Crate Training Your Puppy
There are a number of reasons why crate training can be such an important and useful management tool. First, it satisfies a dog’s natural instinct to den and gives a dog a safe place to settle, retreat to, or just hang out and have a peaceful rest. The crate is a very helpful tool for house training, for teaching your puppy to “hold it,” and for helping your puppy learn to sleep through the night. It is also is a safe place for your puppy to be when you are away and can help in avoiding separation issues. And, it is a useful tool to help prevent destructive behavior and inappropriate chewing and controlling unruly behavior.
The first thing you need to do is decide which crate will be best for your dog. Some puppies and dogs are sensitive to sounds, so wire crates may be too noisy. Others may need a more open feel or want to be able to see you, so a cargo crate my be too closed off and wire crate or canvas crate that has a top zip opening will be a better choice. If your puppy is flown out to you, he will arrive in a cargo crate. This is a good place to start, but depending on the temperament of your puppy, this may or may not work. If you are purchasing a crate for a small puppy that is going to grow into a medium or large dog, getting a crate that has a partition with the capability to expand may be the way to go so you don’t have to buy multiple crates. (You can also create your own partition for a large crate so the interior space is the appropriate size.) Below are some important guidelines to follow:
- Size - The crate should be the length of your dog plus another half their body length and at least 2 inches taller than your dog when he is standing.
- Type of Crate - This is more personal preference and determined by your dog. There are different types of crates available.
• Cargo or flight crates are made of plastic and are often used for travel as well as in the home. Some dogs love the enclosed and private feel of a cargo crate, while others may find it too confining. Typically these crates only have one door, but some are now being made with a door at either end, or a door on the top - which can help make things easier with rewarding during crate training.
• Metal or wire crates have more of an open feel for a dog if a plastic crate is too confining. You can always cover a wire crate with a blanket to crate more privacy. Most of these are collapsable for easy storage and mobility. They can be noisey, which can be a problem for sensitive puppies and dogs. You can also purchase one that has a divider so you can customize the size of the crate and have it “grow with your puppy” which is very convenient, especially during potty training. Many wire crates also have two doors which allows for flexibility in where you can locate it.
• Canvas crates are lightweight and are easily portable which is makes it much easier to move the crate from the bedroom to the main room. They have a zipper door, and many have multiple doors on the side as well as the top of the crate for easy access to your puppy. Warning - if you have a persistent chewer on your hands it could get easily damaged which is why I don’t recommend them for growing puppies. You need to determine the type of crate that will work best for you and your dog.
- Inside the Crate - Here are some ideas of things to put into the crate, but remember that your puppy will also let you know what he likes and doesn’t.
• A crate pad - to make the bottom soft and comfortable. Though, sometimes persistent chewers and dogs who get crated for long periods of time may chew these up. Depending on the temperature inside and the coat type of your dog, he may want less bedding if he gets to hot, or more bedding to stay warm.
• A blanket or towel (a blanket or shirt with your scent on it may be comforting for your puppy - use one that you have slept in for a few nights).
• Toys and treats for training - if you are leaving, the only dog/puppy safe chew toy that should be left in the crate unsupervised is a Kong, which you can stuff with food. You can pre-make Kongs and keep them in the freezer until you need them.
- Calming Agent - sometimes a little soothing help may be needed. DoTerra Lavender essential oil (a couple drops on the underside of the bedding) may help to soothe your puppy. DAP or Adaptil is a calming pheromone (it comes in a spray and diffuser) that may help as well. Follow directions on the packaging.
For crate training to be successful, it is important to keep all associations with the crate positive and rewarding. Make sure to introduce the crate slowly and have your puppy practice going in and out when you are home. Crate training begins when you are home. Don’t only use it when you leave, to prevent a negative association with the crate and you always leaving. Some puppies get accustomed to the crate quickly, while others may take a while, so the amount of time you will need to spend following this (what can fee like a tedious) process, depends on your puppy’s personality. This process, though, is important because it teaches your puppy that the crate is a very rewarding and very safe place, whether you are home or away.
- Leave the door open and place treats in the crate for your puppy to discover. Start with ones just inside the door and slowly progress to placing them further back in the crate until your puppy has to go all the way inside to get the treat. Do not shut the door yet!
- Always praise and reward your puppy for going into the crate.
