House Training Your Puppy Using the Crate/Kennel Method

Many owners find housebreaking their puppies an unending and onerous chore. Dog pounds, animal shelters, and dog rescue centers are filled with dogs failed to to learn this vital skill to their dogs. The owner, unable to to break Fido of repeatedly soiling the carpet and floors, throws up his hands in defeat and dumps him at the local pound, or worse, the nearest park. These abandoned dogs, whose only crime is doing what comes naturally in the wrong place, end up being euthanized needlessly for lack of a welcoming owner willing to retrain a dog with ingrained bad habits. Therefore it could be easily argued that housebreaking your pet is the single-most important thing you should teach your dog. If you are going to have a dog living in your home, training him not to eliminate there is essential- both to his survival, and to your sanity!

Lets talk a little about “dog psychology”. Knowing how to communicate your wishes to your canine friend is at the heart of of all training tasks. Many pet owners simply lack a good understanding of what motivates their dog. Most people are inclined to treat their dogs like recalcitrant children, cajoling them, lecturing them, yelling at them. They even assign them human traits like sneakiness or revenge. While our canine companions are similar to us in some ways, dogs aren’t people, and they think and behave in very “dog-specific” ways! Much to the contrary of popular belief, they don’t seek revenge or try to be sneaky or punish their owners! What they do do (no pun intended!) is behave instinctively and predictably.

I have heard it truly said that “Dogs don’t have bad behaviors – they just have good behaviors done at a time and place their owners do not like.” Most important is that dogs like all animals, are creatures of instinct. They behave and think in instinctive ways that bypass conscious thought. They can no more control that instinctive behavior than you or I can control our startle reflex or a sneeze. Ever try to hold in a sneeze? How would you feel if the people around you became angry and shouted at you to stop when you sneezed? A dog’s behavior is similar to this reflexive behavior in that he cannot control what his instincts compel him to do. The key word here is compel. And shouting or punishing your pet for doing what his instinct drives him to do will only make both him and you miserable and ultimately make him too nervous or scared to learn at all. It is far more productive to work with your dog’s instinctive behaviors, create opportunities for him to be successful and pleasing to you.

The key to house training your puppy then, is to cooperate with your pet’s instincts, encourage behavior that he will naturally perform, rewarding it when happens in the time and place you approve, and withholding reward when it happens elsewhere. In the science of psychology, producing a learned response is called “conditioning” or a “conditioned response”. Ever heard of Pavlov’s dogs? Dr. Pavlov was a behaviorist who conditioned his dogs to salivate when they heard a bell. He did this by always ringing a bell at feeding time. After a while, he would merely ring the bell, and the dogs would begin salivating, because they were “conditioned” to expect food at that sound. He produced a “conditioned response” in his dogs in this manner. In house training your puppy, you will be training your dog to have a “conditioned response” of wanting to relieve himself to verbal and visual cues. You will also learn how to “extinguish” your dog’s inclination to eliminate in unapproved places, such as the floors of your house. The term for this technique in psycho-speak is called “extinction”. Not because you cause your pet to be extinct (although at times you may think you want to!), but because it extinguishes (puts out or stops) the unwanted behavior!

Using these two wonderful concepts, the conditioned response and extinction, I have discovered a wonderful, easy method for housebreaking your puppy or adult dog that works every time. And it involves no shouting, cursing, spanking (God forbid!) or rubbing of noses in the mess. It involves the use of a dog kennel or crate. I know this works, because I have used it on my own puppies, and even a couple of adult dogs that had already developed bad habits. It is ideal for those owners who live in cities and who don’t have the luxury of a fenced yard or the ability to go for frequent walks with their pet.

My three miniature dachshunds sleep in their dog kennel/crate every night. It is their bed, and the safe place I confine them to when I have to be gone for long periods or when we have a lot of company. Now, some people may walk in my house, see my dog crate and think, “This lady is mean. This woman must not like her dogs very much. This owner is too lazy to take proper care of her pets.” They don’t know me. I love dogs! I have always owned dogs, and always will. For me, dogs truly are man’s (or in my case woman’s) best friend. They love you unconditionally, are never too busy to give you their undivided attention, and are wonderful listeners, never interrupting or judging your words. My dogs are fed the best food, have lots of toys and snuggle blankets, see their vet regularly, and their only “job” is to be cute, which they perform very well.

