Potty training a crate pooper can be very frustrating! A dog is not “supposed to” be comfortable going to the bathroom where they sleep. It is one of the reasons why dogs can be so easily adapted to our homes. But what if you have a dog who seems used to peeing and pooping on himself and lying in it?
I have had clients with dogs of all ages and from various situations who are “dirty dogs,” meaning they will not hold it in the crate and seem ok lying in their mess. Sometimes we can identify why they have lost that natural instinct to stay clean. Some have been raised in puppy mills where they were forced to be in filth, so they got used to it. Some lived outdoors or in a kennel run. Others were puppies from breeders who did not properly train the puppies to be clean. They may have just kept them all in a box together until 8 weeks old. It is actually the breeder who starts housebreaking, by setting up an area where the puppies can go potty separate from their sleeping area, and by routinely taking them outside as they get older (5 weeks+), whenever feasible. When I had puppies, my set up was a large plastic container (half an airline crate) lined with newspapers and filled with cedar bedding. The puppies took to it very quickly, keeping their sleeping and eating areas clean. I also tried a fake grass patch, but the cedar and newspaper was much more attractive. By 7 weeks, they were going potty outside. Not all dogs have gotten this good start, and some we have no history on. All we know is we are doing our best trying to housebreak them, we are crate training, taking them outside on a schedule, so why are they still having accidents inside the cage?
HOW TO FIX IT
Determine what the problem is:
- He isn’t going potty when outside.
- He is stressing and working himself up to defecating in the crate.
- The crate is too big, so he is using half as a bathroom and sleeping in the other half. Or possibly the crate contains bedding the dog is urinating on and it’s soaking it up.
- He doesn’t care about being dirty. Where as most dogs will hold it (within reason) until they are given opportunity outside, this dog will eliminate as soon as the slightest feeling strikes him.
- Medical issue. Parasites such as worms or Giardia. Appearance of worms or soft stool may or may not be present. UTI and bladder infections can cause a dog to urinate inside the house or more frequently than usual.
- Diet issue. Overfeeding the “good stuff.”
Or feeding cheap. Fillers in cheap food can cause a mass quantity of waste. Food sensitivities can cause issues.
Determine your corresponding solutions:
- If he is not going potty outside in the proper place, it’s only obvious that he will end up going inside or in the crate. There can be different reasons why a dog will not go outside. Some are not used to being on a leash, and may feel like they need to wander around more freely. Some have been scolded so much for pottying inside that they have associated pottying in front of their owner with being yelled at. Some are too distracted or nervous outside– they are just squirrely. Others are just not in the habit, and need to be taught. The first step is getting some occurrences of the dog pottying outside so you can set a new routine and reward and praise for it. We teach dogs to eliminate on command, like service dogs. You will take the dog to the same area every time, give your verbal cue “go potty,” and walk around a small area until the dog goes. Praise sniffing and allow the leash to be slack and the dog to trail around in front of you. You may want to use a longer leash, such as a Flexi Lead. Yes, I know trainers hate Flexi Leads, but they are great for potty breaking a dog. The second you attach that long leash, he will know this is a cue and it’s potty time. After he goes, you may switch back to your regular 6′ leather obedience lead. For urination, you can begin by adding some water to the dogs food so they are taking in a bit more water than usual. They will soon have to pee, and you will be ready to get them outside and to the potty area. For pooping, if a dog will not poop right away, there is an old dog show trick: matching a dog. In the dog show ring, any dog who urinates or defecates will be an automatic disqualification, therefore, it is imperative that they be “emptied out” ahead of time. You take a match (or a q-tip is ok for a quite large dog) and put it about half-way into their rectum. This will pretty quickly stimulate them to go. A regular (unlit, obviously) paper match or two is fine. Lift the tail up and get them in there about half-way, then wait. Use your cue “go potty” or whatever your potty cue is. Now be ready to praise your dog!
Tools you will need: regular paper matches, Flexi Lead extendable leash, treats for a reward
- Stress can cause any animal to eliminate where they would not normally do so. If your dog has other signs of anxiety, such as barking excessively in the crate, drooling, or trying to escape, you need to fix the anxiety issues. Every dog should be taught to calmly accept confinement when their owner puts them in a cage and leaves for a period of time. Your dog may be in a stressful environment, or he may have separation anxiety.
- When crate training a puppy or new dog, the point of a crate is that it’s the dogs personal area and is to be kept clean as a resting space. If the crate is huge, some dogs will designate half as a bathroom and half as their sleeping quarters. This is why many wire crates come with a divider panel, so you can adjust the crate as the puppy grows, keeping it just large enough for him to turn around and lie down comfortably. His back and head should not touch the top when standing up. Your dogs cage should not be like a condo! Get a smaller crate, or use a divider panel. You also do not need tons of bedding. Unless you have a senior dog or a very large breed who spends a lot of time crated, dogs do not need bedding in their crates. Bedding is for comfort, but it can also be a hazard for young dogs who can shred and eat it, causing intestinal obstructions and requiring lifesaving emergency surgery. It can also be a problem for a dog who is being crate trained if they urinate on the bedding and it is all soaked up so they do not mind doing it again. Try eliminating the fluffy bedding, at least for now.