- Feed your puppy’s first couple meals in the crate. If your puppy is hesitant about the crate, feed the first meal just outside the crate. Then move the bowl just inside the crate, and then inside a little further so your puppy has to have his front two paws in the crate to eat. Once your puppy eats his whole meal this way, move the bowl further inside. Then, when your puppy is comfortable eating at that position, move the bowl to the back of the crate.
- Once your puppy is comfortable eating his whole meal fully inside the crate, give him several treats in a row after his meal to encourage him to wait in his crate rather than quickly exiting. Be sure to place your treat filled hand all the way into the crate so your puppy remains all the way inside and doesn’t set a foot or head outside. Give all the treats quickly at first, one right after the other. Then start slowing it down to build duration inside the crate, waiting 3-5 seconds in between treats. You can drop the treats on the floor of the crate or toss the treats to him. Be sure to not lure your puppy out, but your hand should be outside the crate in between “treatings.”
- You will want to see your puppy wait inside the crate and start to feel comfortable staying there. If your puppy randomly goes inside the crate on his own and lies down to rest, you know he is comfortable there.
- Play “Find It!” games with toys and treats by hiding them under bedding in the back of the crate. Place a treat in there at random times throughout the day for your puppy to discover on his own. Play fetch or chase a toy - toss the toy into the crate and let your puppy go get it and come back out again.
- You can even smear peanut butter or cheese at the back of the crate for him to lick.
- Once you see your puppy is comfortable being in the crate, you can now start working on closing the door. Encourage your puppy to go in the crate. Close the door and feed your puppy a yummy treat every 5 seconds through the slits/wire at the back of the crate. When he begins to look up at expectantly for the next treat, give him one every 10 seconds, then 30 seconds. After a few minutes, open the crate door and walk away, ignoring him for a few minutes. Repeat this a number of times. Then start to extend the time the door is closed before opening it with you remaining in the room. You can start closing the door during meal times in the crate as well.
- In your training process, vary the times you have your puppy in the crate throughout the day and change durations as well; from short to long, then back to short, then longer again, etc. Also break up the training with times you don’t close the door and times you do.
- To teach your puppy how to stay in the crate when you’re away, repeat the process above, but this time drop a stuffed Kong, bully stick or other long-lasting treat into the crate, and after he is engaged in the treat, leave the room for 5 seconds and then immediately come back. Open the crate and take the treat and then ignore your pup for a few minutes. Then slowly start to extend the time you are away from 30 seconds to a few minutes. When you return and open the crate, always remember to take the goody away.
Many puppies whine and bark when left alone alone because they want to be where the action is. Puppies need to learn that they are safe, even when they are alone. They need to learn to remain calm and patiently wait until we come back, which we always will. It is important to remember to not rush back if your puppy starts to bark or whine when you leave. This is natural behavior. If this behavior is rewarded at an early age, it can progress to severe separation or controlling issues such that you can never keep the dog confined in the house or even in a room because he will bark persistently and destroy everything. Take the above process at a rate that keeps your puppy comfortable, and remember to not open the crate unless your puppy is quiet, even if it is for a second at first. Also, don’t reward your puppy with loving attention when he is coming out of the crate, save that for going in!As with any tool, there are a few rules to remember:
- Never force or shove your puppy/dog into the crate. Placing your puppy inside the crate is fine, as long as she is comfortable being inside the crate. Use a lure or toss in a toy or treat for your puppy to follow into the crate. Attach a command word for going in the crate like, “crate,” “bed,” “in,” etc.
- Never use the crate for punishment. The crate always has to be associated with good things, never bad!
- Never crate your dog for more than 6 hours, except for at night. Remember that puppies can “hold it” for the number of hours they are months old +1. So, a 4 month old puppy can hold it for 5 hours.
- Always potty your puppy before crating him.
- Always make sure that your puppy has had enough exercise before crating him for a longer period of time. A tired puppy will settle and sleep while you are gone.
- Always practice and use the crate when you are home as well as when you have to leave. This way they don’t learn to connect the dots and associate the crate with you leaving and then don’t want to go inside.
- Never let children play inside the crate. The crate is your puppy’s safe zone and a place to relax and take a break.
- Be sure that when your puppy is resting in his crate that you can reach in and pet him at any time.
- Never overly greet your puppy when you let him out of the crate. It is best to just open the door and walk away, and let your puppy come out on his own, as if coming out of the crate is “no big deal.” Give hugs and kisses after some time has passed and your puppy is calm.
