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Potty & Crate Training

By Steven @ K9 Domain
This page will be covering the subject of house breaking. You will find much information to help minimize accidents. In addition, seeing how crate training is an effective tool in house breaking, some guidelines to successful crate training will be provided here too.

From experience and from observations on forums, I have noted that potty training can be a real nuisance as well as a puzzling problem. Potty issues are usually noted with puppies 11 months and under (roughly).

There is absolutely no reason to panic if a puppy is having accidents in the house, nor is this a reason to think that your puppy is not “getting it”. I have seen many people come and ask for help on forums, seemingly at wits end because their 5-month-old puppy is having accidents in the house; there is no reason to panic. Young puppies do not have much control over their bladders and bowels, therefore they cannot hold it in for very long, and since (at the time) they probably have not been taught how to let you know they need to relieve themselves, they will just go whenever they feel the need. Puppies will generally gain better control over their systems about 8+ months. Some will gain this control earlier or later, it all depends on the individual dog and its environment. These accidents are not deserving of punishments, nor will they be mitigated by them. Allow me to draw a comparison with small children, isn’t it a fact that infants and small children don’t have control over the when and where they relieve themselves? One would not expect a child less than a year old (or even 2-3 years old) to be fully potty trained, so why should we expect much more out of a 5-month-old puppy, which would probably be the equivalent of a 1-2 year old child. Much relies on the way we deal with the problem and how much patience we have.

On a personal note, when I was training Sheetza (at the time 6 months), I was also training a 5 month old German shepherd mix named Tito. They were both very intelligent puppies, but they also had a common problem: they often relieved themselves inside the house. On an occasion, Tito and his owners were at my house while we were going over basic obedience commands, after which Tito took to investigating Sheetza completely obvious to the fact that he was urinating while he was walking, of course we had some cleaning up to do but we also put him outside so he could relieve himself outside. This just goes to show that sometimes pups just will not hold it in nor will they give notable warning. However, in my case, both pups eventually got the message that they were to go outside and do their business; accidents were almost inexistent by 8-9 months.

Now that it is clear that accidents are, for the most part, inevitable, what can you do to start training? What is most important is to create inhibitions, which is to say that you need to make it clear that going to the bathroom in the house is wrong. This is done by telling the dog “No” in a firm voice only if you catch the pup in the act of relieving itself in the house, then taking the puppy to the appropriate area where it should go to the bathroom. This “appropriate area” depends largely on the owner, and likely places could be a corner of the yard or potty pad in the house. If you do not designate a specific spot, usually a pooch will pick a spot themselves. Take note of where he picks his “potty area”, this way if you catch the pooch relieving itself inside you can take him to his spot.  After taking your puppy outside, stay there a considerable amount of time all the while encouraging him to go to the bathroom. When the pup does go to the bathroom, wait until after he is done and then praise profusely. If one praises the puppy while he is relieving himself, it might excite him and it is probable that he will not finish and may later decide to finish his business while indoors.

Accidents should not be the only time you take the pup outside. Let’s remember that since puppies can’t hold it for long, it would be appropriate to take the pup to his potty area after every meal, after play sessions, when you wake up, when you go to sleep, before crating (if you decide to crate train), and sometimes during the night. Whenever you see your puppy constantly sniffing a specific place, (especially if this is a spot where an accident occurred before) it would be advisable to take the pooch out quickly. To avoid reoccurring accidents in the same spot, make sure you are using an enzymatic cleaner. Simply washing with water will leave odors that encourage the pup to urinate there again; there are some cleaners that may contains chemicals that mimic scents that encourage urinating. Until your pup is potty trained, it would be best never to let the pup out of sight. Keep him on a lead attached to you (I have heard this is effective); in short, do not allow the pup to wander around the house unsupervised.

A myth worthy of dispelling is that rubbing the puppy’s nose in its accidents will help housebreak him. First of all, this is extremely disrespectful to the dog and will affect the bond that you share with him, not to mention that puppies having accidents are usually in their socialization period and may associate you with something unpleasant. Secondly, it only teaches the pups that it is bad to go to the bathroom when you are around, therefore actually catching and correcting the action will be harder. Back to the child analogy, it would be absolutely unthinkable to rub a child’s nose in their accidents in hopes of getting them to stop. Not only is it cruel but it is ineffective. Avoid this method and ignore it when it is advised to you, no canine knowledgeable person would advocate the use of this method.

