You’ve finally decided you were ready to give that cute, little four legged bundle of joy a forever home. While welcoming a new puppy into your home is a wonderful experience, you may find yourself stepping into unwelcome territory when it comes to housebreaking. In my ten years of teaching puppy obedience in South Carolina, the most common question new owners would ask had to do with housebreaking. Most trainers are in agreement that crate training is the easiest way to housebreak a puppy, yet many pet owners become frustrated when they don’t see immediate results. Below are four scenarios that illustrate common mistakes new puppy owners make while trying to crate train their pets and how to fix them.
Scenario One: Fido is holding his bladder while in his crate, but as soon as he is let out he relieves himself before reaching the outdoors.
Solution: Take your puppy outside as soon as you let him out of the crate regardless of how long he has been in the crate. This encourages your puppy to associate leaving the crate with pottying outside, and he will automatically begin to hold his bladder until he reaches outside. When you arrive home from work, make sure letting your puppy out is the first thing you do. Your puppy will become excited when he sees you which will increase his urgency to urinate. The longer you prolong letting him out, the harder it will be for your puppy to hold it. If your furry friend gets distracted on his way out, you may have a mess on your hands, so make sure you make a beeline directly for the outdoors when you let Fido loose. If it is a long way from the crate to outside, consider moving the crate closer to the door or making a game and having your puppy chase you to the door. If you have a long way to travel to reach outside and your puppy is small enough, consider carrying your puppy since your legs will move faster than his. When your puppy does relieve himself outside, give him lots and lots of praise. This repetitive behavior on your part will teach your dog that he will be rewarded for pottying outside and he will become eager to earn that praise.
Scenario Two: You keep your puppy’s food and water inside his crate in case he gets hungry or thirsty at night or in the day, and your puppy keeps using the bathroom inside his crate.
Solution: Is it any real suprise why your puppy is soiling his crate? He is eating and drinking all day and night! Some people feel that their dogs need food and water in their crates at all times, especially at night or during long periods in the day. This is asking for trouble. Just like a child, if your pet is provided with food and water, he will eat and drink it and will therefore have to relieve himself. You don’t need to drink or eat water during the night, so why should your pet? Your pet will not starve or die of thirst if you leave him for a few hours in a climate-controlled house. Furthermore, it is unfair to tempt a puppy with food and water and then force him to hold it while you are away. Help simplify crate training by leaving the food and water in your pet’s regular eating area and not in his crate.
Scenario Three: Your puppy will potty outside, but will also potty inside without warning.
Solution: Take your puppy outside to potty after eating, waking up, and playing. Just like children (and adults!), a dog’s bladder will be stimulated after eating, playing, or just waking up. If you see that your pet has been playing for the past thirty minutes with your spouse or kids, take a time out and encourage your puppy to go outside. Puppies digest their food very quickly, so within fifteen minutes of finishing mealtime, head outside for some fresh air and a potty break. You will find that your puppy will quickly find a spot to relieve himself and you will save yourself an unwanted accident. Remember each time your puppy successfully relives himself outside to give lots of praise so that your pet will want to continue the behavior in the future.
Scenario Four: Your puppy cries when he is placed in his crate, so you let him out because you feel bad.
Solution: Don’t be tricked by the crying game! One of the first things I learned when studying dog obedience is that puppies can generally hold their bladders one hour for every month old they are, so be prepared to have to take your furry friend out often at first. While some puppies can make it all night without incident, others cannot, so be patient while you try to learn your puppy’s “holding” time. However, don’t let your puppy manipulate you into letting him out before he actually needs to be let out! Your puppy might cry the first couple times he is left alone in his crate. This is completely normal and your puppy will soon realize that crying is futile and will therefore stop. However, if you respond to your crying puppy, either with a verbal response or in person, then he will soon learn that crying elicits a response from you and will therefore continue with his vocalization. If you feel that your puppy is lonely or needs attention while in his crate either at night or in the day, then consider placing a couple toys or chew items in with him to keep him busy or turning on a radio to play music to help soothe your pup’s fear of being alone.
Your dog’s crate should ultimately be his sanctuary. Do NOT use the crate as a form of punishment; instead if used properly, the crate will become your dog’s safe haven and a welcome place for him to retire when he needs some downtime or when you are at work. Housetraining your new pet doesn’t need to be a nightmare.