Crate training your puppy is the first and best lesson in his life. It forms a solid foundation for all other training and sets you both up for success.
In the wild, dogs live in dens which provide protection and psychological well-being. In our homes, dogs love predictability. Establishing a crate as a safe shelter to call his own is extremely comforting, especially for a new puppy in a new home, with his new ‘pack.’
When a puppy is left alone, it’s natural for him to experience some degree of separation anxiety. Being placed in a crate is not punishment; in fact, it allows him to feel safe so he can sleep and chew and relax and wait until you come home. Left home alone outside the safety of a crate, he won’t be able to relax and destructive behaviors can result: chewing, crying, barking, soiling or digging.
Crate training works because it takes advantage of your puppy’s natural instinct to keep his home clean – he’ll try to ‘hold it’ for as long as he can until you take him outside. The smallest puppies can’t ‘hold it’ for long though, so don’t leave a puppy under eight weeks in a crate for more than an hour. Just be sure to take him outside regularly and frequently when he’s youngest, to make it a positive experience for both of you.
Follow these six easy steps to crate training:
1. Purchase a sturdy plastic or wire crate.
It should have just enough room for your pup to comfortably sit, stand and lie down. If you’re buying a crate which will house him as an adult, you will need to either use a divider (for wire crates) or place a box inside a plastic crate to limit the available space. This ensures that he doesn’t designate some of the extra room as his ‘bathroom.’
2. Introduce your puppy to his new home.
Encourage him to go in on his own. Entice him to check out his crate by placing a treat inside. Expect that he’ll probably come back out quickly, but that’s OK – he’s just checking things out.
3. Extend and reward his stay.
Once he’s comfortably wandering in and out, get him to pause for a while inside his crate by putting your hand in front of the door, pet him and hold him inside gently. Give him lots of praise and a treat when he settles down. Do this repeatedly and encourage him to stay in the crate for increasingly longer periods of time. Keep showering him with praise and treats! Getting him comfortable with staying inside the crate can take a few hours or a few days.
4. Closing the door and going away.
Now that your puppy feels safe in his crate, try closing the door and praising his accepting behavior as you move farther and farther away – and then out of the room. Eventually he’ll be able to sit quietly and sleep with the door closed.
5. Establish predictable elimination habits.
Small puppies need to ‘go’ about every two to four hours. Ensure you are letting him out at regular intervals – first thing in the morning, after each meal and before bedtime – showing him the route to the door and out into the yard where you want him to eliminate. As he gets older (four to six months), he’ll be able to ‘hold it’ longer and will be able to, if necessary, stay in his crate all day by himself.
6. What’s the best reason to crate train your puppy?
Because he’ll love it! Having a special, private place of his own in your bustling household will go a long way toward a wonderful pet experience.
- Start crate training right away. It will immediately establish you as the ‘alpha’ dog and set a solid foundation for future training.
- Make his home a comfortable and happy den. Provide him with a soft, machine washable bed and keep his crate clean.
- Provide supervision outside of the crate. It’s important to ensure positive behavior is also reinforced when your pup is out of his crate.
- Know that occasionally accidents will happen. No punishment is needed – soiling his nest is already a bad experience. Clean up with a neutral demeanor, preferably while he’s outside and let him return to a clean crate.
Avoid These Pitfalls
- Don’t yell at him to go inside or force him into the crate. A properly crate trained dog will happily run into his home when he knows you’re leaving.
- Don’t make a prison out of the crate by using it as punishment. Positive reinforcement is the key to successful crate training.
- Don’t remove him when he’s crying or acting up. Wait until he has settled down to open the crate.
- Don’t make a fuss when letting your puppy out of the crate. Just calmly open the door and take him outside – and praise him for being the great dog he is!
You can teach an old dog new tricks!
With plenty of time and lots of treats, it is possible to crate train an adult dog. Whether you’re adopting from a shelter or want to introduce a crate to your current full-grown dog, you just need to be patient and consistent.