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DarnFar Ranch LLC Professional Dog Training
Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people

Crate Training Issues

When puppies are born, they come with a hard-wired programming to keep clean and to urinate / defecate away from where they sleep. A dog that frequently urinates in his crate is not acting normally. The dog should first have a thorough veterinary exam to rule out physical issues that may cause frequent urination. Sometimes, a puppy has been managed wrong by the breeder and its natural “keep clean” programming has already been damaged. In that case, I would recommend returning the puppy to the breeder, since it will probably have other social issues as a result of poor early management. If a puppy starts out clean and willing to be crate-trained and then the urination begins later, a visit to the vet is in order. If the dog is deemed healthy by a veterinarian, then the most likely assumption is that the owner is not meeting the puppy’s needs in some way. Here are some possible reasons for a young adult to begin urinating in the crate: 1. Physiological. The dog needs to pee because it has a full bladder and cannot hold it. a. First line of questioning is whether the dog is getting sufficient time to process the water he drinks prior to being locked in his crate b. Dogs that eat dry food often consume more water than dogs that eat moist food. Dogs that eat dry food often require a longer time between eating and drinking and going outside to relieve themselves because it takes more time to process the meal. 2. A Habit is developed that is contrary to natural programming. a. The natural programming tells a dog to “hold it” until he is permitted “out of the den”, so to speak. I see this behavior in puppies as little as 5 weeks old. A dog that is not given sufficient time out of the crate at the required intervals to believe that his owner will be back when he feels the need to urinate, loses trust in his owner. He develops a habit of peeing as soon as he feels the urge, rather than to “hold it” until he is granted permission to come “out of the den”. This habit will continue even once the dog is given sufficient out of crate time to relieve himself. Time can resolve this issue. Most people are not patient enough to do that, in my experience. b. Some puppies lose confidence more quickly in their owner’s ability to return and let them outside, than other puppies. This may have to do with other factors that compound the situation, including the puppy’s perception of his relationship with the owner. 3. Behavioral reasons that can lead to a habit of urinating in the crate: a. The dog is intimidated by a human who is routinely angry when he arrives home (often because the dog has made a potty mistake). The dog begins to expect the human to behave in an unacceptable manner towards him. The fear / anticipation of that initial greeting may cause the dog to urinate in the crate prior to (or upon recognition) that the owner is home. b. The dog is intimidated by another dog that is in the proximity of his crate c. The dog is “making a statement” about his up-side-down relationship with his human by urinating in the crate. It is common for a dog to cease having potty mistakes in the crate once the proper relationship is forged with the human. This is most true of dogs that have developed a habit of breaking out of their crate or otherwise acting frantic in a crate when the owner is not home. Resolving the unacceptable behavior when being confined, will solve the urination behavior, as well. Options: All of the options listed below will take time to resolve a dog's urination in the crate. One day or even one week is not sufficient to troubleshoot the cause for and especially isn’t enough time to resolve/change a habit. Bad habits develop over time. It is only reasonable to expect a similar amount of time for a new habit to over ride the unwanted behavior. The owner's dedication to the process and consistency has a huge influence on whether any of these options will work. I strongly recommend that the dog's owner begins a journal so that he will be able to assess the data in a rational and scientific manner. Looking at ONE incident at a time and trying to question why it happened is futile and won’t help resolve the issue. That sort of antidotal information is also very challenging for us when we are trying to help a client solve the problem. Being incredulous about why the dog is peeing only gets in the way of a rational troubleshooting effort. Judging, blaming or getting upset is wasted energy. However, unfortunately, that is the sort of experience we have when dealing with many clients when it comes to house-breaking / crate training problems. Swapping a “new method” in for a day or two and then changing to another method a day later (for example, changing the dog’s diet for a day then altering the schedule of going outside to potty and then changing the feeding time) doesn’t provide any solid evidence of whether the change worked and it could exacerbate the issue. Housebreaking is a habit developed by the dog’s owner that the dog learns to rely upon. When the owner is constantly changing things in an attempt to resolve the issue, she is not keeping the world constant for the dog. So, I recommend choosing a option that makes sense and sticking to it for a couple of weeks to see if it has a positive effect on the dog's behavior. I would exhaust the option before changing to, or adding in something else. For some clients (especially those that cannot seem to grasp the concept that their behavior is directly influencing the pup's behavior), I recommend creating a spreadsheet that contains columns like the following for AM, Mid-Day, PM and late evening. When