Written by: Melinda Benbow, Urban Uplander
When left out on their own, puppies can get in a lot of trouble. These unsupervised moments allow the puppy to chew on clothing and furniture or to have an accident inside. Unfortunately, when our pup gets into this kind of “trouble,” it is nobody’s fault but our own. Supervising your puppy is important for their health and safety, but also for training. If you are not watching your learning puppy, then you are missing very important training moments–including the chance to praise them for good behavior and to correct unwanted behaviors. A crate will allow you to know your puppy is contained and safe when you aren’t able to watch them, and it will help you expedite potty training.
Many people have a negative perception of dog crates. To some, the crate is seen as a puppy jail or a punishment. But, if used correctly, the crate will act as a den, which is a necessity for dog housing. This den will serve as a safe space for your dog, which can help prevent anxiety. It allows them to get away from kids, storms, other pets, or anything else that may be causing discomfort at the moment. Then den aspect is also a major reason why the crate is an effective potty-training device. Dogs do not want to potty where they sleep and eat.
Choosing a Crate
Make sure that the crate you choose is large enough for your puppy to stand up, lie down, and turn around. If you get a crate that’s too small, it will be uncomfortable for your dog, but a crate that’s too large will give your dog the space it needs to have an accident without it ruining its den. This behavior might encourage future accidents in the crate and around the home. Remember that as your puppy grows, you will need a larger crate. Purchase a crate appropriate for your dog’s expected adult size, and use a divider to make the crate smaller for the time being.
Positive Association with the Crate
The most important part of crate training is making sure your puppy always associates it with a positive experience! Keeping toys in the crate is a great way to do this, but be sure the toys are safe for your dog to have while unsupervised. I do not recommend plush squeaky toys, bones, tennis balls, or rope toys. These toys aren’t meant for long periods of chewing and can come apart and create a choking or obstruction risk for your pup. I do recommend Nylabone hard chew toys and KONGs.
Put your puppy in the crate during any downtime. This downtime could be after coming in from outside, after playtime, or when you are doing other things around the house. Start in increments of 10 minutes and work up to longer periods. Reward with a treat and verbal praise when the dog goes inside. Then provide toys, like a peanut butter stuffed KONG. Another great way to create this positive association is by feeding your pup its meals in the crate.
Every time you take the puppy out of the crate, take them straight outside, so they will start to associate leaving the crate with potty time. Remember to reward or praise your dog for going outside every time. Don’t forget to take the puppy outside after they wake up from naps and after playtime.
Feeding and Water Schedule
Controlling your pup’s dietary intake will also help in crate/potty training. Depending on the size and age of your pup, it will take 15 to 25 minutes for your pup to have to pee after drinking water. You can give your pup water before going into the crate and then take them outside at the 15-minute mark. If your pup doesn’t go, put them back in the crate and try again in 5 to 10 minutes. Also, provide your dog with its meals at designated times. Present the puppy their meal at the specified time and give them some time to eat. If your pup is uninterested, then pick up the food and try again in a few minutes. If they still aren’t interested, try again at the next mealtime. Avoid letting the puppy graze. Regular feeding times help develop a potty and feeding routine and prevent obesity.
Crating your puppy overnight will also be a great help. It will most likely be a struggle at first. They may cry the first night or two, but they are simply adjusting to a new home without their mom and littermates. Remember, if you try to calm the pup when they are crying or barking from the crate, you will only reinforce the crying and barking behaviors. Instead, wait for them to stop barking, and then let him out of the crate. Plan to take your puppy out in the middle of the night. You should only have to do this for the first couple of weeks. Most puppies should be able to sleep through the night without a potty break by four months of age, but if you’re in doubt, continue the night-time let outs. Potty training and crate training does not happen overnight. It’s going to take time and patience, but I hope that this information helps with the process.
Melinda Benbow owns and operates Urban Uplander Pet Care in Indianapolis, Indiana, along with her husband and partner, Kyle. She has worked with animals professionally for about ten years, focused on positive-reinforcement training, animal behavior, pet safety, and pet health. Check her out on Instagram and Facebook.