The love I give my dogs is only equaled by the love and loyalty they return to me. Owning a dog, or more than one is a big responsibility, but for me, worth all the effort a thousandfold! But it takes some understanding of “dog psychology” to effectively train them, and I have been successfully raising and training dogs all my life. On my eighth birthday, I was given my first dog, a big, fluffy white Samoyed Husky I called “Snowball” who eventually grew to be almost twice my weight! Since then, I have had several dogs over the years, most currently my trio of miniature dachshunds. I call them “The Teenie Weenie Patrol.” Over the years, I have developed a successful method for training my dogs. It is possible to have well-behaved, well-mannered and obedient pets who perform on command. Mine do so routinely. All I have to do is say “OK, let’s go to bed!” and all three jump up and run for their kennel! I say, “Outside!” and they all race to the door. I open the door and command “Go pee!” and all three head down the deck stairs for their “special place” and actually relieve themselves! Am I a magician? Did I cast a spell on my dogs? No, and no. I merely used the principals of dog psychology explained above to work in concert with my pet’s natural instincts to induce conditioned responses for the behaviors I wanted to encourage, and to extinguish the behaviors I wanted to discourage.

In training dogs, I use what I call my “PPP Tecqnique”- Pet, Praise & Persistence! It is important to pet and praise your dog, because they deeply desire your attention and approval. And persistence is key to creating a environment that consistently reinforces good behavior. Using this technique, my dogs learn to be obedient, happy and well-trained pets that are a joy to my heart and pleasant to be around and my floors are free of stains and odors. In achieving this wonderful state of dog-owning Nirvana, I have NEVER struck my dogs! Not with a rolled up newspaper or anything else. I try not to even yell at them, although, being human, I confess I lose my temper (mostly at myself) and do from time to time. Thank goodness they are dogs, and therefore are much more forgiving, patient and unconditionally loving than I am! Instead, I merely ignore, or at least consciously fail to reward, any unwanted behavior. For the purposes of this article, that behavior is soiling anywhere on the floor of my home!

For the past 5 years, I have been a “hobby breeder” of minature dachshunds. As I mentioned, I have three right now, but have had as many as five and as few as one. I acquired all my dogs as puppies. I am currently housebreaking our newest member, a female puppy I named “Abigail”. I am using the crate to train our newest pup, and she is almost to the point of being completely and reliably housebroken using this method. She already goes on her own to her “special place” to relieve herself (although not yet reliably enough to be left unsupervised!), and she is only 3 months old. And it has been almost laughably easy!

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I have tried many methods of housebreaking dogs over the years, some with more success than others. If you are reading this, then you have probably also tried more than one method with varying degrees of success to house train a puppy also. Some breeds are easier to train than others. But with dachshunds, you have a breed that has a will of their own! Originally bred in Germany to hunt badgers- a notoriously vicious and ferocious weasel- they were bred for traits of courage and tenaciousness. By tenaciousness I mean stubbornness! These tiny hunters don’t know when to quit or back down from a fight. And once they get it in their heads to pursue a course of action, it is very hard to deter or discourage them. So, if my method works on the tenacious little dachshund, it will work for any dog! I stumbled upon this easier and more convenient way to housebreak my puppy quite by accident. Previously, I had always kept my puppies in a cardboard box until they were old enough to sleep in a regular bed, taking them for frequent trips outdoors to their “special place” for elimination. It was seldom convenient and time consuming as well, as I endevored to condition my puppies to relieving themselves in the proper place. But still there were “accidents” in my home. Because sometimes, I just wasn’t there to take my pups outside during a pressing need. I have had to replace carpeting due to incomplete training of my pups. But now, with minimal time and effort and a LOT less stress, my puppy can learn the behaviors that will please me and avoid those that bring him disapproval. It all began the day I got the new dog kennel/crate.

