As some of you know, I volunteer for a local no-kill animal shelter that adopts out dogs and cats. One of my duties is to be a Volunteer Adoption Counselor (VAC). To become a VAC I needed a lot of training, including a set number of hours at the shelter, several dog behavior classes, and a whole host of trainers making sure I know what I’m talking about when I counsel people who come in to adopt a dog.

One of the things I counsel people on is when they adopt a dog, be it from us or any other shelter, we usually cannot guarantee that dog is potty trained. We have a few dogs that have been in foster with some of our foster families (who are amazing) and know these dogs are potty trained because of their experience with them. However, we get a lot of dogs in who come from rural shelters and might not have lived in a home daily before. Even if a dog is potty trained, sometimes the stress of being in a shelter kennel will undo that training.

Here’s what I counsel people who adopt a dog, any dog, to do when they get home.

Always take the dog out to where you want them to go potty and give them time so sniff, smell all the smells, and pee. Dogs must read their new surroundings with their noses, anywhere they go. They’ve just taken a car ride and may be a bit excited, and it’s known that an excited dog usually has to pee. A dog in any new environment will (usually) urinate to leave a message for other dogs. Dogs urine offers a myriad of information to every other dog that smells it. It tells if the dog is male or female, fertile and ready to make puppies, healthy or ill, and all sorts of other useful information to other dogs.

Once the dog has peed sufficiently, then bring them into the home. Some dogs will make three or four puddles before their bladders are empty enough to go inside to the new environment, so give them a little extra time in the yard if you can.

If you’re unsure if the dog is potty trained, treat them like a puppy learning a new skill. One of my dogs was a five year old rez-dog (a dog who lived on one of the very remote Native American reservations) who we weren’t sure if she had access to be indoors or not. My other dog, a 7 year old, had been in at least two shelters and we didn’t know her background any further than that. I treated them like puppies when it came to potty training just to make sure we didn’t have any accidents in the house, and so they knew where it was okay for them to go potty. Every two hours, yes, every two hours, I gave them the opportunity to go “outside”. I said “outside” in a cheery, excited manor and they happily trotted outside to sniff around and sometimes “go potty”. Every time they went potty I told them “good go potty” so they associated the phrase “go potty” with the action. It took them about a week to really pick it up. It took them about two weeks to run to the back door and indicate they want outside.

Our big dog has only ever had one accident in the house, and it was because we had crated her for a couple hours while out running errands, and she had diarrhea. She was actually sick and needed a trip to the vet for anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medications. Poor girl!

Our short dog had heartworm when we adopted her, and that can actually affect incontinence in dogs. They had her on prednisone as part of her treatment, which can also make the dog incontinent, so at one point she would go out and pee, then come inside, shake her body, and urine would literally fly out of her bladder. The vet took her off the prednisone immediately, and we tried her on a couple of different incontinence medications until incurin worked. Once she was past all of her heartworm treatment, then incontinence cleared up and fortunately we were able to take her off the medication.

Neither illness in either dog was their fault. I did not hold it against them or punish them for it. Dogs don’t need to be punished. I firmly believe in reward based, positivity training for dogs. Neither dog has had an accident in the house since their treatments, and are happy and healthy.

Will you dog have an accident in the house at some point in their lives? Absolutely! They are living, breathing, peeing, and pooping creatures. Illness and accidents happen (just think of human children, or the last time you had the flu). The key is to not punish them for the accident, but to let them outside immediately, keep an eye on them, and assess their behavior to see if they are sick and need a trip to the vet.

Make sure you have cleaning supplies ready before you adopt a new dog so you’re ready if and when the need arises. Paper towels, trash bags you can tightly tie closed, cleaning solutions for both hard and soft surfaces, mops, scrub brushes, and a scent remover like Nature’s Miracle are musts. A small, in home model of a carpet and upholstery cleaning machine is a huge time saver! A box fan to help circulate the air, dry everything out, and get the smell out of the house is very handy.

To recap, when you adopt a dog and take them home, take them to the yard where you want them to go potty first. Give them time to empty their bladder and/or their bowels then take them inside the house. Then, it’s outside every two hours until the dog starts asking to go out on their own, or you’re certain they have the routine down and won’t go potty in your home. Accidents will happen, some will be cause to take them to the vet, some won’t. You will get to know your dog well enough over time to know when the trip to the vet needs to happen.

Happy adopting!