If your dog is 12+ months and you have followed all the advice given to you regarding house breaking, and still your puppy is having accidents, consider getting your dog checked by a vet. Sometimes physical ailments, such as urinary track infections, are commonly an underlying cause for these accidents.

Adult dogs
So far we have considered house breaking when it comes to puppies, however sometimes house breaking includes adult dogs, too. The process of house breaking is no different for adults. The owner still needs to correct the dog when it is caught, needs to clean with enzymatic cleaners, needs to supervise the dog, and still needs to take the dog out to a specific spot on a regular basis. The reasons why accidents occur are a bit different compared to puppies. Dogs that are transitioning from being outside dogs to inside dogs will most likely have a couple accidents. New environments accompanied with being unfamiliar with the rules are usually the cause of urinating inside the house in these cases. Being unable to control their bowels or bladder should no longer be suspected unless we are talking about a senior dog or a dog with an illness.

Besides having accidents from our dachshund, Sheetza, we also had occasional accidents when we got Junior even though he was three years old. This was because Junior was strictly an outside dog before we got him. When he came to live with us he to stay inside at night and since he had no bathroom restrictions before, he continued thinking that it was ok from him to go wherever he pleased. After about a month, we were able to get him to stop because we let him know that going to the bathroom inside was unacceptable. After some time, Junior let us know that he had to go out by licking the door and constantly whining.

A more obscure cause for adult dogs having accidents is the environment in which it was raised. Dogs that were encaged for long periods of time with hardly ever being let out and having to live in their own urine/feces become difficult to house break. Dogs are clean creatures by nature especially when it comes to their sleeping area, however when they are forced (due to the environment) to soil their living quarters, their natural instinct of being clean is diminished. Dogs with these beginning tend to be hard to crate train too. That is why puppy mill dogs or dogs from poorly kept pet stores may be harder to potty train than most dogs. These will take a considerable greater amount of time and patience to housebreak.

Another easy and healthy way to help the housebreaking process is to take your dogs on regular walks. The majority of dogs will usually stop and relieve themselves out where other dogs will be able to take notice of their scent. This lessens the probability that an accident will occur inside the house. This will even work for puppies seeing how exercise and play stimulate the pup to relieve itself. When walking a puppy, take caution that you do not over-exercise; a puppy’s growing bones can be negatively affected with too much strain. If the puppy still does not have all of his vaccinations, try to walk the pup in areas less frequented by other dogs. Always remember to be a responsible dog owner and have the necessary equipment to pick up after your dog.

The other case where accidents may occur (with either puppies or adult dogs) is when you have a problem of marking. Marking is when a dog (usually male, but also noted in females) urinates in a specific spot to claim it as his. In these cases, firm training is needed because we are talking about dogs that are more dominant. Neutering male dogs will usually mitigate this problem, in the cases of females, it might make the problem worse but it all depends on the individual dog. Programs such as the NILIF can help establish (or re-establish) your role as leader and might stop the occurrence of these accidents (not technically accidents).

The last effective method to help in the housebreaking process is crating. The following section will give guidelines on possible ways to crate train.

Crate Training

When done correctly and used in appropriate circumstances, crate training can work wonders. Crate training is sometimes misunderstood and may be seen as cruel. The fact is that it is far from cruel because 1) no one is advocating crating a dog all day and 2) most dogs love their crates. Why do I say most dogs love them? I say this because dogs are, by nature, den animals. Dogs will feel comfortable and secure in their crate. However, some dogs do not like them because of past negative experiences or simply because the novelty of it. With these dogs, and any dog that is hesitant with the crate, it is important to take it slow and avoid being pushy. The dog has must be slowly conditioned to like the crate and view it as a place where it can to go be safe and unperturbed.

Getting Acquainted
Crate training is most successful when started with a puppy, but the following guidelines can be used with older dogs as long as more patience is put forth by the owner.

The first step is helping the pup getting acquainted with the crate and helping establish a positive association. This is done by placing a small enticing treat, such as a piece of ham, inside the crate and encouraging the pooch to get it. You can take it a step further and give the pup his dinner inside the crate. For these exercises, do not close the crate door nor step away, you must stay there to reassure the pup, but don‘t coddle him because he may think that there IS something to be afraid of. Maybe while playing fetch with a toy, you could throw the toy inside the crate once or twice just to get the pup accustomed to going in and out of the crate.

