Housebreaking Dogs that Soil Their Crates

Latest update:
Hey guys! I wrote this post over 5 years ago, and to date, it’s the most read thing I’ve ever written. I hope you find it helpful! If you do (and especially if you’ve got comments that you’d like a response to), please consider leaving a tip in the tip jar. :) I try and reply promptly to all comments on here, but sometimes it gets time consuming.


I wrote the bulk of this several weeks ago in response to a spate of messages on a message board I frequent about this topic. Because I’m feeling lazy, I decided to re-post it over here so I can just direct people to it again rather than re-writing it every few days.

It’s a pretty common scenario- and one that I’ve responded to several times now, from face-to-face clients and, more commonly, on internet message boards. (Which is why I have decided to type this up!) Someone has gotten a new dog planning to use the crate method to housebreak him or her, and the dog soils in the crate, resulting in an unhappy owner, a stressed out (and dirty) dog, and tears all around. This isn’t uncommon with puppy mill dogs or dogs who came from really filthy conditions, but even more commonly, I see three main reasons why this happens. Firstly, is that the dog is being asked to ‘hold it’ too long. A rule of thumb for puppies is one hour per month of age, but there’s a great deal of individual variation. A stressed out puppy will need to go MUCH sooner than one who is used to being crated and settles down to sleep right away. A 2 month old Great Dane is 20 pounds, but a two month old Toy Fox Terrier is perhaps 2 or 3 pounds! Some puppies are just more mature than others. Secondly, the dog may have a physical problem- immaturity (and some dogs can be REALLY slow to mature!), a UTI, spay incontinance- or some form of separation anxiety (this last is the rarest). So a vet check is in order before trying this. Thirdly, the dog comes from, as mentioned above, an environment where he or she never had the chance to eliminate away from the nesting area as a baby and has never learned to prefer NOT to sleep in her own mess.

Just like with any dog being housebroken, supervision and scheduled feedings are really important. If the dog is not being supervised, they need to be confined. But for dogs who soil in the crate, this can be a nightmare. So what do you do?
Firstly, find an alternate means of confinement. Indoors, set up an exercise pen with the dog’s crate in it (I will be using ‘her’ for the rest of this article) and newspaper/unscented potty pads outside of the crate so that she has access to them at all times. Put a plastic shower curtain or heavy-duty plastic sheet under the pen to protect the floor, too. Babygating the dog into a dog-proofed area is also an option- a laundry room or hallway can work, too, especially with larger breed puppies and adult dogs. Except with quite small dogs, it will be hard to fit a crate into an exercise pen and still have enough room for the dog to get outside of it- this is easy to solve by using a wire mesh crate, and clipping the exercise pen to the sides so that it opens into the fenced-in area. Before the advent of cheaply available plastic crates, paper training was the normal way of housebreaking a puppy.

Paper training isn’t a great first option as a rule, because you’ll have to gradually transition the dog into going on a single targeted sheet of paper or pee pad, and then gradually move that outdoors (while making it clear that eliminating off the pad is not done. ) But one problem at a time- by doing this, the puppy is set up NOT to potty in her crate. This reduces everyone’s stress right away- no more daily scrubdowns for puppy or crate in nearly all cases. Put a bed or something (and use something easy to wash- I use fleece from the fabric store) in the crate and pin (carefully!) or twist it so that puppy can’t pull it out of the crate to lay on it outside- you want the crate to be the most comfy place to nap.

I don’t put toys or chewies in the exercise pen. This isn’t a playpen, and it really should be used just like you’d use a crate. (I would give the dog chewies when they were tethered to me, instead of giving them as rewards for being in the crate, at least for a few days.) The dog shouldn’t be playing in the pen- if they are, they’re spending too much time in there. I give this a week and see if the puppy will choose to potty as far away from her ‘bed’ as possible. (She may decide not to sleep in the crate- at this point, that’s fine, just as long as she’s eliminating far away from that area.) One potential problem with this setup is if you don’t pick where the pen goes carefully, she can end up eliminating and then walking through it to get to the side you typically walk on or pick her up from. So pick a spot carefully, and don’t be afraid to move it.

