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How to un-crate-train a puppy
March 21, 2014 6:14 AM   Subscribe

~1 year old Labradoodle name of Twist. Good boy. Crate trained up to this point, house trained so long as we lock him in his crate overnight. Which is the issue. I'd like to start weaning him off of the crate. He seems ready, he has no trouble holding it all night in the crate and it's not like he's rushing for the door in the morning; he'll happily romp around the house while we're getting breakfast etc together. But when I've tried leaving the crate door open overnight he, well, chooses not to wait until morning. Looking for strategies to let him know that that's not okay.

Most of the suggestions I've found online for this boil down to "keep him with you overnight" -- but there's no problem when he's with people; it's only when he's alone. Sleeping with him in the bedroom permanently is not an option; doing it temporarily hasn't helped (he goes right back to his pooping-on-the-floor ways when we move him back downstairs.)

He always goes in the mudroom. I've tried closing off the mudroom; then he goes on the carpet elsewhere. So much for that experiment.

The point-at-it-and-say-a-firm-NO in the morning thing is, well, he is a very smart dog, and in most respects has been eager to please and remarkably easy to train, but this one's obviously not sinking in.

TL;DR: how do you teach a dog to not do something he only ever does when you're not there to teach him not to do it?

complicating factors: wife wants to just keep locking him in every night. I would really prefer not to have to have a cage in the house for the next fifteen or so years. The reason we're doing this now is because she's insisting on buying a new, even larger crate unless I can train him out of needing it soon.
posted by ook to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The point-at-it-and-say-a-firm-NO in the morning thing is, well, he is a very smart dog, and in most respects has been eager to please and remarkably easy to train, but this one's obviously not sinking in.

That's because, well, this is not how you housetrain any dog. Ever.

You need to take him out for frequent walks, possibly in the middle of the night for a couple of weeks, and consistently reward him for doing his business outside. It will be unpleasant and difficult at first but worth it in the long run.

This will be a challenge because he is no longer a little puppy - he should have been completely housetrained months ago - but certainly not impossible.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:34 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


Sleeping with him in the bedroom permanently is not an option; doing it temporarily hasn't helped (he goes right back to his pooping-on-the-floor ways when we move him back downstairs.)

How long was "temporarily"? Behavioral change can take a while to "stick." Of course, the longer you let him stay with you at night, the more he'll get used to it and then you may have another issue on your hands if you're not wanting him to sleep in your room.

The other option is to get him so worn out with exercise in the late afternoon/evening that he just sleeps through the night. This was how I got my puppy used to the idea that the middle of the night was not the time for a walk, by getting him so tired that he would just sleep for 8 hours straight. Now he sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night, but he usually just goes back to sleep.
posted by lunasol at 6:34 AM on March 21


Try an x-pen. You can clip these onto the crate edges. You can work him up gradually to having more space at night. First just the crate plus an extra couple square feet. Then when he successfully doesn't pee on that, the crate plus a couple extra more square feet. Then when he successfully doesn't pee on that, etc etc. Work it up until eventually he has the crate + all of the x-pen space at night. And then use the x-pen as a gate to block off a room, so that he has his crate plus a whole room at night. And then eventually, the house.

Dogs do not want to pee in their personal space. You need to gradually work up to letting him learn that the whole house is personal space and not for peeing. But having the whole thing at one time with no one to hold the fort might just be too much for him.


I would really prefer not to have to have a cage in the house for the next fifteen or so years.

Well, the crate isn't there just so your dog doesn't pee on the floor. The crate is there to give your dog a safe space to take shelter when he's anxious or just wants to be left alone. It's not a cage, it's a security blanket.

posted by phunniemee at 6:50 AM on March 21 [15 favorites]


Not to threadsit but it looks like I made some tactical errors in writing this question, let me clear up a couple of misunderstandings before this goes off the rails:

That's because, well, this is not how you housetrain any dog. Ever.

Yes, that's well understood, I know you're supposed to house train by catching them in the act, and that's what we've been doing all along. He is well trained in all respects except this one.

The point-too-late-and-say-NO was meant to be a "I know this isn't the right thing to do, but I don't know what is" thing. I'm looking for some way to communicate to him about the things that I can't catch him in the act, if that's possible.

How long was "temporarily"?

