A popular method of housetraining involves the use of a crate or cage. The often–stated reasoning is that the animal is placed in a cage that is just large enough to be a bed. Dogs don’t like to soil their beds for they would be forced to lay in the mess. It works and while in these confines most pups will control their bladder and bowels for a longer time than we would expect. Start out with no more than 45 minutes or an hour at a time and gradually increase the time your puppy spends in the crate. If your dog has an ‘accident’ (urinates/defecates in the crate), just clean it up and forget about it. You do not want to create an aversion to the crate and it is not the dog’s fault. You have left him/her in the crate too long.
During housetraining, whenever the puppy is inside the home but can’t be watched, place him/her in the crate. This might be while you are cooking, reading to the children or even away from the home. The last thing you do before you put the puppy in the crate is take him outside to his favorite spot. The first thing you do when you take the animal out of the crate is another trip outside. No food or water goes in the crate, just a blanket and maybe a chew toy to occupy his time. Overnight is definitely crate time but remember to gradually increase the time your puppy spends in the crate (see above). As your faith in the puppy grows, leave him out for longer and longer periods of time.
Most people do not recognize an important advantage of crate training. It does more than just stop the animal from messing in the house. It also teaches the puppy something very important. The puppy learns that when the urge to urinate or defecate occurs, he can hold it. Just because the pup feels like he needs to relieve himself, the pup learns that he doesn’t have to. This is thought to be the main reason why puppies that have gone through crate training have fewer mistakes later on.
This method involves no papers, pads or crates. Rather you choose to spend all the time necessary with the puppy. This works very well for people who live and work in their homes, retired persons or in situations where the owners are always with the animal. Whenever they see the puppy doing his “pre–potty pattern” they hustle him outside. It is important that the dog is watched at all times and that no mistakes are allowed to occur. This method has less room for error as there is nothing like a cage to restrict the animal’s urges. When she is taken outside, watch the puppy closely and as soon as all goes as planned, she should be praised and then brought back inside immediately. You want the dog to understand that the purpose for going outside was to go to the bathroom. Don’t start playing, make it a trip for a reason. Verbal communications help this method and we’ll discuss them soon. For those with the time, this is a good method. We still recommend having a crate available as a backup when the owners have to be away from the animal.
Specific verbal communications will also help the two of you understand what’s desired. It’s an excellent idea to always use a word when it’s time to head to the bathroom. We like “Outside?”. Remember that whenever you use a verbal command or signal, it’s important that everybody in the family always uses the same word in the same way. Think of the word “Outside” in this situation not only as a question you’re asking the pup but also as an indication that you want to go there. Some dogs may get into the habit of going to the door when they want to go outside. This is great when it happens but it isn’t as common as some believe. We’ve found that it is better to use verbal commands to initiate this sort of activity rather than waiting for the puppy to learn this behavior on his own. It seems like your consistent use of a word or phrase like “Outside” will cause the puppy to come to you rather than the door when he needs to go outside. The pup more quickly sees you as part of the overall activity of getting him where he needs to go. We believe this is much better.
Once outside we try to encourage them to get on with the act in question. You can use “Do It”, “Potty” or “Hurry Up”. As soon as they eliminate it is very important to praise then with a “Good Dog” and then come back inside immediately. Again, make this trip that started outside with a specific word “Outside” be for a purpose. If we are taking the pup out to play with a ball or go for a walk we won’t use this word even if we know they will eliminate while we are outside.
When an “Accident” Happens
One of the key issues in housetraining is to follow Rule Number One: If you don’t catch your puppy doing it then there is nothing you can do. We don’t care what someone else may tell you or what you read, if you find a mess that was left when you weren’t there, clean it up and forget it.
Discipline won’t help because unless you catch the puppy in the act, he/she will have no idea what the scolding is for. Your puppy has urinated and defecated hundreds of times before he met you. Mom or someone else always cleaned it up. Nobody made a fuss before and they will not put the punishment, regardless of its form, together with something they’ve done without incident numerous times before. Especially if they did it more than 30 seconds ago! Puppies are just like children. Unless something was really fun (and a repetitious act like going to the bathroom isn’t), they are not thinking about what they did in the past. They’re thinking about what they can do in the future. At this point in their life a puppy’s memory is very, very poor.
Anyway, let’s face it. It was your fault not the pup’s. If you had been watching, you would have noticed the puppy suddenly walking or running around in circles with his nose down smelling for the perfect spot to go to the bathroom. It’s just as consistent as the taxi cab driver behind you honking immediately when the light changes. The puppy will show the same behavior every time. It may vary a little from pup to pup but they always show their own “pre–potty pattern” before the act.
The same should be said as to your first reaction when you actually catch them in the act of urinating or defecating. It’s your fault, you weren’t watching for or paying attention to the signals. Don’t get mad. Quickly, but calmly pick them up and without raising your voice sternly say “No. Carry them outside. It will help to push their tail down while you are carrying them as this will often help them to stop urinating or defecating any more.
They’re going to be excited when you get them outside, but stay there with them a while and if they finish the job reward them with simple praise like “Good Dog.”
In the disciplining of dogs, just like in physics, every action has a reaction and for training purposes these may not be beneficial! If you overreact and severely scold or scare the heck out of a puppy for making what is in your mind a mistake, your training is probably going backwards. With housetraining this is especially difficult for them to understand as they are carrying out a natural body function. Carried one step farther is the idea of rubbing a puppy’s nose into a mistake he made, whether you caught him or not. In the limits of a puppy’s intelligence, please explain to us the difference of rubbing his nose in the mess he left in your kitchen an hour ago versus the one the neighbor’s dog left in the park two weeks ago. If the dog were smart enough to figure all of this out, the only logical choice would be to permanently quit going to the bathroom. Punishment rarely speeds up housetraining. Often it makes the dog nervous or afraid every time he/she needs to go to the bathroom.