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6 Tips For Successful Leash Potty Training An Adult Dog

leash potty training an adult dog

A veterinarian discusses how to be successful leash potty training an adult dog. Often rescue dogs may have come from a situation where they have never had to use the bathroom on leash. The same issues can come up with your own dog if you move from a situation where they have free access to outdoors to go to the bathroom unattended into a place where they must be leash walked outside.

Why Is Leash Potty Training An Adult Dog Necessary Sometimes?

If an adult dog has never been required to use the bathroom when walking on a leash it can be a real problem to make them comfortable doing so. This tends to be a problem with dogs that have always had access to a backyard to freely go and do their business, or dogs raised in a run or kennel that could choose to go when they were not under watch. This can cause problems for any adult dog not used to being under a watchful eye when they go to the bathroom.

Sometimes they need to learn to get comfortable about being attended and on leash to poop specifically.  This can happen with urination but is not as common.  Male dogs tend to pee happily wherever outside no matter who is where. Some adult females do not like to be watched over while urinating either until they get trained to it.

Dogs can be really funny about how, when and where they like to poop and some HATE an audience.  This is actually pretty common until they learn otherwise.  Some people are the same after all! If all the conditions of entertainment (magazine or phone), ambient conditions and privacy are not met and the person is not at home in their own bathroom then, for some people, there will be no pooping either.  

Some dogs are precisely the same way.  Sometimes they need to learn to get comfortable about someone standing nearby and themselves being confined to a leash to poop specifically.  The good news is that leash potty training an adult dog does not usually take terribly long. These suggestions work for urination or defecation issues on leash, but the rest of the article will address defecation (pooping) since it is more commonly the problem.

Common Problems Associated with Leash Potty Training A Dog

So being aware of the most common issues that make this difficult for dogs will help you figure out more easily how to help improve the outcome. Common issues associated with refusing to poop on leash: Some dogs hate being seen pooping, some require the perfect spot, some prefer to be more hidden (in bushes or taller grass, etc), some are stressed by the leash because they are not used to it, some have anxiety from some bad experience recently about being leashed, and some despise being close to any living thing while they go to the bathroom.

Tips To Help Leash Potty Training an Adult Dog

1. Create Marvelous associations between your presence near them when they go to the bathroom

Take extremely high value treats with you when take them out to walk. Have really amazing treats that they adore in hand so that when they poop, every time they poop you can provide a fabulous treat to mark the occasion outside. Tell them they are marvelous when they are succeed in going, praise them, and give them that fantastic treat. Have a celebratory ‘potty party’ after they poop on leash, when they finish, while outside, every time. Don’t go overboard and scare them. Just make it a positive experience.

You may be able to train them toward going faster by using the same terminology, while you practice. For instance, saying, “Good, potty!” and give the treat. Once they seem to grasp that going to the bathroom is a great thing to do outside in your presence (because goodness always happens) you can sometimes get them to nearly go to the bathroom on cue by saying, “Go potty!” Not always, but some dogs will pick it up easily. Always lovely on a freezing or rainy day.

2. Allow Some Distance From You

Use a long leash to take them for a bathroom break when leash potty training a dog. Give them some physical distance away from you and see if that is all they need. Let them go toward bushes/taller grass, what have you, while you are standing further away from them. Then treat as described above if they go to the bathroom successfully while on leash.

If the distance away helps, then you just work on slowly shortening the distance after the dog begins to work out that going to the bathroom when you are present is fine after all (because of the treats).

If the dog is extremely shy or nervous, then be cautious about using a retractable leash, because it can pull on their collar when they stop and start to go to the bathroom and that can interrupt the process. If that seems to foil them then just take a regular long leash instead while leash potty training a dog.

3. Ensure Happy Leash Associations

Not all dogs have happy associations with being leashed in their past so be sure that you create those each time a leash is in play for this dog. No harsh collars, no harsh jerking. You might even see if things improve faster if you teach them to wear a harness if they seem unsure about the collar itself.

