Housebreaking dogs that soil in crates

This is a repost of an old post I wrote on my original wordpress.com blog which still gets a lot of comments. I’m reposting it here so that more people can find it and I can respond to the newer comments more easily. :)

I wrote the bulk of this several weeks ago in response to a spate of messages on a message board I frequent about this topic. Because I’m feeling lazy, I decided to re-post it over here so I can just direct people to it again rather than re-writing it every few days. (Note: this intro was written in 2009 :P )

It’s a pretty common scenario- and one that I’ve responded to several times now, from face-to-face clients and, more commonly, on internet message boards. (Which is why I have decided to type this up!) Someone has gotten a new dog planning to use the crate method to housebreak him or her, and the dog soils in the crate, resulting in an unhappy owner, a stressed out (and dirty) dog, and tears all around. This isn’t uncommon with puppy mill dogs or dogs who came from really filthy conditions, but even more commonly, I see three main reasons why this happens. Firstly, is that the dog is being asked to ‘hold it’ too long. A rule of thumb for puppies is one hour per month of age, but there’s a great deal of individual variation. A stressed out puppy will need to go MUCH sooner than one who is used to being crated and settles down to sleep right away. A 2 month old Great Dane is 20 pounds, but a two month old Toy Fox Terrier is perhaps 2 or 3 pounds! Some puppies are just more mature than others. In adult dogs, this can also be the case if the dog isn’t /used/ to having to hold it- they had free access outdoors or were taken outside very frequently. Secondly, the dog may have a physical problem- immaturity (and some dogs can be REALLY slow to mature!), a UTI, spay incontinance- or some form of separation anxiety (this last is the rarest). So a vet check is in order before trying this. Thirdly, it can be a symptom of separation anxiety- usually the least common cause.

Just like with any dog being housebroken, supervision and scheduled feedings are really important. If the dog is not being supervised, they need to be confined. But for dogs who soil in the crate, this can be a nightmare. So what do you do?
Firstly, find an alternate means of confinement. Indoors, set up an exercise pen with the dog’s crate in it (I will be using ‘her’ for the rest of this article) and newspaper/unscented potty pads outside of the crate so that she has access to them at all times. Put a plastic shower curtain or heavy-duty plastic sheet under the pen to protect the floor, too. Babygating the dog into a dog-proofed area is also an option- a laundry room or hallway can work, too, especially with larger breed puppies and adult dogs. Except with quite small dogs, it will be hard to fit a crate into an exercise pen and still have enough room for the dog to get outside of it- this is easy to solve by using a wire mesh crate, and clipping the exercise pen to the sides so that it opens into the fenced-in area. Before the advent of cheaply available plastic crates, paper training was the normal way of housebreaking a puppy.

Paper training isn’t a great first option as a rule, because you’ll have to gradually transition the dog into going on a single targeted sheet of paper or pee pad, and then gradually move that outdoors (while making it clear that eliminating off the pad is not done. ) But one problem at a time- by doing this, the puppy is set up NOT to potty in her crate. This reduces everyone’s stress right away- no more daily scrubdowns for puppy or crate in nearly all cases. Put a bed or something (and use something easy to wash- I use fleece from the fabric store) in the crate and pin (carefully!) or twist it so that puppy can’t pull it out of the crate to lay on it outside- you want the crate to be the most comfy place to nap.

I don’t put toys or chewies in the exercise pen. This isn’t a playpen, and it really should be used just like you’d use a crate. (I would give the dog chewies when they were tethered to me, instead of giving them as rewards for being in the crate, at least for a few days.) The dog shouldn’t be playing in the pen- if they are, they’re spending too much time in there. I give this a week and see if the puppy will choose to potty as far away from her ‘bed’ as possible. (She may decide not to sleep in the crate- at this point, that’s fine, just as long as she’s eliminating far away from that area.) One potential problem with this setup is if you don’t pick where the pen goes carefully, she can end up eliminating and then walking through it to get to the side you typically walk on or pick her up from. So pick a spot carefully, and don’t be afraid to move it.

If, after a week, she’s consistantly NOT eliminating in the crate, I start reducing the paper in the pen- first, leave the area under the crate and a tiny bit in front of it uncovered. Give that a week, 10 days, and reduce the paper again by a tiny amount- maybe 10-20%. If this schedule works? Continue it- and you can speed up to making changes every 3 days, as long as she’s consistantly using the pads and not the floor. It will take between 2-3 weeks to get down to just 1-2 potty pads in the pen with puppy and her crate.

Once you have her down to 1/4 of the pen covered with a potty pad and she is using it consistantly (and NOT soiling in her crate), I start re-introducing the crate- but I’d treat her like a dog who hadn’t been crate trained, because she effectively *hasn’t*.

I then reintroduce the crate very slowly, and in stages. – I’d do this really slowly and in stages. Someone- and I can’t remember who originated this, but it might have been from Pigs Fly- giving your dog something REALLY REALLY TASTY- a Kong, a marrow bone- giving them 2 minutes in the crate (door closed) with it- and then PULLING THEM OUT AND DOING SOMETHING BORING- I like grooming for this ) Most dogs will be quite eager to go back to their crate after 3-4 minutes of this- so let them! Feed in the crate, crate for very short periods of time- while you take a shower, while you unload the dishwasher- and see how she does.

