My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Take a Crate Break: Help for the Dirty Dog


What do you do when your puppy or dog is urinating and/or defecating in his crate or you have to leave you pup longer than he can yet hold it? You take a “crate break” by setting him up in a pen, hall, or small room where he can, when he needs to, move away from his sleeping/eating areas to relieve himself.

Here’s what you do:

Our favorite tool for this job is an ex-pen (short for exercise pen). We like the pen because it allows us to create a long narrow area which can be, if necessary, made narrower in the center, giving your puppy fewer ways to make an error.

The crate (with the door open or removed) sits near the front, but not so near he can stand on the crate and climb out. His food and water bowls go up front as well, ideally in the front corner that is farther away from where you return and greet him. This prevents your puppy/dog from knocking them over as he excitedly greets you.

Papers go toward the back. Papers only – newspaper, puppy pads, or hospital-type underpads are all fine. NOT fine? Sheets, toweling or any fabric option. Some breeders of white dogs use these to prevent the newsprint from getting their puppies grubby, but it creates major housebreaking headaches later.

With the pen set up to be narrow, you can often rest the edge of the pen on the paper or pads which helps to minimize ripping. You can also spray replacement papers lightly with an anti-chew spray, allow it to dry and then put them down. This does not deter the pup from using them as a bathroom but does help to minimize chewing.

If he still chooses to dirty in his crate, even with the door open, then shut the door and only use the crate during meal times as his “dish.” Take him out and close the door immediately after he is done eating so he doesn’t get a chance to go back in.

Now, walk your pup as usual. You would prefer him to go outside – he’s just on papers to prevent in-the-crate disasters. Do everything as normal: going outside with him, rewarding him with affection and treats for going outside. This all helps and is all critical.

After two weeks of being 100% clean (meaning no pees or poop in the crate), start to put him in the crate for brief periods after he has just urinated and defecated, for no more than an hour, when you are home and can watch him. After another two weeks 100% clean, crate for no more than two hours at a time. Next step? Add another hour. Continue slowly adding hours.

During this retraining phase, continue to use the pen when you must leave him. Only start to leave him crated – and even then only for brief periods – when you have a month or more of mistake-free time under your belts.

And yes, we know, this IS a hassle, but having a dog who is housebroken and tidy for the next decade? Priceless, and well worth investing a few months of effort now. Good luck! If you need some moral support, stop by our forums. We’ve been through this – successfully – many times.

By Sarah Wilson,

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