House and Crate Training

Tan and white Chihuahua sleeps in open crate with blankets

House and Crate Training

House and Crate Training Dogs

Canine Tutors in San Jose, CA is on a mission to help teach you how to to completely housetrain your dog and stop it from urinating and defecating in your house right this second, once and for all. Keep in mind there is no halfway point in house training. Either your dog is house trained, or he is not. There’s no such thing as an “almost housebroken” dog. When a dog is housebroken, they NEVER go to the bathroom in the house.

The problem starts when new dog owners take their new dog outside and just leave it there for a few minutes, thinking they will run on auto-pilot and figure it out for themselves. Many people do not understand why their dog does not know what to do when taken outside. Just taking a dog out in the backyard by himself a few times a day is not the way to housetrain a dog. The same can be said for letting them roam around for a bit and maybe urinating on a bush or something. It does not send the right message to them. Remember, all your dog wants to do is make you happy, but you must tell them in a clear way what it is that you want them to do. Here is where we start to see how important proper communication is.

With the introduction of house training to your dog, as trainers (and that is you too–since you own a dog, which makes you a trainer!), we learn that we set our dogs up for one of two things in life, success or failure. As dog owners, we must eliminate the possibility of our dogs making a mistake. If we don’t want a child to put a fork in the light socket, what do we have to do? Cover all sockets, lock up all the forks, and NEVER TAKE YOUR EYES OFF OF THE CHILD. The same mindset needs to apply with your dog. We must find a way of preventing your dog from ever soiling the house. We also must teach the dog to communicate with you to let you know when they need to go outside.

Dogs thrive on regularity, and they know exactly what they were doing the second something good happens in their life. When we teach a dog with consistent, positive reinforcement that they are pleasing us, they will strive to do that thing over and over again.  When we do this during housetraining, they learn that the only place to relieve themselves is outside.

As luck would have it, dogs instinctively want to keep their immediate living areas clean, especially where they sleep. Once we determine what they use as a sleeping area, we can use this information to aid our mission of house training them.

The beginning steps of crate training (and why your dog will instinctively take to this)

Since dogs are naturally den dwellers, we introduce an artificial den in the form of a crate. When your dog is in the crate, he cannot leave unless you allow it. At first, your pup will protest quite loudly and for long periods of time. We don’t recommend that at this point you use any corrections as your dog will not respond. If it gets to be too much, try some earplugs, turn on the radio, or maybe the television. Remember, he will yell his little puppy head off! Not because they doesn’t like the crate. They would just rather be out with you.

If you have ever watched a nature special on wolves or coyotes, you have probably seen that they will dig a den underground and live there. They do this because it means safety for their pack. In it they know that no predator can jump on them in the middle of the night. Dogs are and always have been pack animals. If you have had a dog in the past, you have probably found them either under a table or maybe in the closet when things got a little loud at your house or when they were really tired.

Some people have said to me that they don’t want to put their dog in a “cage.” If you are appalled by the idea of confining him to a cage, let me dispel any idea of cruelty. You are actually catering to a very natural desire on the part of the dog. In his wild state, where does a dog bed down for the night? Does he lie down in the middle of an open field where other animals can pounce on him? No! He finds a cave or trunk of a tree where he has a feeling of security – a sense of protection. The correct use of a crate merely satisfies the dog’s basic need to feel safe, protected, snug, and secure.

It will take some pups a couple of weeks to get comfy in the crate. In the meantime, some will scream their furry little heads off. But think about this – the question you need to answer is “would I rather crate train my pup, or live in a house that my dog uses as a toilet?”

Your pup will eventually realize that all the screaming in the world will not get them out of the crate as long as you don’t take them out! Wait for them to be quiet for a minute or so before you take him out. Pups do get over the fact that screaming gets them nowhere – as long as you ignore it and DO NOT TAKE THEM OUT OF THE CRATE WHEN THEY ARE SCREAMING. I like to put a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter in there with puppies. It’s the perfect distraction to their environment and nurtures their mindset of “Oh, I get a snack in here.”

Since small pups sleep up to 18 hours a day it shouldn’t be too hard to get them in a good crate/sleeping routine. Before you know it, going into the crate will mean nap time!

As I mentioned earlier, in the beginning, I might throw a Kong stuffed with peanut butter in the crate with the pup. Another idea is to toss a few treats in the crate and give a verbal crate command. Doing this will keep the crating process a positive one. You will be surprised at how fast they will learn to hustle right on in. Remember to keep it positive!

