Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of “Brain Training for Dogs.”
The Issue of Puppies Pooping in the Crate
A puppy pooping in the crate may sound like a minor inconvenience, but it can turn into a major chore considering that the whole crate will need to be cleaned, any mats or bedding will need to be washed and the puppy will almost always need a bath.
No puppy owner wants the behavior of pooping in the crate to become a habit. Who wants to come back after a long day at work to find a big stinky mess? Who wants to wake up in the morning to the smell of poop?
The Importance of a Good Start
Ideally, good breeders will introduce puppies to the ABCs of potty training from an early age (as early as 3 to 4 weeks of age). They do this by inculcating in their young puppies the idea that eating, drinking, playing and sleeping areas are not meant to be soiled.
To accomplish this, they raise the mother dog and her puppies in a den-like enclosure with an area dedicated for eating, drinking, playing and sleeping and an area purposely made for elimination located at the opposite side.
This area dedicated to elimination often has a special substrate that helps puppies associate walking over it with elimination. This area may be covered with pee-pads, newspaper, sand, grass, etc.
On top of this, good breeders will introduce puppies from an early age to a crate, getting them used to being in there and helping them learn that the crate is a place to eat, chew, chill, rest and eventually sleep rather than soil. The crate is therefore perceived by the puppy from an early age more as a bedroom than a bathroom.
Puppies who miss out on these important life lessons may be more difficult to potty train, causing new puppy owners much anguish.
Identifying the Underlying Cause
There is crate pooping and crate pooping in the world of potty training puppies. Tackling the issue of puppies pooping in the crate requires some careful evaluation so to get to the root of the problem.
One main question is: has the puppy been pooping in the crate ever since you have had him or is this a new behavior that has just erupted out of the blue? This can make a difference in finding the underlying cause.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some possible causes for puppies pooping in the crate.
Why Is My Puppy Pooping in the Crate?
Identifying the exact underlying cause for your puppy’s crate-pooping behavior may not always be cut and dry as hoped, however, with some information on hand, you are better equipped to solve the puzzle. Below are some pointers.
1) The Puppy Is Too Young to Hold it
Most puppies are welcomed into their new homes around the age of 8 weeks, although some breeds may be welcomed later on because they are slower to develop and need more time with their moms and littermates.
Maltese puppies, for example, should be removed from their moms only once they’re 12 weeks of age, recommends the American Maltese Association Code of Ethics.
Around 8 to 16 weeks of age, most puppies are too young to hold their pee and poop overnight and most require at least one or two trips at night to go potty.
It is therefore important that before crating your puppy for the night or leaving your puppy at home in the crate for some time, you ensure he is “empty” meaning he has peed and pooped.
Moral of the story? If your puppy is crated for longer than he can hold it, this will result in accidents in the crate.
2) The Crate Is Too Large
Remember how it was mentioned earlier that breeders create an area for eating, drinking, playing and sleeping and one distinct area for elimination on the opposite side? Remember also how breeders also introduce crates to puppies as their bedroom area for eating, chewing, resting and sleeping?
Well, the crate size is very important when it comes to potty training. If you provide a crate that is too large, your puppy may come to learn to pee/poop in one corner and sleep comfortably on the opposite side.
To work as a good potty training tool, the crate should therefore be large enough for your puppy to comfortably stand, turn around and sleep, but not that large that he can sleep in one corner and poop on the opposite.
The purpose of the crate is therefore to teach your puppy to “hold it” as he develops because he instinctively doesn’t want to soil his “bedroom” ( the so-called denning instinct) and to eventually alert you when he needs to be taken outside.
3) Puppy Is From a Puppy Mill/Pet Store or Bad Breeder
Remember how it was explained earlier in a few paragraphs above how dedicated breeders take the time to create a specific area for elimination and how puppies are introduced to their crates?
Well, if you got your puppy from a pet store or a not-so-knowledgeable breeder, chances are, your puppy missed out on important life lessons.
Puppies raised in puppy mills and then sold to pet stores are often kept in cages and left there most of the time. This only teaches them that the cage is their bathroom area so they have no problem pooping there when the need arises.
This puts a great dent in the potty training process, as these puppies never learn to hold it, they just go the moment they feel the urge. Once introduced to the crate, they’ll just perceive it as a bathroom and will go just as often as needed.
4) Medical Issue
If your puppy was doing pretty well in being potty trained and learned to hold it and not to soil in the crate, and now, suddenly he is having accidents, give him the benefit of doubt. Chances are, he may be suffering from some medical issue.
Namely, softer stools and diarrhea may impact a pup’s ability to hold it. The need becomes more impellent as the stools are passed with more frequency and urgency.
Soft stools and diarrhea are often seen in puppies due to dietary indiscretions (puppies eating things they shouldn’t), abrupt dietary changes (puppies introduced to new foods too quickly), intestinal parasites and even potentially life-threatening disorders such as puppy parvo which can be rampant in some areas.
5) A Matter of Anxiety/Stress
If your puppy isn’t used to being in the crate or he struggles being left alone or is fearful of noises, this can lead to accidents in the crate. Even a move or change can upset a sensitive puppy’s tummy.
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6) A History of Punishment
If your puppy has been punished often for pooping, there are chances this may teach your puppy to hide to poop. In other words, if you have caught your puppy pooping on the floor in the past and got angry or frustrated, your puppy may have come to associate pooping in your presence with punishment. This may lead to the puppy holding it and pooping the moment he is crated and you move out of sight.
