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Crate Training & Basic Housetraining

Every year millions of dogs are dumped at humane societies because they are "bad dogs" - their owners have thrown up their hands in despair because the dog messed in the house. barked too much, chewed the furniture, or exhibited any number of other natural 'doggy' behaviors. The real problem is that the owners did not take the time to teach the dog to redirect these natural behaviors in an acceptable way: eliminating outside, shushing on command, munching on chew toys, etc. Instead, the dog was made the villian of the piece and abandoned.

Probably the most common complaint among dog owners is the lack of house-training. The dog can't be trusted in the house. Fortunately, the training tool which can help you overcome this problem will also help you overcome several other potential problems. It's call a crate.

Ah, ha ! Already I can see your eyebrows raising, your face starting to show horror and disbelief...A crate ? You mean a cage ? How cruel ! Au contraire. Raising a dog without a crate is the cruel course, for you invite all the situations which will have you confronting an errant dog and punishing him, perhaps even having him destroyed.

Dogs learn to love their crates as their own special place, a haven, a retreat, a familiar and secure ‘den' whether in the car or at a motel or dog show. You'll find your dog seeking out his crate at nap time, sometimes preferring it to the opportunity to curl at your feet.

There will be the rare exception, a dog who will never adapt to a crate, but if you introduce your pup or older dog to one properly, it'll be a winner.

When you choose a crate, get advice from the pup's breeder or the pet supply store, so that the one you select is the correct size: large enough for the adult to stand, sit and stretch out. Now, this may well mean that the pup has room to romp around. Since this isn't ideal when it comes to housetraining, you can block off part of the crate area. You don't want enough room for the pup to sleep at one end and eliminate at the other. A key principle in housetraining is to use what the pup's mother taught him-you don't mess where you sleep or eat.

On that note, when you choose your pup, check whether he and his littermates have been kept in clean conditions, ie..their kennel are is clean. Dogs from puppy mills or pet stores can be diffficult to housetrain simply because they're been forced to soil living/sleeping quarters.

So, you've got your crate-either plastic or metal; the former providing more feeling of security while the latter is collapsible and allows more air flow- and you have to decide where to put it. Do not stick it in the basement or some other remote part of the house. Your dog wants to be with you and to be a part of the family activities, even as an observer. Place the crate in the kitchen or family room-move it around with you. At night, the crate should go in your bedroom. Not only does this provide comforting company, but your sleeping patterns will encourage the pup to slumber on. If there is any fussing, you're there to deal with it-much better that dragging yourself downstairs in the wee hours.

Now, how to get the pup to use the crate ? Select a command, such as "go to bed" and into the pup with a treat--throw it into the crate. At first, leave the door open. Once he enters readily, close the door for a few minutes, sit down beside the crate and talk to him in a happy voice. You could give him a special chew toy, just for when he's in the crate. Keep praising when he's inside, lengthening the periods you leave him.

Any complaining the pup might do at first isn't caused by the crate, but by the new controls set by this unfamiliar environment. Don't let him out when he's whining or complaining–you're only rewarding this bad behaviour. Wait until he's been quiet for about five minutes, then release him, without a big ‘welcome', which again would be inappropriate reward.

Don't leave any collar or tags on your dog when he's crated. They could catch on something and cause injury.

Your 'crate routine' should begin as soon as you bring your pup home. Close the puppy in the crate at regular one to two hour intervals and whenever he must be left alone, for up to three or four hours.

Now ...... housebreaking.First of all, understand that popping your dog into a crate does not of itself housetrain a dog. This does not happen magically. Mind you, when you follow the common sense procedure, the results will seem magical and speedy to boot.

The most important rule behind successful housetraining is to prevent the dog from making mistakes. Many people punish the dog like mad for piddling or pooping in the house, and virtually ignore the appropriate behaviour: eliminating outside. So you get a dog that learns it's wrong to mess in the house when the owner is present. Beyond that, confusion.

To prevent mistakes and therefore learning to do the wrong thing, don't let your pup have the run of the house. He needs 100 per cent active supervision. This means that it's not good enough to leave the pup alone in the living room while you go to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Nor does it mean you can lose yourself in a book while the pups sniffs out a territory behind the easy chair. A puddle takes only a few seconds ! That's why we say active supervision. If you must leave the room, either take the pup with you, even to answer the phone, or put him in his crate–his house.

