Ask the Behaviorist: Crate Training

Check out the Michigan Humane Society blog on Wednesdays to see common pet behavior questions answered by our Senior Director of Operations and pet behavior expert, CJ Bentley. If you have an immediate behavior concern with your pet, please call a qualified trainer or behaviorist! If you have a non-urgent question you would like answered on the blog, you can comment here or email us at mail(at)michiganhumane.org.

Senior Director of Operations CJ Bentley and her adopted dog, Rogue

Senior Director of Operations CJ Bentley and her adopted dog, Rogue

“We have a 7-year-old Yorkie who sleeps in his crate at night with no problem. Lately, though, he’s been waking up in the middle of the night and barking his head off. Thinking he needed a bathroom break or even just some comforting, we’d get up. Now we’ve adopted the mindset to let him “bark it out”, but the latest session lasted OVER 2 HOURS. Makes for a really fun workday the next day. Any thoughts or ideas from The Behaviorist would be much appreciated! No, we are not open to him sleeping on the bed.”

Yep. Gotta love the tenacity of dogs! Once he learned his barking got him out and about…well, now he’s going to stick with that. Even if it means keeping it (and you) up for hours and hours. And yes, technically the best thing to do is to ignore him until he learns that the barking no longer gets him a darn thing…no matter how long he barks. Unfortunately, what looks good on paper isn’t always terribly practical. You need your sleep!

So we probably need to take baby steps here. I would try the following: 1) make sure he’s medically a-okay – you know, can still “hold it” overnight, isn’t in pain for some reason, etc. 2) exercise, exercise, exercise him before it’s time for bed. This should be physical play time and mental puzzle solving and training. 3) If he doesn’t destroy toys and a Squirrel Dude type toy is appropriate for him, I’d put a little bit of moist dog food in one and freeze it. And give it to him before you go to bed. Our goal here is to keep him so busy he is tired enough to sleep through the night. 4) You may also want to try a diffuser like Comfort Zone in your room in case he has a little stress going on. The goal is to just get him sleeping through the night again and then weaning him off all these sleep aids…but for now, you need your sleep.

“I’d like some tips for house training small breed dogs using an indoor potty patch or pan while working so they do not have to remain crated.”

You’re right. This type of system can work very nicely – especially for small dog families whose dogs can’t always “hold it” during the workday. Let’s be sure, though, that the only reason the dog is crated is for potty purposes.

Crating – done properly – is also used to keep dogs safe and out of mischief while they’re “Home Alone” until they’re old enough to know better. Assuming the only reason for crating in your circumstance is housetraining – then, certainly we can figure this out. The key is to reward the behavior you want. Rewarded behavior will happen more often. Set your preferred potty area up. If your dog has a spot in the house where accidents have happened in the past, you could consider placing the potty area there, since you know it is already a preferred potty place. While you’re home, keep a watch on your dog. Whenever he/she is approaches the area or sniffs it or anything, give a happy “good dog” and produce a lovely treat. Continue to reward your dog for paying attention to the spot. Then certainly should he/she go potty there – a nice reward needs to come from you.

If your dog has accidents in the house while you’re home, you can go back to housetraining 101 only now when he/she starts to “go” in the house…get him/her to the new potty place and reward for finishing his/her business there. Continue using the crate until your dog reliably uses the new potty area while you’re home. Once he/she is consistently using the new spot, you can try it while you’re away. Start with short periods of time first, just in case. Purina actually has a nice kit with training advice for folks looking to litterbox train their dogs. It’s called Secondnature Dog Litter and Training Guide and is available through Petco and PetSmart.

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