Housebreaking dogs that soil in crates

This is a repost of an old post I wrote on my original 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.

Not quite a training log

But I’m trying to get back in the swing of blogging regularly and logging Jack’s training. It’s been wonderful to be able to look back at the logs of what I did with Kaylee- both useful, and emotionally rewarding- and I know it’ll be worth the effort to do the same thing with Jack.
Jack has now hit double digits as an ‘official’ service dog in training, passing the 10 hour mark this week. His training around the house is going really well, and he’s reliably waking me up on a schedule /and/ for unscheduled times when the alarm I’m asking him to alert to (a specific ring tone on my phone) goes off.

His training in ‘public’ reminds me just how far we have to go- but he improves every time we’ve gone out. So far, he’s been to our local outdoor pedestrian mall for Santa photos, a few local parks, and several different pet supply stores. Attention is a WIP- he’s doing well at low distraction levels, though, and Leave It needs me to sit down and actually teach it more deliberately instead of redirecting. Bad trainer, no cookie. LLW also needs some work. I’ve begun teaching heel more specifically, as I’ll want him to actually heel casually while working and not just walk on a loose leash.

Working around other dogs still needs more work, although he IS getting better. He met Jen’s wolfhound bitch Lene on Friday, and other than a ‘o.0 wow, you’re big’ moment, he thought she was pretty cool and tried to initiate play, but was pretty relaxed after I asked him to chill out and lay back down. He’s definitely /capable/ of the impulse control I need. Speculating on what breeds are in his makeup is endlessly fun; his temperament is very generic good-drivey-dog, he has no particular herding or hunting instincts that I’ve found yet, and he’s just such a mishmash. He’s got a shepherdy muzzle except for the length and definitely shepherd eyes and voice, but his structure and ears definitely aren’t. ACD x BYB Akita was one suggestion we came up with that’d explain his body shape and coloring and most of his features, but the temperament on that cross sounds like a nightmare, and Jack is SO amiable that it just doesn’t seem at all likely. Who knows? Not me, and it doesn’t matter in the end, but it sure is fun to speculate. :)

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 ( 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

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.,

Sometimes comments hit the spam filter – I *think* I have captcha disabled, though. :) If you have any problems with it, please email me at 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.

This book is Jack Approved

Jack approves of this book!

(If you click on it, you can see the image larger.)

The book is, for those who don’t recognize the cover When Pigs Fly: Obedience Training for Impossible Dogs by Jane Killion. I *love* this book. While Jack is a lot easier to motivate than many huskies (or I wouldn’t have fallen in love!), the principles that Jane Killion presents are stilll awesome. Her chapter on figuring out what motivates your dog is brilliant, and I love this book as a basic primer for anyone interested in clicker training, particularly since it’s much lighter on the ‘traditional training is abyooosive’ emotional yanks that “The Power of Positive Dog Training” (Miller) and “The Culture Clash” (Donaldson) use.

When Pigs Fly is a GREAT book. My only beef with it is that it’s not laid out particularly intuitively for someone who isn’t already somewhat motivated to train their dog- there’s a lot of thinking and science to get through before the actual ‘how to’ starts. Nonetheless, it’s a great read, and a book that every dog owner should consider picking up, especially if they share their homes with a less than biddable breed!

Deep Thinking – Service Dog Blog Carnival #5

This post is quite a departure from the normal fare that will be found on this blog, which is meant primarily for dog training and my own dogs. However, since Jack is, or will be, hopefully, a service dog in training – and I’m supposed to be hosting the next Service Dog Blog Carnival in December- I really wanted to participate in this one, which closes tonight (10/23/11).

A blog carnival is a collection of posts from bloggers who blog on a certain topic or theme, all inspired by the same prompt/theme. In this case, it’s achievement- it’s hosted by Cyndy O at Gentle Wit.  Because this topic is fairly personal (and not really about dog training), I’ve put it behind a jump. It’s also REALLY rambly. So read on at your own risk.

Continue reading

Welcome home Jack

After re-doing the site and blog- I’m moving all my dog blogging over here from my general/art blog, although some things will still be crossposted- I thought it was appropriate to make the first new post to be about Jack.

Texas Husky Rescue was kind enough to allow me to pull, foster, and adopt a really wonderful malamute mix named Jack through them. He’s my new service dog prospect, and while I really wasn’t LOOKING for a malamute mix (I’ve been keeping an eye on local shelters for suitable prospects, but I was mostly sticking to Aussie, BC, and collie-type mixes), this boy was on his last day in the shelter, sick with a URI, and just too special to let go. So I figured I could foster him for a day or two- he was gorgeous, surely he’d be snapped up before he was even healed up from his neuter, right? Well, yes, he was- but for the first time in better than 10 years volunteering with dogs, I failed fostering.

Jack is outgoing, people-oriented, easy to motivate, and has a strong desire to engage with people. He’s definitely got a sense of humor (his favorite game is piling toys on me while I am asleep), and he likes to fling toys at my head instead of putting them in my hand when I throw them for them- but he loves to retrieve, and in general, seems not to have gotten the memo about northern breeds being aloof or not liking to retrieve. He was found as a stray, and had apparently had some foundation training as a younger dog (he’s approximately 18 months old based on his teeth and general demeanor)- he came to me knowing sit, down, and shake- and picked up on the clicker ‘game’ very, very quickly. He’s just joyful to train in a way that I adore, and in general, once he understands what I want (and he’s a VERY good guesser), he’s willing to do it if there might be a ball or a treat involved.

Will he make it as an SD? I hope so. Despite his apparent breed mix (and I’ve spent YEARS talking people on the Dogster Service & Therapy Dog boards out of huskies as SD prospects, because most really AREN’T suitable), the breed traits that are generally the most problematic aren’t traits that he has. He’s still got a long way to go- but I have hope.  He has at least 6 months of serious training ahead of him-  I’m hoping to get his CGC and his RN at Glen Rose in January, and the process of getting him ready for that should bring him up to the standard I expect for a dog beginning public access training. Yes- that’s 8 weeks- but I have faith we can do it.  There’s still health testing to pass, and some of the activities I’d hoped to do with my next dog (ie herding and likely dock dogs, although he could surprise me) won’t be in the cards, there are others that I know I enjoy just as much. And I have hope. That’s a big thing, right now.