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How to Potty Train Rescue Dogs

| Updated September 26, 2017

Things You'll Need

  • Dog crate

  • Leash

  • Baby gates

Adult rescue dogs must be cared for like a puppy and earn your trust in your house. Rescue dogs of all ages can still be potty trained. Unless you know for a fact that the dog has been abused, it's more likely he was just under socialized and just like a puppy, he has to learn how to behave around humans and other dogs. It may take a few days to a few months before a rescue dog is completely potty trained, but with patience and consistency he will get there eventually.

Confine the rescue dog in a crate that is large enough for him to turn around in and lay down in. Dogs do not like to eliminate where they live, but if the crate is large enough they will have room to eliminate on one side and sleep on the other. Keep the crate free of blankets, newspapers and pillows since the dog may end up destroying them. Start with keeping the dog inside the crate for two hours between potty breaks. Slowly increase the amount of time between potty breaks to every three hours, four hours, etc.

Using a leash, take your rescue dog out in your backyard while saying excitedly, "Let's go outside!" or simply, "Outside!" This helps the dog associate the word outside with going potty. For smaller dogs, you can slip the leash on while the dog gets out of the crate and pick him up to take him outside while telling him it's time to go outside. This may not be possible with larger dogs.

Go to an area in the back yard where you want the dog to potty, if any. If you are not worried about him going in a specific place, you can simply walk around the yard.

Place the dog in the grass and say excitedly, "It's time to go potty!" or "Go potty!" Even something like, "Go be a good girl!" could work. Think of a phrase that works for you. This will be the phrase the dog associates with when it's time to go potty. Whatever your phrase is, say it encouragingly. Do not say it so harsh that the dog thinks he is doing something bad.

Gently tug on the leash if the dog does not go potty immediately and starts to get distracted. Move to a different area and repeat Step 4.

Praise the dog while he's going potty. "Good boy!", "Good potty!", and "Yay! Potty!" are a few examples of what to say. Don't try to pet or give the dog a treat since this may disrupt him and keep him from finishing. Do not praise him after he has urinated, only during.

Let the dog walk around while saying "More potty!" or "Go poop!" You will have to learn the dog's habits to know when she's more likely to defecate. Usually, dogs urinate first and then defecate if they need to.

Give your dog free time in the house for a limited amount of time right after he goes potty outside. Use baby gates to keep the dog from going outside your supervised view. Consider keeping the leash on the dog while he is inside so if he does something he's not supposed to, such as start chewing, digging, or eliminating, you can grab at the leash instead of the dog.

Place the dog back in her crate after she's had a good amount of free time around the house. Repeat the above steps until you feel she is ready to stay outside of the crate while you are home.

Learn the signs the dog gives for when he needs to eliminate. Some common signs include running out of the room, sniffing around, and abruptly stopping play. When you see this warning sign, in a friendly tone say, "Let's go outside!" or "Need to go outside?" This can distract him enough to give him time to get outside. Praise the dog while he eliminates outside.

Make a noise, like clapping your hands, when you see the dog eliminating in the house. In a firm, low voice, say "Bad dog! Go outside to do this." Then, in a friendlier tone say "Let's go outside!" and give her plenty of praise if she finishes outside.


  • Rescue dogs are typically used to spending days in crates and cages, so the transition to move into a crate in your home should be easy for them. You must catch your dog in the act of eliminating in the house - not after - for the dog to know why you are mad at him. Sticking his nose in it after will only make the dog think any poop in the house is bad since he'll have forgotten it was his. Accidents in the house have to happen for the dog to know it is not OK to eliminate in the house. It's just part of the process!