we troubleshoot any problem, knowing the details of the pattern of behavior (both that of the dog and the human who is caring for him) is important. I think that it is impossible for a person to remember all the different little details associated with a problem such as this, especially when, for example, a client tells me something like, "I didn’t feel well, yesterday, so the dog's schedule was different that day". I’m not saying that a person must be wholly rigid in how he manage the dog, but, changes in a person's daily routine should be documented so that he is able to assess what influence, if any, those changes have on the dog’s behavior. Keeping a spreadsheet helps an individual to see possible causes for his dog’s urinating behavioral issues. Here are some of the possible options I would suggest to swap in for no less than 2 weeks while keeping all else as constant as possible, in an attempt to assess a dog's unacceptable urination in the crate. 1. Feed the dog in his crate. It may make him want to keep his bed and kitchen clean. 2. Remove sources of intimidation from other dogs. A dog may drink or eat more than he needs if he feels that he is in competition with another dog. 3. Address any unacceptable behavioral issues when the dog is in the crate like whining or otherwise carrying-on. 4. Change the diet from a commercial, dry food to raw or cooked meats which contain sufficient moisture so that the dog consumes less free water. 5. Monitor (record onto a chart) the actual amount of water that a dog drinks and the time between drinking and access to the outdoors. 6. Monitor (actually watch and record onto a chart) whether a dog urinates outdoors. Do not assume that, because you let him outside, the dog actually did his business. This is especially true when there are other dogs in the home with which the dog will play when outside. Other sources that can interrupt or interfere with a dog’s elimination outdoors are neighbor dogs on the other side of a fence, kids, cats or squirrels that will engage your dog’s attention. 7. Before crating him for a long time. lengthen the time between drinking and access to the outdoors. That way, his body can process the food and water and eliminate it before being confined. 8. When multiple people in a home share the duties to care for a dog, troubleshooting problems can become exacerbated. In this case, when at all possible, one person should take over complete management of the dog’s eating, drinking and potty breaks outdoors, so that the data on the cart are the most accurate and / or consistently recorded. 9. Male dogs that are intact (not neutered) have a strategy for retaining urine so that they can mark their territory. An intact male that has been outdoors to relieve himself will still have urine to mark a new location. Neutering an intact male dog may have an influence on housebreaking in that regard. Males that are neutered after they develop a marking habit, will often continue to mark after they are neutered. So, it is prudent to neuter them shortly after puberty (so that their skeletons can develop normally), but before they develop testosterone based behaviors, such as marking. Personal experience: I feed my own dogs raw, bone-in chicken (leg-thigh quarters) every other day and a dry, commercial dog food every other day. They are fed once/ day. I believe that a dog’s GI tract is designed for fewer meals per 24 hour period than our own, since they are carnivores and humans are omnivores. On days when they are fed the dry food (which I use to provide the micro nutrients and carbohydrates that are not found in the muscle meat chicken and for convenience, too), my dogs consume more than twice as much water than on the days when they are fed the raw chicken. Raw meat contains so much moisture, that the dogs don’t even drink until they have run about and exercised to create thirst that way. On days when they are fed the dry food, they all drink as soon as they have access to the water, even before they urinate. My dogs’ source of water is an outdoors bucket. On days when I feed the raw chicken, they do not fuss to go outside after their meal, and can actually eat and not go outside, again, before we go to bed (I can feed them in the late evening and go to bed after feeding them and not let them out until morning). On days when they eat dry food, a few of them will bark to go outside within an hour after the meal and then consume a large amounts of water at that time. I need to feed the dry food in the early evening, permit them time outdoors with access to their water for an hour or so before they are crated for the evening. My young Germans Shepherd Dog has had urination mistakes in his crate under the following circumstances. He eats dry food, goes out to drink, but then is not permitted to stay outside for about 45 minutes after he drinks (after eating his dry food). If I bring him indoors and crate him after only 15-20 minutes, although it is very rare, he has had accidents in his crate. He is otherwise, totally housebroken and never has other urination mistakes. His body needs time to process all the water he consumes after eating the dry food. This is not the case with my Border Collies or my female German Shepherd Dog. I believe that my male is just likely to over-drink water when he feels thirsty. So, I need to give him more time to process that water before crating him for the night. He has never had a urination accident after a meal of fresh meat. Hopefully, this information will help you to examine your processes more clearly so that you can identify the root cause of your dog's issues. © 2011 Tammie Rogers - all rights reserved. For permission to reprint email Tammie. © 2005 Tammie Rogers - all rights reserved. For permission to reprint email Tammie.