- The dirty dog… This can be one of the more difficult fixes, and can depend on the dog. I have fixed several dirty dogs. Some of them just need a new habit. Almost all of them need a lot of time and observation, so you can take them out often. Most accidents will occur when they are left alone and crated. You may not realize the dog is under stress when you’re gone and is moving around or pacing or spinning in the crate, so it’s good to observe this. Also eliminate medical and diet (numbers 5 and 6). A dog who is calm and at rest will be much more likely to hold it. You may need to consult an experienced trainer and try a few things to find a solution:
–A new set–up. If a dog has really never had to hold it before, the muscles will not be there for that. When I had brand new rescue dogs I was fostering, they were adult kennel dogs who lived in indoor-outdoor runs. Never in a house or crate. So they had never had to hold it before. They did have some accidents in the crate, but after 2 weeks they were perfect. Any time they have an accident, they need a bath and everything needs to be cleaned well. They obviously have to go out often, and especially soon after they eat or drink. But what if you have a job? Not everyone can be home to take a dog out every 2 hours! For some people, an outdoor dog run works. But not everyone has a yard, and not everyone with a yard can leave their dog outside alone. Some dogs will need an exercise pen, or x-pen, attached (use zip ties or clips) to a crate inside. This way they can sleep in the crate and get out into the x-pen if they have to use the toilet. Your “toilet” will depend on the dog. For a small dog, a litter box with newspapers is fine, for a large dog, half an airline crate or a small kiddie pool filled with mulch or woodchips (buy a few bags at the garden store) will be the best. This is all to encourage the dogs natural instinct to have a separate living and potty area.
–Umbilical cording. This is a method in which the dog will be will you all the time. You will have a leash on them and it will always be either in your hand, or tied to something close to you. I will tie a dogs leash to the chair I’m sitting on, or sit on the leash. Most dogs will follow me around and lie down quietly when I am busy. This way, the dog will not have any accidents inside. They will be under your watchful eye all the time, and be taken outside on a schedule. This is a great method but it does require you to be home a lot and have a dog with you often. If you need to do other chores around the house, you can tie (tether) the dog to something stable while you are in the same room doing something else. But they are never to be out of your sight or alone in the crate.
Are there dogs who can never be reliably housebroken? Yes. I believe there are a very small number of dogs who will never have the instinct to be clean and learn to “hold it” and just cannot be reliably housebroken. I feel for the vast majority of dogs, it can be taught, it just takes patience and having the right approach. I can do customized troubleshooting for clients on this issue.
- Medical issues can cause dogs to have soft stool or diarrhea, and they are unable to hold it for very long. Your dog can have a parasite like giardia which causes them to lose control of their bowels. Giardia can flare up and then go dormant, so many people think it’s just intermittent upset stomach when in fact it’s a parasite. Get a fecal test for both worms and giardia. Your dog can have worms without any visible evidence in his stool. There are other medical causes that may be linked to excessive urination. Diabetes, cushings disease, kidney problems, etc. can all lead to excessive thirst and urination. Dogs with urinary tract infections or bladder infections do not have a way to tell us they are in pain. UTI’s are most often noticed when dogs begin peeing in the house or peeing more often than usual. A urinalysis should be completed to rule out any medical causes. Talk to your vet.
- One of the common issues I see with dogs who poop in their crate is that they are pooping way too often to begin with. I often ask people “How often does your dog go number two?” If they say “Three, four times a day…” I know something is off. I will ask what they are feeding, and it’s either 1) Too much of the good stuff, or 2) The cheap stuff with fillers. They may say they are feeding a super-premium high quality grain-free diet. Great. But how much? Overfeeding a dog will cause it to just crap everything out, and crap constantly. The body can only absorb so much at one time. Do NOT follow the recommendations on a bag of dog food! They are almost always inflated. I had a client feeding their 6-month old Lab 6 cups of high-calorie puppy food a day! That is insane. No wonder he is crapping 24/7, that is way more food than any dog, short of a working sled dog or Great Dane, should need. You want to feed the least amount that your dog will still maintain a good healthy muscle mass and weight on. It’s also appropriate to feed for the activity-level. If I sit in my office all day I am not going to need as much of a dinner as if I spent the day working strenuously outdoors.
I commonly hear “that food (insert brand) was just too rich for my dog, it gave him soft stool.” Well no, you probably just fed too much of it. There is no such thing as “too rich,” dogs are meat eating predators. Their diet should be almost all animal ingredients– not plant, and high in protein and fat. When you switch to a high quality concentrated dry kibble, you do not need to feed as much as one that contains things like rice and other cereal grains.
If you are feeding the cheap stuff with fillers, you are paying for what is essentially a big bag of cereal grains and corn. What little protein and meat that’s in the cheap food is not highly digestible (it’s the nasty bits that are unfit for Spam), so expect a lot of waste, and frequently. Foods like Purina Puppy Chow, Beneful, Alpo, Pedigree, etc. are low quality and produce a lot of waste. The best diets are grain-free and do not contain by-products. You may have to try a few foods before finding some your dog does well on. This is totally normal. I highly recommend adding probiotics to your dogs food, and switching proteins and varieties about once a month. Mix the foods together for a few days, but always switch so your dogs system can handle a variety of proteins.
I have seen many dogs improve with their housebreaking issues when put on a raw food diet. Dogs on raw diets will have drastically less waste, and will typically defecate only once a day, maybe twice. There are many resources out there on raw diet, including pre-made foods you can buy in stores and order online, and books about how to buy your own raw diet from a meat supplier.
Tools you will need: A high-quality grain-free kibble or raw diet. Probiotics. A measured scoop for monitoring food.