How To Use a Dog Crate for House Training
Updated: Feb 5
The key to house training is to have your dog eliminate in the correct area 95% of the time. You also need to be able to interrupt them as they are making a mistake the other 5% of the time.
Each time your dog relieves himself in your house it allows him to practice a habit. So, the best way to housetrain a dog is to prevent the habit from forming to begin with.
Why use a crate for house training?
Using a crate is a wonderful method for house training. This type of training is based on the fact that normally dogs will not eliminate where they sleep. (This isn’t necessarily true for puppies raised in an environment where they had no choice but to eliminate where they sleep. Dogs obtained from pet store and puppy mills are an example of this). Because the crate is a sleeping area for your dog, he will want to keep it clean.
Crating your dog will prevent him from eliminating when you can’t supervise. A crated dog is learning to control his bladder and bowels, which is key to being housetrained. If he is to learn where the designated potty area is, he needs to be able to hold it until you are able to take him there.
There are other advantages to having a dog that is used to a crate. It is much easier to travel and stay in a hotel if your dog is used to being crated. Additionally, he will be more comfortable if there is ever a need to stay overnight at the veterinary clinic. Another advantage is that you won’t have to worry about your dog chewing on your furniture, baseboards or destroying your possessions. Preventing these behaviors from occurring is a huge step towards keeping your dog from developing unpleasant chewing habits.
Some people resist the idea of crating their dog at first. But introducing the crate in a positive manner can condition your dog to love being in his crate. Many times, dogs will continue to use their crates as a resting area even years after the door has been removed.
Introducing the crate properly is important. The worst thing you can do is put your puppy in the crate, close the door and leave for a few hours. Hopefully you’ll have a few days to spend with your puppy before you have to leave them alone, and you should take advantage of this time helping your puppy see their crate as the best place ever.
It’s much better to teach your puppy to go in the crate when asked, rather than physically place them in it. If the puppy chooses to go in on their own, they’re more likely to have positive feelings about the crate. And if you rely on placing the puppy in the crate you may end up with a puppy who is resistant to the crate, and runs and hides when it’s time for you to leave.
You can get started by feeding your puppy in their crate, but leave the crate door open the first few meals so as not to scare your puppy. As your puppy gets more comfortable in the crate, you can close the crate door while your puppy is eating, and then open it up again just as they’ve finished.
Play a game with really yummy treats. Toss a treat in the crate so that your puppy sees it and goes in to eat it. After your puppy has eaten the treat in the crate, call them to you. And repeat. As time goes on you can toss a few treats in the crate, close the crate door while your puppy is eating those treats, and then open the door up. Gradually increase the amount of time that the door is closed.
You can also place treats in the crate, and as your puppy is walking around investigating, they might come across the treats and go into the crate on their own. The great thing about this is that the puppy learns that going into the crate can lead to a pleasant surprise!
Once your puppy has learned that the crate is a wonderful place, wait until they get sleepy and toss a couple of treats in the crate to get the puppy to go in the crate on their own. Close the door, and walk into another room. If your puppy is sleeping leave them be, if they’re still awake open the crate door.
The goal with this is to make your puppy feel comfortable with the crate door closed, and prevent your puppy from becoming anxious and scared.
For house training purposes, the crate should be just big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down in. If it’s any bigger your dog will simply eliminate in a corner and sleep in the dry area, defeating the purpose of crate training!
You can buy a crate that will be big enough for when your dog is an adult, and partition a smaller area that’s an appropriate size for your puppy now. Some wire crates come with wire dividers that can be moved in order to decrease the amount of space your puppy can occupy in the crate. You can also buy dividers, or find a way to reduce the space in the crate your puppy can occupy.
Tips for crate training dogs
The crate should be used whenever you can’t watch your dog, or whenever you aren’t home. Keep in mind that a young puppy has a very small bladder and probably doesn’t have the control to hold it longer than 3 or 4 hours. The rule of thumb is one hour for every month of age during the day, and 2 hours per month for nighttime.
If you’re going to be away longer than that, you need to get someone to come let him out. Whatever you do, don’t deliberately leave your puppy crated longer than they can hold it. If the puppy is regularly confined to the crate so long that they are forced to pee or poop in it, you may lose the crate as a tool for house training!
You also need to make sure that your dog gets a lot of exercise and engagement when you are home, since he’ll be confined when you’re gone. A very young puppy may also require that you get up in the middle of the night to let him out.
One thing to be aware of is the amount of time that you are crating your dog. Crates can be incredibly convenient in that they will keep your puppy from chewing and causing other problems when you can’t watch them.
