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The Psychology of Puppy Potty Training

“Good habits once established are just as hard to break as are bad habits.” ~Robert Puller

Potty Training to me is the singularly most important thing you can teach your pup.  If your dog is potty trained it translates into more freedom to go places.  If your dog isn’t potty trained, you will probably not get a lot of invitations to people’s houses, including your relatives.

I’ve always had a special connection with dogs.  I think this is one of the reasons why I have a 95% success rate in training them.  I have always been able to understand them:  Our language is verbal.  Theirs is non-verbal.  If your dog could tell you one thing, they’d want you to know that they want to be crate trained.

Dogs are den animals. Dogs prefer cozy spaces to wide open spaces. Even if you didn’t get them their own crate (which I would never suggest) they would find a nook and create their den space.  I know a golden retriever named Sadie whose favorite place when not in her crate is in the bathroom, wedged between the wall and toilet.

The primary use for a crate is housetraining. Dogs don’t like to soil their dens or destroy them. If you don’t provide a nook for them, they will seek to create the feeling by way of a closed space under the bed or behind a sofa.  You’re doing them a disservice if you don’t take advantage of crate training.  With that said, a crate isn’t a magical solution. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated. The crate is not to be used for punishment. The crate should have positive associations. You shouldn’t leave your dog in the crate for too long. A dog that is crated day and night doesn’t get enough exercise or socializing and is prone to depression and anxiety. If this does happen, it’s not the crate that’s doing it.  It’s the misuse of the crate. Your dog should always sleep in his crate.  During the day, find alternatives to your dog being in the crate for extended periods of time such as a daycare facility or a sitter.

Puppies under six months shouldn’t be in a crate for more than 3-3.5 hours.  Four hours is the absolute maximum. They cannot hold their bladder for longer than that.  The same goes for adult dogs who are being house trained.  Though they can hold it, they don’t know they’re supposed to and you should ease them into it.  You don’t want to shock their system.

How long do you utilize crate training?  Each dog is unique in their crate training time periods. My dog Bridget used the crate for a little over a year.  This is pretty standard. Crate your dog until you can trust him not to destroy the house in your absence. After that, the crate should be his home that he goes to voluntarily. I have clients who keep their dog’s crate in an area in the house and it’s like their own condo/ bedroom.  Keep clean blankets and towels in there during cold months especially.  Use your best judgment during summer months, as you wouldn’t want it to get hot in there.  The crate should be out of direct sunlight.

Dogs want to have their own space and boundaries and crate training is the best starting point to teach them this.  I’ve never seen a dog yield negative results from crate training if used correctly. Do you know why? It’s in their hard drive to be in a den. You’re addressing a basic psychological and spiritual need. They feel at home in their crate.

I’ve always called my dogs crate their ‘house.’ I throw a soft blanket and towels and toys in there. They sleep in their house.  They work on projects like a chew stick in their house. Most of the time I give them a treat after I tell them, “go in your house.” They love it.  They have no other option but to relax in there.  It’s their time to have to themselves.  Some people feel it’s a form of punishment.  It’s not.  If you have guilty feelings, then this is where the ‘do it’ or ‘delegate it’ rule applies.  If you can afford a dog trainer, have them do it.  If you can’t afford a dog trainer because they can be expensive, go with a dog sitter.  If you find someone who is just starting out in their dog sitting business, they usually have the time to work with your dog if you sign on with them with a consistent schedule.  That’s what I did.  In the early days, I charged dog walking prices for training.  I had the time and I needed the money. If you can’t afford a sitter, then delegate it to another person in your household who follow through.  Attention to detail is everything.

If you are conflicted about dog training, then take yourself out of the equation.  This is not about you.  This is about training your dog to be your co-pilot.  You need to make choices in their best interest and you shouldn’t interfere with this process.  In other words, don’t screw it up for them because you’re projecting your own feelings into this.