If they seem unsure about leash or collar then spend some time indoors simply taking the leash out, letting them see it, giving them an awesome treat but not suiting them up with either leash or collar. Once they start acting happy to see the leash appear then move to putting the leash on and providing more awesome treat. Then take the leash off and provide more awesome treat. Just rinse and repeat that cycle of off and on inside without going anywhere at first.

4. Use Frequent Short Trips Outside

Some dogs will walk for extremely long times without going to the bathroom while trying to avoid the issue of your being present. If increasing distance did not help then try increasing the frequency of their trips outside and decrease the length of time for each ‘potty trip outside for awhile.

Treat them more like a puppy. Give them more chances to go outside, but do not let them drag it out forever. Use more frequent but shorter trips to your advantage when leash potty training an adult dog. That gives them more chances to go outside (and not inside) and you more chances to reward them for success. This also decreases the drain on your time trying to train them to go outside if you are not spending 2-3 hours walking the dog on long fruitless trips outside.

5. Use A Predictable Feeding Schedule

Scheduled times for food going into the mouth makes for more predictable times for poop to be ready to come out the other end! If you are having trouble leash potty training a dog to poop then be sure you can roughly estimate better when they will likely need to go.

Meal feed them twice a day at roughly the same time each day. Pick up any extra food that they do not eat within a 30 minute frame. Take them out around an hour or so after feeding. This time frame is average for adult dog and young adults, puppies are a different story entirely.

6. Consider A Food Change To Help

If the young adult or adult dog is producing poop more than 3-4 times a day then you should consider using a more digestible diet for awhile. When leash potty training an adult dog it is always helpful if they do not have to spend half the day pooping out a poorly digestible diet.

There is no such thing as one diet that works perfectly for every dog no matter what random strangers on Facebook and the internet have to say. Also, be aware that any dog food can claim to be ‘premium and digestible’ on their bag without having to prove such claims. The proof is in the pooping. If the adult dog is having to defecate more than 4 times a day then consider a diet change for them. Make any diet change slowly over a minimum of 7-10 days by gradually adding more new and less old so you do not upset their digestive system and cause diarrhea.

Inside House Training for Adult Dogs

Be aware, when leash potty training an adult dog they may be prone to accidents indoors until they get comfortable on leash outside. So be cautious and more watchful during this time and be prepared to revisit indoor house training as needed during this time.

In short, you may need to restrict free access in the house until they have the full grasp of going to the bathroom on a leash outside. Treat them like a puppy if necessary. Do not allow full access to any room unattended day or night until they become reliable without any accidents when every one is awake and watching them closely in limited areas during the day.

Dogs naturally find unused rooms to be fair game for elimination (which is how they naturally eliminate outside in communal areas) so be cautious and watchful initially while leash potty training a dog. A big seldom used formal dining room should not be open for them to roam in unattended if they are unreliable in well used rooms with you present initially during this time. If they crate well then you may need to use their crate more often during this time.

Once they are reliably going to the bathroom outside on a leash then you can open up their free access as appropriate indoors once again. If accidents happen then you back up the allowed free access as needed and remain in ‘practice puppy’ training mode longer.

Further Resources for Rescue and Foster Dogs Unrelated To Leash Potty Training a Dog:

Often requested resources for working with very shy/frightened/anxious rescue and foster dogs can be found in these articles:

  1. Rescue Dog Support: Best Trust Building Blocks to Help Your Dog Thrive
  2. Greeting Dogs: How Best to Support a Shy Dog or a New Rescue
  3. Dog Body Language: Guide to Successful Communication with Your Dog

Resources for House Training A Puppy or an Adult Dog:

  1. Potty Training for Puppies Solved! – Dog Defined
  2. How to Achieve Bomb Proof House Training – Vanessa Williams
  3. How to Potty Train A Puppy – Pet MD
  4. How to Potty Train a Puppy – Purina
  5. How to Crate Train Your Puppy – Pet MD
  6. Crate Training – Victoria Stillwell