If, after a week, she’s consistantly NOT eliminating in the crate, I start reducing the paper in the pen- first, leave the area under the crate and a tiny bit in front of it uncovered. Give that a week, 10 days, and reduce the paper again by a tiny amount- maybe 10-20%. If this schedule works? Continue it- and you can speed up to making changes every 3 days, as long as she’s consistantly using the pads and not the floor. It will take between 2-3 weeks to get down to just 1-2 potty pads in the pen with puppy and her crate.

Once you have her down to 1/4 of the pen covered with a potty pad and she is using it consistantly (and NOT soiling in her crate), I start re-introducing the crate- but I’d treat her like a dog who hadn’t been crate trained, because she effectively *hasn’t*.

I then reintroduce the crate very slowly, and in stages. Someone- and I can’t remember who originated this, but it might have been from Pigs Fly- giving your dog something REALLY REALLY TASTY- a Kong, a marrow bone- giving them 2 minutes in the crate (door closed) with it- and then PULLING THEM OUT AND DOING SOMETHING BORING- I like grooming for this :P) Most dogs will be quite eager to go back to their crate after 3-4 minutes of this- so let them! Feed in the crate, crate for very short periods of time- while you take a shower, while you unload the dishwasher- and see how she does.

In the mean time, while you’re reintroducing the crate, get a feeling for how often she’s peeing and pooping (and what times) on the papers. If you’re very confident about the schedule and that she won’t use the floor? Pull out that pee pad and put it in another part of the house and start taking her to it when you know she needs to go. If you can get her to do that? You’re 80% of the way done- she’s learned the self control to wait and now you jsut have to transition from pads to outdoors.

If you’ve got to leave your pup more than a very short interval, leave her in the crate attached to the exercise pen with a potty pad or newspaper down. For dogs over about 20 pounds, you may need quite a large area if you’re going to be gone all day, and it really may be more practical to dog proof a room (or use two exercise pens hooked together for an area that’s 4×8 instead of 4×4.) ¬†Again- keep a close eye on how well the dog is using the slowly decreasing newspaper space.

With a lot of dogs, at this point, you can try shutting the crate door when you leave for a short time (less than an hour) if the dog is relaxed in the crate and has eliminated recently. If you come back and the dog is clean in his crate? You’ve got it made. Proceed normally with crate training- you’ve been able to re-establish your dog’s natural desire not to eliminate where he dens.

That will not be the case with all dogs, unfortunately. If your dog is NOT one of the ones above, continue on with paper training- more in the sequel to this post, going up Friday.

This isn’t impossible to overcome. The biggest thing is patience. Toy breeds (most of the posters who have this problem have toy or small breeds or, oddly enough, dachshunds) can be REALLY tough to housebreak. This issue- it is, I believe, the #1 reason toys end up in rescue (housebreaking, not crate soiling). Like any dog behavior problem, the key is changing the way you manage the dog in order to make everyone’s life lower stressful while you retrain the dog’s behavior.

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28 Responses to Housebreaking Dogs that Soil Their Crates

  1. Islandmamma says:

    Thanks. I am feeling really defeated with my dog becasue she keeps soiling her crate and laying in it.It takes such a long time to clean and really is gross. I think it may be sepertation anxiety as she mostly has done this when we are away. She isn’t left long ever as I am an at home mom but when she is I can bet that I’m coming home to a mess. She is a rescue dog of 4 years old, I’ve had her 4 months. Shes from a kennel and I guess thats also a huge part of the problem. If it were’nt for this life with her would be perfect!

  2. Robert Carillo says:

    My dog is crate trained. However, he poos in the crate if left alone in the house. Can you give me any suggestions

  3. Liz says:

    Will this work for a puppy that had no concept of “holding it”. She is 8 month old puggle and is from a pet store. We got her when she was 6 months old. I am at a complete loss. She will go outside about every 2-3 hours. But if I am late at all she will go inside. She has NO CONCEPT of holding it.
    Any suggestions? PLEASE!!!

