Crate and House Training

A crate is an invaluable management tool. In a proactive approach to dog training, a crate prevents many accidents from occurring in the first place. House training can be easily accomplished by using a crate because dogs have a natural tendency not to soil their den area. Crates have other useful functions as well: they prevent your dog from destructive chewing and let him enjoy a messy treat while keeping your rugs clean; keep him safe and confined in the car, at dog shows and other events. Further, should your dog ever have to spend the night at the vet’s or travel by plane, the whole event will be far less stressful for him if he is already crate trained. There are a few dogs, however, who will not accept the close confinement of a crate. These dogs are extremely rare. If you suspect your dog is one of them, discontinue using your crate and contact your trainer as soon as possible.

Crate training

A crate is a small metal, plastic, or cloth cage sold on-line and at pet supply stores. Choose one that is large enough so your dog can stand, lie down and turn around in it.  If introduced properly, your dog will learn to love his crate. Dogs like having their own, private den and will continue to use it throughout their lives as their own little safe heaven—even after they are house and chew trained.

It is difficult to say how many hours an individual dog can be confined in a crate. Generally, dogs should not be crated for more than 4 to 6 hours at a stretch, even after they are fully housetrained. The more active breeds, Herding Breeds, Terriers, and Pointers, for example, can easily become bored if crated for long periods of time in one stretch. Over-crating has been associated with a host of behavioral problems in dogs, but can easily be prevented if you make sure your dog gets to stretch his legs and use the bathroom on a regular basis. If you work long hours and cannot come home for lunch, consider hiring a pet sitter or find a neighbor who works from home to give your dog a mid-day break. Puppies and young dogs, in particular, benefit from this.

To get your dog used to being in a crate, start to make ALL good things happen there. Give him all his meals, stuffed Kongs, marrow bones, etc. in his crate from now on. Initially, do NOT close the door. Outfit the crate with an old blanket—get him a nice crate mat when he’s learned to distinguish between appropriate and off limit chew “toys.”

Put the crate in a room that has your scent in it, like a living or bedroom. Do not banish your dog to the garage, basement or laundry room—dogs are social animals. Please do not put the crate near a window either, as this could easily over stimulate your pup. When you introduce the crate, rent a movie or pick up a great book and sit down to enjoy it. Set up the crate next to you. Have a bowl of cut up chicken, turkey, lamb, roast beef or steak (or other GREAT treat your Pup NEVER usually gets) next to you—out of puppy’s reach. While watching your show, toss treats into the crate. At first, only toss them just barely inside. Then, toss them near the back so your puppy has to get in all the way to reach his treat.

To really make it worth his while, click and treat again after you see him going into his crate! After he reliably goes in, start using a cue, such as "kennel up,” and say it right before he goes into his crate to get his treat. After a little longer, say “kennel up” FIRST, don't bait the crate anymore. Wait for him to go in and THEN give the steak. Do not close the crate yet. Make it increasingly more difficult by waiting to click/treat until he has all four in the crate, then sits in the crate and eventually downs and settles in the crate before you click/treat.

Next, start to close the crate door for a few seconds after puppy goes into the crate on cue for his click/treat. If your dog starts to scratch, whine or bark, wait a minute until he’s quiet before you let him out, or else you teach him that barking will earn him freedom. DO NOT treat or reward him for going out of the crate, keep it low-key. Ignore him when he comes out and shower him with attention for going in instead.

Next, let him enjoy a stuffed Kong, or other favorite toy inside his crate. Close the crate, but don’t leave the room yet. Let him settle with his chewy while you enjoy the rest of your video.

Do everything gradually at first. This is easiest with puppies. Adult dogs will learn to accept a crate as well, but it may take a bit longer—say a few days or even weeks of this before you can leave an adult dog unattended in the crate.

If he still doesn't want to go in there voluntarily, LOCK a great toy in the crate with the puppy outside. Pick a toy or chewy he really wants and let him salivate over it for a while. Then let him into the crate to have it.

Once you begin crating him unattended, you can transition him to being alone by putting an old WORN AND UNWASHED T-shirt, or something else that smells like you, between the crate tray and blanket, so it smells of comfort, warmth and YOU. Always leave him with one or more chewies, especially if you’re gone for a while. When you leave him unsupervised, make sure to only choose toys your dog cannot break. Some dogs can and will shred even black Kongs and eat the actual toy, not just the filling—so be cautious and know your dog’s chew temperament before leaving him alone with any toy.

