Learning how to combine house and crate training puppies

How to Combine House- and Crate Training Puppies

Did you know that house-and crate training puppies goes hand in hand?

I quickly made that connection when my two Boxer mix puppies Missy & Buzz joined my life in my 3rd floor apartment in Northern Virginia.

At the time, they were just 8 weeks old and adorable little furballs!

My Boxer mix puppies Missy & Buzz
Puppies Buzz (on the left) and Missy (on the right)

But they still had lots of learning to do, including where not to pee.

By the way, towards the very beginning of our relationship, I had just as much learning to do as they did.

Because here’s the thing – the puppies were my very first dogs, and while I did a lot of reading when I prepared for their arrival, you’re just not going to learn how to raise puppies from a book alone.

Yes, you can pick up lots of ideas and get inspired from the authors’ experience, but at the end of the day, you’ll be learning from interacting with your own puppies.

For example, I clearly remember this one scenario where I praised Missy for sitting like a good girl right at the far end of our living room.

What really happened is, she peed on the carpet, and I just praised her for it! From my perspective, it looked like she was sitting.

That was on day 1.

So much for crate training a puppy in an apartment, ugh.

How to Combine House-and Crate Training Puppies

But hey, the good news is that while the puppies and I were both off to a rough start, we learned quickly and it didn’t take long at all for the pups to be housetrained.

And in this blog post, I’m sharing how I went about it!

Spoiler alert: Later on during my career as a professional dog walker and pet sitter, I got to apply many of the lessons learned with my puppies Missy & Buzz.

That’s why in this blog post, I also share some footage of my client puppies.

Enjoy!

How to combine house and crate training puppies

Disclaimer: This blog post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated in 2023. It contains affiliate links I may earn compensation through at no additional cost to you. 

Consistency, Discipline, & Patience Are Key For Crate Training Puppies

These 3 virtues are super important for house- and crate training puppies.

I truly can’t stress these enough, so I’m going to point them out again:

  • Consistency
  • Discipline
  • Patience

They were particularly important since Missy and Buzz were still tiny puppies when I adopted them. So that meant that they didn’t have full control over their bladders yet.

I later learned that this process doesn’t fully set in until about 12 weeks of age.

Meaning, there’s going to be some accidents regardless of how hard you try. Especially between 2 and 3 months of age.

So, be patient and disciplined in consistently applying what I’m about to share with you all!

Puppy Potty Formula

Did you know that a puppy’s age in months tells you how long they can approximately hold it?

This is also known as the puppy potty formula.

It’s super useful when you’re house-and crate training puppies!

Here’s what it says: A puppy can usually go their age in months + 1 hour before they have to pee again.

So, a 3 month old puppy should be able to hold it for about 4 hours before they have to pee again.

However, you should NEVER expect any dog regardless of age to be able to hold it for any longer than 6 hours!

That’s just unhealthy and can contribute to urinary tract infections.

Also, very young puppies will need to go out every other hour, and they’ll need to go for a potty break immediately after:

  • Playtime and anything exciting
  • Waking from a nap
  • Meals
Boxer mix puppies Missy and Buzz with their blue and pink puppy collars
Missy and Buzz eating. 10 minutes later, we went outside to potty.

Tip: Restrict access to water before bedtime, or you can schedule in a few extra potty breaks at night.

The pups had their own beds that I used throughout the day, but I had them sleep in their crate for the first 2 months or so.

I’d move the crate into my bedroom at night time, and set it up next to my bed to help calm them. I wish the Calmeroos Puppy Heartbeat Toy had already been available back then!

It’s a super soft plush dog toy that simulates the mother dog’s heartbeat as well as the warmth of all of the puppy siblings.

I totally would have used it!

Setting Your Alarm For Potty Breaks At Night

Now, I remember setting my alarm for every 3 hours throughout the night for the first 2-3 weeks of the pups’ arrival.

Of course that meant that I didn’t exactly get tons of sleep during that time, but it was pretty doable.

