HomeDog TrainingCrate TrainingWhen Crate Training Isn’t Working

Every now and then I get an email from someone who is having problems with crate training. Here are bits from one:

We just recently got a new puppy and are trying to crate train it. We put him to bed (in his crate) when we go to bed, and then let him out in the morning to do his thing and run around a bit. Then when we leave for work we put him back into his crate where he stays until the kids get home from school and let him out again.

My problem is that i am constantly (twice a day) having to change his bedding as he both poops and pees in his crate. I thought that maybe putting an exercise pen up for him during the day would be better but several friends have told us NO!

What would be the best solution for this as we don’t want him to think of his crate as a “bad” place?

Well, it’s always risky to guess about a situation without knowing all the details, but to me it seems that it’s time to think outside the box… um, crate. Here are some thoughts…

Many problems of this sort can be handled by paying a lot more attention to the puppy’s bathroom needs. If you take your attention to a more intense level for a few days or weeks, you may be able to solve the problem completely.

On the weekends and during the night, you can get an idea of just how long the puppy can hold it. Different breeds mature at different rates, and individual dogs will vary too. We once had an Australian Shepherd pup who could hold it all night from the first night we got him, at 9 weeks (gloat), but that is unusual.

Say you discover that your little pup can go about 4 hours. (Review my potty training puppies page here for a suggested routine.) That means you’ll do best if someone can come in once during the time all your family is gone. This would be nice for the puppy anyway, since he must be lonely during the days. A trusted neighbor, a paid pet-sitter or dog walker, or one of those friends who is telling you not to use an X-pen are all possibilities. They would take him out for a chance to pee or poop, play with him for a while, and perhaps take a pre-stuffed Kong out of your freezer to coax him back into his crate before they leave.

This also means that a middle of the night potty stop outing should take place. Set an alarm clock if you are heavy sleepers.

Seems to me that what you want is to break the habit of using the crate for a bathroom as quickly as you can. I personally would consider combining the crate with an X-Pen, and putting training pads or even newspapers down in the pen. If the dog is tiny relative to the crate, maybe you can define two spaces in it, but I am guessing this is not the case from your description. Or if you happen to have a mudroom or other small and totally puppy-proof space (or can invent one somewhere in your home), you could put pads down in it and have the crate in there with the door open.

If you think this is going on longer than it should, then be sure to consult your veterinarian. It all sounds pretty normal so far, though.

So in a nutshell, I’m suggesting closer management and experimenting more with the size of his space. And not making him be alone too  much, while you are at it!


When Crate Training Isn’t Working — 10 Comments

  1. Hi Norman — That’s a good detailed description of the situation. Being in a crate most of the day is far from ideal, though it sounds like you are aware of that. If she were mine, I’d be sure she got some LONG walks too. Short walks could be too short. The need to poop early in the morning suggests that she may not be getting enough exercise. I’d say a discussion with a local veterinarian is in order. Best wishes.

  2. We have an 8 month old Miniature Schnauzer who weighs 9.6#. We are feeding her Purina Pro Plan 2X per day. She stays in a crate most of the day but is permitted partial freedom of movement in the house several times per day. She gets a minimum of 5 – 6 short walks per day. She sleeps in a taxi near her crate. She will yip/bark when she needs to go out. The problem is her early morning potty habit. She yips about 5 am to go out. Sometimes she will poop in her taxi before we can get there to take her out. We have varied her second feeding from 5 – 6:30 pm with no change in her potty habits. She always gets a walk at 10:30 pm and will always pee but rarely poops. Her food is a chicken and rice formula which we have thought about changing. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

  3. The fact that he had no accidents when your boyfriend was gone makes me wonder about his relationship with the puppy. Ashton, this sounds to me like a situation where working with a local veterinarian and maybe a trainer would be good. If you do work with a trainer, do find one who uses positive pain-free gentle methods. Best wishes, Rosana