The real purpose of crate training, beyond preventing problems, is to predict when the pup will need to eliminate, so you can take him to the right spot. The first step is to establish a regular feeding schedule. Confine him after eating for no more than 10 to 15 minutes, then take him directly outside to the spot you've designated for his toilet activities. Chances are he will eliminate in short order. When he does, praise him ! Get across that he's absolutely the best dog in the world. You can even give him a treat as a reward. Then take him back inside and play with him for a half hour or so, now that the tank's empty. Return him to his crate for napping. Every hour or so, take him outside to his special spot and wait a few minutes. If there's success, praise him. If not, return him to his crate. Each time there is success, again leave him out of his crate for a half hour, under supervision. The use of reward {praise and treat} should speed things up.

If it's impossible to follow the routine of taking him outside every hour, then take him out at the critical times when elimination is most likely: after naps, after extreme excitement {playing}, drinking a lot of water, prolonged chewing, or when you see him sniffing around trying to find a place to go.

Whichever routine you follow, the vital point is the prevention of mistakes and the rewarding of good behaviour.

If by some chance the dog does get the opportunity to make a mistake in the house, don't punish him after the fact. You're too late. And don't let him see you cleaning up the mess. This can be a reward to some dogs, strange as it seems. Neutralize the spot with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water, or pour on some club soda or commercial product. Use paper towel as a good blotter.

If the pup makes a mistake in his crate, clean it out thoroughly–don't leave him so long. If this happens more than for the first couple of day, access your routine. You're likely doing something wrong–or else there's a physical problem and you should consult your Veterinarian {this hold true for an older dog too}.

As guidance, and assuming the pup has had exercise and relieved itself, a two month old pup should have two to three hours of control, and a four month old pup, up to five hours. This will vary with the individual pup. If absolutely necessary, an adult dog can control urination up to 13 hours, depending on the activity, temperament, how much water he's had and other factors. One way to teach the pup control is to distract him when he indicates he wants to go–play a bit longer {not too long, of course}.

Traditionally, dog owners have taken their dogs for walks in order to "do their business". These days, thank goodness, that means taking along a plastic bag or some other clean up device. How much neater to have the dog do his stuff before you start the walk, whether at curb side {your own curb} or in the back yard. Then you can reward the dog by taking him for that walk. Some dogs learn to "hold it" simply because they've cottoned on to the fact that as soon as they eliminate, the owner wheels around and heads for home. In effect, the dog is punished for eliminating.

One important note. The area you designate for the dog's toilet should be kept clean, or he will reach a point where his won't want to use it. Remove the deposits every day or two. You may want to look into a device that serves as a septic tank for dogs–you deposit the deposits in an inground unit.

The nine to five dog

Okay, you've read this far and you're thinking, "this sounds great except for one thing: I have to leave the dog alone all day while I work. The pup's bound to mess his crate." Right you are. Ideally, a neighbour can come in {or you can rush home at lunch} so the routine elimination times can be maintained until the dog is old enough to last the day. Failing that, use a room rather than a crate for confinement. Some people advocate this for long-term confinement in any event. A kitchen makes a good spot. Because the floor is usually of a type of material that can't be easily harmed. Baby gates make excellent barriers to close off the area. Have his crate, food and water in one section, and paper over another section, just in case. If he does become paper-trained, the overall housetraining routine will probably take long, but you'll still get there. And you can wean him off the paper as his control improves.

You may wish to wean him away from the crate too, though there's really no good reason to and we recommend you don't. When he's in his crate you know he can't chew the furniture or get into any other kind of trouble. His wet paws can dry there. He's out of the road when workmen are in your home or there's some other kind of activity in which you do not wish the dog to participate. If , however, you don't want a crate as part of your decor, you'll have to replace it with some other special place for your dog–a bed, a bean bag, a blanket/bed, moving the latter around the house with you so the dog knows where he's supposed to be when you're dining or entertaining friends.

Certainly, a crate is not intended as a place to dump your dog and ignore him. The crate is a tool which should allow you to have a smoother, happier relationship. And a drier one too.

Above all, don't give up on your dog. Regardless of his age, he can be trained to be a fastidious member of the household. Just be sure to give him every chance to do the right thing in the right place–and let him know you love him for it.