    • mittelspitz says:

      In general, yes, it will, but it may take longer. With pet store puppies, many never learned TO be clean in the first place (because they were raised in a confined space on wire), so establishing that being confined and clean is an option can be difficult. Giving the dog space to get away from their own waste is what can help with this method.

      Good luck!

  4. Liz says:

    Is it done the same way though? Considering she will go outside? The problem is she will also go inside just as easily. She just seems unable to “hold it” I don’t even use the crate anymore because she will never hold it. Any suggestions?
    Thank you so much for your assistance.

  5. janet says:

    I just got a 1 year chihuahua from the shelter. She poops and pees in her crate at night. I get up 3 times a night to let her out and she does nothing when I take her out. She barks all night in the crate. I am exhausted!!! I am determined not to give her back to the shelter because other than this major problem, she’s an awsome dog. HELP!!

    • mittelspitz says:

      Hi Janet!

      How did you crate train your new buddy? One thing to keep in mind- especially with adult dogs who may not have ever been crate trained- is that the crate can be pretty stressful if it’s introduced abruptly. WHile most dogs will really LIKE crates once they’re introduced properly, you *do* have to make that a gradual introduction- start with a tired dog and a great chew or comfy place to nap, and use only short intervals before leaving the dog all night (or all day while you are at work.) Just like with puppies, you have to start slow- and hang in there through the inevitable accidents.

      In addition, one of the most common reasons small dogs are given up to shelters is difficulty housebreaking. Your pup may well not have any idea that she SHOULDN’T eliminate in the house. So you are pretty much starting from scratch. Consider baby-gating an area covered with potty pads or newspaper and seeing if that will let you get some sleep- and work on crate training separately after you’ve gotten some sleep!

      I’m not a human trainer, BUT, one last thing to consider is that it’s REALLY hard to think straight when you’re tired. :) When your sleep is being constantly interrupted, it’s hard to get good solid rest that’s essential for your own health- physical AND mental. You’ll feel MUCH more able to cope- even if it means cleaning up newspapers in the morning- if you can get some sleep! :)

      Good luck, and feel free to email me with any other questions!
      Cait@dogstaracademy.com

  6. Jennifer says:

    I am so thankful that I came across your post directing me to this. I am anxious to begin what you suggest with getting my puppy (Molly, a mini Welch Pembroke Corgi) to stop soiling in her crate. We have her down to such a small area in her crate right now that it makes me sick to know she is in there. I know she doesn’t like it either!! We have a laundry room which we can close off with a gate and begin your suggestion. She is doing really well with not pottying in the house-I’ve been known to fall asleep in the recliner at night and the other morning woke up at 5:30 there. Molly never pottied in the house over that night and that was a good 6 hours!!

    Thank you so much!!

  7. Terie says:

    I have an adult ( 2 yr old) rescue ChiDoxie. She is very lovable. But sometimes I come home to a mess in the crate as well. I am thinking of geting a larger crate so she has enough room to create areas for herself. An area to sleep and one for bathroom use. I work all day and I am away around 9 hours a day. When I am home, she goes out back.
    Feedback please. Like most ppl have ben saying, everyone has to be happy. I will not give up nor give her back up to live in a shelter. She just needs some help. Thanks.

    • mittelspitz says:

      Hi Terie,

      Rather than using a larger crate, I’d suggest an exercise pen with a crate in it, or something. The reasoning for this is that once you teach that a crate is an okay place to eliminate, it doesn’t matter what size it is. If your dog ever gets boarded at a place that crates the boarders at night, or has to stay at the vet, the kennel staff will thank you for NOT eaching your dog that crates are an okay place to eliminate.

      • Terie says:

        Hi. And thank you. I didn’t do the bigger crate after learning that it was a bad idea.
        She has a potty patch out back that she uses every time she goes out. No problem there. It’s stopping the in the house stuff and the crate accidents.