Not long enough. We don't want that to be the long-term solution so I am (as you point out) wary of training him out of one undesired behavior by training him into another undesired behavior.
posted by ook at 7:06 AM on March 21


Crate training isn't just about house-training -- it's usually not a "temporary" thing. The purpose of crate training is to make it your dog's den, not a cage, a place in the house where he can always go. The end result of good crate training is that the dog loves the crate and will go in there on his own, as well as when you want him to.

Totally agree with the above that you can't properly train a dog by admonishing him for a bad deed hours after the fact when you find the poop on the floor. It has to be immediate. Besides the good advice above, I would also recommend never letting him "romp around" in the morning before letting him out after he's been in the crate. Always give him the signal that immediately upon waking, one goes outside to do one's business. Also, if the mudroom or another room is really a problem, start feeding him in there. Dogs don't like to poop where they eat.

So:

> Reconsider your view of the crate's purpose
> Give him regular potty breaks when he's not in the crate (day or night)
> Reinforce good behavior with treats and profuse praise
> Only reprimand for a misplaced poop when it is caught immediately
> Reinforce the signal: immediately upon the household waking, one goes outside
> If a particular room or spot has become a de facto bathroom for him, start feeding him in there, while also sticking to the above

Good luck.
posted by beanie at 7:07 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I don't understand why you want to un-crate train him?
posted by radioamy at 7:09 AM on March 21


I don't understand why you want to un-crate train him?

From the original question: wife wants to just keep locking him in every night. I would really prefer not to have to have a cage in the house for the next fifteen or so years. The reason we're doing this now is because she's insisting on buying a new, even larger crate unless I can train him out of needing it soon.

posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:11 AM on March 21


I'm looking for some way to communicate to him about the things that I can't catch him in the act, if that's possible.

Housetraining, an indeed all training for dogs, isn't about catching the dog in the act of making a mistake, or about communicating your dissatisfaction or displeasure about the dog's mistakes. It's about rewarding the dog's good behavior when it happens and creating a safe environment for him to explore and try new behaviors. Key comments from above that provide some options:

You need to take him out for frequent walks, possibly in the middle of the night for a couple of weeks, and consistently reward him for doing his business outside. It will be unpleasant and difficult at first but worth it in the long run.

The other option is to get him so worn out with exercise in the late afternoon/evening that he just sleeps through the night.

Try an x-pen. You can clip these onto the crate edges. You can work him up gradually to having more space at night.

posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:14 AM on March 21


if the mudroom or another room is really a problem, start feeding him in there.

That is where we feed him.

I don't understand why you want to un-crate train him?

Because I don't want to have to remember to lock him in every night from now on? And it feels kind of weird to have to do so?

With our last dog we used crate training for a year or so, then switched to a bed when he was ready; I was under the impression that that was normal.

Is it the case that people normally keep a crate in their houses for the dog's whole life?
posted by ook at 7:18 AM on March 21


Is it the case that people normally keep a crate in their houses for the dog's whole life?

Some people. For dogs that are crate trained and like the crate, they see it as a safe place for them, kind of like a den. It would be...unkind...to take the crate away from those dogs.

Other dogs weren't crate trained for various reasons, or they never really liked the crate. Those dogs don't need a crate and their owners often choose not to keep them around.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:19 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


If the idea of having a crate around is off-putting, is there a substitute space that would serve as a den-area for him? We used the X-Pen mentioned above to corral our greyhound into a nook of the kitchen and she was happy as a clam to use it. My parents had a built-in desk (in their kitchen) that they never used, but the space underneath is the perfect dog-cave, which has been its primary use for years now.

He loves the crate, which is why he won't do his bidness in there. I'd try to locate another spot that could serve the same purpose. Toss in his blanket or dog-bed, etc.

Also, what, no pictures? FOR SHAME SIR.
posted by jquinby at 7:21 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


The crating regime is not universal and I think varies culturally (I checked your profile and you're not in the UK where I live, but here crate training doesn't seem quite so ubiquitous as in the US). A crate is not mandatory for a dog to be happy. Our family dog sleeps on the sofa during the day and has a couple of beds around the house to flop in and sleep in over night- she's very happy and has no toilet issues.

Phunniemee's suggestion of the x-pen seems good. Your dog obviously strongly associates his crate with holding it in overnight, so you need to expand that area of association, and eventually swap the crate for a bed. Also keep up with strong positive praise of going outside and a regular morning routine.

