I grew up in a hunting family where our dogs (various retriever and pointer breeds) were tools of the trade rather than integral parts of our family’s daily lives like they are for most families today. Dog training back then was much more akin to a caveman using sticks and stones to train his pet wolf. In my day, house training a puppy involved a rolled up newspaper, a smack on the rump, and dragging the poor unsuspecting puppy over to a pile of poop that he just left in the middle of the kitchen and sticking his nose in it in the hope that the little guy got the message. The problem was that our puppy didn’t have any idea that the kitchen was not a place to relieve himself so he was left confused, scared, and not any closer to being house trained.
Fortunately, house training has come a long way since the stone ages that I came from! Gone are the rolled up newspapers, the pee pads, and months of frustration trying to house train your puppy! I am going to tell you about a process for house training your puppy (or dog) that is both easy on you and perfectly natural for your puppy. It all begins with a crate…
Note: in this article we refer to the puppy as “he” only for simplicity sake – there is no bias – we just didn’t want to be offensive and call the puppy “it”.
Why Crate Train
Crate training is one of the cornerstones for developing a puppy you can live with and is by far the easiest way to house train your new puppy. It not only reinforces the concept of cleanliness to the puppy but also provides a welcome refuge for your puppy after an exciting play session and a safe haven while taking your puppy on a trip to the pet store in your car or while recuperating from an injury or surgery.
Some of the advantages of using a crate:
- Make house training easy since dogs avoid soiling where they sleep.
- Provide your puppy with a den that provides security and privacy when they need a break from the world.
- Feel confident that nothing in your home will be ruined or soiled when you cannot watch your puppy.
If you follow a disciplined approach to introducing your puppy to the crate, you will have very few, if any accidents, and you will be surprised how quickly your puppy is hanging out in the crate just for a quick “cat nap”!
Crate Training Leads to Successful House training
First let me dispel a few myths about dog crates. A dog crate is not inhumane. It is not a cage for keeping zoo animals. A crate is not a place where you stick your puppy when he has been bad. On the contrary a crate can actually become your puppy’s favorite place to “get away from it all”. A crate acts as a den that satisfies a deep seeded need for all dogs big and small.
It is also a very helpful tool to help with house training since dogs typically don’t soil where they sleep. The puppy should be in its crate whenever you cannot watch it. As soon as you let the puppy out of the crate, you should take him outside. Dogs like routine and soon will get used to loving his crate and understanding when and where to relieve himself.
Before you introduce your puppy to his new home, it is important that you have a well-thought-out plan to ensure success. We follow this with every new Labrador we bring home.
- Health. Make sure your puppy has had an examination by your vet to insure there are no medical problems (like worms or bladder infection) that are impeding your house training progress.
- Crate. Buy a crate that will fit the adult sized version of your puppy. For our Labradors we use a crate that’s approximately 36” x 25” x 26” for girls and approximately 40” x 27” x 30” for boys. Set your crate up so the puppy has just enough room to lie down and turn around. Dogs will not naturally soil where they sleep. We use a pillow, milk crate, or large stuffed animal to fill up the crates we have in our home.
- “Security”. Prior to bringing a puppy home we give the breeder an old t-shirt, towel, or even a plush puppy toy to put in the puppy area so it will pick up the scent of the puppies. We use this article as a puppy security blanket to put into the crate. Having the scent of the pack will help lower the stress of your puppy, especially in the first few days in his new home. A safe chew toy of some sort to keep the puppy occupied while he is in the crate is always a good idea.
- Location, Location, Location. Choose the best place for the crate in your home. We recommend putting the crate in an area where the puppy can observe household activities like the family room so he does not feel isolated or lonely and gets used to all the new sounds of your home.
Food, Water, and Play.
- Food. Puppies typically eat 3 times a day; by feeding them at the same time and establishing a routine in going outside after eating, this speeds up the process. Always feed your puppy in his crate. This helps associate the crate with good things. At your puppy’s mealtime just coax the puppy into the crate and set down the bowl of food. Presto! The process has begun. Note: After you feed an 8 week old puppy you can expect it to relieve itself within 15-20 minutes. So take him outside after eating.
