If you have a new puppy, it's time to learn about crate-training. Every year more people turn to this method, with good reason: It's easier on pups and people alike.
"I find the crate to be very effective when used in house-training for a couple of reasons," says my friend Liz Palika, who has spent more than three decades teaching dog obedience in the San Diego area.
She's also the author of thousands of pet care articles and more than 50 books, including a recent one aimed at helping grade-school children train the family dog, "Dog Obedience: Getting Your Pooch Off the Couch and Other Dog Training Tips" (Capstone, $21).
"First, when the dog is confined, he can't sneak off to another room or behind the sofa to relieve himself. Second, when in the crate, he learns and develops bowel and bladder control, because few dogs are willing to soil their bed," she notes.
Palika and I have been friends for many years, and we each recently added puppies to our families. Mine is Ned, a Shetland sheepdog, and hers is Bones, an English shepherd. She and Bones, along with her two other dogs, Bashir and Sisko, recently spent a couple of days visiting with me and my animal family – which now includes two goats, neither house-trained, by the way.
Of course, we talked dog training. We both like crate-training, and have used it for all our dogs for many years. Crate-training limits a puppy's options to three: 1) He's either empty and playing in the house; 2) he's in the crate and "holding it" because he doesn't want to sit in his own waste; or 3) he's at the place you've chosen for him to relieve himself.
Puppies need to relieve themselves after they wake up, after they eat or drink, and after a period of play. Set up a schedule to accommodate his needs as you work to mold behavior, and remember that young puppies, especially small breeds or mixes, can't go very long without eating, drinking, sleeping or relieving themselves. A good rule of thumb: Puppies can hold it as long as their age in months. A 2-month-old pup can "hold it" in a crate for about two hours, for example.
Let the puppy sleep next to your bed in the crate – sleeping near you speeds the bonding process – and lead him to the chosen outside spot as soon as he's awake in the morning. When he goes, praise him thoroughly. Then take him inside for breakfast. Feed him and offer him water, and then take him out for another chance to go. If he goes, more praise and back inside for play. If you're not sure he's completely empty, put him in the crate.
Ignore the whines and whimpers. If left alone, the puppy will soon be fast asleep and will stay that way until it's time for the next round of out, eat/drink, out, play, crate. Remember, too, the goal is for your puppy to roam free in your house, not to stay in a crate for life.
"A crate is not a storage container for a dog," says Palika.
Eventually, your pet will be spending more of his time loose in the house under your supervision, and he will start asking to visit his outdoor spot. Don't forget to confirm his early attempts at proper behavior by rewarding him with praise and treats.
If you spot an in-house accident, a stern "no"" will suffice, followed by an immediate trip to the yard, and praise when he finishes up where he's supposed to. Clean up the inside mess thoroughly, and treat the area with an enzymatic solution to neutralize the smell.
With proper crate training, the number of such incidents will be relatively few, and you'll end up with a dog who is not only reliable in the house, but also confident in his own ability to stay alone when you are gone.