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After a long day of hard work, or even hard partying, we look forward to retreating into a private place—our own space in the world: the bedroom. Every puppy wants and deserves a special place of his own, too. That place is their crate.
Crate training a puppy need not be as stressful as it seems. We may just need to change the way we think about it, and apply some proven steps with a lot of patience and encouragement.
What Exactly Is Crate Training?
Crate training is a gentle, natural process of letting your puppy warm up to his kennel and see it as a place where he can relax and feel secure. When done right, crate training becomes a great supplement to house training your new puppy, and helps establish a happy and loving relationship between you both.
A crate is a good place for your curious puppy to be placed in to keep him away from harmful things, such as paints or electrical wires when you’re renovating or doing some housework, or from visitors and precocious children. Think of it as your puppy having his or her own room in your home, because that is certainly what you want your puppy to think of it! And when your puppy has completely owned his crate, travelling together becomes easy and stress-free!
It is also worth noting what crate training is not. It is not to be used as a form of punishment in any way or at any time. It is not his prison to which he is grounded when he “misbehaves.” A crate is not a place to leave your dog on a humid or hot day, nor is it a place to confine him when what he needs is some playful romp (an issue from APDT).
Why Should You Crate Train? Here Are the Pros and Cons.
- It keeps your pup from chewing furniture and other items
- It’s a safe place to keep your puppy when there are nervous visitors who may not be used to having pets
- It perfectly supplements house training
- It can be used a form of reward
- Healthy and happy dogs do not defecate or urinate in their dens, they naturally keep their crate clean
- When travelling, your pup’s crate will make him feel safe amidst new and strange sights
- You can easily observe your puppy when he’s ill and needs to see the vet
- If your puppy is not crate-trained properly, he/she will avoid the crate or feel traumatized by it
- Poorly constructed crates may have doors that can slam shut and hurt your pet
- Some cheap crates can be made of material that is easily chewed off,which poses a health hazard to your pet
- They can be outgrown, especially by large breeds
- It may further ostracize puppies who suffer from separation anxiety
You will notice that the pros outnumber the cons, a lot of which can be easily prevented by observing the proper crate training techniques that are discussed below.
How to Choose and Set up a Crate
Selecting the size for your puppy’s crate will depend largely on his breed. A good crate is large enough for him to comfortably sit, stand or stretch out in. If it is too large, he may never feel completely comfortable in it, and might even use the corners to eliminate waste. If you’re unsure about the size, ask your vet or the pet store owner.
Consider the material that the crate is made out of. Plastic crates are durable and most easily replicate the feel of a wild den, wire crates provide better ventilation and security, and mesh crates are perfect for transportation. Choose the mesh type if you plan on taking your pup driving a lot.
Use a soft blanket or towel on the floor of the crate. Most puppies prefer some type of soft bedding or pillow. However, some puppies might push away the towel to one corner of the crate, or chew up the fabric. If so, remove the blanket or towel immediately. Most vets advise against using newspaper to line crates as this may encourage your puppy to urinate in it.
Throw in a toy or a clean chew bone and furnish with good dishes for food and water.
How to Crate Train a Puppy (the Best and Easiest Way)
- Step 1 – Puppy meets crate.
The best way to introduce the crate to your puppy is to place it in a part of the house that he frequents or plays in. That way, he won’t feel threatened by it. You want to pique his natural curiosity. Your puppy will not have any preconceived notions of prisons or cages. That means, so long as you keep a casual and friendly manner about the crate, that your pup will pick up your good energy and feel the same towards it.
At this stage, be absolutely patient. Be careful not to force your pup inside the crate and lock him inside when he’s not ready for it yet. You don’t want his first encounter with the crate to be traumatic! Keep the crate door securely open at all times, and encourage him to explore this new furniture by letting him sniff around it. Always be nearby during this process. Your puppy loves your presence and will feel safe when his pack leader (that’s you!) is around.
If he’s a little shy, try placing a treat or dropping bits of food near the crate. A little while after that, place the food nearer to the crate door. Keep getting closer until you can encourage him to eat inside. It is extremely important to secure the door against accidentally closing on your pet and hurting him.
You do not want your puppy to believe whining is the password to opening the crate door!
- Step 2 – Place food in the crate.
This is a great way to associate positive experiences with the crate. Once you notice that your puppy is able to comfortably eat near the crate door, try to move the dish a little further in for every succeeding mealtime. Your goal is to be able to make him feed while standing inside the crate.
Be observant. If your puppy is not ready, try to inch the dish back. Only go as far as he will comfortably feed, and note any progress that he makes each day.
- Step 3 – Your timer is your best friend.
