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Crate Training and Housebreaking Tips

Allie is one happy housebroken puppy!

The most common question we hear from pet parents of a new puppy—by far—is about how to housebreak!

Crate training is an excellent way to housebreak your puppy. Getting your puppy used to a crate is also helpful in many common situations: when your puppy gets overexcited, needs to be groomed or boarded, or has to be admitted to the vet.

Your puppy shouldn’t spend his life in a crate, but through proper crate training he will learn to feel safe and comfortable there for select periods of time. The right crate depends on your puppy’s current size, predicted adult size, and the amount of time your puppy will spend inside at a stretch.

Choosing and Setting Up the Right Crate

A puppy can only hold it for so long! The general rule is a puppy can refrain from using the bathroom only as many hours as he is months old, plus one, and sometimes not even that long. For instance, a 2-month-old puppy might be able to hold it for three hours.

If you only need to crate your puppy for a few hours at a time, try a small crate (or a large crate with a small area blocked off) that is only big enough to stand up, turn around, and lie down. The idea is the puppy will be motivated to hold it because he cannot avoid his own waste if he goes. Occasional accidents are totally normal! Talk to your veterinarian if this behavior becomes habitual.

If you have to be out of the house for an extended period of time, you can be sure your puppy will use the bathroom in the crate. A large crate can give him space for both a bed/blanket and a spot for using the bathroom on newspaper or a puppy pad.

Remember: Your puppy will not instinctively know which space is which—he has to learn. Give your puppy the same bed/blanket so he can learn it is his, for sleeping and resting and not for using the bathroom. As you start crate training, always praise him for using the newspaper or puppy pad.

During extended periods of time in the crate, give only a little water and perhaps a little food (for small breeds). Ask your vet if puppy needs to eat throughout the day.

Never Use the Crate for Punishment

Your puppy’s crate has to be a safe, calm, happy place. If your puppy makes a mess in the crate when you are not home, do not discipline him.

In fact, never discipline your puppy for mistakes that happened when you were not there—he will never understand or connect the discipline to the past behavior. You may use the crate for very short time-outs as long as absolutely no scolding is involved.

Learning to Love the Crate

You may have introduced puppy to his crate right away, even on the ride home from the adoption or rescue center or perhaps immediately after getting home. Now it’s time to put crate-training best practices into action.

Leave the crate door open while you are at home. Encourage your puppy to go inside his crate. Offer a small treat or toy every time you cajole or put him inside. Small biscuits, chews, or a small toy stuffed with peanut butter (like a Kong) are perfect. Let him hang out in the crate with the door open and you close by.

Best Practices for Crate Training

Play pens are perfect for puppy training.

When you are home, give puppy some freedom in the small area you have chosen for him—a place, such as your kitchen, where you can keep a close eye at all times. Baby gates are helpful tools to keep your puppy in sight. The idea is you can catch puppy in the act of using the bathroom in the house.

Remember: “In the act” means literally in the act and not even 30 seconds later. Again, your puppy cannot make the connection if even 30 seconds has passed between the behavior and the discipline. If puppy has an accident when you are not present, calmly clean it up and continue crate training as usual.

When you catch puppy literally in the act of an accident, tell him “no” in a firm, loud voice to startle him to stop. Then whisk puppy outside and give him your simple “go potty” command. When he goes, praise him like it was the best thing ever!

Positive reinforcement is key. Never rub your puppy’s nose in anything. Never discipline him after the fact. These forms of discipline will not work; they only make puppy want to hide the evidence, often by eating it, or make him confused and scared of you.

Teaching Puppy to ‘Go Potty’

Take puppy outside every hour or so you are at home. Take him outside immediately after you get home and every time you take him out of the crate. Take him outside after eating and every nap, even if he has been out recently. This will quickly form a potty-training schedule.

Whenever you take puppy outside, teach him to go within 10 minutes by using a simple “go potty” command every time. When he goes quickly, praise him! Give treats. Several minutes of play time is also a great reward.

If puppy will not go quickly, put him in his crate for five minutes—no scolding—and then take him outside again and use the “go potty” command. Repeat until he goes for you. He will learn quickly that going to the bathroom outside, or even just trying to go, will please you. Remember: Praise reinforces positive behavior!

Soon your puppy should only have accidents when you are late taking him out on the new schedule you have created. As puppy becomes better trained, give him more freedom around the house. If he has an accident right away, it is too soon; back up and give him less freedom.

If you stick to these crate training tips consistently but without success, call us at (919) 544-2226 for a consultation. Inappropriate elimination could be caused by an underlying medical condition or a sign of anxiety. Read our blog for more details. We can help!