But we also have to think about what is humane treatment for a puppy. As exhausted as you may be when you get home, it really is not fair to release your puppy from the crate only to put them right back in. Raising a puppy is tiring work! But remember that they don’t stay puppies for long, and if you provide enough supervision and training now, your puppy will increasingly be able to be loose in the house without you needing to pay attention as they mature.
How to house train a puppy
When you are home and the puppy is loose, you need to watch him with an eagle eye every second. You can either gate him in the same room with you or tether him to you so he’s within eyesight at all times. If he does start to potty you need to interrupt him as he is going, and immediately take him outside to finish. You can startle him into stopping by making a loud noise, or simply scoop him up and take him outside.
At all costs avoid using any type of punishment if you catch your puppy having an accident. Using punishment with a puppy could result in the puppy being scared of you. Even worse it could teach your puppy that eliminating in front of you is dangerous. This could cause a reluctance for the puppy to go potty outside with you in the yard watching. It could also result in your puppy deciding that if they need to go potty, they should sneak away where you can’t see, and have an accident in the house away from you.
When he does go potty outside make a big deal out of it each and every time. Going potty is very rewarding to your puppy no matter where he goes, simply because he is no longer uncomfortable. This makes it much more important to make sure he gets other rewards when he’s relieving himself outside. After all, if he gets the same feeling of relief inside as he does outside, then why should he care where he eliminates?
Therefore, impress upon him what a truly wonderful thing he’s just done! Praise him as he is finishing up, and give him a food reward immediately after he’s finished. I learned the hard way not to praise as my dog started to pee, since he’d stop right away to get the treat, and then go back to peeing!
Consider carefully what kind of treats you are using as a reward. Remember that one of the most important things your dog is going to learn in order to be a good member of your household is where to relieve himself. Something so hugely important deserves the best reinforcement your dog is ever going to get. Pieces of chicken, steak or liver saved from the night before will make a much bigger impact than kibble and dry biscuits. The treat does not have to be a large piece. I’ve’ found that small pieces the size of a raisin are enough to reward a dog.
You also need to take him outside much more often than you think you should. I suggest that a dog that is not yet house trained be taken outside every 20 minutes at first if they are awake and active. Although this may sound extreme, it works to help prevent him from having an accident inside. It also increases your chances that he’ll actually relieve himself outside. This gives you more opportunities to reward him. Keep in mind that the more he gets rewarded for doing the right thing, the more likely it will be that he’ll do it.
I opened this post stating that the ideal situation would be preventing an accident from happening 95% of the time, and interrupting accidents the other 5% of the time. But in reality, that’s a bit unrealistic. We are human with lives outside of our dogs, and nothing is 100%. So, you may occasionally come across an accident that happened when you weren’t paying attention.
There’s a joke amongst dog trainers that goes something like: “When you find an accident, pick up a newspaper and …. hit yourself over the head.” The joke is that instead of punishing your puppy, you want to punish yourself for not paying attention.
But in addition, it really is not helpful to chastise or punish your dog after the fact. Your puppy will not understand that you are upset that they had an accident 20 minutes ago, they will just be confused as to why you’re being so scary.
The best way to handle accidents that you come across is to take a deep sigh, clean it up, and come up with a game plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Cleaning up after accidents (and there will be accidents!) properly is a very important part of the house training process. Dogs look for a few things when they’re looking for a place to eliminate, and one of those things is scent. If a spot smells like urine or feces a dog is more likely to consider it an appropriate place to eliminate.
It's not enough to clean up so that the area looks clean, but you need to eliminate the scent as well. And remember that a dog has a much better sense of smell than we do, so don’t go by what you can smell because you’re probably missing something!
Look for a cleaner made specifically to clean up pet accidents and that have the words “enzymes” or “bacteria” somewhere on the bottle, since you want a cleaner that will break down the molecules of the pet waste so that it no longer smells. It will be very important to follow the directions on the bottle.
That being said, I have not had good luck with relying on enzymatic cleaners to get stains out of carpeting. What I will typically do is use a cleaner that I know will remove the stain, and then use the enzymatic cleaner on top of that.
When crate training puppy, how long to being house trained?
Each dog is an individual. While some dogs may be house trained after only a few weeks, others may take a few months. Some of it depends on you. If you’re consistent in preventing and interrupting accidents, take your dog out often enough, and reward for outdoor elimination it will go much faster.
Puppies are cute, but aren't always easy to raise. I offer virtual training packages through Zoom and can help you prevent your puppy from chewing up your house, assist with housetraining, and coach you through training your puppy in life skills!