Crate Training and Housebreaking: The Positive Way

Congratulations on your new fur baby – literally a baby. If you haven’t had an entire night of whining or accident piddling, just wait, it is coming. My recent foster, Rugby (now named Maxx by his forever mom), who many of you have seen in videos I have posted, reminded me of what it is like to have a puppy.

Of course, I am a dog trainer, so I knew what to do the moment he started crying or sniffing around for a potty spot. Don’t think I do not remember the days when I didn’t know though.

We had two litters back to back one year when I was a child and that was thirteen puppies total. They were all teething, all having accidents, and all whining 24/7. Trust me when I say, I understand where you are coming from when you beg dog trainers for a quick fix to these problems before you lose what little sanity you have left.

Sadly, just like human babies, puppies take time to potty train and adjust to being alone. Dogs are pack animals and enjoying being alone is a behavior that must be taught. It doesn’t come naturally, which is why our sweet angels don’t let us get a wink of sleep during the night.

They may also been telling you they need to go to the bathroom at 1am, especially if you have a small breed, because their bladders are not fully developed yet.

Since a dog’s bladder isn’t fully developed until about a year into their life, depending on the dog, completely potty training at a young age without any accidents isn’t reasonable. We can, however, teach your puppy to alert you when they need to potty and we can take steps to reduce those accidents.

Step 1. Remember Accidents Happen

When you get the urge to yell at your new puppy, stop yourself. At a young age, your puppy is deciding how they feel about the world around. This is called the socialization period. I have met puppies that are fearful of all men (or women), just because someone yelled at them – once – while potty training them during their socialization period. Remember to keep your cool and do not subscribe to old myths, like rubbing their nose in their own urine, which is just gross and doesn’t work.

Step 2. Decide if You Want to Use a Crate or Not

I have never needed to use a crate while potty training my personal dogs, but many people like to use them. Crates can be positive and make a wonderful den for your puppy when he is older – if trained correctly to begin with. If you would like to use a crate, buy one that he will fit in when full grown.

Most crates come with dividers and you place this divider in the middle of the crate to create a smaller version. The divider can be moved as your pup gets bigger.

We use the dividers because if the puppy has enough room to get away from their potty area, they will still use the restroom inside the crate. If your puppy is still using the restroom in the crate, it is because their bladder couldn’t hold “it” any longer. This means you need to start taking your puppy out even more often to avoid these accidents.

When crate training, be sure to follow a positive-method crate training guide. Never force your puppy into the crate or lock him in there for several hours without proper training. I have to re-crate train many clients’ dogs because they didn’t understand how to correctly crate train their dog to begin with, so the dog becomes fearful of the crate.

The crate is never a “time-out” spot. We want going into the crate to be the puppy’s idea to begin with, so use treats and toys to get your puppy to enter the crate. Feeding your puppy or giving them a Kong toy filled with treats is one of the best ways to build a long-term positive association to the crate.

Step 3. Timing and Supervision

The best advice I can give you is feed your puppy on a tight schedule. Never leave food down for free-feeding while trying to housetrain your puppy. Get your puppy on a feeding schedule and as soon as they are done eating (or drinking), go for a walk or let them into the backyard.

When you have a successful outside potty, reward your dog for going outside. I mean, really reward them, and act like it is the best thing that has ever happened to you and your carpets– because it kinda is.

Whenever your puppy isn’t in their crate, supervise them. If you see any sniffing of the floors, it might be time to take him out to potty. If your puppy stops listening during a training session, that could also be a sign that it is time to go outside.

You will learn more about how your puppy tells you they need to “go” as you spend time with them. If you are not sure what they are trying to tell you, take them outside anyway. It is normal for puppies to need to go to the bathroom every couple of hours when they are very young. If you have an older dog (a year or older), who cannot seem to hold it and is still having accidents, it is time to go to the vet.

I hope that you find some of this information helpful and that managing your puppy becomes a little bit easier. If you need help with training your dog, please contact me at or (769) 251-4104 to set up an in-home training session today!