Last year, My husband brought home a large dog crate for all my dogs to sleep in at night. Once in a while there is no one home for several hours, and we needed a safe place to put them during that time. Since they seemed to prefer sleeping in a “dog pile” anyway (it’s warmer), we put one big dog bed in the kennel/crate along with a fuzzy blanket for them to snuggle under (dachshunds love to burrow under blankets). Many pet supply stores sell square beds that are designed just for this purpose. This way, kennel/crate seemed a logical and easy way to solve both problems – finding a convenient place for them to sleep, and being able to confine them when needed. This crate, which we bought at Pet Smart, was made of metal mesh and came with a removable divider wall, so you could have either one large space, or divide it into two smaller spaces. It also comes with a plastic “tray” that sits in the bottom of the kennel/crate so the dogs (and any mess they make) stays off the floor. Our crate’s demensions is roughly 3 feet long, 2 feet wide and 2 feet high. It’s not as big as a traditional dog kennel, but it is a big larger than a carrying or transport crate like those you see airports use.

Crates such as the one we use cost about $60 and is ideal our purposes. So when Abigail was weaned, I used the divider to create a smaller area to use for her temporary “special place.” This seemed to us to be a logical alternative to dragging our tiny puppy out into the cold blowing wind and snow of an Idaho winter. Now it is my opinion that if you don’t intend to allow your dog ever to relieve itself anywhere indoors, it is preferable to start your puppy going outside right from the start if at all possible to head off any confusion later on. In that case, wait until spring to bring your new puppy home and begin training. But sometimes, it’s just not possible for your puppy to get to an outdoors place right away. And if you live in an apartment, it is mostly impossible! My new method works especially well if you plan on having your dog eliminate indoors some of the time, even if later you plan on restricting her to outdoor only elimination. In that event, teaching her to go outdoors is just one extra step further in her training that involves extinguishing her urge to relieve herself anywhere indoors, and conditioning her urge to eliminate outdoors in her “special place.”

It is important to get the right size pet carrier/crate for your dog, one that you can divide into two areas. One side should be just large enough for her to be able to stand up, turn around and lie down in, but no bigger. The idea is confine her to this area (which is essentially her bed), during all unsupervised time so she never has the opportunity to relieve herself in the wrong place.

Crate training is all about cooperating with your dog’s instinct, so here’s a little information about this subject. Dogs instinctively like to relieve themselves in places where other dogs have gone. Their noses can pick up even the slightest scent of urine or feces, especially in a rug or carpet. They will return again and again to the same spot to relieve themselves if given the chance. Thy is why you will see your puppy circling and sniffing when she needs to go. She is looking for someplace where other dogs have gone, a place that “smells right” to her. When she smells urine or feces in a spot, be it outside or in your home, her instincts tell her “Aha! This is the place!” and she feels compelled to relieve herself there. Like all animals, dogs are creatures of habit. And preventing bad habits from forming is much easier than trying to break bad habits that have become ingrained. Keeping your puppy in her crate when she is unsupervised will prevent her from making “deposits” on the floors of your home that will leave residual smells that will then attract her to return for a repeat performance. All dogs possess the instinct to keep their “dens” clean. A healthy dog will not soil her bed if she can help it. Wolves and wild dogs never eliminate in their dens. A mother dog will clean up after her puppies in the litter box by eating all the feces and lapping up the urine. Although this might seem disgusting to you or I, remember that dogs don’t use mops or brooms- they use what nature gave them, their tongues and mouths to take care of themselves and their young. So by providing your dog with her own “den,” and a separate “special place,” you are working with her instinctive desire to keep her bed clean.

The “special place” should be half again as large as her bed, and have a tray or other surface on the bottom that is lined with newspapers. This will be her “special place.” This area should be at least the size of a newspaper page, larger for a larger dog. Make sure the space you allow for your puppy to relieve herself is adequate for her, taking into account a dog’s need to turn around and walk a little, sniffing up and down the space for a place to go. Then, you simply place her in her “special place” every two hours or so giving her the visual cue of being in the right place, and the verbal cue of your command, such as “Go pee!” or whatever. Eventually, she will eliminate on the papers in the “special place.” It will merely be coincidence, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that this is your chance to condition her to repeat this behavior. You do this by using the three “P’s” of Petting, Praising, and Persistence. Make a big deal out of her performance. Pet her and rub her ears. Praise her lavishly, telling her what a good, wonderful, brilliant puppy she is! If she is anything like our puppy, her little tail and bottom will almost be wriggling to pieces, such will be her joy and delight at your approval. This is definitely something she will want to experience again! Place her back in her bed until the next scheduled “bathroom break.” Be persistent about giving her lots of opportunities to perform the desired behavior.

