Housebreaking Dogs that Soil Their Crates

May 6, 2008

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?
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