Housebreaking/Crate Training

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Successful Housetraining

This is an article that was in one of my DOG FANCY magazines several years ago written by Liz Palika.  I thought it was well written and it represents most of my opinions on the topic.

Liz writes:  When a puppy has an “accident” in the house, should you rub its nose in its mess?  Should the puppy be exiled after making a puddle?  Should the puppy live outside until it's 6 months old?  Should you paper-train the pup before you teach it to go outside? Can you housetrain a dog in a week?

With all the conflicting advice and misinformation about housetraining that bombards new puppy owners, it's amazing that so many dogs do eventually become housetrained.  However, housetraining doesn't have to be mysterious.

If you understand your puppy's instinct to keep its bed clean, and if you limit your puppy's freedom, teach your puppy what you want, establish a schedule, and practice patience, you will successfully teach your puppy to become reliable in the house.

Basic Instinct
By about 5 weeks of age, most pups are toddling away from their beds to relieve themselves in a far corner of the whelping box.  You can use this instinct to start housetraining, with the help of a dog crate, as soon as the puppy joins your household.

A crate is a plastic or wire travel cage that you can use as the puppy's bed.  The crate should be big enough for the pup to stand up, turn around and stretch out, but no larger. (You can get a couple of crates of increasing size as the dog grows, or you can buy a crate that comes with a divider). If the crate is too large, it will give the pup enough room to eliminate away from its bed so it won't feel the need to hold its bladder or bowels.  (Personally I like the plastic molded Vari Kennel crate.  Its closed-in feeling makes a pup feel more secure.  Plus the pup can't get its paws through any wire slats).

Many new puppy owners shudder at the thought of putting their new puppy in a crate. “I would never do that,” the new owner of a Labrador Retriever puppy told me.  It would be like putting my children in jail!”  A puppy is not a child, however, and it has different needs and instincts.  The puppy's instinct to keep its bed clean and the sense of security it derives from a crate are useful tools for the new puppy owner.

Because few puppies will voluntarily soil their beds, the crate teaches the pup to hold its waste for increasing periods of time.  You are responsible for making sure that the pup is not left in the crate for too long.

The crate becomes the puppy's den or bed and will function as a place of refuge when the puppy is tired or simply wants to gnaw on a toy.  Because the crate also confines the puppy, it prevents unwanted behaviors, such as chewing on electrical cords and destroying slippers.

Introducing The Crate
Introduce the crate by propping open the crate door and tossing a toy or dog biscuit inside.  As you do this, tell the puppy “Go to bed” or “Kennel”.  Let the puppy investigate the crate on its own and go in and out freely.

When the puppy is comfortable with the crate, offer a meal inside the crate with the door still propped open.  Let the pup go in and out as it pleases.  The next meal can be fed inside with the door closed, but be prepared to let the pup out as soon as it discovers that the door has been shut.  The third meal can be fed in the crate with the door closed for five minutes.

After the third meal, start feeding the puppy in its normal place again, and simply offer the pup a treat or toy when it goes into the crate on its own. Continue teaching the phrase “Go to bed” or “Kennel”.  Gradually increase the time the puppy is left in the crate from five minutes to an hour or more.  Never leave a young puppy in the crate more than four hours at a time.

Do not let the pup out of the crate when it is screaming, howling or chewing on the bars.  If you do, you will teach the puppy that those unpleasant behaviors will get it out of the crate whenever it demands it.  Instead, let the puppy out when you are ready to do so and when the pup is quiet.  You may need to open the crate door and place your hands around his nose and tell him to be quiet first.  Then when he is quiet you can tell him “OK” and let him out.

Too Much Freedom
A young puppy should never be allowed to roam the house unsupervised. It's easier for a puppy to have an accident in a back room rather than go all the way to the back door to be let out. Once the pup has eliminated in the house under these circumstances, it may continue to repeat the behavior.

Contrary to what many puppy owners believe, puppies do not need complete freedom. Instead, they need a structure environment, with obvious limits.  These limits help teach good behavior and prevent destructive habits from developing, such as chewing on  electrical cords, destroying shoes, raiding the clothes basket/garbage can, stealing knick-knacks and any number of other appealing diversion.  By limiting a puppy's freedom to specific supervised areas, trouble can be averted.

The puppy should sleep in its crate at night, and the crate should be placed near your bed so the pup can spend eight uninterrupted hours near you.  Knowing that you are nearby will give the pup a great feeling of security. Nighttime is a good time for bonding.

Don't exile the puppy to the backyard, laundry room or garage during the night.  The puppy will justifiably cry and whine with fear and loneliness.  Use your sleeping hours to benefit your relationship with the new pup by keeping it close to you.

Having the puppy's crate nearby at night will also save you some wear and tear. If the pup is lonely or restless and starts to whine, you can reach over and tap the top of the crate, telling the pup to be quiet.  If the puppy needs to relieve itself, you will hear it fuss and can get it outside quickly.

The puppy that spends a great deal of time away from its family will have much more difficulty learning to be a part of the group. Your puppy needs to be close to you during family activity time.  If your family traditionally gathers in the dining room or den, the pup needs a secure place there so it can watch, listen and receive attention.  The puppy's area can consist simply of a playpen, or it can be more elaborate.  It should not be too large since the puppy is still learning to control its bladder and bowels.  If the pup has access to too much space, it will eliminate in a corner of that space.

If someone is actively supervising the puppy, it may be allowed to run free in the house.  The person watching the pup should make sure there are baby gates across any hallways, that doors are closed and that the puppy stays close by.

The third area that every puppy needs is a secure outside place.  Don't assume that your yard is secure if it is fenced. Tiny puppies can escape through incredibly small holes, especially when frightened.

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