Many dog aficionados recommend using a crate to potty train your new puppy. This works wonders for many dogs and is the technique that I personally use. But what do you do when your dog continues to have accidents inside the crate? This troubleshooting checklist will help you learn how to stop a dog from peeing in the crate.
It’s not uncommon to struggle with potty training your new dog. If you’re using a crate and still having problems, there are a few big potential issues that could be at play. The “steps” below go through some of the most common potential problems that could be involved when a dog is peeing in the crate.
If you haven’t even crate trained or potty trained your pup yet, you’ll have to do that first – that’s a prerequisite! For a quick recap, see our guides on how to crate train your dog and how to potty train your dog.
Step 1: Rule Out Medical Issues
The number one step to take when your dog is peeing in the crate is to make sure she’s healthy.
It could be that your beloved pup is suffering from a canine urinary tract infection (UTI) or other medical condition. I have a friend whose dog’s back condition led him to pee and poop in his crate well through his first year of life.
This is especially important to check on if your dog previously was fine in the crate, but is now suddenly having accidents. If your adult dog, potty-trained dog, or crate-trained dog starts peeing in the crate out of the blue, don’t waste time with PetMD or internet forums. Just schedule an appointment with your vet.
Before going to the vet, take note of:
- How often your dog is peeing in the crate
- Any unusual odors
- Whether or not the urine seems dark or bloody
- Whether or not you’ve changed anything in your dog’s diet
- Any new medications or supplements for your dog
Your vet will probably ask you these questions during your checkup. Anything out of the ordinary probably points to a medical reason for your dog’s in-crate accidents. Older dogs are especially at risk for medical issues that can cause incontinence or other urine-related issues.
Step 2: Make Sure The Crate Isn’t Too Big
Crate sizing is imperative potty training success. If your crate is too big, there’s a good chance that your dog is using one corner for lounging and another for peeing.
Your crate should be large enough for your dog to stand and turn around, but not much bigger. This might seem tiny to us humans who love our space, but it’s the best way to prevent your dog from peeing in the crate – and it’s actually what dogs tend to prefer.
Why Crate Sizing Can Fail:
Even with the right size crate, some dogs will continue to have accidents. There are a few reasons that this could be happening:
Habit. If your dog is already accustomed to peeing in the crate, downsizing might not help. This is why it’s so important to get the right size crate the first time around!
Puppy Mill Dogs. Dogs that were rescued or purchased from a puppy mill or pet store are morel likely to struggle with peeing in the crate. That’s because they’re used to dividing up a tiny space and using it as a bathroom, since they had to in their previous situation.
Tiny Dogs. Anecdotally, it seems more common for tiny dogs to pee in their crate.
This could be because:
- Tiny dogs are more likely to come from puppy mill situations.
- Tiny dogs have smaller bladders and therefore can’t hold it as long as big dogs
- Owners might not notice accidents or hold their tiny dogs to high expectations
The bottom line is that sizing your crate appropriately is important, but it’s not a catch-all. If your dog has medical issues, can’t hold their pee for 10 hours, or doesn’t understand the concept of potty training, you’ll still run into problems. (That’s why we’ve made this whole list instead of one long crate-sizing article!)
Step 3: Take More Bathroom Breaks
Many dogs that pee in their crates are still puppies or adolescents, while others are simply small dogs. This means that the majority of crate training problems come from dogs with tiny bladders – puppies don’t yet have fully developed bladders, and small dogs will always have a smaller fuel tank.
Small bladders can’t contain pee for very long – those tiny bladders need to be relieved often.
This points to a simple and common flaw in your crate-training regime: your schedule.
The solution? Take more potty breaks. A good general rule for puppies is that they can hold their pee for their age in months translated to hours. So a 6-month (24 week) old puppy should be able to hold her pee for six hours.
An important note: this rule only holds if your dog knows that he’s supposed to hold onto her pee! Dogs do not naturally know not to pee inside. Most will hold their pee inside of an appropriately sized crate, but there are always exceptions.
If you think your schedule may be the problem, your first step might be exploring options for letting your pup out while you’re at work. (The main reason that I don’t have a puppy right now is because I work 10 hour days and can’t afford a dog walker or doggie daycare)!
First, try taking your dog out for twice as many potty breaks. For example, we said above that a 6-month puppy should be able to hold her pee for six hours. If she’s having accidents, try taking her out ever 3 hours instead!
I suggest creating a schedule and setting timers on your phone. If this stops your dog from peeing in the crate, then gradually start to increase the time intervals.
Step 4: Adjust Your Expectations
It’s important to know what’s reasonable to expect of your puppy. An adolescent chihuahua won’t be able to hold her bladder for as long as an adult labrador – so don’t expect her to.
Keep in mind the general potty hour per month rule, but this only goes up to about 8 hours or so. Some dogs can’t even go that long. I know plenty of adult small dogs that simply can’t hold their bladders for longer than even 5 or 6 hours.
If you’re routinely pushing your dog past her limits, you’re setting everyone up for failure.
