The pad should also be easily accessible and close to the part of the home your dog spends the most time.

Avoid putting potty pads over carpets and try to keep them close to a sink or trash can. This makes the clean-up much quicker.

Introduce the pee pad by putting your dog on a leash and walking them around it. Encourage your canine to show interest in the pad and reward them when they do. Repeat this several times a day for a few minutes on each occasion. 

Use pee pads alongside a feeding schedule to help control when your dog may need to use them. Around 15 minutes after your dog’s finished eating, put them on their leash and take them over to the pee pad. 

You should also leash your dog and take it to the pee pad if you notice signs telling you they need to go.

Another way to train your dog to go on a pee pad is by using a potty command. When your dog urinates, use the command ‘go potty’ at the same time. Be consistent, and eventually, your dog will know to go to the potty area when you use this command.

Put a grass patch on your patio or terrace

If you’d prefer your dog to use an outdoor space such as a patio or terrace, you could lay down a grass patch. These are heavier than puppy pads, and they won’t blow away, but you can also use them indoors. 

You can train your dog to use a grass patch like you would a pee pad.

Use dog litter boxes 

Litter boxes also have the same training method as the puppy pads and grass patches. They offer a raised edge that helps keep your dog’s waste in the box.  

Ensure you get the correct sized litter box for your dog; otherwise, they may feel uncomfortable using it. 

Use a leash for more control

Guide your dog to the appropriate area with a leash when they show signs of needing to go. By using a leash, you can keep your dog close, and you’ll be there to offer instant praise when they eliminate in the correct location.

Offer praise and/or rewards for desired behavior


It’s important to use positive reinforcement when potty training your dog. Immediately reward your dog after each successful toilet trip to reinforce good behavior. Toys, praise, or dog treats are all good rewards that your furry friend will enjoy receiving.

Consider crate training 

A dog has an instinct to keep the place they sleep clean. Using a dog crate limits your canine’s space which helps avoid accidents.

The crate should be just big enough for your dog to stand, turn around, and lay down. If it’s too big, they may feel that it’s ok for them to eliminate at one side and sit comfortably at the other.

Introduce the crate gradually and never put your dog in it as a punishment. Feeding a dog in their crate will help them create a positive association with it. Locking a crate too quickly, leaving your dog in too long, or using it as a punishment could cause a negative association with crates. This will hinder the house training process.

Once your dog gets used to the crate, you can begin to lock the door. When your canine needs to go to the toilet, it’s likely they’ll whine or scratch at the crate door. If your dog shows signs of needing to go, immediately let them out and take them to the desired toilet area.


How to know when your dog needs to go?

Much like us, dogs will need to go soon after they’ve eaten or had a drink. Other signs include circling (I do this one too), sniffing, scratching, and barking (which I tend not to do so much). 

If you notice any of these signs, take them to their toilet spot immediately. Once your dog has eliminated in the correct location, reward them with praise or a treat.

What do I do if I notice my dog soiling indoors?

If you catch your dog in the act, keep calm and try clapping, finger clicking, or whistling to distract them. Once you’ve interrupted, take your canine to the correct place to go and supervise them until they’ve relieved themselves.

Don’t punish your dog for accidents


You should never punish a dog for eliminating in the house, as this will only aggravate the problem. 

Punishment doesn’t teach your pet what is desirable, and some pets see it as a form of reinforcement. Whereas submissive or anxious dogs will end up having more accidents as it’ll increase their fear. 

How to clean up pee and poop accidents

You should always clean accidents thoroughly. If accidents aren’t adequately cleaned, your dog may pee or poop in the same spot.

  1. Always cover your hands with gloves when cleaning up your dog’s urine and feces to protect yourself from potential bacteria.
  2. Soak or pick up the majority of the mess with toilet paper; this way, it’s easily disposed of down the toilet. 
  3. Use a damp cloth to blot up the rest of the mess. If your dog has had an accident on a carpet, try not to rub it in.
  4. Dampen the area using an enzymatic cleaner to neutralize the odor and gently scrub. 
  5. Allow the area to dry, then check for anything you may have missed. If you find any remnants repeat step four.

Make plans for while you’re away

A crate isn’t always convenient if you have to leave your dog alone for long periods. A dog should only be in a crate for a maximum of eight hours. So, if you know it’s going to be a long day, set up a long-term confinement space. You could also consider hiring a dog walker to take your dog for potty breaks outside while you’re away.

A long-term confinement area is much larger than a crate and should include:

  • A toilet area
  • Play area
  • Access to water
  • A place to sleep in (this could be your dog’s crate)

Check out this video which shows you how to set up a long-term confinement area.

Takeaways on how to potty train an older dog in an apartment

All dogs are different, and some will take longer to learn than others. Training an older dog to go outdoors when you live in an apartment building is achievable with patience and a strict walking schedule. However, some older dogs will struggle to use stairs and may need indoor toilet areas.

Always use positive reinforcement to reward desired behavior, and don’t panic if setbacks occur. Keep calm, positive, and consistent. Your four-legged friend will get the hang of it.