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When you bring home a new puppy, one of the most important tasks you must take care of is to housebreak your puppy. Puppies are naturally curious and full of energy so you should expect them to make a bit of a mess in the house, but failing to quickly and properly housebreak your puppy could multiply that mess dramatically. Luckily, housebreaking a puppy is fairly easy as long as you follow the right protocol. The easiest, fastest, and most effective method for housebreaking a puppy is crate training.
If you have never had a puppy before, your first thought may be that keeping your puppy in a crate is some kind of cruel punishment. If that’s the way you view the crate then that is how your puppy will see it too. If, however, you teach your puppy to view the crate as a safe and secure place where your puppy can rest and have some time to himself, he will be happy to spend time in it. No puppy (or dog, for that matter), likes to be confined for long periods of time. But if you use the crate properly it can not only be an excellent tool for housebreaking your puppy, but it will become a safe haven for your puppy where he can retreat to if he needs some time to himself or if he simply wants to take a nap.
There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to use a crate, so take the time to learn how to properly use a crate for housebreaking your puppy before you start. Before you even start to use the crate, however, you need to know how to select the right one for your puppy. After you purchase the crate you should decide on a place in the house to put it and you should take a few steps to get your puppy used to the crate before you start crate training. You will receive all of this information and more in this article.
Choosing the Right Crate
When it comes to selecting a crate, you may be tempted to buy a large one so your puppy has plenty of room to spread out. This, however, would be a big mistake. In order to properly use the crate for crate training, it needs to be only large enough for your puppy to comfortably stand up, sit down, turn around, and lie down in. The goal for crate training is to teach your puppy to view the crate as his “den” – a safe place where he can sleep and take some time to himself. Another factor at play in crate training draws upon a dog’s natural aversion to soiling his bed. If the crate is only large enough for the puppy to sleep in it then he will be less likely to soil it.
In addition to choosing the right size crate, you also need to decide where in the house you are going to put it. Ideally, once you select a location for the crate that is where you should keep it for the long term. Place your puppy’s crate in a location where he won’t feel completely secluded, but it shouldn’t be in the center of the action either. The crate should be placed in an area where you also have room for your puppy’s food and water dishes as well as some of his toys. Essentially, you are trying to create a small space in your home for your puppy to call his own. To make the crate more comfortable you should line it with a soft blanket or a plush dog bed.
Introducing Your Puppy to the Crate
Once you’ve selected the location for your puppy’s crate and you have gotten his area set up you should start to introduce him to the crate. At first your puppy is likely to be a little wary of the crate, even frightened, so you shouldn’t jump right in to putting him in the crate. First you will need to create a positive association between your puppy and his crate. To do so, follow these guidelines:
- Play with your puppy in the area where you have placed his crate.
- Several times throughout the play session, drop a piece of food or a small treat into the crate where your puppy will find it.
- Feed your puppy his meals in the crate with the door open – if he is unwilling to enter, try feeding him in front of the crate then with each meal, move the bowl further into the crate.
- When playing with your puppy, praise him and pet him when he willingly enters the crate so he learns that you approve of this behavior.
- If you must crate your puppy overnight during the first few days you have him, keep the crate in your bedroom so your puppy feels more secure.
Crate Training Your Puppy
Once your puppy has started to form a positive association with the crate, you can begin to use it for crate training. In order for crate training to work, you need to be as consistent as possible with your puppy. You also need to take your puppy outside every few hours to give him an opportunity to do his business so he doesn’t have an accident in the house. Before you begin crate training, you need to select a certain area of the yard where you want your puppy to do his business – you will be teaching your puppy to do his business in this area only. Not only does this make the task of clean-up easier on your part, but it also helps your puppy to learn more quickly what is expected of him when you take him outside to do his business.
When you take your puppy outside to do his business, lead him over to the designated area and give him some kind of command like “Go pee”. When your puppy does his business, praise him excitedly and offer him a small treat as a reward. If your puppy learns that his behavior pleases you, he will be more likely to repeat that behavior in the future. Giving your puppy a verbal command when you take him outside will help him to associate that command with the desired behavior. This means that, in the future, you will eventually be able to simply open the door to let your dog out and give him the verbal command – he will have learned what that command means and he will automatically go to his area of the yard without you having to lead him there.