Step 5: Use More Treats
What do you do when your dog exits the crate? Do you just open up the screen door, let her do her business, and call her back inside for dinner? If so, there’s a good chance that your dog still doesn’t fully understand that she’s supposed to cash in her pee for payment.
While you’re struggling with potty issues, it’s imperative that you follow your dog around outside until she pees. You must immediately reward her for peeing with some high-quality treats. If you wait until you’re back inside, she probably won’t make the connection. So yes, this means carrying treats with you whenever you go outside.
If you’re good at this, you might start noticing that your dog tries to fake you out and squat for treats. That’s fine. Just wait until she actually starts peeing before rewarding her. She’s really catching on if you start to see her trickery!
I still do this with my adult dog – potty training is really important to me. Although I don’t carry treats with me as religiously as I do with a new puppy, I still like to pay my dog for peeing outside. This is especially helpful since I’m training my dog to go to the bathroom on command.
Step 6: Film Your Dog For Behavioral Concerns
One of the most concerning reasons for a dog to pee in her crate is separation anxiety or isolation distress. At Cognitive K9, I often ask my clients to set up a video camera (you can use your phone, laptop, or a fancy dog camera that even shoots out treats) to see if the dog is suffering from some kind of extreme anxiety that is resulting in urination.
Set up your spy-cam and watch your pooch while you’re gone. If she normally doesn’t have an accident unless you’re gone for more than 30 minutes, then make sure you watch her for more than 30 minutes.
Many folks set up cameras like this to see what their dog is up to during the day. This dog’s activity is fairly normal, but some owners may witness their dogs expressing extreme anxiety.
- Digging or chewing at the crate
- Crying or barking for more than a few minutes
- Panting even if it’s not hot
- Licking herself excessively
You probably want to talk to a trainer if it looks like your dog spends more than half of her time doing things other than sleeping or playing with her toys. If your dog isn’t relaxed enough to sleep or play, she’s probably very stressed by being alone.
Peeing in her crate is a common side effect of this distress.
Your dog is not doing this because she’s mad at you. She’s not trying to get back at you or express her displeasure at being left alone. She’s scared and upset – or doesn’t understand the rules. That’s why you should never punish your dog for having accidents.
Many, many dogs show signs of being distressed when left alone. For dogs like these, it’s a good idea to look into alternatives to being left alone in their crate. While there are heavy-duty crates designed to keep dogs with separation anxiety safe (some panicked dogs will hurt themselves trying to escape flimsy crates), the root issue is best addressed. While a stronger crate will keep your dog inside, it won’t make her feel less stressed when alone!
Separation anxiety and isolation distress are really, really tough problems to crack. Speak to a professional dog trainer if you think that your dog struggles with either of these problems.
Step 7: Consider Alternatives to Leaving Your Dog In Their Crate
If you’ve tried all of the above steps and are still struggling with how to stop a dog from peeing in the crate, it’s time to look into other options.
While these options won’t fix the core problem of peeing in the crate, they will help reduce your cleaning and keep your dog happier! Who wants to come home to a sad, pee-covered dog every day?
You might want to explore other options beyond leaving your dog in their crate if:
- Your dog is a small breed or puppy and you work long hours. Remember that they might simply be unable to hold their pee for as long as you’re gone.
- You suspect your dog suffers from separation anxiety or isolation distress.
- Nothing is helping to stop your dog from peeing in the crate.
- Your dog has a medical issue that’s causing the accidents. You might need some other options while she heals up, or the medical issues might be an ongoing lifelong issue.
There are lots of options beyond leaving your dog in her crate all day. Some options will work better for some dogs. For example, getting a midday dog walker won’t help if your dog’s crate is too big and she doesn’t understand the concept of potty training yet.
So what are your options if you can’t figure out how to stop a dog from peeing in the crate?
Doggie Daycare. Your dog will get plenty of exercise and social interaction, coupled with regular potty breaks. Doggie daycare does have its downsides. It can be expensive and some doggie daycares are better than others. Doggie daycare also isn’t a good option for ultra-shy, very high energy, or aggressive dogs. Be sure to shop around to find an option that works for you, your budget, and your dog!
Potty Pad + X-Pen. Another option is to set up a solid potty pad and x-pen setup. Teaching your dog to use potty pads is a great option for young or small dogs if you can’t afford doggie daycare. The basic idea is to use an X pen to keep your dog in one general area of the room.
The potty pads, placed in the X pen, give your dog an appropriate place to use the bathroom. Your cleanup will be easier, and your dog can have space to sleep, play, and pee. It doesn’t exactly stop the peeing problem, but it does give your dog an appropriate place to go while she’s home alone.
Dog Walkers. There are so many options available for dog walkers, it’s hard to keep track. I’ve personally used local college and high school students, Wag!, Rover, and HikeDoggie. HikeDoggie is Colorado-based, though there are other similar services available nationwide. You can also read my guide comparing Rover vs Wag for a better comparison!
This is a great option for dogs that don’t do well at daycare. Dogwalkers can take your dog out once or twice a day, giving a much-needed potty break to dogs who just can’t hold it long enough for you to come home.
What step helped you breakthrough and stop a dog from peeing in the crate? We want to hear your success stories – and your struggles!