    • Terie says:

      Well, it is 4 months later and my Chiweenie almost found her way back to the shelter today but I couldn’t do it. She has learned nothing all these months. Still ‘marks’by peeing. She doesn’t soil her crate. But she pees upon my return home. I know she comes with some history I will never know about but maybe she was abused. She ‘marks’ even on my bed. Has done that three times recently and five times since I have her. I am at my wits end. And very attached at this point. I have her 6 months now. New home. New furniture and new floors and I just need a solution for this behavior.
      Her other issue is she is a runner. She is an escape artist. Harness, collar, choker, coat. Has gotten out of them all. Yes, they are tight. One of them the trainer put on her.
      Help.

  8. KDawn says:

    Thank you for this advice. It is helpful. My situation is a bit different and I am hoping you can give me some added advice. We have recently added a new puppy to our household that already has 2 older dogs (5 and 9 years old). Our new puppy is not a toy breed in any shape or form. She is a Cane Corso and her name is Athena. She is 5 months old and just passed 50 lbs! We are trying to potty train her but having a lot of difficulty. She will soil the floor right in front of us. We will take her out for 30 minutes and she won’t go to the bathroom but will once we get back inside. When we are not home, we have to keep her in a crate because she is destructive. We tried locking her in our small kitchen but she found her way into cabinets and pulls things off of the counter and artwork off of the fridge. The other 2 dogs get free roam of the house while we are gone. I know she hates that she can’t roam too but I think it would be unfair to put the other 2 in crates.

    Even if we are gone for 1 hour she will poop in her crate. I know she can hold it because she can hold it all night long. I think she just gets mad. The family is very sick of cleaning a poopy crate everyday – sometimes 2-3 times a day.

    Also she has already broken one crate to get out of it — scraping herself and scrathcing her face as well. Athena is truly gorgeous and a sweetheart outside of this issue. Unfortunately, this is a HUGE issue. Any advice?

    By the way, our 9 year old Lab Mix also soils the crate or a room he is locked in when he has to be put in it — which is only when we have company that is not comfortable with dogs. We have always assumed that he is just stubborn and gets mad.

    • mittelspitz says:

      Hi KDawn!

      Crate soiling isn’t unique to toys, but it’s significantly more common there. (The combination of a higher probability of a bad background and tiny bladders that just plain take longer to mature than larger dogs.) With your dog, I would say the first thing to do is find your favorite relaxing adult beverage and remind yourself that this too shall pass. :P Being frustrated is perfectly natural, but dogs read that sort of body language REALLY easily- and unfortunately, submissive elimination is NOT the result you want! Your pup is young, but she has some symptoms that are sort of worrying that are more related to separation anxiety. Panicking in a crate to the point of injury and persistent house soiling are two major signs there. That said, she’s VERY young for that sort of thing, and it’s more likely to be other things. I *would* keep an eye on that- and make sure you are keeping up on the puppy class and socialization end of things, especially with a corso, since they can be pretty suspicious of strangers.

      On the soiling in front of you, how do you react when she starts to squat? It sounds like she’s gotten habituated to indoors being the ‘correct’ place to go. Are you taking her outside on leash or off leash? If you’re taking her out off-leash, try putting a leash on and staying in one spot until she produces. Give her 10 minutes to eliminate, and if nothing happens, go back inside, keep her on leash, and as soon as she starts sniffing, circling, or doing any other ‘potty’ behaviors, rush her back outside. Keeping her on leash will make sure you SEE these behaviors and she can’t go off and poop out of sight. If you’re going out ON leash currently, try setting up a potty area where she can be off leash but is small enough that it’s just not that interesting- a kennel run can work fine for this- she’s too big for an exercise pen at this point. In this case you DO still need to supervise- don’t just leave her in the pen until you think she’s gone. In BOTH cases, it’s absolutely critical to reward her AS SHE STARTS to eliminate in the correct spot. Use the MOST DELICIOUS FOOD IN THE WORLD (whatever she thinks that is- I recommend something like bologna or deli lunch meat, and use it ONLY at this time)- don’t use dog biscuits and don’t use kibble. Even if you normally don’t train with food, it makes figuring this out a high priority for the dog. :)

      On the crate pooping, I see a couple possible issues. One is that she is just too anxious to hold it. If she does it around the 1 hour mark, you need to figure out a way to NOT leave her for an hour at a time. Yes, I realize this is really difficult. But it very much sounds like she’s anxious and not actually crate trained. Yes, dogs can be claustrophobic. What about setting up a larger indoor pen- either a heavy duty exercise pen with a top (preferably two, which would giv eher a 4×8 area) or even buying a chainlink kennel run and setting it up in a recc room or a basement?

