You Dirty Dog!
By now, you know that crate training is based on Fido's
denning instinct, which gives him a natural tendency
to keep his sleeping area clean. So, you're probably
a bit freaked out if you've found that Fido thinks
his crate is a toilet. Don't despair, most dogs who
pee and poop in the crate can be turned around and
taught to be civilized ladies and gentlemen who will
respond well to a crate training program.
Are You Sure You Have a Problem?
First, let's talk about young puppies who have had a few accidents in the crate and older dogs who have occasional accidents in the crate. If it only happens a few times or if it happens when Fido's been left alone too long, you probably don't have anything to worry about. It's also not a problem if poor Fido has diarrhea on occasion and can't control his bowels in the crate. Accidents in the crate are only cause for concern if they're frequent and habitual.
If Fido has an accident in the crate, you should be especially careful in the days that follow about keeping him on a good schedule and having him in his crate only when he's empty so the accidents don't become a habit.
If Fido's having accidents in his crate overnight, you may want to buy our e-book, Puppy Sleep Training - The Exhausted Puppy Owner's Nighttime Survival Guide HERE, so you can learn everything you need to know to help your pup keep his crate clean overnight.
Before You Attempt to Fix This Problem...
Before attempting to use any of the methods in this article to teach Fido to keep his crate clean, you must be sure Fido's not having any medical issues that may be causing the problems, such as a bladder or urinary tract infection or problems with regularly occurring diarrhea. If Fido is on any medication, you should check with your vet to be sure that the problem isn't a side effect of his medication, since some medications can increase the frequency of elimination.
You should also be sure that you accompany Fido outside on his potty trips before you confine him so you can be sure he's doing his thing when he goes to his potty area. If he's out on his own, you may assume he's going potty when he's really out there chasing butterflies and eating grass.
Solving the Dirty Crate Dilemma
You'll have some work to do if you do have a dog that regularly goes potty in his crate. There are many reasons that dogs have accidents in their crates. Fido may have come from a dirty kennel or a pet store where he was kept in a small cage and slept and eliminated in the same area. He might have been kept in his crate for too long in his early training when he didn't have enough bowel or bladder control to wait until he was let out of the crate to eliminate, or he may just be having accidents because he's stressed about being confined.
If you believe that stress is a factor in your dog's problem, please read Acclimating Fido to his Crate to be sure Fido's a suitable candidate for crate training and to make sure you've done everything possible to make Fido feel secure in his crate. If you've done all of this and he still seems overly stressed, you should get the help of an experienced trainer or talk to your vet about possible solutions for Fido's anxiety.
If Fido has been properly acclimated to his crate and doesn't seem stressed out, but still soils his crate regularly, there are lots of things you can do to resolve the problem. First, be sure Fido's crate is the right size. If it is, the next issue to consider is whether you're keeping Fido on a reasonable schedule. You should be sure that Fido doesn't eat or drink before going into his crate and that he's getting sufficient exercise, attention and playtime so he's ready to snooze when he gets into his crate.
If you've done all of this and he's still having accidents, start feeding Fido in his crate. You can do this with the door open or closed, just as long as his food bowl is inside the crate. Once he associates the crate with being his dining room, he might not find it so appetizing to use it as his bathroom. You can also put something extra yummy to chew on in his crate when you confine him. If he's got a pig ear, a safe chew bone or a hollow toy stuffed with something tasty, he may be too busy and distracted to have an accident, and he probably won't want to get his little treasure soaked in pee!
Still having problems? Assess the bedding situation in Fido's crate. If you have been putting Fido in the crate without a bed or blanket, try adding something comfy for him to lay down on. This will encourage him to settle in, relax and think of his crate as his bed, which may stop the accidents. Believe it or not, the opposite can also work. If you've been providing soft bedding for Fido, he might be enjoying "the diaper effect"... if his bed absorbs the urine or he can bury his poo under his blanket, he can still be dry, clean and happy in his crate. If you take the bedding out, he'll have to come in contact with his potty accident, and he probably won't enjoy that too much.
Owners sometimes make a mistake that causes Fido to believe he's supposed to go potty in his crate. This should go without saying, but Fido's crate should not be lined with potty pads or newspapers, especially if he's ever been trained to potty on paper or pads. To make matters worse, commercial potty pads are often scented with an attractant that makes Fido want to pee and poo on them. If you've been making this mistake, just removing the pads or newspaper may solve your problem.
If you're using a wire crate, you may want to consider switching to a plastic crate, since Fido will feel more closed in with his pee or poo and this can discourage him from having accidents. If you're using a plastic crate and you're still having problems after trying all of the above steps, check the floor to see if it's raised in the middle with a "moat" around the edge. If it is, urine will drain off of the center of the floor into the lowered edges and Fido will feel dry and comfy after he has an accident. Turning the crate upside down so the floor is now the ceiling may help, since the top half of the crate usually doesn't have the raised center and lowered edges.
When you make changes in Fido's crate or bedding, he may need to have a few accidents in there before he learns that it's uncomfortable. This is an unfortunate but necessary part of the training, so do this training when you'll be able to have time to bathe poor Fido when you get him out of his crate.
If Fido has an accident in his crate for any reason, you need to be sure to clean up thoroughly. Clean his crate with odor neutralizer, wash his bedding and give him a bath, if necessary. And remember, you can't correct Fido for having an accident in his crate unless you catch him in the act!
Most dogs can learn to stay dry in the crate using these methods. If you've tried them and you're still having problems, try another housetraining method, such as umbilical cord training or dog door training or seek the help of an experienced professional dog trainer.