Canine housetraining challenges - Veterinary Medicine
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Canine housetraining challenges
From dogs soiling in their crates to dogs afraid of eliminating in front of people, this behaviorist gives you tips to help owners handle their difficult-to-housetrain dogs.


The intent of the training is to help the dog see the crate as a comfortable, pleasant place where only good things occur (Figure 1). The crate must be large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around in. When dealing with a puppy, instruct the owner to purchase a crate large enough for the dog when it is an adult. For housetraining purposes, part of a large cage can be blocked off with a cardboard box so that the puppy has just enough room to stand and turn around in.

The crate should be placed in an area where the dog spends much of its time. The crate door should be open, and the owner should prop or tie the door open temporarily so that the fearful dog does not become accidentally locked inside.

1. With time and patience, most dogs can be taught to view their crates as comfortable retreats.
The next step involves associating pleasant things such as food or treats with the crate. An owner can toss treats into the crate and allow the dog to retrieve them, even if the dog chooses to leave the cage to consume them. The dog's food and water bowls should also be placed by the crate and every meal fed there.

Depending on the dog's level of fear, within a few days or weeks, the owner should be able to move the bowls into the crate, initially just inside the entrance, so that the dog can stand and eat without stepping into the crate. Once the dog is comfortably eating from its bowls at the entrance of the crate, the bowls can be moved farther into the crate. At no time during this procedure should the crate door be closed or the dog forced into the crate. If at any time during the process the dog does not want to enter the crate, then the bowls have likely been moved too soon and they should be returned to the point at which the dog would eat and drink comfortably from them.

When the dog will routinely enter the crate for treats or food, then the door can be closed for about one or two seconds at a time. Each time the dog enters the crate, the length of time that the door stays closed can be extended for a few seconds. This procedure should be stopped if the dog acts frightened, stops eating, or wants to leave the crate. The owner should then go back to closing the door just for the length of time that the dog previously tolerated.

The next step is to begin hiding chew bones, stuffed chew toys, and other special treats in the crate so the dog begins entering the crate to look for them. Once the dog will enter the crate and lie down to chew on a toy, it is time to begin closing and latching the door for short periods. The first time the owner tries this, he or she should not leave but stay close so that if the dog begins to lose interest in the treat or to act anxious, it can be released. Ideally, the dog should not be allowed to experience fear or anxiety in the crate. The owner needs to learn to be observant enough that he or she can release the dog before it begins to show these signs.

Once the owner feels that the dog is ready to be left in the crate, the owner should leave only for a short time (initially just one to three minutes) so the dog's first experience of being confined to the crate does not become a frightening one. Finally, if the dog eventually will need to be confined for long periods, instruct the owner to always provide plenty of food-stuffed toys to keep the dog occupied while alone. When the owner returns home, these special toys should be removed and only given to the dog when it must be confined to the crate. In this way, the dog associates crate confinement with something special rather than something scary or anxiety-provoking.


A relatively common and challenging situation arises when a dog develops a fear of eliminating in front of people. This situation usually occurs because the dog has been punished for eliminating in an inappropriate location. Dogs with this problem require an enormous amount of patience and may require more time to successfully housetrain than usual. The principles described above and in the handout for housetraining can still be applied with some minor alterations that will depend on the dog's degree of fearfulness and the owner's environment.


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