As your training progresses your dog will go into the crate simply based on a verbal command. When this happens switch to giving the command first, wait for them to go in, then give the treat as a reward.  At this point, you will be able to use your crate for another reason. If you have a pup or a juvenile dog, the idea of new people entering your house may make them very excited. Use your crate to contain your dog. Don’t wait till your guests arrive to put him in; otherwise, they may associate guests with getting stuck in the crate. Get them settled in a minute or two before your guests are expected to arrive.

When picking out the proper size for your dog’s crate, it should be just big enough for him or her to stand up, turn around, and lay back down.  We don’t want them playing racquetball in there. If the crate is too big, it will encourage them to use the back corner as a bathroom. If your dog is a large breed and you don’t feel like shelling out $80 every time they outgrows their crate every month, then buy a size that will fit them as a full-grown dog. While he or she is still small, put a box in there to block off the back of it. As the dog grows, adjust the box accordingly.

Make sure that your puppy only goes to the bathroom outdoors. Put the crate in the bedroom of the person who will be either getting up in the middle of the night or early mornings. If you even think your puppy may go to the bathroom on the way outdoors, either put them on a leash or maybe even pick them up in your arms. If you allow your pup to have an accident in the house, you will have to go back to square one in your housetraining. Bummer. I’m really not in favor of letting your dog sleep in the bedroom for too long because that tends to lead to dominance problems.

Your pup’s crate should never be used as a place for punishment. As I mentioned earlier, a Kong in the crate goes a long way for peace in the house. You can try other toys as well. In fact, you should have a few “in the crate” toys. When the pup is out of the crate, pick up the toys and put them away. This way the toys stay new and exciting to your pup. Make sure any toy you put in there doesn’t have a small little squeaker part in it. If your pup ingests that squeaker, it can get stuck in your pup’s digestive tract, and you will be lucky if all you get is a HUGE vet bill. All too often this can be fatal.

When you first start the training, put the pup or dog in the crate only for a minute or two with you right there in the room. As he or she sits in there quietly, make sure you praise them and toss in a treat or two to let them know that they are making you happy. WHEN HE OR SHE IS SILENT, PRAISE THEM AND LET THEM OUT. As they get used to the idea of being in there for a few minutes, start leaving the room for a few seconds, working up to a few minutes. As you do this, your dog will get used to you entering and leaving the room. When you leave, just leave; don’t make a big production out of it. And when you return, just show up. No biggie.

Over a period of time, you can gradually increase your absences to a few hours at a time. A good rule of thumb is only 1 hour in the crate for every month of age for your pup. The exception to this would be at night while the pup is sleeping or naptimes.

Don’t be surprised to see your dog start to go into the crate on their own for naps and rest times. Soon they will feel that the crate is their castle. Make sure you NEVER let a small child enter the crate. You have worked hard over the months to teach your dog that that crate is theirs. Let’s not create a problem where there isn’t one.

At this point, I would suggest feeding your dog in his crate. This is especially helpful if you have a multiple dog household. Doing this will make sure that each dog eats only their food. Lots of people will have two dogs, each on their own dog food diet. You don’t want one dog eating the other’s food. That will develop resource guarding eventually leading to a dogfight.  By feeding in the crate, you will also stop your dog from dawdling.

When you take your pup out at night to do their business, let them roam about. Make sure you stay out there with him. Don’t distract your pup by making a lot of eye-contact. If you do this, he or she will think that it’s playtime, not poop time. When they go in the direction of a spot they think they may want to use as their toilet, give them gentle praise. Soon you will see them sniff around and eventually do their duties. Right after he or she is done, give lavish praise and tell them “GOOD. HURRY UP,” or whatever your outside word is. When he or she is done, take them right back inside, but don’t let them out of your sight not even for one second! At this point don’t do a lot of heavy playing. The point is to get them relaxed and ready for bed. Make sure you take up their water dish about 90 min before you are ready to retire for the evening.

When you wake up, take your pup out the very first thing. He or she has been holding it all night so they are ready. If you have to, put them on his leash so they can’t get lost on the way to the door. And if you are still in doubt if he or she can make it to the door, pick them up in your arms and carry him outside. After you are sure they are done, bring them indoors for supervised freedom. Have your kitchen baby gate ready while you make breakfast. While they are in the kitchen with you, break out the “kitchen toys.” Let them roam around your kitchen while you make breakfast and eat. After you are done with your breakfast, give them their breakfast. Immediately take him or her outside after they have finished their morning meal. Keep this rule in mind. Dogs relieve themselves after they eat, sleep or after heavy exercise.

