Puppy care shorts: Crate training and housetraining

Crating and Housetraining


Your adult dog should be in a crate no shorter than his or her body. Cardigans don’t need a very tall crate, but the bigger adults do often need an Intermediate (or “300” size) crate. You can get away with a Medium (200 size) crate for several moths. 

Most puppies can go right into a large crate and learn in one of them. If, however, the puppy eliminates in one end of the crate without whining to come out, the crate is too big and you should size down. Your puppy has been sleeping in a crate for days or weeks and is already learning to “hold it” when in a crate, so as long as you are sensitive to his or her needs and signals you should have no problem with crate training.

VERY IMPORTANT: I recommend that every puppy be crated “naked” – with no collar or harness or coat on. Collars are VERY DANGEROUS when a puppy is unsupervised. They can get a foot in it, get their jaw hung up on it, or hang themselves on any small projection in the crate. Put the collar and leash (or slip lead) right next to the crate and snap it on every time you take her out. 

The Safe Room

It is very important that the puppy be allowed to be with you as much as possible. We know you can’t imagine letting this puppy off your lap for more than a minute right now, but in a few weeks when you have a big rambunctious puppy who demands a huge amount of energy and time and isn’t content to sleep all day, it’s really going to cut into your free time and your housework time and your spouse time and your kid time.

Many owners fall into the trap of putting the puppy “away” (kitchens and laundry rooms are the classic places) for the majority of the day, and then wonder why their puppy is wild and undisciplined when she is allowed in the rest of the house.

A puppy cannot learn to respect what she never has contact with, and she cannot learn to interact well with you if she isn’t with you. For that reason, you should plan on puppy-proofing a room that you are likely to be in most of the time you are home. Living room, den, kitchen, wherever you tend to gather and will remain for several hours at a time.

Take up rugs, tie up dangling electric cords, remove breakable objects, and put things that are particularly valuable to you (great-grandpa’s rocking chair) in another room. Ideally, there shouldn’t be anything in the safe room that you’ll cry if it gets teethmarks in it. This is where the puppy’s crate will be, and this is where she will be allowed to be out for several hours in the morning, noon, and evening (mandatory), and as often as you are supervising her at any other times. Baby gates across doorways will easily separate the area from the rest of your house.


Leaving the litter is a BIG adjustment for the puppies. They are closely bonded to their littermates and sleeping away from home will be quite hard for the first few nights. It would be unusual for a puppy not to cry and yelp under those conditions. However, once you give in the first time, the puppy will yelp twice as long the second time—and if you bring her on the bed, she’ll expect to be there for the rest of her life. So a happy crate-training experience depends on you being just a little hard-hearted and probably not getting a lot of sleep the first night or two.

Before bedtime (and this should be a reasonable time, when you go to sleep, not at seven in the evening—plan on the puppy’s night being eight hours at maximum), take the puppy out for a last romp and piddle. She must piddle, and hopefully do both functions, during this time—it’s cruel to put her in her crate if she’s got a full bladder or bowel. If she doesn’t “go,” you’ll need to put off bedtime until she does. Now let her come inside and freshen her water bowl so she is encouraged to take a small drink (the water bowl should always be full, so she won’t drink a lot). Give her a little snack if you’d like, but not enough of a meal to make her have to poop soon. Make sure there’s something to play with (a soft toy) and something to chew (a hard rubber bone is fine, as is a fresh knuckle bone, dried beef trachea, or bully stick) in her crate, then say “Go in your crate!” (or “Go to bed!” or whatever command you will be using consistently) and put the puppy in the crate and shut the door. Then walk away. You don’t have to go out of sight, but you do have to basically pretend that the puppy doesn’t exist. Don’t look at her, don’t speak to her, don’t open the door again. She will probably go nuts, crying, scratching on the crate, yelping and barking. Harden your heart and ignore her.

In three hours, reappear, calmly take her out of her crate, and hurry outside. Try to be quiet and businesslike. This is not playtime, this is piddle time. Many people carry their puppies outside for the first week or two until they can hold it long enough to get out the door—remember, as soon as she steps outside that crate every surface is free game and it’s your fault, not hers, if she makes a mess. Let her eliminate, wait a few minutes to see if she needs to poop. Be boring—don’t talk to her except to praise her for piddling, don’t play, just stand there and let her do her thing. When she is done, back inside, little drink, and then repeat the command and put her inside the crate.