- Water. During the day, the puppy should always have access to fresh water. After they drink a lot of water, it’s a good idea to take him outside. Also, when letting the puppy out of the crate, immediately offer it some water (this helps guarantee success when you take the puppy outside to relieve himself). [Limit water intake after 6:00 pm if you want your puppy to sleep through the night.]
- Play. Puppies love to play! After every play session, let the puppy have some water, then take him out to relieve himself. When the tired puppy comes inside, put him in his crate to rest. Having your new pup good and tired when you put him in the crate makes for an easier transition than taking a highly energetic pup in a crate and attempting to have it settle down.
- Location, Location, Location. Identify a place in your yard where your puppy will relieve itself. Always visit this place first when taking your puppy outside. The scent will remind him what he’s there to do and will expedite his learning. We highly recommend that you use a leash and a collar when you take your puppy out as it will help you control where the puppy relieves itself.
- On-Demand. Agree on a command to give your puppy for relieving itself. When the puppy begins to relieve itself say your command (we use “hurry-up”) and offer lots of praise. Eventually the pup associates the command with relieving itself. Everyone in the family should use this command – consistently. This comes in very handy when you’re traveling with your dog, at dog shows, or in a hurry yourself.
House training itself is a very simple process and if followed consistently will very quickly develop a reliable puppy. Remember every puppy is an individual and will learn at a different pace. In our experience, if you follow the guidelines in this article you should have a reliable puppy within 4-6 weeks of coming home. Below are hopefully helpful responses to common questions asked during house training and crate training.
- How long should is it safe to leave my puppy in his crate? For young pups, a rule of thumb for the length of time they can “hold it” is approximately an hour for each month of age. For example, you will want to make sure your 3-month old pup gets a chance to relieve himself every 3 hours or so. Many young pups begin to sleep through the night without having to get up once they get used to a routine and water is not allowed past 6 pm. They will be sure to let you know if they need to relieve themselves.
- What if my puppy doesn’t relieve himself when I take him out? If your puppy does not relieve itself after taking it outside, put him back in the crate for 10 minutes and follow the previously described steps until you have success. You want to catch your puppy in the act of doing something good – relieving himself outside – an then lavish praise.
- What if my puppy whines when I put him in the crate? Some puppies will whine in their crates initially, especially when they first come home. If they have just been outside and you’re sure they do not have to relieve themselves, tap on the crate and say “no”. Do this a couple of times if necessary and the puppy should get the idea. At night, we tend to keep the crate near the side of the bed initially and hang our hand over the side of the bed so the puppy can feel some security. It is a bit of an art to know the difference between an “I want attention” whine and “I need to go out” whine. The best way to avoid any issues is to make sure your puppy is well exercised so it is tired when it goes into the crate.
- How should I punish my puppy if he has an accident? You don’t! Accidents are not your puppy’s fault! A puppy should never be punished for an accident that has already happened as he does not know what he has done wrong. See next item.
- What if my puppy starts to relieve himself on the kitchen floor? If you see your puppy start to relieve itself in your home, a loud scream (higher pitch seems to work better) will likely stop it from continuing. Immediately pick up the puppy and take him to the designated area and see if he will finish his business. Offer your command and praise when he does so.
- My puppy had an accident in his crate even though I only gave him enough room to lie down and turn around. What should I do now? Take the puppy out of the crate, offer it some water, and take it to his spot to relieve himself. They key here is to clean the crate thoroughly and replace the crate pad. We want to make sure that there is no urine or feces odor in the crate. Make sure the area is just big enough for the puppy to sleep in. This will discourage any accidents. It may take a little time but the puppy will start to understand that he should keep this area clean.
- I bought my puppy a wire crate for the house so he could get plenty of air and see what’s going on around him, but he never seems to rest with all the activity around him. What can I do? We put a blanket or towel over the crate to block out some of the activity along with lots of play time. A puppy that is well exercised is a tired puppy!
Parting tip: We have this mantra ingrained at our house and we hope you and your family will adopt it as well – “when in doubt, take him out” (WIDTHO). For example, you may think that your son just took him out or you seem to recall it was only an hour ago he was out and he couldn’t possibly want to go again after playing a little more or you can’t recall if he drank a lot of water. If you’re not sure, what should you do? WIDTHO. This will save you a lot of grief and gets in a little aerobics to boot!
Please feel free to share any house training tips you have with fellow readers by commenting below.