Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

Housebreaking Rescue Dogs


Congrats on your new companion! Now, even previously tidy dogs can be thrown off after being in a shelter or rescue and coming to your new home. So here are some ideas to help him settle in and get back to being the clean dog he was before (and if he wasn’t, to being the clean dog he was always meant to be).


Regardless of your new dog’s age, treat him like an unhousebroken puppy for the first few weeks in your home. He is in your sight at all times, you keep rooms you’re in with him gated or closed off. If you cannot close off the room, he stays on leash with you. Assume that out of sight is into trouble.


When you have to leave him, leave him safely confined to a dog proof room or a crate so that he cannot get himself into trouble. Your new dog doesn’t know he’s your new dog. He doesn’t know this is home yet. He is probably a bit confused and a bit stressed, no matter how kind you are to him. Confinement can help him to feel more secure.


In a world that has been full of disruption for him, having routines is calming. Routine times for walks and feeding, routine expectations for his behavior, routine exercise times. It’ll take him a month or more to truly settle in. By keeping a routine during those first weeks and months, you teach him how to behave in his new world. What a wonderful gift.

Get out with him!

When he goes out, go out with him. Be ready to praise him warmly for making the right choice in the right location. While not a tool we usually suggest, a 6′ leash can be helpful at first. If they’ve never gone on leash they can be a bit shy at first. Dogs who got yelled at for going in the house before may have taken home the lesson to not go in front of humans, rather than that they should go outside. Those dogs may also avoid peeing or pooping near to you. Allowing them to wander and sniff a bit on a longer leash can give them enough distance so they feel comfortable going.

Interrupt, but don’t punish, mistakes

If you walk in on a mistake happening, interrupt with a quick clap of the hands or a slap of a flat hand on a wall, then get your dog outside quickly. NO yelling, shoving his face in it, smacking with a rolled up newspaper or any such tactic. That will only frighten him; it doesn’t teach him to trust you and to come to you when he needs to go.

Clean up properly

All mistakes need to be cleaned up properly using an odor neutralizer made for pet stains and odor. Anything else is likely to leave a slight scent behind – not one you will smell but one your dog will. And when he does, he’ll think – oh, yeah, this is a bathroom.

As soon as you have two weeks of no mistakes, you can start to ease up a little bit on this regime, But until then, help your dog succeed by supervising him, giving him a routine, safely confining him, going out with him, interrupting mistakes and helping your dog get it right, as well as cleaning up properly. Doing this is an investment in his future happiness and yours.

by Sarah Wilson,

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