For nearly every Lab owner, the promise of a pet who does his business where he’s supposed to remains a welcome goal. Fortunately, an accident- free home environment is completely attainable.
If you dedicate some time, remain consistent and use positive reinforcement to crate train your pet, you will be well on your way to having a house- trained member of the household.
Choosing the Crate
Before starting the crate training process, it helps to have the right tools of the trade. First, you will need an appropriate crate to house your pup or adult dog. According to Kristen Collins – director of American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Anti-Cruelty Behavior Research program in Urbana, Ill. – yo
u can choose a wire or plastic version, depending on your personal preference. Some people think a plastic crate seems more den-like because of its enclosed nature. (See Recommended Products Page) If you select a wire crate for your dog, you can leave it open or drape a cloth or blanket over it to create a more den-like atmosphere.
Once you’ve chosen the type of crate, the next step is to get the correct size. Pick a too-big crate, and your dog will choose to eliminate in one area and sleep in another. Pick a too-small crate, and you’ll have a cramped, uncomfortable canine. Jonathan Klein – owner of I Said Sit! School for Dogs in Los Angeles, Calif. – says owners should consider a few points.
Klein recommends a crate large enough for a dog to stand up, raise his head without hitting the top of the crate and turn all the way around. If you’re buying a crate for a lab puppy, don’t worry that you’ll have to keep upgrading the size of the crate to allow for the dog’s growth. “You can get a crate with a movable wall that lets your puppy grow with the crate,” Klein says.
After selecting a crate, the next step is to start the pretraining process. Before you begin crate training, make sure your puppy makes positive associations with his den. “You want your dog to connect that the crate is a good place and free of stress,” says Jeannine Berger, D.V.M., director of behavior resources at San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruel Cruelty to Animals Veterinary Hospital. There are a number of ways to turn your pet’s crate into a feel-good place.
• Put something desirable in the crate, such as a toy, treat or shirt with your scent on it.
• Reward your dog with a treat and praise after he goes in the crate.
•Feed your dog’s meals in the crate.
•Place bedding in the crate during sleep times to make your dog more comfortable.
•Keep the initial time in the crate short.
•Leave the crate door open at first, and let your dog wander in and out on his own.
The key to successful crate training: Make sure your lab likes spending time in the crate before you start the actual training. Berger recommends using treats to help the process. “I like putting in a new chew toy or delicious treat
throughout the day; the lab puppy might be wandering around and then find something fun inside the crate [and decide to stay],” she says. Collins advises owners to let their dogs adapt to the crate training without guidance. The process should never feel forced. “Start gradually, and always allow the dog to go in because he’s interested in it rather than just shoving him in,” Collins says
You’ll need to decide where to place the crate, and a location that works for one household might not work for another. The main objective is to place the crate centrally in an area in which you and other members of the household spend time. There are two reasons for doing this:
• You should be present when your labrador puppy shows signs that he needs to get out of his crate to go potty. “If the crate isn’t where you can see it, you’re not as likely to notice when the dog needs to get out of the crate,” Klein says, “and you’re not able to let him out when he needs to go.”
•It’s important to continue to keep your canine’s associations with his crate positive so that he doesn’t feel isolated from the rest of the household. “You want your dog to feel like he’s part of the family,” Klein says. “when vou’re coming and going and the dog is in his den, he will get accustomed to your routine much more quickly.”
Keep in mind that the crate doesn’t have to stay in one place. If you spend a lot of time in the kitchen during the day, you can place the crate there. At night, consider moving the crate next to your bed. “Put the crate next to your bed when you and your puppy are sleeping,” Berger suggests. “The closeness helps create a bond.”
Six Steps to Housetraining
You’ve picked out a crate. You’re ready with bedding, toys and treats. Your Lab feels comfortable hanging out in his crate. You know where it will go during various times of the day.
Now what? The next step is where the actual housetraining begins.
1. If possible, start over a time period during which you’ll have a few days to focus. According to Collins, it’s a good sign when you start to have trouble getting your dog to come out of the crate; that means he’s grown accustomed to it. Then you’re ready to move on to the next step.
2. When your Lab puppy is in the crate, place a treat
inside, and start closing the door for a few minutes at a time. Don’t leave your dog alone yet, though. Repeat the process throughout the day.
3. Next, repeat step 2. This time, walk around the outside of the crate rather than stay
ing by your pooch’s side. Try this for approximately five to 10 minutes, and see how your dog does. To make the process easier, feed a meal or place a food-stuffed treat inside the crate. Once you let your puppy out, make sure he no longer has access to the treat.
4. Lengthen the amount of time that your Lab stays in the crate according to what’s appropriate for his age and stage in the training process. Keep in mind that you’re training your dog for success. not failure, so don’t leave him in the crate for longer than he can avoid soiling himself “You want to make sure your Labrador puppy has 100 percent success – not 99 percent success,” Klein says.
5. Start by taking your puppy out every hour. Then increase the time to every 21/2 hours, three hours and then four hours.
When you are ready to take your lab outside to go potty, take him directly to the back yard or the designated area for elimination. If you take your dog to an area where he might get distracted, consider putting him on-leash. ”A puppy or younger dog easily can become distracted when you take him outside,” Klein says. “It’s advantageous to take him out on-leash to prevent him from doing things other than going tothe bathroom.”
6. Once your pup has successfully eliminated, reward him with praise or a treat. You also can train your dog to associate a verbal cue with elimination. As soon as you get to the designated area, tell your pooch, “go potty!”, “hurry up!” or another cue.
Klein cautions against using verbal cues too early, though. “I wouldn’t use any cue until the dog has a solid pattern of going to the bathroom so that he associates the cue with the action,” he advises.
It’s helpful to establish a routine so that your dog knows what to expect. Eating and drinking habits affect the digestive system, so feed your dog on a set schedule. Make sure he has plenty of water to drink, but keep in mind that heavy water intake right before bedtime could necessitate more bathroom trips for younger dogs. Plan accordingly.
Berger recommends avoiding accidents by sticking to a strict schedule. “Take your dog out after eating, playing and sleeping,” she says.
You’ve gone through steps 1 through 6 of crate training. Is your dog housetrained? If you’re able to supervise your Lab puppy at regular intervals and he’s developed a relatively good habit of going where and when he is supposed to when outside of the crate, then you’re in excellent shape. Next, you can start leaving your canine outside of the crate while you’re in other parts of the house or away from the apartment.
Whether your four-legged companion can hold it all day without having an accident naturally depends on how long you’ll be gone that day. “If you’re at work for at least eight to 12 hours a day and can’t come home to let your dog out, you’re setting him up for an accident,” Collins says. With patience, consistency and positive reinforcement, however, you’re just a few steps away from successfully crate training your dog.