This page has some good information. Interestingly, they say that confining a dog overnight (i.e. crating) is not a good idea because the dog cannot alert you when it needs to go. Could be some food for thought for your crating philosophy.
posted by mymbleth at 7:44 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


we never crate trained - and it means getting up every few hours in the night to take the dog out and make a big deal about using the bathroom outside in the middle of the night. If you want to uncrate train - I would recommend letting her sleep in the crate, but don't close the door - set an alarm every 4-5 hours at night to take the puppy outside to do his/her business. If you find that isn't enough and the puppy is still going in the house, bump it up to every 2-3 hours.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 7:45 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


For dogs that are crate trained and like the crate, they see it as a safe place for them, kind of like a den. It would be...unkind...to take the crate away from those dogs.

OK... I guess I need a reality check on the crate thing then:

Twist has his crate, he has a bed in my office, he has a corner in my wife's office, all of which he seems quite comfortable with during the day. At bedtime I often have to wake him up wherever he is (which is usually whatever room I'm in, never the crate), take him outside for one last walk, then crate him. He doesn't dislike the crate, he'll trot in there peacefully enough at bedtime but he only occasionally goes in there voluntarily at any other time.

The only change I've made so far has been to still lead him to the crate but leave it unlocked; it's still there for him, but I had planned to remove it eventually... would this be unkind for this dog, do you think? (genuine question; if we've gone down the wrong road I'll accept that...)


Also, what, no pictures? FOR SHAME SIR.

Quite correct. photo, and bonus ACTION VIDEO
posted by ook at 7:46 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


If he's not going into the crate on his own to rest or just hang out, I don't think it would necessarily be unkind to remove it eventually - it sounds like he has plenty of other places that serve as his den. Every dog is different - ours likes her crate so much that we set up a second fabric one in the family room so she can have a "dog cave" wherever we all are (both just kept open for her to go in and out as she pleases), and I don't foresee us ever getting rid of them, but my first dog was more like your Twister in that she'd go into it when asked but otherwise hung out elsewhere. With her, I eventually got rid of it and she never seemed to mind.

As far as un-crate training goes, I agree with Suffocating Kitty that it could help to set an alarm to take him outside a few times at night, just to reinforce the idea that potty business ALWAYS happens outside, no matter what time it is. I would think that you could probably do this for a while - a few weeks to a few months, depending on your dog - and eventually taper it off completely, but I think it is something that could help in the short term.

Glad you posted pictures - what a handsome boy!
posted by DingoMutt at 7:50 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


As some one who has never crated a dog, and it seems to be an exclusively American thing to do, and has perfectly well adjusted dogs that have dog beds they think of as their spots I see no problem at all with the idea of you phasing out the crate.

Some suggestions to help with training. Get up during the night several times at the same times and let the dog out, slowly space those times further apart.

Put a bell or something you can hear from the bedroom on the door so when your dog wants to go out you can hear it to get up and let it out.

Right now you want to reinforce the going outside when not crated part that it is used to doing during the day so you need to be in a position the dog can signal to you. Asleep, in another room with the door shut isn't great for this.

Once your dog gets in a new routine and realises that oh I get let out every night just before we all settle down and again in the morning at set time come rain hail shine or hungover Sunday morning it will start holding it through the night bar emergencies, RoutInes can take a month or three to really stick especially as this is a big change for the dog.
posted by wwax at 8:00 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


The only change I've made so far has been to still lead him to the crate but leave it unlocked; it's still there for him, but I had planned to remove it eventually... would this be unkind for this dog, do you think?

No, I don't really think so. He doesn't sound like a dog that especially loves his crate. (All the more reason, IMO, to properly housetrain him so he doesn't have to stay in there at all.)
posted by schroedingersgirl at 8:08 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's not so much about catching them in the act as it is predicting the act and making it so it happens outside.

I found when my dogs were that age they were intermittently quite active at night (now they're 10 and I let them out an hour ago and they all promptly went back to bed). And especially just after we moved to a new house, we had some real shenannigans for a while.

My approach was multi-pronged: first, I equipped the two primary offenders with the jingliest tags I could find. They couldn't move without me knowing about it.

