All effective forms of training take advantage of some kind of natural instinct in dogs. Using these natural instincts to reinforce the behaviors you want your dog to exhibit, or to deter the ones you don’t want him to exhibit, is a safe and effective way for your dog to learn. Crate training is one way of doing this, since dogs are naturally den animals. You can use crate training for many types of behaviors, such as housebreaking a dog. A dog will not generally urinate or defecate where they sleep, for instance, so using crate training to teach him not to mess in the house will likely be successful.
While crate training is easier on your dog than some other forms, it’s a rather intense form of training for you as a pet owner. The basic rule of crate training is that if you’re not available to watch your dog closely and watch his every move, the dog is in the crate, even if you’re in the same room as your dog. While some people think caging a dog is cruel, it can be worse psychologically for your dog to not know the rules of the house and be exposed to frequent punishment and correction that may not be well understood.
However, crate training doesn’t give you an excuse to ignore your dog for hours on end. Without a bathroom break every two hours or so, for instance, a dog will likely mess in his crate, which is a behavior that will become very difficult to correct in the future. This is one of the biggest challenges of adopting rescue dogs or taking in strays. But with a little dedication and patience, your dog can be housebroken and trained with this method.
Always take your dog out regularly throughout the day, such as after naps or playtime. Training walks are not considered playtime, and your dog should know this. To train your dog to use a specific area for his “toilet” needs, put a collar and a leash on your dog and walk him over to the desired area and say “go potty”. You can use any phrase you want, but make sure it’s not a phrase you will use in other circumstances, like “go for it”, or that could lead to a bad situation later on.
While it’s advisable for your dog to sleep in his crate, make sure it’s in the same bedroom as you and/or your family. Dogs are pack animals, and they feel comfort knowing that their family is close by. Leaving your dog in another area of the house to sleep can often cause anxiety if he’s not sure where everyone else is. If you’re awoken during the night by your dog, give him about 10 minutes to “go potty”, then come back in, put him in his crate, and say “goodnight”. Then go back to bed. Never let your dog out by himself, even in an enclosed yard, during this time because you don’t want your dog to think it’s playtime.
Over time your dog will learn what is expected of him, and you can stop using the crate for training so much. At this stage you’ll rely mostly on a leash. You can tie the dog’s leash around your belt loop so your dog has some space to roam and you can keep both hands free. Always keep an eye on your dog, though, and when he gives you signals that he needs to do his business, drop what you’re doing and let him out. Some dogs have even been trained to ring a bell when they need to go to the bathroom. To do this, simply keep a bell hung around the door (a jingle bell will do) and ring it whenever you take the dog out to do his business. Eventually he may learn to ring it when he needs to go.
Your dog’s crate will still be used as a place of comfort and safety for your dog, and you should get into the practice of crating your dog whenever you leave the house. Put some crate toys in with them if you like, as well, for added comfort. You don’t necessarily have to lock the door of the crate, but it’s a way of teaching your dog that the crate is their “bedroom”, of sorts, and they can go there when you’re gone.
Always remember, no matter what stage of training you’re in, it is never okay to leave a collar or harness on your dog when he’s in the crate, or anywhere that he can get tangled in it. This can cause choking and other issues, and is not a safe practice.