Puppies are cute, but the messes they leave behind aren’t.
It’s difficult enough to housebreak them; keeping them from tearing apart your home, when you’re away, just adds to the problem. One effective way to both housebreak a new puppy and to avoid its messes is to kennel train it at a young age.
What the Heck is “Kennel Training,” Anyway?
Kennel training (also known as crate training) involves teaching a puppy to remain in its kennel -- without crying, trying to dig out, or soiling its home -- during those times when you’re away. This isn’t as difficult as it might sound. Wild canines live in dens and, like them, domestic dogs enjoy having a snug hideaway they can call their own.
In most cases, a pup will stay with its mother until it’s 6-8 weeks old. By the time you get the puppy, it’s got the basics down – its eyes are open, it’s weaned, and it can run, eat and play with the best of them. You can start kennel training right away. One of the most beneficial aspects of kennel training is that it can accelerate a housebreaking program: the puppy will quickly learn to “hold it” in order to avoid fouling its den. But take it easy at first – elimination control will always be an issue until your baby’s at least half-grown. Eventually, the pup will realize that it has to follow a bathroom schedule and, before you know it, your new puppy will be housebroken.
To kennel train your puppy, follow these simple rules.
1. Purchase a well-ventilated kennel of the proper size, ideally one with a solid floor. Most kennels are made of wire or plastic. Portable kennels, like those used to transport dogs, work fine. You have two options here: you can buy one or more additional kennels as your puppy grows, or you can buy a single kennel of the size you expect your dog to be when it’s fully grown. But beware: if the kennel is too big, you’ll give the pup the option of eliminating in one corner and then sleeping on the other side of the kennel, thereby defeating one of the purposes of kennel training. If necessary, you can use dividers to reduce the kennel’s usable size until the pup needs the extra space.
2. Put some padding inside the kennel to make the puppy feel more at home. You can buy special padding for this purpose, but an old towel or blanket will do just as well – plus it’ll be easier to clean.
3. Let the pup get used to the kennel. At first, let it play or sleep in the kennel with the door open. If necessary, put a toy or snack inside the kennel in order to entice it inside. Don’t force the pup into the kennel at this point.
4. Once the puppy is comfortable with the kennel, and has begun to stay inside the kennel for more than a few minutes at a time, start closing the door and making the pup stay inside for short periods. Remember not to overdo it at this point: a young puppy won’t be able to “hold it” for more than an hour or two at a time. Praise the puppy extravagantly during and after each training session.
5. Once you’ve let the pup out after one of these sessions, take it immediately to its designated elimination area outside so that it can do its business. This will plant the seed of the notion that it should go to the potty only after it gets out of the kennel, not before. Praise the pup abundantly whenever it manages to “hold it” until it gets to its elimination area.
6. After a few weeks, begin leaving the pup locked in its kennel for a few hours at a time. Eventually, the pup will become comfortable with staying in its “house” for long periods. During this period, the puppy will almost certainly suffer a few elimination accidents. Believe it or not, this is one of the most effective ways for a puppy to learn to control and schedule its elimination. It may seem cruel, but nothing teaches a pup to “hold it” better than having to stay in its kennel with its own waste for several hours. You won’t even need to discipline the pup after such a situation – it’ll feel bad enough on its own. The downside is the fact that you’re the one that has to clean up afterwards!
7. Don’t use the kennel as a place of punishment – the negative feelings the puppy will associate with the kennel will subvert your training efforts.
By the time the pup is 6-8 months old, it should be able to “hold it” for 8 hours or longer – long enough to get through a typical workday. At this point, it’s up to you whether you want to keep the “teenager” restrained during the day. If it’s a problem child with a habit of destroying things, or if you can’t easily “babyproof” your home, kenneling may be the best thing for it. Otherwise, you can gradually give your pup access to specific areas of your home, until it has free run of the whole place.
Eventually, your pup will become comfortable with its new home and will go inside whenever it needs to rest. If you make it clear that this is its “house” during training, it’ll be easy later on to make the pup understand what you mean when you order it to get inside. My own dogs know exactly what I mean when I say “Kennel!” or “Get in your house!” Even the utterance of the word “house” will cause my coonhound to drop everything and kennel up. My Pomeranian’s a bit more obstinate, but she’ll follow a direct order (if only grudgingly). This makes life a lot easier whenever I need to leave the house, and it’s much easier to transport the kids whenever that’s necessary.
Good luck, and happy training!