The crate method of housebreaking your puppy or dog is the most effective and most humane method available. It is endorsed by most veterinarians and animal behaviorists. The crate will also become your best method for preventing destructive behavior. Dogs are den creatures that enjoy the security of a small area of their own. Most dogs also have a natural instinct keeping them from soiling their den area, which makes crate training an easy way to housebreak dogs.

The Crate

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. If purchasing a crate large enough for a puppy to grow into block off the rear of the crate so it is the correct size for the puppy. Many dog prefer the security and privacy of plastic airline crates, but wire crates have the advantage of being collapsible for travel. If you choose a wire crate, remove your dog's collar before crating to prevent it from getting caught and possibly strangling the dog. The crate should be located in an area allowing your dog some privacy; avoid high traffic areas like kitchens, hallways and doorways. An ideal place is in your bedroom, where your dog can have the security of your presence at night.

Your puppy or dog must learn the crate is a positive secure thing. The quickest way to teach this is with food treats, such as diced hot dogs, cheese or other moist 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 such as 'kennel up' or 'get in your crate'.

Once he is reliably entering the crate, shut the door of the crate. 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; if he is comfortable and does not white or fuss at ten minutes but does at twenty, you have gone too far, back up to the time length your dog is comfortable.

Do not return to a whining dog to 'offer comfort', or you will soon have a dog that whines and cries whenever it wants you near. Instead, return to your dog when it is silent, and the next time return before the whining starts. In addition, try not to make returning to your do too exciting, or you will exaggerate your absence and possibly contribute to separation anxiety in your dog. Continue to train this way, and you will eventually be able to leave your dog in the crate for longer periods while you are 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.

Housebreaking with the Crate

Housebreaking is fairly straightforward with a crate trained dog. The most work will be your perseverance and patience.

Begin my putting your dog on a strict schedule. Feed at the same time each day and 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, playing, eating or drinking large amounts of water, before and after being crated, first thing in the morning, last thing at night and every few hours. 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 enthusiastically.

For very young puppies whose bladders simply cannot hold their water through the night, it may be helpful to withhold water after a certain point in the evening before retiring.

Crate your dog or puppy whenever you cannot supervise it 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 diligently watching 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. If you do find your dog has eliminated in the house, do not strike him or rub his nose in it. He will not make the connection between the punishment and his earlier behavior, and may learn to fear you or the situation. If you catch your dog in the act of eliminating inside the house, interrupt him and take him outside to the proper place. If he eliminates outside, praise him. Remember to be patient, some dogs take longer than others to housebreak do. In addition, if your dog does have an accident, you are likely to blame for not taking the dog outside when needed or not supervising to prevent the accident.

Housebreaking is more difficult for dogs that are ill or suffering from parasites so prior to beginning training, have your veterinarian check your dog thoroughly.

Kathi Repka, Capital Area Humane Society

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