How to handle a non-housebroken dog's first night at home?
January 18, 2021 6:28 PM   Subscribe

We're bringing a shelter dog home tomorrow. I'm so excited! We're planning on crate-training, but I feel like I'm coming across conflicting advice. What would you do?

The pup is two years old, and was picked up as a stray. We don't have any information about whether he's housetrained or not, but my guess is he isn't. We want to crate train him, but I've been reading the following pieces of advice, which seem to conflict with each other.

--Set your dog up for success. Take him out every hour, and don't give him a chance to eliminate in the house, or he'll start making it a habit. Keep him in a crate whenever you can't be close enough to watch him.

--When crate training your dog, work up to it slowly. Don't keep the dog in the crate for more than a few minutes at a time, and only lure him into it through positive reinforcement, don't trap him in it for a long period of time. However, once he's crate trained, don't let him out if he whines, because that will teach him that whining is how he gets out of the crate.

So, which is it? Do we put him in the crate overnight even if he is miserable/whines? Do we put him in a part of the house where it's okay for him to make a mess at night until he's crate trained, even though that might show him it's 'okay' to go in the house? Or do we put him in the crate but let him out every hour or so in case he needs to go?

I'm really okay with any of the solutions, I'm just not sure which is best.

[[Will share a picture when we have one]]

posted by Merricat Blackwood to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I usually crate new foster dogs at night until I know more about them just to make sure everyone stays safe. I view crating at night differently from crating during the day, which I never do for long periods. You may want to consider keeping the crate in your room so he doesn't feel alone.

YMMV, but I generally find adult dogs to housetrain easily and naturally; even the feral one I had. They catch on fast. Good luck, and congratulations!
posted by metasarah at 6:46 PM on January 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My experience was with a puppy, but I would strongly encourage using the crate at night and keeping it in your bedroom. The sound of your breathing will will have a calming effect, and dogs (even untrained puppies) do not like to soil their crate, so they will whimper if they need to go. In our case, it gave us enough time to get the critter out to do his business.
posted by bluefrog at 7:07 PM on January 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you! And do we let him out of the crate if he whines/seems like he needs to go, or put him in and that's it til the morning? (I am not sure I will have the willpower not to let him out if he's in our room and crying...)
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 7:18 PM on January 18, 2021

Best answer: My experience is a puppy, but the way we crate trained at night was a little like having a newborn. Every time he cried or wined, we’d take him right outside and then right back in the crate. The first few nights were hard but then he caught on. A few times I’d sit next to his crate and say “shhhh” and give him a scratch through the crate. I’m not sure I was supposed to do that but like you... I couldn’t stand hearing him cry. Even now that he’s 2, if he wines in the night it’s the same - right outside and back in, otherwise he’ll just wine to hang out with us.
posted by jdl at 8:06 PM on January 18, 2021

Best answer: Take him for a quick walk so he can pee and poop before bed. Put him in his crate in your room. If he whines in the middle of the night, take him outside and then right back to the crate. A dog of 2 should be able to go all night but be alert the first few days.
posted by shoesietart at 8:11 PM on January 18, 2021 [5 favorites]

I've seen a few people mention the suggestion of calming puppies, on their first night at home, with a ticking clock wrapped in a blanket. The ticking clock is calming because it reminds them of the heatbeat of their mother - and if the blanket smells of the mother also, so much the better. An older rescue dog will probably have had the company of others at night - and now suddenly wont - so this is a strategy you could try for re-assurance.
posted by rongorongo at 10:05 PM on January 18, 2021

Hi – I think you have good answers above, but this is just to say that I'm currently at week 4 with a new puppy, and she's house-trained now. I had read similar seemingly-conflicting advice, but then I read 'Perfect Puppy in 7 Days' by Sophia Yin, and she makes 2 very similar claims as well, but without the same tension between them:

1. when you're crate-training, don't put the dog in the crate for long periods, start them off slowly – let them go in willingly, don't shut them in (except at night)
2. when you're house-training, don't let the dog out of your sight for a minute, and take them outside regularly so they don't have a chance to go indoors

The second point doesn't mean that they're in a crate all day, so it's not conflicting with the first; Yin recommends having the dog attached to you by a short lead, following you around everywhere you go. Reward them frequently with kibble; if you're sitting at a desk working then make sure they've some toys to chew / play with; make a play pen next to you in your eyeline so that they know they're being watched. It's a bit intensive for that week because you're tied to the dog as much as they're tied to you! But it means you're vigilant for any sign that they need to go, and that means you get them outside in time, and they quickly learn from the repetition & association.

At night: shut in the crate and I set the alarm for every few hours to get her out. The general rule seems to be that a dog of n months can hold it in for n+1 hours; our puppy was 2 months old I was getting her out every 3 hours during the night. Now she's a month older I just get her up once at 3am, she follows me outside and does everything really quickly and goes straight back to bed. During the day she trots over to the door when she needs to go out. The only way that progress with house-training was a bit delayed is that the weather has been really dire and the puppy found the dark and wet and cold and snow enough of a hurdle to make her prefer to hold it in until she ended up having indoor accidents, but I think we're through the worst of that now. Something to consider though, if house-training progress does seem slow: it could just be down to nervousness/reluctance about other things.

