Originally Published: December 30, 2004 7:10 a.m.
Old ideas can be hard to eradicate, even when better ones come along. That's certainly true when it comes to house-training, with many people still following horrid old methods such as shoving a puppy's nose in the mess and swatting him with a rolled-up newspaper.
If you have a new puppy and that's the method you're using, please put down that rolled-up newspaper and learn about crate-training. Every year more people turn to this method, with good reason: It's easier on pup and people alike.
"I find the crate to be very effective when used in house-training for a couple of reasons," says Liz Palika, the author of more than 45 pet-care books who has spent 28 years teaching dog obedience in the San Diego area. Her most recent book is "The KISS Guide to Raising a Puppy" (Dorling Kindersley, $20).
"First, when the dog is confined, he can't sneak off to another room or behind the sofa to relieve himself. Second, when in the crate, he learns and develops bowel and bladder control, because few dogs are willing to soil their bed."
Crate-training limits a puppy's options to three: He's either empty and playing in the house, or he's in the crate and "holding it" because he doesn't want to sit in his own waste, or he's at the place you've chosen for him to relieve himself.
Puppies need to relieve themselves after they wake up, after they eat or drink, or after a period of play. Set up a schedule to accommodate his needs – young puppies, especially small breeds or mixes, can't go very long without eating, drinking, sleeping or relieving themselves – as you work to mold behavior. A good rule of thumb: Puppies can hold it as long as their age in months. A 2-month-old pup can "hold it" in a crate for about two hours, for example.
"When the puppy walks into the crate, I praise him," says Palika. "But – and this is the big thing – I do not make a huge fuss over his walking in. I praise him and he gets his toy or treat, but otherwise I'm calm and matter-of-fact about it.
"I've found if people are too over the top, the dog may feel that the crate is dangerous or scary, or that it's all a trick."
Let the puppy sleep next to your bed in the crate – sleeping near you speeds the bonding process – and lead him to the chosen outside spot as soon as he's awake in the morning. When he goes, praise him thoroughly. Then take him inside for breakfast. Feed him and offer him water, and then take him out for another chance to go. If he goes, more praise and back inside for play. If you're not sure he's completely empty, put him in the crate.
Ignore the whines and whimpers. If left alone, the puppy will soon be fast asleep and will stay that way until it's time for the next round of out, eat/drink, out, play, crate.
Remember, the goal is for your puppy to roam free in your house, not to stay in a crate for life. "A crate is not a storage container for a dog," says Palika.
Eventually, your pet will be spending more of his time loose in the house under your supervision, and he will start asking to visit his outdoor spot. Don't forget to confirm his early attempts at proper behavior by rewarding him with praise and treats.
If you spot an in-house accident, don't punish your pet. Rubbing his nose in the mess is pointless and mean. If you catch your dog in the act, a stern "no" will suffice, followed by an immediate trip to the yard, and praise when he finishes up where he's supposed to. Clean up the inside mess thoroughly, and treat the area with an enzymatic solution to neutralize the smell.
With proper crate-training, the number of such incidents will be relatively few, and you'll end up with a dog that is not only reliable in the house, but also confident in his own ability to stay alone when you are gone.