Another three hours go by and you’re heading in to do the same thing. Then two or three hours later you’re up for the day, and so is she. Again, EVERY time she comes out of the crate it’s an automatic out to piddle.

The three-hour routine should last through at least the first four or five nights your puppy is home. By that time, she should not be whining at all in her crate when she goes in. When you reach the point where she is happy to go in her crate and seeks it out as a refuge, you can start letting her tell you when she needs to go out. Let her sleep until she wakes and whines to be let out, then go in and put her out. Within a couple of weeks she should be sleeping through the night. If AT ANY TIME she either starts whining more often than three hours and then seems not to need to go—in other words, she’s figured out that she can whine and get to play—or eliminates in the corner of her crate instead of whining to be let out, go right back to the three-hour schedule for a few nights.

During the day

You’ve been selected as puppy owners partially because of your ability to come home at lunch and care for the puppy, or because one or more members of the family are home all day. This is really a must for any puppy or adult dog—even a dog several years old finds an eight- or nine-hour wait extremely frustrating. Plan on coming home for lunch—or hiring a dogwalker or responsible neighborhood teen—as long as you have a Cardigan.

If you work, you should let the puppy have the run of the “safe room” (with several outs during that time) for at least an hour in the morning, and longer as she becomes more able to hold it. Interact and play with the puppy, run outside with her, encourage her to expend energy. Feed her at least a half-hour before you need to leave so that she has a chance to poop before being put in her crate. Make sure fresh and attractive water is available during that time. One last “out” before you leave, and then she goes in the crate—always with something to play with and something to chew.

At lunchtime, carry her out—she’s probably just about bursting. Encourage her to play for a few minutes, then feed her about a half-hour before you need to leave again. After feeding, slow calm walks until she poops, then safe room time or gentle play time until it is time to leave. One last two-minute out, and then back in the crate.

Once you get home, she’s going to need some real attention. Remember, she’s been pretty bored for two loooong stretches today. Plan on spending a couple of hours with her, either in the safe room or outside. Encourage activity. Suppertime at about the same time as yours, then a slow walk until she poops. Most puppies will then naturally sleep for a while, and then you’re almost up to bedtime, when you can follow the instructions above.


You’re going to be using crate training to housetrain your puppy, so this section is pretty short. However, we did want to emphasize a couple of things.
Puppies do not have bladder control until they are ten to twelve weeks old. When they need to go, they need to (and will) go. Don’t be frustrated if things seem to go really slowly until then—you’re fighting a battle that can’t possibly be won. Crating will keep the accidents to a minimum by encouraging the small amount of control puppies do have, but you’d be a very unusual puppy owner if you weren’t cleaning up a mess or two a day.
If you are crating, any mess the puppy makes is your fault, not hers. Puppies at this age are not rebellious and they usually don’t even realize they’re going. They only have the urge to control themselves within the very small space of the “den” or crate. Anyplace else, including the floor two inches outside the crate, is fine, according to a puppy. That’s why it’s so important to get her out the door quickly and into acceptable territory. If you let her out of the crate and then turn away for your keys and the leash, there’s going to be a puddle on the floor.
“Trigger words” can really save you a lot of time. We train with “piddle” because it’s not a word we use at any other time. Other people say “hurry up” or another phrase. Puppies learn it very quickly and it will quickly become one of your most valuable commands.
Designated pee and poop areas are absolutely fine. If you want your puppy to only eliminate in one area of the lawn or on a small patch of gravel you spread for her, bring her there (carry her in the early days) immediately when you get outside. Don’t let her leave until she’s done her business. In a few weeks, you’ll have a dog that runs to that patch as soon as she’s out the door.
The times that your puppy needs to eliminate are predictable: A few minutes after eating, immediately after waking from a nap, every hour or so when awake, and whenever she is placed in a new situation. This last one is funny—I don’t know why they do it, but if you have had the puppy in one location for a while and you bring her into another, she’ll usually piddle. You can take advantage of this; puppies will often piddle immediately when they’re put on the grass from inside. So make sure that you’re paying attention when you’re moving her around—if she takes a car ride to a friend’s house, for example, piddle her in the grass before you go inside even if you just did it before you left, because otherwise she will almost always go as soon as she hits that strange carpet.

One note on water: If you are having little or no success with housetraining and the puppy seems to be peeing very often (and the pee is very clear), sometimes it can be that the puppy is drinking way too much. It’s not uncommon. In that case, offer water four or five times a day and let her drink her fill, but do not leave water out all day.


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