A Crate to Call Home

Posted May 9, 2012

Housetraining has come a long way from the “rub his nose in it” days; the biggest difference between then and now is “crate training.” Confining your puppy when no one is able to supervise him takes advantage of his instinctive reluctance to soil his bed. When crating is combined with a regular schedule of meals, playtime and outdoor elimination time, it becomes an effective tool to help your puppy learn to control his bodily functions.

Choose a crate just large enough to allow your puppy to stand up and lie down comfortably. If you have a large-breed dog, you may need to use a smaller crate for the first few months, until he grows into his adult-sized crate. Be sure your puppy has just enough space to curl up in, but not enough to escape a mess. Put a kennel pad or blanket inside and place the crate in a location where family members can easily see it, such as the kitchen or family room.

Introduce your puppy to the crate as soon as you bring him home. Let him know that this is his “safe zone.” It is not a punishment; it is his den. Toss some kibbles or a toy into the crate, so he becomes accustomed to entering the crate voluntarily. Hide the occasional treat inside. Once your puppy is comfortable going inside the crate, you can use it to aid the housebreaking process.

A six- to eight-week old puppy needs to eliminate every one to three hours. (Don’t worry! As they mature, they can wait longer.) It is most predictable:

  • first thing in the morning
  • after naps
  • after, or sometimes during, playtimes
  • after eating
  • after being left alone

Designate an appropriate outdoor area for elimination and take your puppy there regularly. Reward and praise him when he uses it. Once he’s “empty” he can be allowed inside to play and explore – under close supervision. Every hour or so, take him back to his “bathroom” area and give him a chance to use it again. The odor from previous visits will remind him of his task.

Keep track of when your puppy last eliminated. Unless he falls asleep, he’ll need to go out in about an hour and it’s very important not to leave your puppy in the crate for longer than he’s capable of waiting. (Rule of Thumb: 1 hour/age in months.) Look at your watch. Set the timer on the microwave. A young puppy can’t control his urge to urinate or defecate for long and will become confused if forced to eliminate in the crate. Accidents happen, but it means you made a mistake, not the puppy.

After about four consecutive accident-free weeks, your puppy may be ready for some freedom. Until then:

  • Watch him! Always know his whereabouts.
  • Restrict him! Use baby gates to limit his access to select areas of the house.
  • Crate him! Put him in his safe place whenever you can’t supervise him.

Copyright © 2012 by Roxanne Willems Snopek

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