Crate Training Your Puppy
Using a crate to house train a puppy has been around for many years but has recently become well recognized. The principle involves introducing a puppy to a crate as his den (or bedroom). Two important attributes of the den are helpful to the pup and owner. First, dogs feel comfortable and safe in their den. Second, dogs have a natural desire to keep the area in which they sleep clean. With a small amount of training, this crate becomes a place the puppy likes to return to and feels safe. He will not defecate in his “den” unless he has no choice.
Getting Started—The Basics
Crate size should be large enough for the pup to stand and turn unimpeded but no larger. If you have a dog that is to grow dramatically (large breed dog), then buy a large crate and block off access to part of it with a small piece of wood, cardboard box or wire rack. If the crate is too large, it goes from being a “den” to being the house. The pup will not mind eliminating in one side of his crate and sleeping in the opposite side.
Where to Keep It
Locating the crate in a bedroom or within hearing distance of the owner is recommended. Preferably in the same room as the owner—dogs like to sleep with the pack. If kept far away, such as in the basement, it is possible for the pup to feel separated and isolated resulting in an aversion to the crate.
When and How Long
Puppies can stay in a crate for about one additional hour compared to their age in months. When young, a pup should get out every two to three hours due to their need to eliminate and maintain normal puppy activity levels. It is essential that they get outside to eliminate and exercise. For overnight, elimination every eight hours is usually adequate. In bed by 11 p.m., up by 7 a.m.
The First Night and the Separation Reflex
Initial introduction to the crate may result in whining, barking, or howling. This is a normal separation reflex. Remember, dogs are social animals and vocalize when separated from the pack. With just a little bit of practice pups will not think of being placed in the crate as being separated from the pack but rather going to their own place—their “den”. This can be fixed by some extra work on the first night to overcome the separation reflex.
- Introduce the pup to the crate by placing several treats in and around it.
- Gradually place the pup in the crate and offer treats (before bedtime). Close and lock the gate.
- Leave the room but remain just outside.
- At first indication of separation response, intervene with a sharply raised voice “NO”.
- If unsuccessful, try intervening with a shaker can (soda can containing several coins) or a newspaper slapped against the door or wall in association with the sharply raised voice “NO”.
- It usually takes 3-8 attempts at emotional responses before the pup settles into crate. After being quiet for about ten minutes, let him out. (Be careful, do not praise immediately after leaving or it may make the puppy always want to leave the crate.)
- Repeat the procedure in ½-1 hour but increase the quiet time in the crate to 30 minutes.
- Provide a familiar toy in the crate with the pup.
It generally does not take long for a pup to settle into the crate and become comfortable. Common uses for the crate include sleeping overnight or resting for short periods of time. Crate training also facilitates house training. The pup will not eliminate while in the crate. After being in the crate for a period of time, he will probably need to go when you first take him out. So take him where you want him to eliminate and don’t forget to praise him afterwards. This is your best chance to house train him.
Common Mistakes With Crate Training
- Most problems with crate training arise because we fail to teach the dog to like the crate and leave untrained dogs confined for too long.
- Crate training should not be overused. It cannot be used to “store” the puppy for long periods while you are gone. Using the crate too frequently during the day, especially when people are home, can make a puppy feel isolated or socially deprived. The result is bad behavior in and out of the crate.
- If you are gone for extended periods of time, it is not fair to place the pup in the crate. You must provide the pup with a larger damage proof area.
- A pup should not be isolated for extended periods of time unless absolutely necessary. Isolation can have a negative effect on a pups psychological development. Remember, dogs are social animals just like people.
- If the crate is too large, it goes from being a “den” to being the house. Crate size should be large enough for the pup to stand and turn unimpeded but no larger.
- Remember, the crate should be used as a positive retreat, never as punishment.
If done properly, a pup will prefer resting in its “den” and will seek it out later in life. While inside the crate, the dog will be quiet and comfortable. Good Luck!