Pet Articles

Housebreaking and Crate Training

Dog training basics – Crate training and house training your dog or puppy


Using the kennel crate method of housebreaking your puppy or dog is probably the most effective and most humane method available. It is endorsed by most veterinarians and animal behaviourists. As a side benefit the crate will also become your best method for preventing destructive behavior. In the wild, dogs are creatures that spend a lot of time in their dens. They enjoy the security of a small area of their own. The majority of dogs also have a natural instinct that keeps them from soiling their den area. This really makes crate training an easy way to housebreak dogs.

First you should choose a crate only large enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down. If the crate is too large, your dog will soil one corner and rest comfortably in another, and you will not have success housebreaking. Most people buy a crate that is large enough for the adult dog that their puppy will grow into. For this reason you may have to block off the rear of the crate so it is the correct size for the puppy, which can be done simply by inserting a cardboard box of the right size in the back of the crate. Many dog prefer the security and privacy of plastic airline crates. Wire crates have the advantage of being collapsible for travel but you should drape a towel over the top to give the dog the illusion of privacy. The crate should be located in a quiet area. Avoid high traffic areas like kitchens, hallways and doorways. A good place is in your bedroom, where your dog can have the security of your presence at night. During the day you might want to move it into a corner of the living room.

Although most pups accept the crate easily, there are some that have to be convinced that it is a good place to be. The quickest way to teach this is with food treats. Begin by placing treats in the crate for your dog to find, and soon your dog will go into the crate on his own in search of treats. The next step is to lure your dog into the crate with a treat, giving a command. I use “In your house” while a friend of mine uses “Denning time”.

For adult dogs who are just learning to use the crate, and for the occasional puppy that is insecure, it may help to gradually them used to remaining there. At first shut the door for a few seconds, give your dog a treat and allow him out; gradually increase the time the door stays shut with your dog inside. When your dog is comfortable staying in the crate with the door shut, try leaving the room for a few moments. Return, give him a treat and let your dog out. As with the other steps, gradually increase the time away from the pet. Only stay away as long as your dog is still comfortable in the crate at first.

Especially at night it is important not to return to a whining dog to ‘offer comfort’. If you do you will end up with a dog that whines and cries whenever it wants you near. Instead, return to your dog when it is quiet, and the next time return before the whining starts. In addition, try not to make returning to your dog too exciting, or you will exaggerate your absence and possibly contribute to separation anxiety in your dog. Just quietly greet him with something like “Hi pup!” Then open kennel door and quietly walk away. The most important thing to remember is the crate must be a safe haven for your dog. Never punish in the crate or use the crate for punishment. Eventually, if you leave the crate door open the pup will start to voluntarily use it for naps or quiet time. (My dogs use it to escape the frenetic attention of my youngest grandchildren).

If the pup is comfortable with the crate housebreaking is fairly straightforward. Feeding must be on a strict schedule. If you feed him at the same times each day your dog will soon eliminate on a fairly reliable schedule. This will allow you to anticipate when he will need to go outside and eliminate. Young puppies and untrained dogs need to go outside after napping or being crated for a while, since increases in activity often trigger elimination. This means that the first thing in the morning when you take him out of the crate he has to get a chance to eliminate. After a long night, puppies often can’t even make it to the door before they have to go, so you may have to carry him to the door for a week or so. Sometimes just actively playing, eating or drinking large amounts of water, can also trigger elimination in a pup.

Your dog should be taken out on leash to the same designated spot each time. Choose this spot carefully. This is not walk time or play time; stand in approximately the same spot and wait for your dog to eliminate. If he does, praise him enthusiastically. Don’t immediately rush back into the house with him or he will learn to hold on and not eliminate so that he can get more time outdoors. Instead walk a few minutes or give him a minute or two of playtime. Don’t fully clean up the spot, but leave a trace of urine or feces to provide a scent that will remind the pup what he is supposed to do there.

You may find it useful to crate your dog or puppy whenever you can’t be available to supervise it and to prevent accidents. When you are able to supervise your dog and take it out on schedule, you should be able to prevent accidents by keeping an eye on your dog. Housebreaking is for the most part owner training, where you learn your dog’s schedule to avoid accidents. However, the more successful, praised elimination outside, the quicker your dog will become housebroken.

There may be an occasional “accident” in the house with young pups. If there is one don’t hit him, yell at him or rub his nose in it. The dog won’t make the connection between your punishment and his earlier behavior. This means the dog may learn to be afraid of you, or the simple situation where you approach him. Simply clean up the mess and then use a commercial odour eliminator (like Natures Miracle or other enzyme containing products) or simply clean the area with white vinegar. Don’t use products containing ammonia, since that smells enough like urine that it actually attracts the dog to eliminate in that place again.

If you actually catch your dog in the act of eliminating inside the house, interrupt him and take him outside to the proper place (without harsh words or punishment). If he eliminates outside, praise him. Remember to be patient, some dogs take longer than others to housebreak do. If your dog is slow at housebreaking, check with your vet since dogs that are ill or suffering from parasites often have elimination problems. If you are consistent, watchful, and use the crate, the dog will usually be housebroken in couple of weeks. An occasional “accident” will usually be your fault, for leaving the pup too long, or not keeping to the routine. If so, just take a breath, clean it up, and remember that this phase of life will quickly pass.

© Copyright Stanley Coren, reproduction by permission only.

13 Responses to this Article, So Far

  1. Hi Stanley, I just wanted to say that this is a greatly written article. All the dogs I have had have been crate trained and it was probably the best thing I could have ever done to housebreak them. And it’s amazing that if you do it right and really treat their crate as a safe haven, they will always go sleep in their crate when they are adults and you don’t even have to close the cage.

