Dog Crate Training

Happy dog resting in her open crate, looking at the viewer
Happy dog resting in her open crate, looking at the viewer

Many people are calling in with housebreaking problems and/or problems with the dog damaging their belongings when the dog is alone in the house. All of these problems can be eliminated with the use of training a dog with a crate. Using a crate is not cruel. It approximates a den, which dogs in their wild state slept in for hundreds of thousands of years. Modern dog maintains the “den instinct” which is why using a crate is so effective in housebreaking. A dog will not soil where it sleeps. This is a throwback to the days when dogs were predators in the wild and needed safe places to sleep and rear their young. If they eliminated in the den, other predators would seek them out through the scent and prey upon the young and infirm.  

Thus, dogs will not soil their sleeping quarters if they can possibly avoid doing so. The trick is to make the sleeping area small enough so the modern dog cannot use one end as a bathroom and the other end as a bedroom! A crate should be large enough so the dog can lie down and turn around in a tight circle. If it is big enough to lie down in, it will be big enough to sit in. Crates can cost anywhere from $30 to $200 and up, depending on your budget. If you have a puppy that will grow into a large dog, I suggest buying a full-size crate and using a piece of plywood or other material to block off a section for the puppy.  

This can be expanded as the puppy grows. Crates must never be used to punish! The dog has to look at the crate as his special place where he is safe and happy. Many breeders crate train their puppies from the time they leave the whelping box. If you are purchasing your puppy from a breeder, ask if the puppy has been introduced to the crate. Before bringing the puppy home take a blanket or towel to the breeder and ask to put this item in with the litter at night. The blanket or towel will then be permeated with the litter/mother scent and will make those first few nights we all dread much easier. When the puppy comes home it should take all of its naps in the crate and sleep there at night. The crate should also be used any time the humans in the house are too busy to keep an eye on the puppy.    

Keep in mind that puppies must relieve themselves before and within 15 minutes after eating, immediately upon drinking any water, after play, and immediately upon waking. Take the pup outside according to this schedule at first; never put the puppy out by himself! It just doesn’t work. Put the puppy on a leash and go to your designated potty area and standstill.  Say “Potty” in a happy tone of voice.  Let the puppy walk where it wants and as soon as it relieves itself outside praise it with “Potty, Good Potty”! Bring the puppy back in when you are sure it has finished.   

Sometimes you know the puppy has to go but the puppy is fooling around. Wait! Don’t bring the puppy in before it has done its business that is just asking for an accident and the puppy will be happy to oblige! Each time you put the puppy in the crate praise it and give it a treat. Never let the puppy out of the crate when it is making noise such as whining, crying, or barking. Correct it by saying “no! bad puppy!” and only when it has quieted should you let it out, with a “good puppy!”   

If you let the puppy out while it is making noise you are teaching it that making noise will get its attention and companionship, which is what it wants in the first place! This “mixed message” will be particularly difficult to straighten out in the middle of the night, when you want to sleep and the puppy wants to party! So be firm right from the start. Let puppy out only if it is quiet and never once you have put it in the crate for the night.  

Remember that puppy is going to be missing its Mom and littermates no matter where it sleeps and this includes your bed which I don’t recommend unless you sleep on rubber sheets in a boat! So, keeping in mind that the puppy will be upset whether he is in the kitchen, piddling on the floor and chewing the cabinets; or in the crate, put him in the crate! At least he will only be making lots of noise and not redecorating your house in Early Destructo!  

Many people put the crate in their bedroom where they can reassure puppy during the night. Some people prefer to put the crate, for the first few nights, where they won’t hear the puppy crying. There is nothing wrong with either plan. Don’t feed the puppy or give anything to drink (unless it is high, hot summer) after about 67pm. Exercise puppy lots in the evening. Wear a puppy out. Take puppy out as late as possible (11 pm works well). Take your time for this last outing of the night. Be absolutely certain the puppy is empty before putting it in the crate. Put the puppy in the crate with toys, the security blanket, and the old standbys loud ticking clock, hot water bottle, and stuffed animals with eyes, nose, etc. removed first. Praise puppy, say goodnight, and go to bed. Do not go back to a puppy until at least 3:30 or 4 am. By then puppy probably will have to go out for real. 

Puppy bladders and bowels are just not mature enough to hold it much longer than that. The early mornings come with puppy territory, like 2am feedings and babies. By about 5 months the puppy’s bladder should start to mature and puppy will start sleeping later. But for now all you can do is grin and bear it! When you take puppy out at this uncivilized hour do so with a minimum of conversation. Puppy should know that this is not playtime. When he does his business outside praise him as usual and bring him right back in, put him back in the crate and go back to bed. Don’t go back to him now, either. Puppy should be fine now until you are ready to get up at your regular time. Just remember: Once you have put puppy in the crate don’t go back to him! If you do, you are teaching him that making lots of noise will get him what he wants  your company. Puppy must learn that nights are for sleeping and his sleeping place is the crate. Once he learns this lesson  and it will take about 24 nights  he will begin to look on the crate as his special place.        

Eventually, as he becomes more accustomed to it, he will look on the crate as a refuge where he can get away from running kids, crazy cats, out of control vacuum cleaners, or whatever inhabits his little bit of the world with him. One day you will look for the puppy and find him, curled up in the crate where he went by himself to catch a few zzz’s! Once you have used the crate properly  never to punish!  your house will be safe from “puppy destructo raids” and your puppy will be safe from the myriad dangers that lie in wait for lonely, bored, and curious puppies such as chicken bones or other inedible “treats” from the garbage; chocolate left in reach of dogs which is a poison to dogs; electric wires that could electrocute a puppy if chewed; cleaning solutions; toilet bowl cleaners; poisonous house plants; small toys or socks that could be swallowed, etc. I could go on and on! So please, use the crate to help with training your dog!  

You will wonder how you ever survived without one and your puppy will have a safe place to be when left alone. Please remember that puppies are like babies when it comes to bladder and bowel control. Don’t ask the puppy to “hold it” longer than is physically comfortable and try not to leave a dog crated longer than 56 hours at a time during the day if you can avoid doing so.  

If have more questions about how to train your dog with a crate please contact us and we be happy to help.

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