Puppy 101: Housetraining and Crate Training

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If you’ve recently brought a new puppy into your house, it’s time to start the process of housetraining her! Getting your pup to do her business in the right spot can be frustrating, even for a seasoned pet parent, but read on for tips on how to housetrain with a minimum of fuss, mess, and stress.

How to housetrain your puppy

The key to successful housetraining is repetition and reward. If you’re patient and consistent, it shouldn’t take you more than a month or two to teach your pup how to urinate and defecate outdoors.

1. Choose a spot.
Picking a dedicated location for your dog to go really depends on your individual situation. Is it outside in the yard? A specific street corner, or a pee pad in the laundry room? Regardless of where you choose, that’s the spot you should take your dog whenever it’s time to eliminate.

2. Be consistent.
In the beginning, you’ll want to take your dog to the chosen spot every two hours. Once you’re there, say the same thing to her every time, whether it’s “Go potty,” “Time to pee,” or “Do your business.” You may want to associate going to the potty spot with certain events: the start of a walk, before or after a meal, after a play or nap session. A marker or visual aid can also help.

While you’re still teaching your puppy where and when to go, don’t change the chosen location; this will confuse her. Using the same spot will build up an odor that your pet will detect and want to re-mark with her waste.

3. Praise and reward!
Remain quiet and still while your puppy is eliminating—no distractions. But immediately after your puppy successfully pees or poops in the right spot, provide lots of praise and a special treat. She’ll come to associate the desired behavior with the treat, and that’s the best way to encourage her to go in the right place. (For more info on why this is effective, check out our Puppy 101: Positive Reinforcement Techniques article.)

4. Be attentive and aware.
Learn your puppy’s signals that she wants to go outside, such as sniffing, whining, or pawing at the door.

Ultimately, providing a set routine is the most important factor for success. Being consistent about timing, location, key phrases, and rewards will provide structure and a relaxed, steady environment that will be very helpful with housetraining.

Especially when you’re still trying to establish this routine, close supervision is essential, and confinement can be helpful. Close supervision means you can observe her signals, while confinement to a small area will limit the locations in which she can possibly have accidents. Plus, she’ll be close enough for you to pick her up if you notice her trying to eliminate in an undesirable location.

Accidents happen: how to respond

Remember, as the human in this situation, it’s up to you to be vigilant and help your puppy get to the right bathroom spot. But accidents do happen and are simply a part of the learning process. Just keep in mind that there’s a right way and a wrong way for you to respond.

If you witness your puppy in the act of having an accident indoors, remember that you should NEVER physically punish her in response. This could make her afraid of eliminating in front of people altogether. A loud clap, spray from a water bottle, or verbal command such as a firm “No!” is a more acceptable expression of disapproval.

Immediately after she stops eliminating in the wrong spot, quickly take her to her established bathroom spot. Once she successfully pees or poops there, reward her with lots of praise and treats.

If you did not catch her in the act, ignore the accident altogether, as this particular opportunity to correct her behavior has passed. Clean the area thoroughly and try to neutralize it with sprays or a cleaning solution, because leaving trace odors of urine or feces will confuse your puppy: only the “right” locations for eliminating should smell like waste. Dogs do not like to eliminate in their sleeping or eating areas, so placing food bowls or bedding in previously soiled areas (after you’ve cleaned up) will discourage future accidents in those locations.

Housetraining is considered “complete” after your puppy has gone 4 to 8 weeks without an accident. Until then, it might be helpful to keep your puppy within view at all times, or in a small area such as a crate.

That brings us to our next topic: crate training.

The key to successful housetraining is repetition and reward.

What is crate training?

We encourage crate training for a number of reasons, but primarily because it provides a safe space for your pup when you have to leave her unsupervised. This is comforting for your pet and gives you peace of mind, as well. Child-proof gates, secure cupboards and garbage cans, and clearing or covering electrical equipment are good ideas when it comes to securing your home and pet, but you should consider using crate training in conjunction with those safeguards.

Another bonus? Animals do not like to urinate or defecate where they sleep, especially if it’s a small space. This will encourage your puppy to “hold it” until you’re able to take her to an established elimination spot. (Just remember that you never want your puppy or dog to “hold it” for too long, as it’s not healthy for them.)

How to crate train your puppy

1. Pick the right crate size.
Choose a crate that’s big enough for your puppy to stand up and turn around in when the door is closed. However, it shouldn’t be so big that she feels free to urinate and defecate in it. Think cozy, but not claustrophobic.

2. Pick a quiet place for the crate.
The crate should be kept in a quiet, calm part of your home, where there’s not a lot of activity. A den, spare bedroom, or area with no windows may be ideal. Of course, not all of us have that option, so be creative when establishing a separate, quiet area for your pet’s crate.

3. Introduce your puppy to the crate.
Use a command such as “Go to bed” (or even simply “Crate”) as you guide your puppy into the crate, and use the same command every time. (Remember what we said about consistency!) Do this after an exercise or play session, not when she has a lot of energy or playfulness. Tempt her inside using toys and treats, and once she’s in, give her lots of praise and treats as a reward. Positive reinforcement at every turn!

When you’re just starting out, you’ll want to stay nearby—you need to practice crating her before leaving her in the crate on her own for real.

4. Ignore bad crate behavior.
Especially when you’re just starting out, your puppy will probably vocalize, whine, and scratch. Do not acknowledge this behavior or let her out in response, because it will teach her that whenever she wants to be let out of the crate, she should repeat this undesirable behavior.

If your puppy stops the bad behavior when you tell her to, you may release her from the crate and provide praise and treats.

This step requires patience—both for you and your pup!

5. Be consistent and observant, especially early on.
Until housetraining is complete, let your pup out of the crate every few hours to take her to her special bathroom spot. If you see her showing signals that she needs to go outside, don’t ignore this.

6. Prepare yourself for possible anxiety.
If your pup is very anxious and showing no progress with crate training, you can try a special dog-calming pheromone diffuser. These pheromones are chemicals released by animals that have a soothing effect. You won’t be able to smell them, but some dogs find them to be calming.

7. Never use your crate for punishment.
Do not use the crate as a “sin bin” or place for punishment. It is meant to be a safe space for your pet where she can rest; she should want to go there. Using it for punishment will create a negative association with the crate, and she will begin to resist being confined there.

Training a puppy isn’t easy or fast. It requires patience, routine, and lots of praise and rewards at the right times. All puppies learn differently and at different paces, but with time, you’ll be rewarded with a dog who knows exactly when and where to go. If you’re finding it difficult to fit housetraining into your lifestyle or schedule, consider puppy classes or trainers to help with the process. And for more help or advice, don’t hesitate to ask a member of the Small Door team!

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