Good luck!
posted by Joeruckus at 5:01 AM on January 19, 2021

A little orthogonal to your actual question, but make sure the crate you use is large enough for him to get into a comfortable sleeping position so he [hopefully] won't wake up as often during the night.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:29 AM on January 19, 2021

> Thank you! And do we let him out of the crate if he whines/seems like he needs to go, or put him in and that's it til the morning?

Don't ever let your dog out if they whine. I recommend not keeping the crate in your bedroom personally. Give them a good walk and potty outside before they go to bed, then retrieve them in the morning. Maybe they will soil the crate once or twice, but dogs prefer not to soil where they sleep, so that will stop when they learn that's their bed.

By letting them out when they whine, you will basically be training them to whine to get out anytime. Attention from humans is the biggest training incentive for dogs, and by giving them any attention (coos, scratches, yelling "be quiet") will all train them to whine more.

Tire out your dog, and put them to bed in there! It will go fine. But I don't recommend in the bedroom or responding to those whines. It's not a huge deal if they soil their crate - it will make them sad for a night but they'll learn.
posted by bbqturtle at 6:37 AM on January 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

My experience, having fostered a couple dozen dogs, is that if an adult dog was not crate trained as a puppy, they will not take well to be being crate trained as an adult. I had one older dog decide that he liked his crate as a safe place. All the others, at best, would tolerate it, and a few had extremely bad reactions like non-stop barking or peeing and rolling around in it, even with doing all of the best practices for crate training. Mostly I transitioned them to sleeping on a dog bed on the floor of the bedroom once they were house broken. YMMV.

Most of mine did not come house broken but they all took to it pretty quickly. Positive reinforcement for peeing/pooping outside is generally better than negative reinforcement for doing so inside, particularly when they're new and not bonded to you. I have found training them to both pee and poop on (separate) command has been really useful (the latter is more of a suggestion than a command, but it definitely seems to help give a clue that, "this is the time to take care of that need.")

If your local weather/personal lifestyle will support it, a good 0.5-1.0 mile walk before bed can both help make sure they're empty until morning and tire them out.
posted by Candleman at 8:57 AM on January 19, 2021

Don't ever let your dog out if they whine.

I, and plenty of dog behaviorists, completely disagree with this. What if your dog is telling you he needs to go throw up outside (mine has done that)? What if your dog has diarrhea and needs to go NOW? As long as you put puppy back in the crate IMMEDIATELY after going outside in the middle of the night. he will not start whining on the regular to get attention from you. He'll learn that nighttime = crate time (it's "house time" in our home) but he's also allowed to let you know if he has an emergency.
posted by cooker girl at 10:25 AM on January 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

>I, and plenty of dog behaviorists, completely disagree with this.

That's fine. I am a certified dog trainer, and I, along with plenty of other dog behaviorists, don't disagree. This is basic behavioral training, and so I'm a little upset you qualify your comment with "I, and plenty of dog behaviorists" - it's pretty disrespectful because you don't know my background.

>What if your dog is telling you he needs to go throw up outside (mine has done that)? What if your dog has diarrhea and needs to go NOW?

I appreciate your concern for the emotional state of your pups, but by reinforcing a negative behavior in any situation, you'll increase that negative behavior in the future.

When initially training, making noise is not a behavior you want to allow. If your dog is already trained to not make noise in their crate, when they do make noise, you can attend to it with caution.

However, it's impossible to take a dog out of a crate and put them outside without rewarding their behavior, and thus, increasing the incidence of whining in the future. This is why most crate training plans emphasize encouraging good behavior (and not responding to bad behavior in a way that rewards it).
posted by bbqturtle at 11:34 AM on January 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

One thing I don't see above that you may already know...if you're looking to use a crate long-term, be sure to make the crate a happy place of treats and comfort. Shoving a scared dog in there and locking the door closed is generally bad practice.
posted by nosila at 1:28 PM on January 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: he did really well in lots of ways! Totally housebroken as far as we can tell, no accidents so far. He was reluctant to get in the crate and was pacing/anxious by the end of the evening, and our presence only seemed to amp him up, so we ended up moving the crate to the guest room. We encouraged him in with treats and closed him in and he whined for about ten minutes and then conked out for the night. No accidents in the crate, either! He does seem to have a really hard time settling down when he’s indoors out of the crate, especially if he’s not getting attention—I’ve been sitting here drinking my coffee and he’s been pacing around for the last twenty minutes. But he’s sweet and affectionate and has done great with our cat, so I’m very proud of him so far. Thanks, everybody!
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 6:44 AM on January 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

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