My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Dirty Dog: Do This, Not That



Remove bedding
Removing all bedding. Most pups can handle a bare crate inside your home just fine. Exceptions include tiny toy pups and lean, short-haired dogs such as Italian Greyhounds, Weimaraners, Dobermans, Vizslas, etc.

Bowl over
For now, put his food bowl away and feed him off the floor of his clean crate. Many pups will increase their efforts to stay clean when the bathroom suddenly becomes the dining room.

Clean with an odor neutralizer
Dogs’ noses (even pups’ noses) are extremely sensitive, so proper clean up is key, otherwise you risk leaving an olfactory “pee here now” sign in the crate.

Get him out more
For those of you who work away from home, this may mean finding a friend who can let your dog out, hiring a pet sitter or walker, coming home at lunch or some combination of the above. When you are home, get your pup out a lot. Go out with her so you can praise her and reward her when she goes outside.

Use a plastic kennel
Being more enclosed, some pups make more of an effort to keep plastic crates tidy. And if not, it sure is easier to clean than a metal one. Pee and poop generally stay in the crate rather than under and around it; the door comes off so it can be easily and completely scrubbed.

Try high-rise living
For small dogs (and pups) put the crate up on a table or bench. Sometimes pups who dirty the crate readily when on the floor try harder when raised up. Worth a shot, if it is easy and safe to do so. Those of you with large puppies, relax – this isn’t a requirement, keep your “big foot” on the floor.

Plan for a quick get-a-wayMove the crate near the door so if an accident does happen, it’s a quick trip to the outside and less chance for icky paws to touch your carpets, walls, tile etc.

Cut things short.
Long-haired pups? Some pups who don’t mind slopping around when they have longer hair, start to clean up their act in a crew cut. It’s worth a try and it will grow back. Either way, it sure makes your puppy easier to wash and dry.


Don’t punish!
Stop all scolding, smacking, rubbing and shaking today! If the puppy could help it, he would. We know this is frustrating and disgusting, but adding fear and confusion to his life will not help your cause.

Don’t ask him to do the impossible.
Young puppies can’t hold it for many hours at a time. Even if they are clean for hours at night that is not the same thing as during the daytime. Don’t expect your dog to hold it for more hours than they are months old plus one. AND even that varies individual to individual or situation to situation. Meaning many three month old pups can hold it for four hours – but not when they just drank a lot of water, or are excited, or chewing heavily, and some pups just can’t hold it as long as others at first.

Don’t get him worked up in the crate
Stop getting him excited when he is crated. Some pups can be clean but then go when you approach the crate. This is usually a short-lived issue, but you can make it worse by punishing this innocent puppy behavior. So ignore him – do not even look at him or speak to him. Simply walk up to the crate (ideally coming in a bit at an angle rather than straight on, drop a few treats in his crate (to distract him) and open the door. Putting a towel in front of his crate can make clean up easier if he squirts a bit when you put his leash on. Stay relaxed and get him outside. Once he goes out there, then say your hellos.

Don’t guess
Stop sending your dog outside alone. We’ve housebroken many (too many) dogs in all sorts of weather, so we know what a hassle it can be, but also how important it is to be out there with the puppy. Get on whatever gear you need and out you go with your pup. Otherwise you have no idea if your pup actually went or not. Even if you watch from a window, you’re not there to praise and treat the very thing you need and want your puppy to do.

Don’t confuse matters
Stop putting newspaper in the crate! Newspapers send the message that you want him to dirty the crate. Ack! No! If this all helps, great. But for a lot of dirty puppies it isn’t enough. For them, they need a break from the crate entirely – this is explained in “Take a Crate Break.”. A few weeks remembering how to be clean often sets a puppy up for recovery.

Don’t repeat failure
If the above changes don’t help, stop all crating today! Why? Well, because every time he dirties his crate he is learning to be dirty. We need him to learn to be clean again! So instead of crating, you’re going to set him up on newspapers for a bit. We know, this is a mess and a hassle, but you can’t fix a problem by continuing to practice the problem, and doing this does work.

Stay hopeful. When Milo, a ten-month-old Beagle from an indoor food laboratory, entered my life, he was a dirty dog. He simply had no clue and would mess in his crate at will. We just kept at it and, after some months, he got 100% reliably clean (he was clean before that but only because I kept an eye on things, not because he had any real clue). He became and remains a completely housebroken dog, tidy in his kennel and a delight. He was well worth the effort. The majority of pups, dirty or not, eventually do get housebroken.

By Sarah Wilson,

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