These are the two basic elements to crate-training your puppy. A bed for her to sleep in and be confined to, and a “special place” where she is to relieve herself. The first and most important part to remember is to have your crate and other supplies ready before you bring your puppy home. You want to immediately start her on her training regimen right from the start. Although your puppy is young and small, she is not too young to begin learning what is expected of her. Just be as positive and loving as possible, use the three P’s (Petting, Praising and Persistence) and your puppy will be eager to please and learn quickly. The cardinal rule for crate training is this: NEVER, NEVER, NEVER ALLOW YOUR PUPPY OUT OF HER CRATE UNSUPERVISED. Unless you are holding her in your lap, or have your eyes on her every minute, she is to be confined to her bed. This means you are going to have to steel yourself to her sometimes piteous cries for your attention. Don’t be tempted to let her out “just for a while,” as she will surely leave you a present on the carpet the minute you turn your back. Be assured she is not suffering, and will very quickly accustom herself to her new home and learn to like and even prefer her comfy bed to anywhere else in the house. Consistency and routine are paramount during this crucial training period. You or another family member MUST be available every two hours to put her in her “special place.” Leaving her in a stranger’s home will only frighten and confuse her with unfamiliar people and surroundings. It is better to have a neighbor or friend she is acquainted with come to your home for her bathroom breaks.

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She needs consistency and familiarity if she is to be successful- and that means sleeping in the same place and “going” in the same place again and again, and nowhere else. I can’t stress enough the importance of NEVER allowing your puppy to relieve herself in an unapproved spot! It is far easier to condition new behaviors than it is to extinguish established ones. Remember Pavlov’s dogs? You want your dogs to be conditioned to have the urge to relieve themselves when they get the visual and verbal cues of being in the “special place” and your command to “Go pee!”

The second part of this equation is the “special place,” that is, the other side of the crate. Because the end goal is to get them to relieve themselves in the approved spot only, you at first must help your puppy understand exactly WHAT he is expected to do when you place him on that spot. Always use the same words as you place him there (I use “Go pee”.). At first, if he does relieve himself, it will be entirely by accident. By that I mean he will just happen to feel the need to go at the same moment as you place him on the papers. This is a good. Use this opportunity lavish praise and pets on your pup. Tell him how proud you are, stroke his head, offer him a small treat at the moment he relieves himself on the papers. Often, you will place him on the papers and he will just stand there, or start playing with the papers. Remember, he has no idea yet what you want him to do, so it is important that the praise and reward immediately follow the desired action. This is how the connection between his behavior and the resulting reward becomes well-established in his mind. Remember Pavlov’s dogs?

You want to create the same kind of response in your puppy. Except in this instance, you want your puppy to be conditioned to feel the urge to relieve himself whenever he is in his “special place” and hears you say “go pee.” Abigail has been “peeing on command” for about 3 weeks now. Even when she doesn’t really need to go, she pees a little whenever I put her on the papers, just because it is now a conditioned response. I made the experience so enjoyable for her that she just naturally and instinctively had the urge to repeat it until it became automatic. She is at the point where she actively seeks out her “special place” on the papers to pee or relieve herself – though she is not entirely reliable or trustworthy yet! She is always eager to be in her “special place” because good things always to happen to her there. As time goes by, she need less and less prompting or reward as her conditioning becomes more ingrained in her behavior pattern. Already when when she is in her bed, she barks and whines to notify me when she needs to go to her “special place” every time. Soon, I will start training her to use the outdoor “special place,” and she will be easily able to transfer her conditioning from the crate “special place” to the outdoor one within a few weeks. And she will still use the crate when she cannot get outdoors or the weather forbids it. Pretty convenient, huh?