When he or she has finished his last bite of their evening meal, take them outside at once. As soon as he or she has done his business outside, immediately bring them right back inside as a reward for desired behavior. When you bring them in, put them in the kitchen again, with the baby gate up. While they are in the kitchen with you, as you are preparing your dinner, you can breakout the “dinner time toys.” At this point in their development, freedom of the kitchen is all they need—unless you want to clean more poop. If you can squeeze one more walk before 8 PM, that would be great. After this evening walk, take them outside once again. Remember dogs go to the bathroom after they wake, eat, or exercise, so the walk really helps you both out.

The point of this whole exercise is to take your dog out as much as possible – once an hour if you can. Whenever you are trying to teach your dog a new behavior, you want to do it as much as you can. You won’t ruin them by allowing them to go to the bathroom outside over and over again. The bottom line is you cannot take your dog outside too much. Some people might tell you to make the dog wait for hours, so they “learn to hold it.” Why would you want to do that if you can just go outside with them and keep reinforcing good behavior? If you take him or her out every hour, then they learn that they are going to have a chance to go outside to do their business. When someone tells you to wait for four hours, I would ask WHY if you can take them out more often? Why wait that long if you are home? We want to establish a pattern and what better way than to take the dog out all the time.

Every time you take your dog out, ask them, “DO YOU WANT TO GET BUSY?” After a while, he or she will know what you mean. And every time they do their business, tell them, “GOOD. GET BUSY,” or whatever you like to say. Do this for the rest of their life.

Key ingredients to successful housetraining:

  1. NEVER TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE DOG.
  2. Take your dog out first thing in the morning.
  3. Bring him or her in as soon as they do their business.
  4. Dogs that go outside and don’t go to the bathroom need more exercise. Take them for a brisk walk around the block then outside again. Praise lavishly when they finally go.
  5. Keep feeding times and diet consistent.
  6. Treats should only be given as a reward during obedience and crate training.
  7. Praise every time you see him or her pee or poop outside. Do this forever. Reinforcing good behavior never ruined a dog.
  8. Housetraining is exactly the same for pups and older dogs.
  9. Never rub your dog’s nose in anything.

Proper correction for potty training mistakes

Unless you can catch the puppy in the act, don’t bother scolding or punishing. The puppy cannot make the mental bridge as to why you are upset after the fact. Remember, going to the bathroom in the house is not a problem for your dog or pup. But it is a problem for us. When you do catch him or her in the act, only use verbal scolding, never physical harm—NEVER.

Here is what to do if the little guy or girl goes potty right in front of you—the nerve! Run right over and clap your hands while verbally saying NO! This is exactly what his mom would have done if they did something wrong while still in the litter. Then take them right outside, so they can complete their duties there and return to “good dog” status. This is the only way to communicate to them what you want.

Here is what you have done.

  1. You caught them in the act
  2. You stopped them immediately
  3. You took them outside to finish.
  4. When he or she is done, you gave them LOTS of praise and told them what a great dog they are and brought them right back in.

Still, don’t take your eyes off the dog. Remember, they are getting the idea that they must go outside. It takes a little longer for him or her to get the idea.

Potty training should ONLY be outdoors

Indoor puppy pads and wee-wee pads are a horrible idea for house training. Those items will encourage your dog to urinate and defecate in the house. For your dog, in their mind, it’s either indoors or outdoors. It’s unfair to teach them to use a pad, then get upset if they miss their mark, which they will do.

Many people try to tell me that their dog gets too cold and will not do his duties outside. Hogwash. Stay outside with them long enough, and eventually they will go. I promise. If he stalls for too long, just put him right back in the crate, then try again in a few minutes.

If your dog has short hair and you are concerned with him or her getting a chill, buy them a sweater if you have to. It’s cheaper than a carpet cleaner. Besides, eventually, you will get sick of the poop and pee smell in your house. Then you will have to switch them to going to the bathroom outdoors, and you will have start all over from scratch.

There is always the occasional pup that will pee and poop in the crate no matter how often you take them outside. This usually happens because the dog had poor living conditions before you adopted or fostered them.

I live in California’s East Bay, and we don’t have many, if any, pet stores that sell puppies like when I was a kid. In those pet store environments, the pups live on mesh floors, so all of the excrement passes right through the holes in the floor, out of sight and mind of the pup. It may seem like your pup will never catch on, but they will.

Your job is to be patient and consistent. All too often many pups never get a fair chance, and their fate is sealed by the greedy puppy mill that has dollars on their mind rather than humane husbandry. I know it can be a hassle to practically stop your entire life with this little hard head, but remember, owning a dog is a privilege. Eventually, they will catch on. To learn more about house potty training and crate training, contact Canine Tutors for a free demo class.