Ideally, once your dog is fully crate trained, she should enter the crate on cue, every time and quietly settle in there. You will probably notice that your dog will soon choose to take naps in her crate without being sent there. Just like people, dogs value occasional privacy. Please respect this need and allow your puppy plenty of down time. Never allow your children to bother your dog while she is resting in her crate (or elsewhere.)

FOR SAFETY: Remove any collars from your dog before crating him.      

House Training

Housetraining is largely about good management. Instead of focusing where you do not want your dog to potty, teach him where his designated toilet area is. Unless you want to teach him to go inside the house all the time, we do not recommend you paper or litter box train your dog first as this will lead to confusion when you transition his toilet area to the backyard.

New puppies or newly adopted adult dogs should never be allowed free run of the house until you are sure they are house trained. Your new dog should be either outside with you (so you can praise immediately if he does go,) inside under your direct supervision, or confined to a crate while you cannot supervise.

In order to keep your puppy near you when he is not crated, you can also use baby gates, close doors to bedrooms, use tethers or an indoor dragline and the like to restrict his access to your house and make it easier for you to supervise him. Some people attach a little bell to their puppy’s collar, so it’s easier to keep track of his whereabouts. Watch out for circling and sniffing a particular area, as this is usually an indication that your dog has to go.

During the day, take your new puppy out to his designated potty area at least every hour, on the hour at first. Praise him for going and give him a tasty treat immediately after he finishes his business, NOT after he trots back into the house. Do not play with him in the yard, or take him for a walk, until after he goes potty in his designated area. After he does his business, feel free to play with him for a bit or take him for a walk. As inconvenient as it may initially be, it is imperative that you go out with him at first (yes, even if it is cold, rainy or otherwise nasty outside,) so you can make sure he goes and reward him accordingly. If he does not go within 5 minutes, take him back inside and keep a close eye on him.

Very young puppies (8-16 weeks, depending on your pup) will need one or more potty breaks at night as well. If you are vigilant now, your puppy will soon sleep through the night without incidents. Restricting his access to food and water about 2 hours before bed time will also help him sleep through the night.

Now that you have crate trained you puppy, you can use this tool to help with house training. When you cannot directly supervise, a crate is best. Make sure you help him be successful by NEVER crating him for longer periods of time than he can realistically hold it. If he is forced to soil his crate, the crate will no longer be a useful housetraining aid. Also, make sure your puppy is empty before you crate him (remember to go outside with him, so you can really be sure he went!)

A rule of thumb is that medium to large breed puppies can hold it one hour longer than the number of months they are old. So, a 12 week old puppy can hold it for 4 hours. It is best to put the crate into your bedroom during the night, so you can hear him right away, take him to his bathroom spot and go back to bed. If your dog does not go to the bathroom right away, do not play with him or he’ll be training YOU that he can solicit playtime anytime—even in the middle of the night.

Setting your alarm clock and taking your dog out at night works best. Anticipate your dog’s needs. Do not wait too long to get him outside or you may end up not only cleaning a urine and stool soiled crate but also giving your puppy a bath at 3am!

During the day, particularly while puppy is playing, he will have to empty his bladder/bowels more frequently. Some dogs (especially toy breeds) may need to go several times in one hour until they reach about 6 months of age.

Usually, puppies have to use the bathroom upon awakening in the morning and when they wake from naps, right after a meal and water break, during playtime or when excited, and, of course, right before bed time.  

Sooner or later, your puppy is bound to have an accident. Do not punish him as he will not be able to associate the punishment with the improper elimination—punishment will also not be able to teach him where to eliminate instead. More likely, punishing your dog for eliminating will teach her that it is unsafe to eliminate while you are around. Clean it up with an enzyme based cleaner, like Nature’s Miracle, and supervise him more closely next time.

If you catch him in the act, interrupt him with an “OUTSIDE” and immediately take him to his spot so he can complete his business. Shower him with praise when he goes—even though he peed on your rug 2 minutes earlier.

Remember, your puppy should always be:

  1. under your supervision inside the house
  2. under your supervision outside the house
  3. in his crate when you can’t be with him

If you stick to these simple rules, housetraining will be a breeze as you are not allowing for many mistakes to occur. Remember to go outside to his designated potty area with your dog so you can immediately praise him for going where you want him to go. Please keep food treats handy in your pocket and give him one upon completion of his business. It will greatly speed up the housetraining process.

Recommended booklet: “Way to Go,” by Karen B. London and Patricia B. McConnell