I ended up reminding myself that the interrupted sleeping schedule was only temporary and would soon pay off once the pups were potty trained.

How To Crate Train A Puppy In An Apartment

The biggest challenge in crate training a puppy in an apartment is that you don’t have an easily accessible yard you can quickly let your puppy out into.

But no worries, it’s still doable, it just requires some more structure.

What helped me personally was my PPJ (Puppy Potty Journal).

My mom always was and still is a huge believer in writing things down and creating lists, and I inherited the list-making OCD from her.

The way I did it was super simple – I dedicated a small spiral notebook to the pups’ potty schedule and made an entry every time I took them outside the 3 flights of stairs to go potty.

I’d write down what kind of business they took care of (pee and/or poop), along with the time.

It helped me so much that I went ahead and created something similar for you to use if you’d like.

Just print out the puppy potty journal and fill it in:

Crate training puppies is easier with a puppy potty journal

The PPJ really was wonderful to help familiarize myself with Missy & Buzz’s potty schedule, and I was able to keep accidents to a minimum.

When they DID happen, I was usually the one to blame for them.

Ideally, you should really never leave your pup out of sight, not even for 45 seconds while you take care of your own business.

But let’s face it, we’re all human, it’s not realistic, and accidents are going to happen.

So remember to be patient and not to blame them.

They don’t know any better, and it’s up to you to teach them what you expect of them.

House- And Crate Training Puppies: Cleaning Up Accidents

That said, clean up any accidents immediately with a specific dog urine cleaner that won’t just eliminate the stain, but also all scents.

If a trace of a scent remains on the floor or elsewhere, the pups will return to that very spot and mark right on top of it.

So a thorough clean-up job is absolutely necessary when you’re looking to potty train your pup quickly.

There are tons of of cleaning supplies formulated specifically for dog accidents, but my favorite stain remover is Spot Shot Pet.

That’s because it’s environmentally friendly (non-toxic) and safe to use around pets (& children).

How to keep your dog from pooping inside the house: Non-toxic carpet cleaner Spot Shot Pet

While accidents will happen, never scold a puppy when they have an accident. If you do, they’ll learn not to eliminate in front of you, no matter if inside or out!

Also, never rub their nose in any accident (neither # 1 nor # 2).

That’s just mean and doesn’t teach the puppy that he did something wrong.

Instead, it’ll only teach to fear you and that you can’t be trusted, meaning he won’t want to go potty around you anymore.

Lots of Praise for Doing Their Business

What you DO want to incorporate is lots of praise when they do their business outside!

That’s because they will associate doing their business with something good happening (= praise from you, their human).

This is the perfect opportunity to add a very valuable command to the elimination process, and with all training sessions, timing is key!

So, the very moment your puppy squats down to pee, say the word or expression you want them to recognize as a potty clue.

You could say “Go potty”, “Go pee”, “Get busy” or anything really you want them to learn as a cue to go potty.

Speaking of training: In addition to associating a potty command, you can also teach your pup to let you know when they need a potty break.

I incorporated a dog potty bell that I hung on the front door and rang it every time I took the pups outside, adding the command “potty time”!

That’s another helpful tool in getting your puppy housetrained in an apartment setting.

K9sOverCoffee Worked With Caldwell's Pet Supply And Their Potty Bells

Crating Puppies Keeps Them Safe

OK, moving on to one of my favorite puppy training tools ever, the crate!

Wire dog crates are a wonderful means of safely confining your pup(py) when you can’t actively watch her. Plus, dogs have a natural instinct for not soiling their sleeping and lounging area.

So like I mentioned before, combining house-training with crate training puppies really makes a lot of sense!

Missy & Buzz first shared a crate for the first month or so, and then each got their own as they grew bigger.

In the picture below, you can see their two crates in our apartment living room.

But in this particular setting, Missy & Buzz are actually together in the crate on the far left, and their puppy friend Solea is in the one on the far right.

Their puppy friend Shade is hanging out on a dog bed next to the couch.

