At Pets, Inc, we believe in finding the best solution for your new pet when it comes to cohabitating with you. We hate to see a dog in a crate even for short periods because we see the problems that it causes ... and the thousands of dogs who are euthanized every year because of this harmful method of housetraining.
It seems to be a trend now for pet stores (who love to sell crates) and breeders (who love to sell puppies), and even veterinarians (who will treat future health problems), to recommend crate training as a painless way to get through housetraining. New puppy owners jump on the idea that they can confine the pet and achieve housetraining passively while they are asleep or away from home.
The flaw in this idea is that puppies, no matter what you do, will often not have the control to hold their urine or their bowels until you can let them out of the crate. Just like a baby in diapers, when they feel the urge, they will simply let it flow. Trying to force this too soon can cause long-term health problems. In the short run it results in a puppy lying in his urine and feces. Then, when the family returns they find a house that reeks of urine and a filthy puppy in a wet crate who is incredibly happy to see someone who will let him out.
So imagine this. You open the crate. A wet, sticky, smelly puppy jumps in your arms and your clothes are immediately soiled. As the puppy shakes and wrestles in his excitement to see you, the surrounding area is splattered. If you don't have a fenced yard you'll have to take him directly to the bath tub and bathe him without even a chance to change your clothes. But wait, while you're trying to get the temperature right, the pup is splattering your bathroom and as he leans on the walls or scratches at the door to get out, you realize that you will have to clean the room when you've finished with the bath. Whew! You finally get through this ordeal (let's hope the phone isn't ringing and the kids aren't going to be late for soccer practice because those extra events are enough to really throw you over the edge). Now the puppy needs to go out for a walk quickly so he can have a chance to learn where it is appropriate to urinate. But you can't go out filthy and soaking wet, so you change. But you can't put the pup back in the crate because it hasn't been hosed out yet, so you put him on the floor and hope for the best. But that is never a good idea because the activity and the bath have gotten his little system moving so he relieves himself on the carpet. Now the frustration is enough to challenge even Mother Theresa. By the time you get through this every morning and every evening you hope you will at least have a housetrained dog, but alas, what you have is a dog who is now accustomed to sleeping in his urine.
This is when many puppies are taken to pounds or simply abandoned!
Crate training will seem to work for some dogs that are old enough to control themselves for extended periods, but as the years go by these dogs will likely have behavioral problems (unpredictable behavior, aggression, separation anxiety, self-mutilation, unfounded fears, etc.) and a host of health issues including incontinence. You see, when a dog has to "hold it" for extended periods, it stretches and weakens his bladder. The younger this starts, the more severe the problem.
At 9-18 months of age, most of these dogs with behavioral problems end up at the pound or at a rescue organization like ours (but who is going to want to adopt them?). The ones with health issues are generally 4 - 8 years old when their families bring them in with tears in their eyes and the explanation that they have spent hundreds or even thousands of dollars trying to work out the problems .... but nothing worked so they can't keep them.
The misguided people who advocate crate-training often cite the fact that dogs are "den animals" and as such, they are at home in small spaces.
Now think about that.
In a natural environment dogs nurse their pups in a cave or den but the pups are never alone. The entire litter is together even when mom is out foraging for food. As the puppies grow they are able to play with each other and explore the world little by little so they not only learn acceptable social behavior, they learn the important lessons in life about hot and cold, soft and sharp, and other factors that help them make good decisions. This stimulus is necessary to have a balanced mind. And of course these growing puppies have had lots of exercise.
A puppy in a crate for 9 or 10 hours a day is not only mentally impaired, his bone and muscle development will be retarded. We know this doesn't seem like a long time to most people, but keep in mind that puppies are generally half grown by 16 weeks of age and fully grown by 9 months. Can you imagine how a child would fare if he were confined to a closet with no opportunity for exercise or companionship for 10 hours a day until he was half-grown at 9 years old? Chances are he wouldn't grow up to be a healthy happy adult.
Of course there is the argument that crate-training didn't work because the people did it wrong. This is when it will be explained that puppies should only be in their crates for a maximum of 2 hours until they are 10 weeks old. At 10 weeks the pup should be able to stay in a crate for 3 - 4 hours. At 16 weeks the pups should be able to spend the night in the crate without an accident, but even then, you have to make sure the dog is fed early enough that he can be walked and relieve himself before bedtime. Well, gee whiz, with those restrictions, what is the advantage of crate-training ... which by the way, is estimated to take 4 months if done "properly."
When you look at the logistics of crate-training "properly," it is actually less trouble and far less expensive to confine the pup to a kitchen or laundry room and paper-train the old-fashioned way… which takes 10 - 14 days.
Paper Training the Right Way
Cover the entire floor with newspaper so that no matter where he "pottys," he will hit paper. After a few days, gradually take up some of the paper (leaving the paper nearest the door with a puppy pad) so that as the puppy walks toward the paper you get the cue that it's time to take him out. A child's gate and some puppy pads combined with a consistent catch phrase ("potty time"... "wee wee" ... etc.) that your puppy can understand will be the most important tools you can use. And always use the same door and take your puppy to the same location to potty. This will let him know exactly what you are expecting him to do so you don't find yourself standing out there forever ... waiting. Go out another door for every other activity. The puppy pads are great because now that your puppy has been using one in the confined area you can put one on a drop cloth or vinyl table cloth in the carpeted area where you are watching TV or whatever, so he will have an emergency place to go when he is with you.
And one last thought. You've probably heard that it does no good to "rub their noses in it." Well, believe it! This only confuses the pup and can result in extending the time you spend housetraining your pet. Spanking is also a poor response.
When your puppy has had an accident, remember it is just that, an accident. Puppies are not spiteful or malicious. You wouldn't spank a toddler for wetting the bed. Puppies are much like babies. Take the same approach with your puppy that you would take with your toddler. Pick him up and run for the "potty" which in this case is the great outdoors and ask him if he can potty more in the grass this time. Praise him, letting him know that he has done something really good when he uses his "potty" and then do everything in your power to reinforce the idea by getting him out there so often that he has little opportunity to have an accident in the house. Remember, animals are creatures of habit. It takes about 2 weeks to establish a habit so make sure that you are willing to invest the time in the first 2 weeks to establish the right habit.
And let your puppy do things because he knows you'll love him for it ... not because he is afraid you'll hit him if he doesn't. Keep in mind that you are the being with the higher intellect so it is your responsibility to help him learn without hurting him ... physically or emotionally.
We hope this will help you make housetraining a more enjoyable and healthy experience for both of you.