In order for crate training to be effective, you need to make sure your puppy has plenty of opportunities to go out during the day. Your puppy’s ability to control his bladder depends on his age. Puppies around 9 or 10 weeks of age have very little control over their bladders and they will need to eliminate as many as 8 to 12 times per day. It is not recommended that you start crate training your puppy until he is able to control his bladder for at least a few hours – the youngest recommended age is about 11 weeks. You can crate puppies younger than 11 weeks if needed, but only for a maximum of 60 minutes and only if you have taken the proper steps to introduce your puppy to the crate so he does not learn to fear the crate.
Once your puppy is old enough for crate training, you will need to start following a daily routine. You should keep a set schedule for when you feed your puppy so you can predict when he will need to go out. Typically, puppies need to eliminate after waking up from a nap and within 30 minutes of eating a meal. You should plan to take your puppy outside immediately after he wakes up in the morning and again after he eats his first meal. Throughout the day, you should also take your puppy outside every 2 to 3 hours to give him a chance to do his business. If he does not have to, simply take him back inside and try again in another 30 minutes or so. If you take your puppy outside and he doesn’t have to go, do not let him wander around the yard – take him right back inside.
In addition to taking your puppy outside every 2 to 3 hours, you should plan to keep your puppy in the same room as you throughout the day. Limit your puppy’s range in the house by keeping doors closed or using baby gates to confine your puppy to whatever room you are in. This will help to reduce the risk of your puppy having an accident in the house because you will be able to spot the tell-tale signs that your puppy has to go. If your puppy starts to sniff the ground while walking in circles or if he begins to squat, clap your hands loudly to distract him then immediately take him outside to do his business. Follow the same protocol of giving your puppy the “Go pee” command each time you take him out and always praise him when he does his business in the right area.
The second element involved in crate training is confining your puppy to the crate overnight and when you are away from home. As it has already been mentioned, keeping the size of the crate limited will help to reduce the chances of your puppy having an accident in the crate. In order to ensure this, however, you must continue to let your puppy out of the crate every few hours to do his business. When your puppy is 11 to 14 weeks old he is capable of holding his bladder for a maximum of 3 hours. Between 15 and 16 weeks your puppy can hold it for up to 4 hours and, after 17 weeks, your puppy can hold it for a maximum of 6 hours. If you are at work and unable to let your puppy out during the day, you will need to have a friend or family member do it for you. It is unfair to expect your puppy to hold his bladder for longer than he is capable.
If you follow the protocol outlined in this section and maintain consistency in your methods, you will find that crate training your puppy is easier than you may have imagined. To complement your crate training methods you should also be sure to give your puppy plenty of daily exercise and play time. This will help to prevent your puppy from having too much pent-up energy which could make his confinement in the crate intolerable.
Extra Tips and Tricks
Though the method for crate training has already been provided, there are a few extra tips and tricks that you may find helpful to know. First and foremost, you must never use your puppy’s crate as a form of punishment. As soon as your puppy starts to view the crate negatively, your crate training methods may be compromised. Rather than laying quietly in the crate or napping, your puppy may begin to whine or bark – he may also develop separation anxiety if the crate is used as a form of punishment or as a “time out”. To prevent this from happening, make sure to follow the guidelines provided in the beginning of this article for introducing your puppy to the crate.
Another tip to remember when crating your puppy is to avoid keeping any food or water in the crate with him. Giving your puppy food and water while he is in the crate will only make it harder for him to control his bladder – you are just asking for him to have an accident. Remember, you will only be confining your puppy to the crate for a few hours at a time so he will be perfectly fine without food and water for that period of time as long as you give it to him after you let him out.
Learning how to crate train a puppy is not as difficult as many people imagine it to be. As long as you follow the procedure outlined above, you can have your puppy housebroken in as little as two weeks – maybe less. The key to any kind of puppy training is to be as consistent as possible. Dogs naturally crate routine, so the more you stick to a regular schedule, the faster your puppy will learn.