When you notice that your puppy is able to eat standing up inside the crate, carefully and noiselessly close the crate door. The first time you do this, open the door immediately as soon as he finishes eating. You will use your timer (most smartphones have this app), to lengthen little by little the time you keep the door closed, making note of progress and rewarding your puppy for it. You want to avoid any whining or barking, so extend the time only about a minute longer than the last.
During this stage, do not leave the dog alone. Sit beside the crate or simply stay nearby. If he starts to whine, sit beside the crate and calmly and patiently wait for him to stop, letting him pick up on your positive energy, before you let him out. You do not want your puppy to believe whining is the password to opening the crate door!
- Step 4 – Make your pup feel increasingly at home.
You do this by gently lengthening the time he is kept inside the crate. Encourage him to enter it on his own by placing his favorite toy or treat inside. Gently close the crate, sit with him for a few minutes, and then go away for a short while into another room.
Return, then sit beside the crate for a few more minutes before you open the door and let him out. Reward him if he does not whine or bark.
Extend your pup’s stay inside the closed crate a little longer each time. If a puppy is able to sit for half an hour alone, keep extending the crate time. Remember that puppies are not designed to sit still for more than three hours. Reward him with a walk or some playtime to release all of his pent-up energy.
- Step 5 – Crating to dreamland.
When your puppy is able to stay considerably longer in the crate without creating a fuss, it’s time to encourage him to sleep in it. At nighttime, bring the crate inside the bedroom. Encourage him by gently saying, “Bedtime”, while pointing to the crate. Your goal is to allow your pup to pick up on your own sleeping patterns, which he will do eventually. Keep the crate door closed while you sleep, but be sure to check if he needs to go to his Potty Spot sometime during the night.
- Step 6 – Crating when away.
After you’re successful with the above steps, you’ll be able to keep your puppy in his crate when you need to leave for work. Make sure to drop by during lunch time to make sure he can relieve himself or get some exercise. If you can’t be home during your lunch hour, get a pet sitter to do this for you.
Leave the crate at a familiar place inside the house, or by a window, so he won’t feel confined, and don’t forget to give him his favorite toy to keep him company while you’re away.
No two puppies are the same, so treat the schedule here as a general guideline:
If your puppy is… then…
< 9 weeks old = crate training is not advisable
9 to 10 weeks old = between 30 to 60 minutes
11 to 14 weeks old = between 1 to 3 hours
15 to 16 weeks old = between 3 to 4 hours
17 weeks old and up = 6 hours maximum
Your Puppy at Night
- Make sure you take your puppy to the Potty Spot and get him some energy-releasing exercise before bedtime so he does not feel restless through the night.
- Set your phone alarm to wake you every four hours so you can take him to the Potty Spot.
- Make sure to place the crate near your bed or where your puppy can see you sleeping.
- If your pup whines incessantly throughout the night, it is possible he may not be ready to sleep in the crate yet. Crate train according to your pup’s pace, and practice a lot of patience.
- If you followed the steps detailed above, and also made sure not to reward whining with opening the crate door, it’s possible that he only wants to relieve himself and a short visit to the Potty Spot may be all that’s needed. After that, calmly and firmly encourage him to go back inside his crate for the night.
How Long Does It Usually Take to Achieve Results?
Some puppies need only a weekend to be completely crate trained, while others may take a few weeks. The good news is, you are working with the instincts Mother Nature gave your dog. A dog left in the wild will naturally create a den to be his home. There, he can safely rest and raise a family. It’s the same idea when you provide a crate for your new puppy. Your pup will instinctively make the crate his own den. By using the steps above, you allow your pet to learn as fast and as easily as he can.
The important key is to have a casual manner about crate training. Do not stress or worry about it. Be gentle with your puppy and constantly observant, always encouraging him to stay a little longer each time, in the closed crate, on his own.
Some Tips and Tricks
- Should accidents happen, do not scold or yell at your pet. Simply take him to the Potty Spot.
- When cleaning the crate, avoid ammonia-based cleansers. Use natural-based odor neutralizers which are available in most pet stores.
- Do not leave pups inside the crate after mealtime. They have small bladders and have not mustered sphincter control enough to keep from soiling their dens! Make sure they visit their Potty Spot first, before and after crate training (for more info, read How to House Train a Puppy: the Best Way).
- “Crate” rhymes with “Great!” so shower your puppy with praises each time he obeys your order to enter it, or when he comes out of it leaving it clean and soil-free.
- Watch out for incidents of vomiting, soiling, excessive barking, incessant whining, or chewing on the wires in an attempt to escape. These signs show the dog is ill. Take him to the vet immediately.
- If you’ve recently worn a shirt and it’s a few days before laundry day, drape it over the crate. Your scent will remind your puppy of you!