  2. Avatar claire scott says:

    We have a rather large fenced in yard. When I take my puppy out to eliminate, as soon as he is through, he dives for twigs,leaves, grass, anything he can chew.

    I am concerned if he swallows this stuff he will get ill. Am I correct?
    Right now we have a horrible time getting this stuff out of his mouth.

    • Avatar Marko says:

      Hmmm interesting one.

      many dogs can eat weird things without harm – but if your dog eats “anything” then YES what he eats could become foreign body obstruction and require surgery.

      If he is a chewer, maybe have a chew toy, ball, something the dog loves to chew right after elimination? Just a thought.
      Good luck!

  3. Avatar abbie says:

    my dog is peeing at least 3 times every 15 mins, how long during the day should he be in the crate to help house training? I praise him when he goes out and pees he has been checked by the vet and they say it is behaviour. he is 4 months old now and we have been trying for weeks to get him house trained.

  4. Avatar kari says:

    I have been trying to crate train my puppy for just over a month now, for about the last month he eliminates in his crate every night, some nights 3 times. I don’t feed him past 5:00pm and still having problems. The crate is too big but I have tried making it smaller and he still eliminated in the crate. He only seems to wake me up to clean it up after he is done, never before. During the day he always goes to the door and rarely has accidents inside. Any suggestions to break this night time habit? It is very hard not too scold him after so many endless nights of cleaning.

    • Avatar Marko says:

      You left out the MOST important part. How old is your puppy and what breed?
      Small dogs have smaller bladders and big dogs have bigger bladders.
      A very general rule is the number of months plus 1 equals in hours how long a puppy can “hold it in”.
      So a 4 month old puppy can often hold it in for 5 hours but NOT always.

      Also – take the water away about an hour before bedtime and no water in the crate.

      Scolding your puppy for this is 100% USELESS because your puppy can’t associate the scolding with peeing in the crate.
      Imagine if someone punished YOU and you did not understand why.
      It would only make you more fearful of this person and would cause you anxiety. An increase in anxiety makes some animals and humans urinate.
      The ONLY time to scold a dog is WHILE the event is happening or just before it is happening. 10 seconds after it happens is too late and continuing the scold will cause you more problems.

      Good luck!

    • Avatar abbie says:

      I finally got my puppy house trained and crate trained it is really hard not to scold them and its frustrating!! The size of the crate is most likely the problem When I asked my vet what to do they highly recommend that the kennel is the right size and is only big enough for them to stand in and be able to fully turn around in. I found when i put my puppy in a smaller crate he never peed in it again. he has toys in there and a mat that he lays on but they tend to be distracted from wanting to pee in their own space especially if it is confined enough that it will bother him!

    • Avatar kari says:

      My puppy is a 3 month old German Short Hair Pointer, the past few nights have been getting better. I get up every couple hours to make him go out. Last night he woke me up twice to go out! yeah, I think we have made progress. Thanks for the help.

  5. Avatar Hayley says:

    I have a 16month old Poma-poo who refuses to tell you when she has to go when she is at home or in the home of others. In the Car, no issues, she will tell you loud and clear. I know I am to blame for this problem. when she first came to me (5wks old) she had a severe urinal track and kidney infection so I was incredibly passive about accidents. It wasnt her fault and I knew it. She was on medication and special food for months. in this time she would use a pee mat 30%, there was alot of misses. Finaly she was all better, but it was too late, I allowed her accidents in the house to be forgiven for so long that teaching her the opposite seems impossible. With this in mind the better part of last summer the accidents were minimal since we were outside from sun up to sun down. but once the cold wheather hit and snow fell, the accidents became full time. she refuses to use the pee mat, I taped them to the entire floor where she does her thing, she ripes them off to go underneath,. She refuses to pee if the snow can touch her “Spot”. She always sneeks away to the second floor, it always in the hallway or boys rooms. she will not do it downstairs were we always are or on the 3rd floor which is my room, or in carpeted areas like the stairs. Ive tried crate training but this seems to create more stress for her than anything, and more accidents. what can I do??

  6. Avatar roseann says:

    I have a 4yr Yorkie. He tells me when he needs to go out when Im here but my problem is when Im not. I always let him out before I leave. I have tried pee pads, newspaper, even a litter box. He uses them for a little while then starts will go anywhere. I do keep him gated in the kitchen. I have taken him to the spot where he has peed and not said a work and now I yell at him. I know this is wrong and I love him very much but Im very frustrated with him. When he doesnt pee I reward him eigher by treat or just me loving him up. I never catch him in the act because like I said Its only when Im not home. What can I do. before I get rid of him and I dont want to.

  7. Avatar Julie says:

    We just rescued 2 golden retirevers (Mom 5 and dtr 3 years old) – The mother is house trained and very good indoors. The pup however is terrible. She cowers down if you even try to talk sternt to her so we assume she was prob not housebroken at the previous owners and that is the real reason they put the two in the yard and made them outside dogs. (we were told that they had to much hair in the house) yeah right. Well she will sneak around and go to the bathroom even though she has just been outside and gone both poo and pee. When you find it she cowers down and acts like you are gonna beat the hell out of her. We started crating both of them today. We have had them just 2 weeks. And there were just a few accidents here and there and we did not know which dog it was until the pup squated and did both right in front of me. Now it has gotten to where this morning we woke up and it was all over the dining room. I crated them today and neither one knew the routine. So I assume that they were never crate trained. Any suggestions on how to keep up with these two and make this a little easier. We have gated the back of the house and the basement so they cannot get down there. SO she just goes any where she thinks you will not find it. I know our other goldens we crate trained and it was not this bad. Otherwise both are sweet girls. I feel bad crating them when my other golden (she is 13) is not being crated.

  8. Avatar Mario says:

    Wow…. nice work I can almost see my self doing this steps as I read. I will come back to share my results. Thanx.

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