How to Stop a Puppy From Pooping in the Crate
As seen, there are several potential causes for a puppy pooping in the crate. Addressing the issue quickly is important because too many poop accidents in the crate may cause a gradual loss of the pup’s natural aversion (denning instinct) to not soil where he sleeps. Following are several tips to stop a puppy from soiling his crate.
Exclude Medical Problems
This is an important step because diarrhea may not solve until the underlying medical causes are addressed. Minor diarrhea due to eating something unusual or transient stress can often improve using home remedies for dog diarrhea, but young puppies should see the vet as they are more prone to getting dehydrated after several bouts. Bringing a stool sample to the vet to rule out intestinal parasites along for the visit can be helpful.
Feed a Good Diet
Cheap, low-quality foods often cause dogs to produce a lot of stool. A high-quality diet encourages less stool and stool of firmer consistency, therefore you’re less likely to see accidents as he won’t need to go as much/as often.
Schedule Earlier Meal Times
Try feeding food no less than 6 hours before your puppy is crated for the night. For example, if your puppy is crated for the night at midnight, plan to feed no later than 6pm. The later a puppy is fed, the more likely he’s going to defecate overnight.
Schedule More Frequent Trips
Take your puppy out of the crate more frequently so to reduce the chances of soiling the crate. When your puppy poops outside, praise your puppy and reward him with some tasty treats.
Listen to Your Puppy Carefully
Sometimes puppies alert their owners of a need to potty in the middle of the night, but the owners fail to hear them. This often happens when the crate is at a distance from the owner’s bedroom or the owner sleeps very deeply. A baby monitor can sometimes help these cases. Setting your alarm clock for a middle-of-night trip can help prevent accidents if they routinely happen around the same time.
Make Sure Your Crate Is The Correct Size
The benefit of a snugger crate is that puppies must choose between holding it or sleeping on their mess until owners are awake. A crate divider can help make a large crate snugger.
Use a Long-Term Confinement Area
Puppy owners who work long hours or are unable for some reason to get up to take their young puppies out to potty when crated at night should keep their puppies in a long-term confinement area with pee-pads on one side and a doggy bed on the opposite side.
Ensure Your Puppy Is Empty
Make sure your puppy is always “empty” before being crated for some time. Yes, that means he has done the “double whammy” meaning he has peed and pooped before being crated. Training your puppy to go potty on command can come in handy as your puppy grows.
Use Enzyme-Based Cleaners
Clean the crate with an enzyme-based cleaner (like Nature’s Miracle, which I have been using for years) and wash any bedding in your washing machine followed by a spray of enzyme-based cleaner to remove any traces of poop smell. This type of cleaner aims to destroy the protein molecules in urine and feces rather than just covering the smell up.
Failure to do so may lead to repeated pooping considering that any odor of poop will confirm to the dog that the crate is his bathroom.
Don’t Let Your Guard Down
As puppies improve in their potty training, often as dog owners we may become more lax because we think they are trained, however, we need to remember they are still young and learning so it is important to remain vigilant. Incomplete house training is a big issue and it can persist into adulthood.
Avoid Punishing Your Puppy!
As mentioned, punishing your puppy for having an accident often leads to puppies learning to hide from you to poop. Smart puppies may quickly learn that when they’re crated they are often left alone, so they can finally poop without you being around. Some puppies may go as far as pooping in the crate and then eating it to hide the evidence.
If your puppy has an accident, don’t get angry. Try to be proactive rather than reactive. Just clean the mess up reminding yourself that your puppy is just a baby and learning and that you could have prevented the accident by taking her out and not leaving her unsupervised.
If you catch your puppy in the act about to poop somewhere she’s not supposed to, simply try to distract her and entice her to follow you outside to the proper potty area where she can finally go and you can then praise her lavishly and reward.
Create Positive Associations With the Crate
You want your puppy to love being in the crate and associating it with good things like gnawing on a long-lasting chew, finding toys and tasty treats in it and feeling comfortable and safe in it.
A crate should never be used as a place for punishment or timeouts. It should be a place your puppy is happy to enter. This of course takes some time, but this is very important.
Try Calming Aids
There are several calming aids available for puppies who are anxious or stressed. An example is a DAP collar which is impregnated with a man-made, synthetic version of the dog appeasing pheromone, a pheromone that nursing dams give off to their pups to help them feel calm. DAP is also available in the form of dog pheromone diffusers.
I always keep a pheromone diffuser on when fostering puppies or having puppies over for boarding and training. It helps them adapt more readily and sets the tone for calmer introductions in a new environment.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 02, 2021:
The too big of crate is common, we always think bigger is better as we imagine how big our pups will get. It could be easily avoidable if pet store staff would inquire about the size of puppies so to offer the best crate based on that info or at least suggest life stage crates that come with dividers. I too learned many lessons with my first dogs and we never really end up learning from our dogs.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 01, 2021:
We learned the “too big of a crate” lesson early on! And hubby was opposed to crate training at the first. So we kept our girl in the kitchen and she “cleaned” it up. I think you can guess what I mean by that. Then we put her in the crate, kept adjusting the size, and she was out of crate training pretty quickly.
Luckily, except for our training period (not the dog’s) with our first pup, this has rarely been an issue for too long a time with our later dogs.
Good practical tips, as always!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 01, 2021:
I never had this problem with my dogs, thank goodness. You have once more given great advice for all dog owners, Adrienne. I think you give all dog owners some very good advice.