  4. I have a 4 month old German Shepherd and we can’t seem to get his potty training down. At night we crate him with our other dog beside him in the basement. We always take him out right before we put him in the crate but every night he still poops or pees in it. He will even have accidents in the house still. My boyfriend had to go away for work for a week, and that entire week he did not have one single accident in the house nor in his crate. But as soon as he got him, the puppy had accidents everyday multiple times a day. During the day we put him and our dog in our big kennel outside, so he can use the potty whenever he wants, but its like he doesn’t know how to tell us when we are inside. I always take him out every hour or two but that’s not seeming to help anymore.
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated

  5. I have an 8 week old lab. We know how to potty train. We take her out whenever she gets up, about 5-10 minutes after she eats, before she goes to bed, limit her water intake at night, and after she has been playing for a while. She has only had 1 accident in the last 4 days. The problem is in her crate at night. The first night I had a towel in there for her to lay on so it would be more comfortable. She peed on it 3 times in 4 hours. The next night I didn’t put anything in there with her and she peed within 45 minutes. She doesn’t seem to mind her crate. The breeder said she was crate trained. So, how come she can do so well out of her crate and not in her crate? Oh, the crate is with us in the bedroom at night and the little bit that she goes in the crate during the day she is in the same room as us. I didn’t think you were suppose to put newspaper in their crate because that would encourage them to pee where they sleep or is that only when they get older and can hold it longer? It had been at least 6 years since I have done this with a puppy and I think I may have forgotten a few steps. Thanks for your help.

  6. Carrie, thanks for your comments — here and the other places you’ve contributed to the discussions here.

    I agree with your suggestion of keeping the crate bare for a while, or to separate out part of it.

  7. When crate training as part of housebreaking is not working sometimes making the crate bare will work. Dogs often will potty on a bed or blanket in the crate because bedding soaks it up or can be moved around by the dog to cover the potty up.In addition often it takes a very small area around the dog to give him the motivation to work hard to keep it clean.If you cannot purchase a smaller crate blocking part of it off with bricks or something chew proof for the first few days can keep area clean. Another part of housebreaking that may help is keeping a tight feeding and watering schedule. If it goes in on a schedule,it also comes out on a schedule.This gives you a better chance of knowing when dog needs to go out to potty.

  8. Cathy — My first thought was to get them two crates, side by side, for times when nobody is home. Then I thought mastiffs and wondered if your house would be large enough!

    Seriously, I do think two crates are a good idea. Much better for not playing too rough or accidentally getting a paw stuck yet close enough to be company.

    When you get littermates there are some specific challenges, and one is to be sure that each dog is comfortable being alone at times. So taking ONE for a walk (a short walk at first… the one at home may well be very upset) or ONE into another room even is good practice for times when they might have to be apart in their lives.

    It will also help them to bond more with their humans. Our rescue Rottie Lola had been with her littermate/sister till a few days before we met up with her, when she was 6 months old, and she bonded more quickly with our dog Larry than with us. She now loves us dearly, but generally sticks real close to Larry.

    But I digress. Back to the day you have to go back to work. I agree that two puppies fussing at the door would be bad for the neighbors, them, and you. I would suggest that you make the situation flow with “baby steps” to the best of your ability. Go back to work for half days if you can for even one or two days.

    And once you are on full time work again, I think it would be highly advisable to have someone give them a good long break from the crates in the middle of the day. If you can come home for lunch, great. Or hire a petsitter, or beg a neighbor , friend, or family member to help out. Even a few weeks of this would be a big help.

    Then once you get home from work, be ready to romp, even if you are exhausted.

    Best of all, get a new job where you can work at home!

  9. We have just acquired two male mastiff puppies that are 10 weeks old. We just recently lost our 8 year old mastiff, so we are familiar with this great breed of dog. These two little guys are doing great with potty training….with an occasional slip once in a while. We crate them both in the same crate at night. My concern is what to do with them when we have to return to work. Should we put them both in the crate during the day also? I am concerned with that “puppy play” and the biting that goes on with that. We have considered keeping them outside, but when they are ready to come in, they BOTH start the barking and howling wanting to come in. I don’t want them to annoy our neighbors when we are gone.
    Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated

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