I was really lucky to be raising Missy & Buzz in the same apartment complex that two of my neighbors were raising their puppies Solea and Shade in!

We all definitely took advantage of that and had lots of puppy get togethers for puppy socializing purposes.

Crate training puppies is more fun together
Crate training is more fun together, right?!

Now, here’s how to introduce your pup to the crate in a positive way.

  • Set the crate up in a room where your puppy won’t feel isolated (like the living room)
  • Leave the crate door open
  • Put some tasty treats or food down on the crate floor

Back in 2011 I fed kibble, so that’s what I used.

These days, I feed mostly homemade raw dog food, so that’s what I’d use today. You can also use a favorite toy if your puppy doesn’t seem to be food motivated.

Puppies are naturally curious, so they’ll walk into the crate sooner or later to investigate it.

The moment they do, shower them with warm praise!

They’ll quickly learn that being inside the crate means a lot of positive things will happen:

  • Praise
  • Treats or food
  • Playtime with toys
Puppy Bella in her wire dog crate
My pet sitting client Bella in her wire crate

What you want to achieve is the creation of an area the pup considers their safe spot, where they can hang out and chew on a toy, or retreat for a nap.

Sort of like a den for them!

Here’s an important puppy crate training tip: Never use the crate as a form of punishment.

If you do, that negative connotation will stick to it like flies to poop!

Initially, leave the crate door open while your pup gets used to their new space. Slowly increase the increments of time behind a shut crate door.

Start with as little as a minute at a time, and then slowly work your way up.

Please remember that the crate is not meant for hours on end of puppy containment!

Check Your Energy

Part of successful puppy crate training is a calm human, especially when you’re placing your pup inside his crate.

Dogs pick up on our energy, and will mirror it.

So if you’re tense and feel guilty for putting your pup inside the crate for a while, they’ll reflect your negative state of mind!

However, if you’re calm, your pup won’t mind being crated.

He should, of course, not have any pent-up energy.

That’s key to avoid destructive behavior while they’re inside the crate.

The little Labrador puppy in the picture below was one of my dog walking clients.

Can you tell that their owners were raising him for duck hunting?!

But either way, this pup was super in tune with people’s energy.

So as long as I was calm when I brought him back into his crate after my visit, he went back to hanging out in there no problem.

Crate training a lab puppy

Playtime Before Crating + Doggie Chews = Calm Crating Experience!

That said, make sure to take your puppy for a walk and /or some playtime prior to crating them.

Doing that will leave them balanced & tired, ready to snooze in their crate.

You can also set them up with a healthy chew like a filled Kong dog toy, which will keep them busy.

Bonus: Chewing helps with their puppy teething pain, especially when they’re chewing on frozen Kongs. All you need to do is fill them, and then freeze for 6-12 hours.

On that note, check out my recipes for doggie popsicles here.

Kong toys filled with peanut butter and kibble
Filled Kongs with kibble and peanut butter
Filled Kong dog toys make great crate toys
2 of my pet sitting clients with their filled Kongs (Myia and Sammie)

Play Soothing Music When Crate Training Puppies

Here’s something else you can do, especially if your puppy is more on the anxious side – play some soothing classical music!

I found and listed a bunch of relaxing doggie music in my blog post Where to find relaxing music that works for anxious dogs.

Crate Size Matters

Be sure to either invest in a smaller crate for the pups’ first few months, or to buy a larger crate with a divider.

A crate should be large enough for your pup to comfortably stand in, lie in, and turn around in.

If you put your pup into a crate that’s too large, he may sleep & nap in one end, and potentially eliminate in the other end.

You absolutely want to avoid this!

Crate training really goes hand in hand with potty training, as it picks up on the dog’s instinct of not spoiling their sleeping quarters.

Crate training puppies - Morkie puppy Madison in her crate
My dog walking client, puppy Madison, in her crate

How to Combine House-and Crate Training Puppies: Bottom Line

While the initial house training process requires a lot of consistency and discipline, it’s absolutely worth your effort and patience!

