Ohhh, puppies. I’m boarding a puppy at the moment, a 9-month old welsh terrier who has some issues her owner needs help with. One of those issues is housebreaking.
I’ve forgotten what it’s like to get up EARLY because the puppy can’t hold it like my adult dogs can — 10 hours regularly overnight, and 12-16 if it’s my day off and I’m feeling really lazy! At 9 months, it’s possible for a puppy to hold it that long if you’ve worked on it. But a dog that isn’t housebroken and isn’t used to holding it — even an adult dog — can’t do that!
The best way to potty train any dog, regardless of age, is crate training. I know, I know — it’s MUCH easier to get puppy pads, if your dog will use them, and do it that way. And if you have a job where you work 8 hours and can’t get away, and no neighbor to let your puppy out after 4 hours, then that might be your only solution. However, puppy pads teach your dog something else: to pee in the house. It’s very common for a dog to look for the next thing closest to a puppy pad when you take the pads away: carpet. Small dogs are especially prone to peeing in the house when they don’t like it outside because it’s too cold or too wet. (Another option is to litter train them, so you never have to worry about it. Yes, they make litter boxes for small dogs!)
If you want your dog to potty outside, the best best best way is crate training. Let’s talk about crate training.
There are some common concerns I hear:
1. It seems cruel.
I know people have a hard time believing this, but a crate for a dog is like their den. Unless your dog has had some major trauma in a crate, and I mean major trauma, once they get used to it they’re not going to have any qualms about spending large amounts of time in one. Puppies especially should be sleeping 15-20 hours a day, depending on the age of the puppy. We keep our puppies awake MUCH longer than is healthy for them, assuming that’s normal. A crate gives your puppy a chance to calm down long enough to get the sleep they need in a quiet, dark, undisturbed place. This will make everyone’s life much easier, and your puppy happier, healthier, and easier to train!
2. My dog/puppy barks and whines and I CAN’T STAND IT!
Okay, I can’t blame you, there. I can’t stand it, either! There are two easy solutions, though, other than the usual “just ignore it and they’ll stop” solution you normally hear. (Trust me, I understand that frustration — I’m a dog trainer, and I can’t ignore it until it stops! I’m very noise sensitive, and it drives me bonkers!)
The first solution is to say, “Quiet,” and then tap the crate on the side. If it doesn’t work, tap a little harder. You can tap hard enough to jiggle the crate just a bit. (I’ve been known to hook the lip with my fingers and pluck the near edge off the ground by a finger’s width.) You’re creating a mini-earthquake, so the dog learns that barking or whining will make the world shake a tiny bit. It’s not comfortable!
Concerns: I have heard other trainers say, “This will make a dog feel unsafe or scared of his crate.” In ten years, I’ve never seen that happen.
The second solution is to get a squirt bottle. I don’t mean a little mister, I mean a bottle from Lowe’s that’s meant to have cleaner or something in it! Something with a powerful stream on it. This stream needs to get through the air, the bars of the crate, and hit your dog with enough force for your dog to feel it! A mist won’t do. You need a squirt! Don’t aim for your dogs face if you can avoid it; we don’t want to hit the eyes. And DON’T put anything but water in it!
Concerns: From trainers, I occasionally hear the same concern as above, and the answer is also the same! From owners, I hear: “But my dog LIKES water.” My dogs both LOVE water! They hate, however, the squirt bottle. There’s a big difference between getting into water willingly and getting squirted with something cold and wet surprisingly. It startles them out of their bad behavior, and that’s all we really want. Even dogs who aren’t particularly bothered by a squirt bottle will usually stop barking; it annoys them into good behavior!
Now that we’ve stopped the barking issue, let’s talk about making the crate an okay place to be. When I start crating dogs, I make sure they have at least two toys in their crate that they like. Every time they go in their crate, they get a treat. I feed them in their crates as well. I also put their bed in their crate (or piles of old towels, if you’re afraid they’ll chew up their bed out of boredom) so it’s comfy. Think of it as a kid’s bedroom: it needs all the stuff in it they might want so they can hang out and ignore their parents!
Once you have all that good stuff in their crate, start tossing treats in there. Leave the door open until they’re comfortable to go in, get the treats, sniff around for more, and come back out. You can give them more treats while they’re in there, too. Once they can do that, start closing the door for a few seconds at a time, giving them more treats while they’re in there. Once they can do that, start leaving them in there for a few minutes at a time. If they’re comfortable eating in there, give them dinner with the door closed and leave them in for ten minutes after they finish.
Build up the time slowly; when they get comfortable, add more time. It generally takes a day or two if you’re home all day and can devote time to it. If you aren’t, or if your dog has some trauma associated with crate training that needs to be overcome, it could take up to a week. I hate to say it, but usually if it takes longer than that, someone is letting them out when they cry — though the person may not even be aware of it!
All right, all that said… I’m going back to bed! All this getting up early to let the puppy out has worn me down!
(Not quite what you were looking for? Wondering how to potty train once Fido’s crate trained? Have no fear, just click here!)