If you have been consistent in preventing your puppy from having the chance to soil your floors, and persistent in providing him opportunities to earn your praise by relieving herself in the approved spot, your dog’s habit of eliminating only in the approved places will be assured. Even older dogs with poor house training can be “re-trained” in this manner because it takes advantage of their natural instincts instead of fighting against them.

Let me say a word about feeding and mealtime. Mealtime is the highlight of your puppy’s day. Dogs live to eat. It is their greatest pleasure, and giving snacks is a great way to give rewards and reinforce desired behavior. While some people advocate leaving a bowl of food out all day for the puppy to self-feed, it is hard to housebreak your dog this way because you can’t control when he will feel the need to eliminate. Most vets recommend feeding your puppy 3-4 times per day. Most packages of puppy food have recommendations related to the weight of your puppy. Be sure after every meal to immediately place your puppy in her “special place” for a chance to eliminate. This will help her get in the habit of relieving herself after meals, and will also make things more convenient for you if you always know when your puppy needs to go. Be sure to feed her at the same times each day so her digestive system will become regulated. Remember, puppies are creatures of habit like us all, and they like to be “regular” just like you and I! So, take your puppy out first thing every morning, after meals, and every two hours in between.

Don’t leave her in her crate for longer than a 2 hour stretch without giving her the opportunity to use her “special place,” as she doesn’t have the ability to control himself for longer than that time yet. Leaving her longer than 2 hours in her bed will create a situation where she is almost guaranteed to relieve herself in her bed out of necessity. But if this happens, don’t scold or punish her, because it’s not her fault. Just clean up the mess, making sure to completely eliminate any smells. And try to be more consistent and persistent in the future. As your puppy grows and gains more bowel and bladder control, you can begin to leave her in the crate for longer periods of time. It is a good idea to allow her out on the floor for some playtime with you right after she eliminates in her “special place”. At this time she won’t need to go for a while and the exercise and interaction with you will be a welcome break for both of you, and strengthen the bond you are forming. Here’s a rundown of my puppy Abigail’s daily routine:

• 7AM- placed in the “special place” side of crate (Pets & Praise if she performs)
• 7:10- breakfast in the kitchen
• 7:20- playtime on the living room floor
• 7:30- back in her bed
• 9:30- placed in the “special place” side of crate (Pets & Praise if she performs)
• 9:35- playtime on the floor or in my lap or back in her bed
• 9:45- back in her bed if was playing outside the crate
• 11:45- lunch
• 11:55- in the “special place” side of crate (Pets & Praise if she performs)
• 12:00- playtime
• 12:10- back in her bed for a nap

She follows the same general routine the rest of the day, ending with one last opportunity in her “special place” before I go to bed. My other two adult dogs have been through this during their puppy training, and now simply let me know whenever they need to go outside to their “special place,” usually by whining, barking, or standing at the baby gate and looking out towards the outside door expectantly. In no time at all, your puppy will be have developed an established routine where she will know what is expected of her. But more importantly, she will be habituated to doing the right thing because she was properly conditioned to do so. Always remember that your dog wants to please you and needs your approval and love to be happy. Give her plenty of opportunities to do so and she will reward you with reliable good behavior all her life.

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One last word about “accidents.” We all have them. We all make mistakes. Don’t be angry or surprised when your puppy makes hers. As I said, the best thing is for the puppy to never be given the chance in the first place to soil the inside of your home. But it will eventually happen. I keep a good enzymatic pet soil and odor remover handy for such emergencies. And a deposit on your carpet or rug IS an emergency! Not just for your carpet, but for the training of your puppy. Remember what I said about dogs instinctively returning to a soiled place? It is imperative that you remove the offending spot and all it’s odors completely as soon as possible after it happens. I found a great website devoted to removing pet stains. You can find it at You don’t want your dog to be tempted to start using your floors as her “special place” by any lingering smells, so be sure to take care of the problem right away. If you see your dog repeatedly returning to the same spot in the house and sniffing around, that means she can still smell the urine and/or feces and you may need to take further action to get rid of the odor.