  9. shelley says:

    hi i have an 8mth old great dane that loves to pee and poop all in his cage he can be outside for ages and after 5 mins of going back in his crate he does it and pees in the house to please help now he is getting big i have quite big puddles everywhere!!!

    • Brad says:

      Did you find anything that worked?? I have a 5mth old Dane myself. The problem that I am having is that he pees in his crate AND DOESN’T MIND LAYING IN IT!! He makes it the entire night no problem no matter how much water he gets before bed and he sleeps on a towel/blanket. During the day though no matter if it is 45min or 4-5 hours that he is in the crate he pees in the crate with or without a towel. We had the crate covered for a while with a sheet but he began pulling the sheet in to soak up the pee and then push it off to the side.

      I would love to know what worked for you since we have the same breed and same large puddle problems.

      My wife is going crazy and is at her wits end!

  10. p b says:

    i have an 8 month old female(spayed) ladrador , who has been exceptionally clean and well toilet trained, she is kept in a cage at night, however … she wont go outside, unless i am with her, my grown up children cannot get her to ‘go’ ..i was away last night , and came back to a very soiled crate and dog !! they all tryed to get her out , as soon as i come home ..she goes outside straight away !! help !!

  11. Melissa Frasier says:

    We have a 4 1/2month old German Shepard. When we got her she was in a pen with her brothers and sisters. She was not in a clean environment. We take her out frequently but when she comes and after less than 30 minutes or so she will pee on the floor. The other problem is that she can hold it all night in her kennel but when we leave for a couple of hours she will pee in her kennel every time. Do you have any suggestions that could help us out?

  12. Chris says:

    I have a toy-5.5 pound Morkie. Love her. Housebreaking her was awful!! Never worked as she would just pee or poop on my throw rugs. Decided to just use pee pads. I was crate training her. The pads worked great but now I have a 11 week old Maltipoo who is doing wonderful with housebreaking so I am attemtping to housebreak my Morkie. NOT working at all. She eliminates in her kennel. FIghts me horrible when she has to go outside. She will go outside after 5 times in and out and in the kennel and then back outside but it has been difficult and is not working for either of us. She is confused as to where her pads are. She does not want to go outside at all. It is awful just awful. I don’t know what to do. She was such a happy dog but we both are starting to resent the other and that is not the way I want it to be. I keep being told to put her in kennel when I know she should be going outside and doesn’t. Well that means she could be in her kennel half of the day and ALL night. I cant do that. That is cruel to me. BUT i do not want my new puppy following her lead and thinking well if she can go in the house well so can I. What do I do???

  13. OK the last post on here was September but I’m hoping I will still get some help. My boyfriend and I just got a 2 month old Husky/Timberwolf girl and we’ve had her for 2 weeks. every night she will poop and pee in her crate 2-5x and then rolls and lays around in it!! – we wake up to let her out every couple of hours whether she whines or not so she gets plenty of opportunity to go outside. We are cleaning her crate everytime we wake up for her! PLUS when we do go to let her outside she gets so excited that she slithers around and pees all over the place whenever we go near her even to pet her! We have a 2 year old male of the same breed who we got at 6 weeks old (mother died) and was a breeze to crate and housetrain. Our new puppy doesn’t seem to mind being IN the crate as we feed her in there and have a blanket for her to relax and she sleeps in there too – but she still soils (poops and pees) every time shes in it even for an hour or less. on TOP of that – we do take her outside every few hours and she is let to roam free in the house when we are home she gets A LOT of play time outside with our other dog. My boyfriend and I both work so we are gone during the day but I own my own business so head home every 4 hours to let her out and sometimes shes fine and dry but sometimes there’s 3 or 4 poop piles in there. We are scared to pet her and give her attention cuz she just starts peeing everywhere…. she is a real sweetheart of a pup and i know really just wants us to love her and love us back but I dont know what to do anymore! we also have a 2 year old daughter – I dont know if that makes a difference…
    Any suggestions?? HELP!!!??

