I adopted my first puppy, Mojo, back in 1994. He was a 6 week old Keeshond, and I immediately began housebreaking him. It was also the first time I tried “kennel training”. The process seemed a bit daunting at first as it requires a bit of dedication and structure, however, the premise made sense. Why would I paper train a puppy, basically teaching him that it was okay to urinate in the house, and then have to teach him to not go in the house? Most of us grew up with this method of training our dogs, leading to many, many accidents and frustration. It is very confusing for the dogs.
The new puppy you just got for Christmas is cute and cuddly, but so were the thousands of dogs you see every day in shelters, most of them ending up there for lack of training. “There are no bad dogs, just bad owners”. I have had wonderful success with this method of training, not just in housebreaking my dogs, but in providing them with what they come to consider their “safe” zone. I have had “friends” incredulous at the thought that I “cage my dogs”. Lack of understanding will bring this response from the ignorant. Anyway, let’s get started.
First and most importantly, a kennel is never used as a punishment. My honest opinion is that there is never a reason to punish a dog or puppy. They are learning, and positive reinforcement is what they will remember. While training they will have accidents, but just as with a baby, a puppy or even an adult dog being taught something new should never be yelled at, have their nose rubbed in it, and never hit!
Our canine companions want nothing more than to please us. Training takes consistency and patience, but the rewards of a well-trained dog are priceless. Now, I won’t go into basic commands here, “sit”, “stay”, “come” etc. All of these, along with leash training, are very important and should be started as soon as you get your puppy/dog home. A handful of healthy treats, and extreme praise will soon have your friend wanting to do these for you. Here I want to focus on kennel training as a way of housebreaking, and keeping your dog safe. I will be referring to “puppy” throughout this tutorial, but this will also work with an adult dog.
Choosing a kennel is very important. You want enough room for your puppy to be able to stand, turn around, and lay down comfortably. You don’t want them to have too much room while training however, as they will just urinate/defecate as far away as possible. They will do all they can to not use the bathroom in their bed, but if you let them go too long without relief, or give them too much space they will mess the kennel. Many of the kennels now come with a dividing panel which can be used while training, or as I had to do, you can start with a small kennel and work your way to a larger one, though even the smallest kennel for a tiny puppy may leave too much room and need to be blocked. A wee wee pad in the bottom of the kennel and a small blanket or pillow to sleep on will help make clean up easier should they have an accident.
Kennel training is fairly simple. Your puppy’s kennel is where he will sleep. Do not allow him to sleep anywhere else in the house or you will just confuse him. Yes, you will have a few nights of crying and howling, but if you don’t give in now both of you will benefit. Never take him out of the kennel while he is whining or crying to get out, wait until he is quiet for a couple of minutes and then let him out. If you let him out when he whines he will immediately associate whining with “out”, you don’t want to have to break that cycle.
Every time your puppy wakes, immediately take him to a spot in the yard where you want him to use the bathroom. The same place every time will help because his scent will already be there. I have found that using a “keyword” when they urinate will come in handy later, so as he is relieving himself, I will say, “good pee pee”, or something to that effect. I know it sounds silly, but it will give you a way to make your dog go “on command” later on. As soon as he starts to relieve himself praise, praise, praise! Now, I’m talking silly sounding excitement here, acting like he just saved the planet kind of praise…”GOOD PEE PEE”!! “Oh, what a good puppy!”
When you bring your puppy back into the house it is feeding time. Give him food and water. Ten minutes later, take him back out to his potty spot in the yard, use your keyword, and praise him when he goes. Do not leave food and water accessible at all times while training. A very young dog will have to go within 10 to 20 minutes after having food or drink. A feeding, sleeping, and relieving schedule is crucial for training. Everything at the same time every day, or as close as you can get.
Now is “free play” time. If he didn’t relieve himself after feeding, take him out again every ten minutes until he does. Don’t forget the praise! Your free time with him can be as much as you like, but when you see him getting sleepy put him back in his kennel, praising him as you put him in, and giving the “kennel” command. I use my dog’s names, so it’s “Cody, Casey, kennel”, and they go right in.
If you are persistent, patient, and full of praise, your pup will soon see his kennel as his safe warm den. It will also help when you have to leave the house. He will be safe and your house will not be chewed to bits when you return. Putting a chew toy in his kennel is a good idea too. Even at the beginning of training, it is possible to go to work and come home to a dry kennel. If not, then reconsider your feeding/watering times. Please remember, your dog wants to please you. If he is having accidents, don’t punish him. Figure out a better schedule for you both. My dogs have such a regimented schedule for eating and sleeping that they will whine to go in the kennel at 10pm on the dot, or jump all over me when it is feeding time. (I swear they have little pocket watches)
Kennel training is the best thing I have ever done for my dogs. Cody and Casey both sleep in an open top, “playpen” type of kennel most of the time now, though I keep an extra kennel for when they need to be separated. Even though they are able to jump out of this type of kennel, they both stay in there out of respect and because of training. They are both so used to the kennel, that if I pick up my car keys to leave the house, they go in there without any command at all.
Video of Cody and Casey going “nite nite”.
Any questions about kennel training, just ask me!