If you catch your puppy in the act of squatting to relieve herself on your floor, say “No!,” sharply to startle her into stopping what she’s doing, and immediately pick her up and take her to her “special place.” Another technique is to take an empty soda can, put a few pennies in it, tape it closed and shake it loudly at your offending pet. The idea is to create a startling noise that will do two things. First, it will startle her into stopping the offending behavior. Second, she will begin to associate the offending behavior with the unpleasant noise, instead of the sound of your voice, and be less inclined to repeat that behavior. Additionally, the noise of the can will have no association in her mind with you, her owner, so she won’t merely try to avoid having you observe him relieving herself, which often happens when owners yell at their dog for this. Also, dogs love the sound of their master’s voice, and even the sound of an angry master is better than no sound at all. So be sure to give your pet much more praise, and opportunities to earn that praise, than scoldings.

Once your puppy has been conditioned to go in the “special place”, her training is by no means complete! When she can be trusted for longer periods of time between visits to her special place, it is time to start training her to be left unsupervised for short amounts of time. Start out with 15 or 20 minutes by herself in ONE room of your house- the bathroom or kitchen is a good place, as any accidents are easier to clean up. Place her crate in this room and leave the door to both her “special place” and her bed open so she can enter and exit at will. Put a baby gate in the doorway so she can see you as you come and go. Check on her every 15 minutes or so. Continue to place her in her “special place” every 2 or 3 hours so she has plenty of continuing opportunities to earn your Pets and Praise. Be sure to praise her when you find the floor clean and dry, perhaps giving her a treat so she associates being by herself in that room as a positive. If she starts looking around and sniffing, that is your cue to immediately take place her in her “special place.” Lavishly Pet and Praise her if she barks or whines at the baby gate, and immediately offer her a chance to relieve herself in her “special place” and praise generously when she performs “on command” there.

Always use the verbal cue/command “Go pee!” along with placing her in her “special place” so she becomes conditioned to both cues. Teach her to bark or whine by standing at the baby gate and saying excitedly, “You want to go outside?” When she barks back at you, say “Good dog!” and immediately take her to her “special place.” Pet and Praise when she performs. If not, matter-of-factly return her to the kitchen or bathroom (or wherever you have set up for her to play alone). Be sure she has plenty of chew toys and other dog toys to keep her happy and occupied. After a few hours at play, he is ready to return to his crate for a nap. Be sure he is given the opportunity to go outside at least every two to three hours during this phase of his training. The whole idea is to repeatedly and consistently reward her desired behavior (playing contentedly, using her “special place”, barking to let you know she needs to go). She will naturally and instinctively wish to repeat behavior that results in pleasure, and tend to stop behavior that brings no such pleasurable reward.

By the 8th week of training, your puppy should be spending more and more time in her play area and only using her crate for naps and at night. She is no longer confined for long hours in her crate, except at night. Unless you plan on having her sleep in her play area once she’s fully house trained, keep her crate/bed in the place where you plan for her to sleep permanently. All three of my dogs sleep in their small kennel/crate in the far corner of our living room. They enter it on command and are free to come and go as they please. Because I am still training Abigail, they are all confined to the kennel/crate at night. But once Abigail is fully housebroken, I will again leave the kennel door open all night as well. You may want to keep the kennel/crate as your puppy’s bed throughout her adult life. Dogs like the safety and security of a den-like crate or carrier. It is just as well if you prefer to buy her a commercial dog bed and place it in a corner of your kitchen or living room, or even at the foot of your bed if you wish.

Once you can safely leave your puppy in her play area for several hours without an accident, and she knows how to bark to be let outside, you will know your puppy is housebroken at last! She understands that the house is part of her “den” and NOT a place to soil, and also exactly where she is expected to go to relieve herself. Your puppy is well on her way to being a well-behaved and well-trained pet, one that will return back to you a thousand-fold all the love, dedication and happiness you have invested in her training.

Lastly, never forget that training time should always be a happy, fun time for you and your puppy. Use lots of the three “P’s” to reward the desired behavior. If, after she completes her house training, she has an accident, just return to her former training for a day or so to reinforce the previous lessons. Follow these steps, and you will not only be able to maintain a clean-smelling home and spotless carpet, but more important and to the point, you will have a loving and loyal house-companion for many years to come.