Your dog gets a lot out of crate training. For starters, safety is a huge factor.  The odds of him eating something or harming himself are far less in the crate. Your dog wants to feel safe. He wants you to take leadership. Crate training is a step in that direction. I live in Beverly Hills where no one does their own gardening. If you have gardeners come to the house, put your dog in the crate.  I see dogs running loose on a regular basis because the gardener accidentally leaves the gate open.

Crate training teaches your dog emotional independence and maturity.  It’s the equivalent of having your baby sleep in it’s crib. When your dog reaches a certain age, usually between 2-4 years, they need help in the maturation process.  It’s unrealistic to think you can be with them every minute of every day.  At some point you have to leave them and they need to be okay with that.  The crate symbolizes, “Okay, when I leave the house for a couple hours, you go in there and sleep. You can do it and so can I” should be your attitude. Neighborhoods abhor incessant barking in an empty house.  Do not attempt to reinvent the wheel. Crate training is win/ win for all parties involved.

Majority of dogs prefer the collapsible wire crate because they can see out of it.  The plastic crates and nylon crates with a mesh window should be used exclusively for travel.  The crate should be large enough that your dog can stand up, sit and  have a good stretch and turn around.  If you have a puppy and your don’t want to purchase multiple crates as your dog grows, purchase a large crate and reduce the size by putting a cooler in it.  It has worked well for all the dogs I’ve trained over the years, including my own.  You can also see if there’s a way to rent different crates from your local pet store.  There are always people looking to unload a dog crate and you could probably find one for free at a garage sale or online.  Contact a local dog walker or trainer.

The crate should go in a high traffic area.  It should be where the family hangs out most of the time.  They shouldn’t be isolated in the crate.  Just think:  a puppy is coming from being with their littermates.  They’re used to constant companionship 24/7 between their siblings and their parents.  All dogs, especially puppies like activity and being in the center of all the action.

Place the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the family room. Put a soft blanket and some towels in the crate. Make it cozy. Open the door and let your pooch explore the crate at his leisure. Some dogs will be naturally curious and start sleeping in the crate right away.  If yours isn’t one of them, bring him over to the crate, and verbally explain to him that this is his house, etc.  Do this a happy and calm tone of voice.

Encourage your dog to enter the crate by dropping some small food treats nearby, then just inside the door, and finally, all the way inside the crate. If he refuses to go all the way in at first, that’s okay; don’t force him to enter.

Continue tossing treats into the crate until your dog will walk calmly all the way into the crate to get the food. If he isn’t interested in treats, try tossing a favorite toy in the crate. This step may take a few minutes or as long as several days. Stay the course and he will go in.

After your dog can spend about 30 minutes in the crate without becoming angsty, you can begin leaving him crated for short periods when you leave the house.

Put him in the crate using your regular command and a treat.  Keep consistent in this routine.  I like to grab a treat, toss it in the crate and say, “Go in your house.” Upon arrival, I always tell my dog where I’m going and approximately what time I’ll be home.  Dogs LOVE this.  They love to know the schedule. There’s no need for emotion or baby talk when you leave.  They appreciate the facts. I don’t crate until I have my shoes on and I’m ready to walk out the door.

When you return home, and how you return home is just as important as your departure routine.  During the training period, you ignore your dog for 10-20 minutes.  Don’t say a word.  You are now learning how to communicate non-verbally with your pup.  Your silence sends him a message that you’re the boss in charge. If you don’t know what to do for the 10-20 minutes, I suggest you make a cup of tea change your clothes. You can take your dog on a walk, you must be silent. It’s a spiritual practice that will yield a high return. Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time to time when you’re home so he doesn’t associate crating with being left alone. When I need to make important phone calls, I do this.

The crate training honors your dog’s emotional and psychological well being. It replicates the primal comfort of the den. You’ll have a cleaner house as a result and your your belongings won’t get destroyed from chewing. Crate training satisfies his needs and creates a whole dog and a satisfying relationship for the two of you. Your dog will have more confidence as a result of crate training and he will be a better listener.

 


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