In the mean time, while you’re reintroducing the crate, get a feeling for how often she’s peeing and pooping (and what times) on the papers. If you’re very confident about the schedule and that she won’t use the floor? Pull out that pee pad and put it in another part of the house and start taking her to it when you know she needs to go. If you can get her to do that? You’re 80% of the way done- she’s learned the self control to wait and now you jsut have to transition from pads to outdoors. More on that in another post.

This isn’t impossible to overcome. The biggest thing is patience. Toy breeds (most of the posters who have this problem have toy or small breeds or, oddly enough, dachshunds) can be REALLY tough to housebreak. This issue- it is, I believe, the #1 reason toys end up in rescue (housebreaking, not crate soiling). Like any dog behavior problem, the key is changing the way you manage the dog in order to make everyone’s life lower stressful while you retrain the dog’s behavior.

What We’ve Been Up To

Jack washed out of service dog training, but has taken up a new career as a dock jumping dog.


And competed in his first dock jumping tournament

I started teaching at Dallas Air Dogs (No pictures. :P No one wants to see me in a swimsuit.)

And in November

This kiddo came back to visit again (although she’s a lot bigger now :D ). Is she staying? Stay tuned!

ADBC #6 – Obstacles!

I am SO sorry this thing is going up so late -my grandmother passed away on January 23rd and helping deal with all of that, including geting the house packed upf or sale and my grandfather ready to move has really killed my energy level and ability to write.

I’m going to try and add to this post with more commentary, but right now, I’m doing pretty well just to have managed sitting down in front of the computer and NOT gotten pulled away by a phone call. The only thing I’ve gotten done this month is sewing, because I can do that in the car while Mom drives to and from Waco.


Literal Obstacles

Allison talks about how an ouchy encounter with a literal obstacle has impacted her relationship with her guide dog, Gilbert, here at Gilbert And Me.

Ever brilliant L^2 wrote Many Different Obstacles about the daily tasks her dog helps her with  at her blog.

Puppyraiser Patti at Plays With Puppies talks about puppyraising successfully where the environment is very different than the ones where her pups will work and live as future guide dogs.

Health Obstacles

Karyn at Through a Guide’s Eyes wrote about her young guide Thane’s struggle with Lyme disease in  The Lessons Learned through the Many Obstacles with Thane


Metaphorical Obstacles

Carin at the Vomit Comit talks about the Guide Dog Obstacle Course at GDB and the process of deciding to get a guide dog.

Sharon posted a Waspish Wednesday post for this blog carnival- I love those of hers- about overcoming her own self as the biggest obstacle she faces as an owner trainer.

Cindy Otty posted a really great post that I accidentally left out the first time I hit publish on this, about her guide dog’s Uschi’s greatest ‘obstacle’- herself in Cottleston Pie. (I think Uschi sounds like a blast.)


Katrin at By My Side wrote Training Tom, about teaching her guide dog partner to work as a demo dog as well because of obstacles she faces in adding a new pet/performance dog to her life right now.

Martha at believe in who you are talked about the obstacles facing her guide dog Dee in retirement, in a really insightful post. I’ve not been lucky enough to place either of my service dogs as retirees yet- Wings died very young and while we’d made plans to retire Kaylee, what we thought was an undiagnosable back injury affecting her gait ended up being a brain tumor.

Merry Christmas from me and Jack.

Jack, an agouti and white husky-type dog is sitting in front of Santa Claus, who is in a big green armchair in front of a Christmas tree.

Assistance Dog Blog Carnival #6

I am lucky enough to be hosting the 6th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival here on Dogstar Academy!

Topic for ADBC #6 is Obstacles :D

Some ideas to think about for this topic:

  • What obstacles have you overcome in your partnership- or quest for- a service dog?
  • What’s the greatest obstacle that people put in the way of you and your service dog?
  • What kind of challenges do you face with your service dog, SDIT, or puppy in training?

If you write a post you’d like included, please send me the link via email (Cait@dogstaracademy.com) or comment here. :) (I *think* I have disabled captcha, but I think I still have comments moderated for spam control)

More info about teh ADBC is available here http://aftergadget.wordpress.com/about-the-assistance-dog-blog-carnival/

While it’s not required, I’d appreciate a link back from any post you submit to this page- the tag backs make my life easier! :)

To submit your post for the Carnival please comment on this post with the following information:

  1. The name of your blog (e.g., Dogstar Academy)
  2. The title of your Carnival post (e.g., “Fish Distractions”)
  3. The link (URL) to your Carnival post (e.g., http://whatever.com/thingy)

Sometimes comments hit the spam filter – I *think* I have captcha disabled, though. :) If you have any problems with it, please email me at trainsdogs@gmail.com and I will make sure your comment goes through!

The ‘deadline’ for the carnival is 1/29/2012 – if you will be late, please email me and let me know your post is in progress, and I’ll add it as soon as it’s live. The carnival will be going up on the 31st. – sorry, I left this part off by accident.