Next step is to get the pup inside and close the crate door. Placing a kong filled with tasty treats, rewards the pup for being alone and quiet. Do this for a couple minutes at a time, no extended periods of time yet. Maybe 2 minutes the first time, then 5 minutes later 10 minutes, etc. While placing the pup in the crate for these times, do not leave the room, but don’t stand in front of the crate either. Pretend you are doing something else and do are not paying too much attention to the crate, especially if the puppy is whining. You may let the puppy out once it has been in the crate for the designated time and as long as it is quite. If the puppy is constantly whining and he does not seem like he will stop, then wait for a moment where the whining or barking is not as bad to let him out. Try not to fuss over the puppy after releasing him from the crate is because it might start to look forward to being let out of the crate which may lead to whining or barking while crated. It is all right to praise the pup for doing a good job as long as it is done in a manner that will not excite the puppy.  If the pooch does not take well to the crate being closed, keep on trying to help him associate the crate with positive things.

After getting a pooch comfortable with the crate, it is time to put it in the appropriate place. The ideal area for a crate is in a corner of the room that is out of the way, yet not isolated, from human traffic.  The dog will most likely enjoy an area where he can observe everyone and monitor what is going on. Placing a sleeping matt in the crate (if potty trained) will make it all the much more comfortable to be in. Even if the pooch does not go in there willingly to retire, the pup is less likely to make a fuss when it is necessary to crate him.

There are a couple problems that may arise when crate training, probably the most common is barking and whining. It is of utmost important never to give in and take the puppy out in order to stop its fussing. If we take out a puppy when it is whining, it teaches him that it can get out by whining, causing more persistent whining the next time he is crated. Feeding it tidbits will also reinforce the effectiveness of barking or whining. For noisy pups it is just a matter of ignoring it until it quiets down (easier said than done, I know). If the pup is taken out when it is quiet, this teaches the puppy that it will get what it wants if it is quiet. However if the puppy is quiet for a time and all of the sudden starts to whine, suspect that he might need to go to the bathroom, and take him outside quickly and without much fuss.

Sometimes the reassuring presence of an owner will be enough to stop the constant whining. Putting the crate in the owner’s room is an option. If this alternative is not convenient in your particular circumstance, another reassuring method is to take clothing with your scent (such as a sweater) and place it in the crate with the pup. If you have just recently acquired your puppy from its litter, the most probable thing is that your scent will not be as comforting as the scent of its littermates. In this case give the breeder a blanket or cloth that can be put near the litter to acquire its scent, this way when it comes times to take the puppy, it has something familiar to help cope with the change. Placing this blanket wrapped around a bottle of warm water (to imitate the warmth of the litter) in the crate might do wonders to quiet down a puppy and get it very comfortable with its crate. If for some reason the pup takes to chewing and shredding whatever you place in the crate yet isn‘t quiet without it, then simply place the blanket over the crate to allow the scent to soothe the pup but also prevent the him from chewing on it.

Potty Training
Using a crate to help with the house breaking process has helped many dog owners teach their dogs where it should be relieving itself. Avoid unintentionally setting up your puppy for failure. Do not feeding or give the pup water prior to crating. Next step is to get a crate that is the right size, there should only be room enough for the pup to get up, turn around, and lay down. If there is excess room in the crate the pup might see fit to use one side of the crate to sleep while using the other side to relieve itself. If a crate you possess is already too big, use a divider to cut down the size. It would be best to purchase a crate that will be just the right size for the dog when it is grown up, meanwhile using the divider while he is a puppy.  As stated in the house breaking guidelines, a dog is a clean creature by nature, and will avoid soiling its sleeping quarters if at all possible. If you allow the pup to go out and relieve itself in the proper place and do not feed it before crating, the pup will learn where it is ok to go to the bathroom quicker.

Seeing how young puppies have little control over their system, there might be occasional accidents in the crate; therefore, it will be considerate to use a crate with a bottom with holes to avoid having the pup sit in its own waste.  Check the crate every now and then to make sure that the puppy hasn’t soiled it. Unless it is time to go to sleep, it would be best not to leave the puppy inside his crate for long periods of time. If you must go to work and the puppy has to stay in his crate, designate someone you trust to come and check on the pooch allowing him to go out and relieve himself.

Final Note
These are the most common tips that are given to people seeking advice regarding potty training. All in all, the tools that will make potty training most successful are much patience on the owner’s part and a bit of time. Setting down the rules helps avoid confusing which goes a long way for the puppy.

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