If you keep up the hard work, you’ll soon be able to reap the rewards of a potty trained little dog.

Missy and Buzz were house-and crate trained by the time they were 6 months old. At that point, their crates stayed open most of the time.

Both of their crates had a comfortable, reversible dog crate pad (a warmer winter side and a cooler summer side).

Missy & Buzz both walked into their crates several times throughout the day, either to play a game with me (like hide & seek), enjoy a treat, or just to hang out.

They also slept in their crates at night until they were about 4 years old. That’s when my ex-husband and I separated and the pups started sleeping on my bed.

But either way, enjoy your young pup and their puppy breath – I DO miss that part of puppyhood!

Do you have any potty-training strategies to share with us? As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below!

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Barbara launched her blog K9sOverCoffee in 2014 and has been feeding her dogs raw dog food since 2015. As a former professional dog walker, she’s passionate about balancing species-appropriate exercise with healthy dog nutrition. Barbara is raw dog food nutrition certified from “Dogs Naturally Magazine” and the author of several e-books about minimally processed, balanced raw dog food.


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27 responses to “How to Combine House- and Crate Training Puppies”

  1. MilitaryWifeandPugLife Avatar

    OK, so we basically trained BabyBelle Pug in about two weeks. She learned SO fast. Lots of praise when she pottied outside (dances, cheering, clapping) and lots of love. Now, she ONLY will go outside. She’s one of the few dogs I’ve ever had that never has an accident.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Holy Puppy!! That’s an amazing turnaround time. You & BabyBelle rock!

  2. Renee L Stambaugh Avatar
    Renee L Stambaugh

    Great info Barbara..thinking of getting a pup myself.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thanks, Renee! Have you already decided on a breed?

  3. Emma Avatar
    Emma

    My sisters and I all grasped the concept pretty quickly, but for our first year, we were accident prone on occasion when we were “too busy” to go out. Those first few weeks with a puppy are pretty tiring and sleepless for the human, but it gets better, so hang in there. Great tips! Bailie had an antler as a “pacifier” from day one. It has worked great. She never chewed anything of importance and still seeks out her antler or hooves when she wants to chew.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thanks, Emma! Yes, the first few weeks really are tiring, but all the work and the bags under the eyes do pay off πŸ˜‰ Comparing Bailie’s antler to a pacifier is too cute!! The pups had antlers & bully sticks as well, and they also never chewed up anything of importance. #ProudMommyMoment

  4. Tenacious Little Terrier Avatar
    Tenacious Little Terrier

    I’ve never really had to train from scratch, just reinforce old training. Mr. N was a fast learner according to his foster though.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      I have no doubt that Mr. N grasped the concept of potty training quickly – he is a smart pup after all! I’ve never had to reinforce old training since the pups are my first pups ever πŸ˜‰

  5. Julie Smith Avatar
    Julie Smith

    The pictures of Missy and Buzz when they were little. Oh my goodness so much cuteness!! I remember when Cocoa was little (we adopted her at 12 weeks) and I was getting so frustrated with potty training and Rodney said something that made me understand her so much better. He said she does not know we are going to take her out because she never had a family before so she has to learn that if she asks us we will take her. It is so important to remember they are little and do not know the rules!! Hope you have a good weekend!!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      There’s just nothing like puppy pictures, right??! I can’t believe they were ever that tiny. Now they’re huge monster puppies, lol!
      Rodney’s perspective is spot on. I felt totally overwhelmed at first because all I had was my theoretical knowledge, and with Ian traveling a bunch for work I ended up being their main caretaker & potty trainer. I reminded myself several times of the fact that the pups had no clue why they suddenly weren’t around their K9 momma & siblings any longer, and that it was up to me to teach them everything they need to know in our human world. It wasn’t always easy, but I’m so glad I stuck to my disciplined training routine. It really has paid off.

      Have a wonderful weekend as well!