- It’s always a very good idea to take your puppy out to potty after being crated, then say hello and give him some love.
- Always wait until your puppy is quiet before letting him out. If your puppy is barking, whining or scratching and you open the door, they will learn that barking and whining gets you to let him out. No! You want your puppy to learn that being calm and quiet is what is he needs to do before the door opens.
Going In “On Cue”
You can teach your puppy/dog to go into the crate on cue if you want. Follow the simple steps below:
- When your dog is at the point where he anticipates crating by running in as soon as he sees you bring food, teach him the cue word “kennel” or “crate” or “bed” or any other word you would like to use. Keep him outside the crate until you put his meal, Kong or treats in it. Hold his collar so he can’t get into the kennel.
- Next, say “crate” or “kennel” right before you release your hold on his collar and let him run into the crate.
- Practice using this cue word randomly throughout the day by walking with the dog toward his crate and saying “kennel” or “crate” right before tossing a treat inside. Say the cue word before you toss the treat so he learns that the word is the cue for his chance to earn a treat by running into the crate.
- Once he goes inside, toss more treats to the back.You’re trying to teach him to stay in there and wait for you to toss more treats.
- Once he turns around to face the crate door, give him treats for sitting or lying patiently inside. Increase the interval between treats so he learns to wait longer to get his treat.
Following these tips and making the crate “the best place ever!” will help tremendously for when you will need to leave your puppy has to stay at home. It is hard enough having to leave that sweet face and cute wiggly body at home, but there is comfort in knowing while you are away that your puppy is safe, and so is your house and everything in it.
J. J. (Right photo) enjoying his nap time in his crate. He was not so comfortable with his crate in the beginning and avoided it. After going through the training he now loves going into his crate and resting peacefully there.
Tips for Crating Puppies to Sleep Through the Night
- Make sure your puppy is very tired before crating him. Give him one last long romp/play time to tire him out and then allow time for your pup to settle down before bed.
- Have the crate in a dark place. The best place is in your bedroom where your puppy can smell you, be with his family, and hear the rhythm of your breathing when you sleep.
- Have a towel or blanket in the crate that has your smell on it (one you have slept with a few nights is best!).
- Don’t feed or allow your puppy to drink water 2-3 hours before bedtime. This will lessen the number of times he will need to potty in the middle of the night and help him to learn how to “hold it” as he gets older.
- Potty your puppy just before crating. Allow enough time for your puppy to get ALL his business done before bedtime.
- If your puppy starts to cry, ignore, and give your puppy time to settle down. If you suspect he needs to potty, take him outside to potty. Attach a leash if your puppy seems to want to play. Don’t talk or play with your puppy (it’s still night time and you don’t want your pup to get into play mode). Then quietly place your puppy back into the crate and go back to bed. Remember that just like with a new baby, you are going to be getting up in the middle of the night for potty time. Slowly, as your puppy grows and learns about holding it and develops the muscles to do so, the middle of the night wake up calls will lessen and then no longer be needed.
- In the morning, only let your puppy out of the crate when he is quiet. Even if you start with a couple seconds of silence, reward that. Then work to extend the time of silence before opening the crate. When you open the crate, stay quiet and calm so it is not such a big deal.
- You can place a puppy Kong with peanut butter or other little yummy treat inside the crate to keep your puppy occupied and allow time to help him calm down and settle in for the night.
- Sometimes covering the crate with a blanket helps puppies to settle in for bedtime better. Or using a calming agent DAP or Adaptil or lavender essential oil can help. Sometimes crates that have a door on the top are useful and help other puppies sleep better because they can see you and feel reassured, or because you can reach in and give them a little massage and settle them down. You will need to work out what works best for you and your puppy, but in order for crate training to be successful, you must resist the urge to pick up your puppy when he/she cries, or allow him/her to sleep in your bed, “just this once!”
Sleeping through the night takes time. Some puppies may settle in a matter of days or a week, others it may take a few weeks. Remember to always keep positive associations with the crate, practice during the day when you are home as well as at night, reward your puppy for going in the crate and let him out when he is quiet, not whining or barking. Some nights may be great and others may be tough, but with perseverance, consistency and patience your puppy will learn to settle and sleep through the night.
Once your dog has matured and is completely house broken, no longer chews inappropriate items, and knows how to settle when left alone in the house, you can leave the door open or take the door off the crate. Then your dog can go in and out as he pleases and will always have a safe sanctuary to go to when he needs a break or a rest.