    • caitmac says:

      Heya!

      it sounds like you’ve got multiple issues here, Kait (great name, LOL :D)

      First off, an 8 week old puppy may very well not be able to make it through the night. She may not even be able to make it more than 2-3 hours. The first few nights I had Lizzie, we were out every 3 hours or so. You need to put the night time outings on a schedule- and if she’s pooped before the next scheduled outing, then you need to increase the frequency of them. I’d get her out of the crate and attach it to an exercise pen just so she can get away from her waste if she really can’t hold it, and see if you can sort out what is ‘can’t hold it’ from ‘doesn’t know how to be clean’.

      The other issue, the peeing- that’s submissive urination. She will PROBABLY grow out of it (I hate to tell you this, but it’s VERY normal in wolf puppies according to various sources (I believe the Wilde book is the one I’ve seen it mentioned in, but I’ve heard it from others too), which is one of teh reasons wolves don’t make good pets). Ignore it and it will go away. Make your petting very calm and quiet, and do exciting interaction outdoors or on easy-to-clean surfaces. It will probalby go away on it’s own with socialization and some growing- if this pup is NOT already on a very comprehensive plan for socialization and training, I would sit down and make one- with one adult wolfdog, you already know how important socialization is with these guys!

  14. Marjorie Anctil says:

    We have a 3 yr old blind from birth dachsund/cairn terrier mix we are fostering. He pees in his crate every night and has peed and pooped in the house. We take him for walks during the day and he has a potty patch in the yard where he will go at random. After a month of washing crate bedding each day and having to watch him every second to see if he’s finding a place on the rug to pee, we are at our wits end. The rescue director gave us a “diaper” thing she said to put on him, so obviously, he had this problem before. We haven’t used the diaper thing as I had hoped with regular visits outside and positive reinforcement strategies when he potties outside, I thought we could fix this. We are having no luck with the crate peeing. Returning him will have him in his crate most of the day at the rescue, so we know this will not contribute to him becoming more adoptable. We feel terrible as we’ve come to love this very cute boy and returning him prematurely to the rescue leaves us feeling terribly guilty and him back in the sad position of not being in a loving home. HELP!

    • caitmac says:

      Heya! The steps in here *will* work, but the biggest thing you’ve got to do in the short term is get him out of the crate so that he can have a chance to learn how to be clean. An exercise pen- or even a dog proofed room (but I’d use a pen at first) will work- but in general, that’s the only way I’ve found to help a dog re-establish the instinct not to eliminate where he sleeps.

      The steps I’ve outlined above should work for you – please let me know how it goes!

  15. Ally says:

    We have an 8 week old french bulldog who keeps soiling in his crate. We take him outside for 6-10 minutes, give him privacy, try and talk him into going, but nothing. As soon as we put him in his crate he forces something out of him. We’ve only had him for a few days and we want to break this habbit asap. We have been using puppy pads around the house and he sometimes uses them, other times he doesn’t, depends on his mood I guess. We also crate him in the night in our bedroom and let him out, but he ends up soiling the crate usually twice throughout the night. We feel like he is getting worse and not better at this point any extra advice would help!

    • caitmac says:

      8 weeks is REALLY young. I’d take him outside for longer (yeah, I know it’s cold). Don’t worry about privacy. Hover! Stay RIGHT THERE and just wait. :P If he’s going as soon as he comes in, there are two possibilities- one is that you’re not waiting long enough, the other is that he’s just so cold he can’t poop. (In the case of the second, I’d try setting up a piece of sod on a try in a garage or something that’s at least a little warmer).

      With an 8 week old, he is probably GOING to need to go out at least once at night, if not twice- it’s just his age. I’d either get rid of the potty pads during the day and do more frequent outside time OR really buckle down on training him to use them- it’s not instinctive, you have to teach ‘this is where I want you to pee, nowhere else’ with them just like regular housebreaking. That means leading him to them when you think he might need to go and keeping him on them until he produces, and then rewarding like mad for it.

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