  6. Kate Obrien Avatar
    Kate Obrien

    Such great tips – love the idea of a journal, sure wish I had done that with our pup Sally.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thank you, Kate – the journal felt like a lifesaver! It became such a habit that I continued it for several years. My husband finally refused to keep writing down the pups’ potty times once they were a few years old. LOL.

  7. Elaine Avatar

    You have so many great tips in this post, but I really love the idea of keeping a potty journal. I remember reading a book when Haley was young that said if your puppy had just one accident in the house you have already failed at house training your dog. Oh boy, I thought “I’m screwed already!” Lol.

    Luckily, Haley only had a few accidents in the house and they were my fault because I lost track of how much time had gone by or I gave her too much freedom in the house too soon. Having a crate sure does make the whole process easier, doesn’t it? Love those pics of Buzz and Missy inside the crate!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Oh boy, I may have read the same book πŸ˜‰ I learned about the mistake of giving too much freedom too soon as well and have no idea how I would have managed raising the puppies without our crate!

      I got the KONG idea from my friend Kristina who was raising her Aussie puppy Shade at the same time in the same apartment complex (we met via our pups). I don’t know anyone else who has as many KONG toys as her – the brand should give her a huge discount πŸ˜‰ Anyways, she always kept several filled KONGs in her freezer so that she would never run out of them to occupy Shade in his crate and always got creative as far as the filling was concerned. She wanted to keep it interesting for him and boy, did he love those frozen goodies!

  8. Beth Avatar

    I didn’t know if Barley was housebroken when I adopted her, so I pretty much took her out every 30 minutes for two weeks! We love our crate for lots of reasons even though we didn’t need it for potty-training. Great tips about crates!

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      Thanks so much, Beth! I love your proactive approach of taking Barley out so much at first! If she wasn’t housebroken at first, I have no doubt that she was after the 2 weeks!!

      1. Beth Avatar

        I’m pretty sure Barley was happy when I just let her relax and quit forcing her to go outside all the time πŸ˜‰ But she’s my first dog as an adult, so I was clueless on all of those things when I brought her home!

        1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

          Hey, which pup isn’t happy to go outside all the time πŸ˜‰ I still think it’s better to be proactive rather than reactive.

  9. 2 brown dawgs blog Avatar

    When we have puppies we always divide the crate with a portion for potty and a portion for sleeping. We work on potty training but do not get serious about it until the pups are older. Even with our larger dogs, they just don’t have a large enough bladder to hold it so why stress over it. We do make sure to take them out after waking up or eating and throughout the day if we are home, but we never did the alarm clock setting thing.

    1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

      I found my alarm setting thing to be super effective πŸ˜‰ I have to say that I would’t have wanted for my pups to eliminate in their crate and be surrounded by the smell of their urine/feces.

      1. 2 brown dawgs blog Avatar

        Why not? Most puppies are paper trained when still with their moms. I am not saying to leave it there. Obviously we clean it as soon as possible. In my opinion, people stress too much over requiring potty training from a young puppy and many times it leads to frustration and at worse the pup back to the shelter.

        1. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

          Well, I used the crate to help with potty training the pups, so allowing them to go potty in there would have been counter-productive πŸ˜‰

          1. 2 brown dawgs blog Avatar

            Believe it or not it isn’t.

          2. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

            I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one πŸ˜‰

          3. 2 brown dawgs blog Avatar

            Yes. And your dogs, your way. But just think on it. If you talk to people who have raised multiple dogs over a period of years, you will find that they do something similar to the way we do it whether it is a crate or x-pen. When a puppy buyer calls them with issues potty training, they will recommend this method to take the stress away. It does work. Potty training does not need to be an ordeal. I guess that is my point.

          4. K9sOverCoffee Avatar

            I’ve actually always heard/read about choosing a crate of a size that does not encourage a puppy/adult dog to pee in one corner and sleep in another, but if this method has worked for you, then good for you!

            My point with this post was that potty training actually isn’t hard and that it is totally doable with a few strategies in place.

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