Crate Training

crate training

Housebreaking is so much simpler this way as well, and if you are going to be traveling with your dog to show, to train or just to travel, he will always be safer and more comfortable in a crate. If he is ever ill or injured and needs to be confined, being comfortable in his crate will make healing that much less stressful.

Your puppy will have been introduced to the crate at home, so he will be familiar, and the transition should be easy. Start by feeding him there, and leaving the door open so he can go in and out during the day while you watch him. Later, after you have taken him out to relieve himself, put him in the crate for a short while, with a favorite toy or chew treat, and close the door. Don't make a fuss, just do it.

Leave him there a few minutes, and when he is quiet, go back and let him out. Again, do not make a big deal out of it, and don't reward him for coming out. We want him to think that being in the crate is a good thing. If he fusses and whines, don't correct him, just walk away and wait for him to be quiet. This takes great patience and strength of will, but is worth it, for if you feed into the tantrum by giving it attention-even negative attention, it will be difficult to get him to ever settle down. Wait for that short period of quiet, then go to the puppy, tell him "good quiet" and let him out, without fanfare. The good news is, that at worst this stage will take two to three days, but when it is done, it is done, and you will not have to deal with it again.

Repeat this exercise often over several days, continuing to ask for longer and longer periods of quiet before you let him out, and when you are getting a few uninterrupted minutes, toss a small treat into the crate while the puppy is still in there.

For housebreaking, it is important to remember that consistent reinforcement and timing are everything. Dogs are very habitual creatures, and tend to repeat behavior that is established. If you create a good habit from the beginning, you will not have to try to break a bad habit later.

Keeping him on a regular schedule feeding, water, and trips outside will make the process so much smoother than constantly catching him doing wrong and trying to punish him.

From 7-12 weeks, a schedule should be something like this:

  • First thing in the morning, outside to potty
  • Breakfast, then outside again
  • Play outside if possible, and praise him if you catch him going outside
  • Nap. Outside to go
  • Play inside, and watch for signs, then take him out before he errs
  • Lunch, go out
  • Repeat play, out-nap--0ut
  • Dinner, go outside
  • Do not feed or water within about 2 hours before bedtime
  • Into the crate for sleep
  • Out first thing in the morning

"First thing" means first thing. Do not stop and brush your teeth, take a shower, or pass Go and collect $200. Take the puppy right outside, preferably carried or on leash, so you don't have any accidents on the way.

With very young puppies, you may need to get up and take him out once or twice during the night. Put the crate near your bed, so you can hear the puppy if he gets restless.

Try to distinguish between just wanting to get out and really needing to go. If you do take him out, do not play with or feed him, or give much attention, or you will have him "summoning" you for a play and treat session any time he gets bored. Keep the outing short and simple, and put him right back in his crate as soon as he does his business, so he understands the purpose of the trip.

Properly raised working type dogs are generally very clean and do not want to soil where they sleep, so make sure your crate is the appropriate size for your puppy. If you put an 8- week old in a 500 size Extra Large crate, he may see this as the great outdoors, and have room to potty in one end and sleep in the other. You want the crate to be just big enough for him to stand up and turn around in, not do laps. If you don't want to have to buy two crates, then put a cardboard box or other barrier inside the bigger crate to create the smaller sleeping space until the puppy grows into it.

At 8-12 weeks, your puppy will need to go out several times a day. Rather than waiting for him to make a "mistake" and punishing him, set him up to do the right thing so you can praise him, and the results will be twice as fast. Puppies need to go out at the following times:

  • Immediately after waking up from a nap
  • After playing vigorously
  • Right after eating or drinking
  • About every half hour give or take

Do not leave the puppy unattended, and don't assume he will let you know if he has to go. Watch him closely, and when you see the signs, like sniffing the ground, or leaving what he is doing to go toward the edge of the room, get his attention, and encourage him to follow you outside. I ask mine " Want to go outside?" and take them out to the designated spot.

If you want, you can teach him to go in just one area of your yard by taking him there every time. Tell him " Hurry up" or " Take a Break" or "Go Potty" or whichever phrase you want to use, and then wait. When he goes, praise him and give him a treat.

You can minimize the distractions by either putting up a small fence, like and exercise pen, around this area, or taking him there on leash. He may want to play or explore at first, but the less attention you give those behaviors, the quicker they will fade and he will remember what his 'mission" is.

If the puppy makes a mistake in the house, and you were not watching him, do the following: Pick up a newspaper, roll it into a tight baton, and go into the bathroom. Look in the mirror and hit yourself in the head several times with the newspaper, repeating " Bad owner. Bad, bad owner. I forgot to watch my puppy".

Prevention is the best cure, but if the puppy starts to go while you are watching him, don't charge at him and startle him. Just do something to interrupt the process. Clap your hands to get his attention, and tell him "no!" and then go to the puppy and scoop him up and take him outside immediately. It may take him a few minutes to re-focus his attention, but then he should do his business and get praised. With attentiveness on your part and some good timing, this process will not take long, and when it is done, it is done.

You should not expect your puppy to be able to hold it for long periods at an early age, but by the time he is five or six months, he should be fine for a few hours in the house with supervision.

Copyright 2003 Julia Priest

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