All dog owners have experienced the pandemonium of a bored dog left alone in a house. Accidents on the floor, chewed belongings, and other bits of mayhem await any owner giving puppies free reign in their abode. A close eye should be kept on puppies at all times once you bring them home as they are constantly learning what is and is not allowed. One of the best ways to mitigate possible bad habits from developing at a young age is crate training a puppy.
What is crate training?
Crate training is the process of familiarizing your puppy with being in their crate when you are not home. A crate is a wonderful tool to keep your house and puppy safe from one another as well as providing a safe place of comfort for your puppy.
Why crate train your puppy?
Many people think of crates as small, sad cages puppies are forced into. But this is not the case.
Dogs evolved from wolves, who dig dens as places to give birth and raise their young. These small, dark spaces signal safety and comfort for wolf puppies.
A comfortable crate, especially with a blanket draped over it, can fulfill your puppy’s instinct to seek a dark, quiet place of safety like their wolf cousins. With the correct training, your puppy will happily enter their crate, even when the door is open.
Using crate training as a method for potty training arises from a puppy’s “denning” instincts. Puppies do not want to soil their personal space; a crate is their home and safe place. Puppies do not want to pee in their bed. Just like you don’t want to pee in yours.
When the time comes where your puppy needs to relieve themself, they will usually paw at the door to their crate and whine. Take your puppy outside immediately to avoid your puppy soiling their crate. If they learn that soiling their little house is acceptable, they will assume that soiling your house is also acceptable.
Many young puppies, newly separated from mom and siblings, experience anxiety from being left alone. A big, empty house can be a lot more intimidating than a small, dark, cozy place they can call their own. A crate can mitigate some of these feelings of separation anxiety until your puppy becomes more comfortable being on their own.
Keeping Your Puppy Safe
Crate training a puppy doesn’t just keep your house and belongings safe from your puppy when you aren’t able to supervise them. Crating your puppy keeps them safe from your house too! A puppy left to its own devices in an empty house could easily get into and ingest hazardous foods and materials that may lead to a costly visit to your local veterinarian.
Choosing the Right Size Crate
With all of the size and material options available, choosing the correct crate can be intimidating. Here are some general rules to follow:
- Made of sturdy material
- Large enough to allow the dog to stand, lay down, and turn around
- Not so large that a puppy may feel able to relieve themself in a corner
Tip: Many crates come with a partition to adjust the crate to your puppy as they grow.
How to Crate Train Your Puppy
How you crate train your puppy will affect your success later on. It is vital that your puppy associates the crate with positivity and fun from the very beginning. Using positive reinforcement training techniques ensures your puppy has a fabulous learning experience and a stronger bond with you.
Here are a few steps to take to ensure your puppy falls in love with their crate:
- Line the crate with a blanket or towel, bonus points if it smells like you. You can also cover the crate with a light blanket to create a more den-like environment, but make sure you still have adequate ventilation.
- Line your puppy’s crate with their favorite toys.
- Gently coax your puppy into the crate with treats and toys. Do not shut your puppy into the crate yet.
- Have a few play sessions while your puppy is standing inside the crate, halting the play if your puppy steps out. Soon your puppy will understand the crate means treats and fun and other good things!
- Start shutting your puppy into the crate during play sessions for a few seconds at a time, quickly reopening the door and resuming play or feeding treats through the door.
Tip: Consider adding a “crate” behavior cue, where your puppy is rewarded for entering their crate when you say “crate.”
- Once your puppy is comfortable being shut in the crate, try leaving your puppy for increments of 10 minutes or so. This is best done during naptime or quick breaks from play. If your puppy doesn’t seem tired, try a treat-filled Kong or another interactive toy to keep them occupied while in the crate.
- Slowly extend the period of time your puppy spends in the crate, as well as keeping them in their crate overnight. Most puppies are able to sleep through the night without a potty break by 4 months of age.
Note: Crying the first night or two is normal as your puppy adjusts to their new home and the absence of their mom and litter mates.
How NOT to Crate Train Your Puppy
Never leave your puppy in their crate all day.
Puppies are adjusting to a new home and family. They need interaction, playtime and potty breaks throughout the day.
As a rule of thumb, puppies can hold their bladder approximately as many hours as they are months old. So a 3-month-old puppy needs a potty break about every 3 hours. If you leave a puppy in their crate longer, they will soil their bed. You will be frustrated with the clean-up and your puppy will be anxious about doing something wrong and consequently take longer to potty train. Puppies do not want to relieve themselves in their den. A puppy soiling their crate has more to do with owner neglect than it does with a disobedient puppy.
If you cannot be home during the day to give your puppy a break, consider a doggy-daycare or dogwalker.
Never use the crate as a punishment.
Your puppy should only associate their crate with positive experiences. It can be easy to fall into a routine of closing your puppy in their crate when they have done something that displeases you, but this will result in the crate becoming associated with negative situations. This will increase the anxiety your puppy feels in what should be their safe place.
The crate should only be used as a safe place for your puppy to rest, recuperate, and spend the night.
Never lose your patience.
A puppy is like a baby human; they need time to learn. Be consistent and gentle in your training, stick with positive reinforcement instead of punishment, and over time your puppy will come to love their crate and look forward to spending time resting in their safe place.
You got this!