And then I started by restricting their roaming area, using a baby gate. First they could really only go in the hallway outside the bedroom (because the living room was where the incidents were occurring). So they'd get up, they'd jingle, I'd get up, and we'd all go outside. Praise for business, "leave it" for chasing night-roaming critters or try to start up a game of rope-tug etc. We go potty, we go right back in. Fun time is for sun time.

It did click pretty fast. Within about two weeks, one of them would come to the bed and stare at me. (One of them did learn the worst most annoying trick ever - she hits her tail on things until I wake up. Now whenever she wants anything at all that I'm not giving her, she goes and finds the echoiest thing to bang her tail on. But she's not a normal dog in a lot of ways.) I started letting them in the living room again, and we went a while without a situation and then we had one, and as an experiment I started leaving a small light on in there at night. I know they weren't confused that they were outside, but I wondered if maybe they were confused about the rules w/r/t dark and light. I can't swear that made the difference, maybe they were just in the final stages of growing out of it, but eventually I could leave it dark and have no issues.

But the jingle tags, the loss of sleep, restriction of movement, and a planned trip outside at whatever time he starts to get active.

If I'm reading right, he's peeing in the mudroom? Is the mudroom the path to going outside for doing normal business? If so, he's probably asking to go out but nobody's responding. This shouldn't be terribly hard to fix, plus he's probably not 100% grown with a full-capacity bladder just yet. You'll have to be more vigilant for a while, and then it'll just click and not ever happen again.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:16 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


I foster dogs mostly labs and mixes. Without reading all your replies I can tell you training varies from dog to dog. Some dogs need the crate longer then others. Dogs very rarely soil in their crate unless they're ill. I would just continue to use the crate. I have a chihuahua who uses a crate regularly and she's old. But I have 2 other labs also older who don't. Sometimes I have found a dog that is a pure oportunist who thinks well hey the rugs over there, why wait til the morning. I think patience is the key. Some dogs mature much later then others. I have always left a crate out for my dogs. Some dogs just gravitate to it and really feel at home in one.
posted by lasamana at 8:31 AM on March 21


Could you swap his crate for a kennel or a den of some kind? Something a bit less... cage-like?

Ours was in a crate for the first 18 months of his life and then just blended into the family furniture.
posted by randomination at 8:58 AM on March 21


"Is it the case that people normally keep a crate in their houses for the dog's whole life?"

Yes. Our dogs are 7 years old and we still crate them when we are out of the house and they can't be in the yard due to weather conditions. They voluntarily go into their crates to sleep, chew toys, etc. even when the crate doors are open and they are each very possessive of their own crate (they always use the same one and don't switch).

The crate is your dog's "room" and shouldn't be taken away from him.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:12 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Ok, more advice welcome, but so far it sounds like my takeaway is
* Tire him out late in the day if possible
* be more consistent about routinely taking him outside first thing in the morning
* set a middle-of-the-night alarm for the time being to let him out at night (the layout of the house unfortunately would make it difficult for me to hear if he's awake)
* (continue to) praise when he goes outside, no "point-and-NO" I promise cross my heart
* patience

The X-pen and related suggestions sound like good advice but problematic due to house layout; and I'm trying to avoid buying additional equipment anyway. If a few weeks from now the above hasn't helped, I may fall back to that.

WRT the permanence of the crate: I do want to go through this, regardless, just to be sure that he's all the way house trained for realsies, not just house-trained-when-a-person-is-present-or-he's-locked-in-a-box. Based on his attitude to the crate currently, I don't expect him to miss it if it goes away; but if after all of this when I do swap the crate out for a bed he freaks out or seems at all unhappy I will certainly bring it back.

Thanks, all; I'll report back with results later!
posted by ook at 11:09 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


Well. That all went basically as smoothly as one could possibly imagine.

I started leaving the crate door open at night and set an alarm for 4am. Been edging the middle-of-the-night outing back by 15 minutes per day, except for a couple of insomniac nights in there where I was up way too late anyway so skipped it. Only one accident since we started, and that one was clearly my fault (it was before bedtime, and in retrospect he did try to get my attention first. I thought he just wanted some skritches.)

Will probably get rid of the crate this weekend (he's been sleeping in my office; I haven't seen him go into the crate at all since the first couple of nights.)

Thanks everyone!
posted by ook at 11:01 AM on April 3 [3 favorites]


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