Many clients ask me if they can tackle house training without a crate. Crates can be a fantastic tool for housetraining your dog, but in some cases, they aren’t the best fit. While we always recommend using a crate for housetraining when you can, you can certainly house train a dog without a crate. It’s just a bit more difficult at times!
You would use the same elements for housetraining that we cover in our Dog Savvy Course, just without the crate!
Before we dive into house training without a crate, we should debunk some of the hate against them. If you’re interested in house training without a crate simply because you think crating a dog is cruel, you should learn a bit more about why crates can actually be great for dogs!
When used properly, you only put your dog in their crate to keep them safe while you aren’t home, or to prevent housebreaking accidents when you cannot supervise your dog.
When you don’t use it as a punishment or just toss your dog in the crate all day, the dog usually sees the crate as a safe space to take a nap. In fact, crate training revolves around your dog viewing the crate as their personal den and not wanting to soil their sleeping space.
When to Avoid Crates
Even the most seasoned trainer will run across some issues with crating dogs to housetrain them. Some dogs can certainly develop claustrophobia and react poorly to enclosed spaces like a crate. It’s important to make sure your dog’s reaction to the crate is a result of the crate itself and not you accidentally reinforcing the behavior.
The direct help of an expert can be the best way to determine this, such as through the use of our Ask the Trainer program.
Another potential reason you might not use a crate while house training is if your dog potties in the crate. Sure, you might need to double-check the size of your crate to make sure that it’s not too large, but if your crate is properly sized and your dog is having accidents the crate isn’t doing anything for you!
What to do Without a Crate
You might not be using a crate, but you still need a way to prevent accidents when you can’t supervise your dog. If you can’t use a crate, you should explore the next best option. You’ll need a small space that your dog won’t want to potty inside. A playpen or a small gated room works well.
The premise should be that your dog doesn’t want to potty where they sleep, so if the area is small enough it should keep them from having an accident. When you can’t directly supervise your dog, you place them in this space to keep them from having accidents and delaying their housetraining.
When All Else Fails
If your dog potties in that confined space, you’ll need to resort to keeping them under your supervision – direct or indirect – essentially at all times. You can either keep them physically tethered to you or block them from leaving your view using gates or playpens.
In most cases, dogs don’t want to potty right in front of you, so if you keep them from being able to sneak off you can prevent accidents.
Preventing accidents is 100% of your housetraining battle. Unfortunately, not all dogs abide by the rule of not peeing or pooing in front of you.
If you have a dog that potties in front of you, and you can’t crate them, you’ll need guided help with your housetraining. It won’t be easy, and you need direct help from our trainers to determine the best solution for your dog. You will need to use our Ask the Trainer membership to get advice from our Head Trainer, and then work back and forth to adjust that plan based on how your dog responds.
Why Fully Housetraining Your Dog is Important
Some pet owners with difficult housetraining cases simply let it slide. They assume the dog will eventually become housebroken. They clean up the accidents and hope for the best by taking their dog out frequently. But if your dog has accidents in the house, they will continue having accidents in the house – for good.
Sure, the accidents might become less frequent. But that’s only because your dog doesn’t need to potty as frequently as they get older. You’ll find a dried-up poo in your dining room on the rug and have no clue when it’s from. The whole house has a slight urine odor no matter what you do. No rug is safe.
When your dog has accidents, they will keep having accidents. That’s why proper housetraining has to happen. Your dog doesn’t just housebreak him or herself with time. Stopping the accidents entirely is the only way to house train your dog.
The House Training Rules
Just as a refresher and these are covered in full detail in our Dog Savvy course, here are the general house training rules:
- No Accidents, Ever: You must prevent all accidents to fully housetrain your dog. You can’t simply claim victory when your dog hasn’t peed on the floor in a week. You need a full month without accidents before you can start relaxing your restrictions.
- Restriction is the Only Way: You cannot prevent accidents if you don’t restrict your dog in any way. Your restriction can be that your dog is in a crate or a small area where you are relatively certain they won’t have an accident or gated/tethered where they can’t leave your site.
- Supervise, or Else: If your dog is unrestricted – i.e. not in a crate or small space to keep them from having an accident, and not physically kept within your view, you must directly supervise them. Essentially, unless you’re actively interacting with your dog, they shouldn’t have free reign if you want to have clean rugs. No ifs, ands, or buts!