When a new puppy enters a home it is a cute, fluffy, loveable bundle of fur and mischief. We quickly form an emotional attachment to him, and him, to us. To put it bluntly, we fall in love with our new little friend. So it naturally follows we want to protect him from harm, take care of him, give him the best life we can, and, of course, part of that nurturing will take the form of ‘training’.
For a dog to be comfortable and secure in a human home, it is essential that boundaries are set, especially behavioral boundaries. A happy dog is one that knows the limitations set by his owner. And the way to set those limitations is by training.
Okay, so we have to train our dog, which involves discipline. But wait a minute, we’ve only just welcomed our little puppy into the household, we quite naturally, shy away from doing anything we think might upset him, especially when it involves something as cold-sounding as ‘Crate Training’. So how do we ally these two apparently conflicting states of mind?
Well, very easily. Because, in fact, the two don’t conflict at all. Canine culture is very different to human culture. A number of humans can happily co-exist in the same house with no clearly defined chief. For dogs, there always has to be a ‘pack leader’, and that has to be you. But that’s a slightly different discussion, and the subject of another article. Today we’re looking at Crate Training.
Another difference is the environment in which dogs find comfort and security. They like small spaces where they can curl up and feel protected. You must have watched a dog trying to get into the smallest space possible, under a desk or coffee table, behind the sofa, under the bed, and so on. They do this to make a “den” as it helps them to feel safe and secure.
This, then, is the theory behind Crate Training. You are providing an artificial, enclosed space for your puppy to follow its own, natural instinct to create a den. Far from being a harsh training regime, Crate Training is probably one of the best ways to give your puppy a great start in its life-long relationship with you.
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits associated with Crate Training puppies, the type of crate you might want to use, and how to actually start crate training.
Some of the Benefits
- Helps to potty train your puppy
- Prevents chewing habits from developing
- Stops puppies (and dogs) from chewing belongings and household items
- Prevents separation anxiety from developing
- Reduces stress in puppies and dogs for vets and groomer visits
- Makes traveling with your pup/dog easier
- Helps with temporary confinement due to health or medical issues
- Keeps your pup safe if you can’t be there to supervise
- Provides a safe place for your pup/dog to go if they get scared, stressed, or tired
Crates come in different sizes, and selecting the right size is important; too big and the dog will not feel comfortably enclosed and protected, and may also start using one end of the crate as his toilet, while sleeping at the other end. Not a good thing, because if the pup accepts it’s okay to soil inside the crate, his ‘den’, it will become that much harder to house train him. If you expect your puppy to grow rapidly, an option is to use a crate divider, moving it as necessary as your pup gets bigger. If the crate is too small, obviously, the dog will not fit in and will not be able to create the cozy, den-like conditions it craves.
Another good option is to place a doggy pen inside your dog’s crate, with a doggy bathroom area outside the crate. You’ll find this arrangement useful if you have to leave your pup for long periods of time when he is still too young to hold his bladder. You can see how this is set up by watching the ‘Crate Training’ page of Doggy Dan’s online dog training.
How to Crate Training Your Puppy?
Let’s get started on training your puppy to love his crate now. First, a couple of don’ts! DON’T force your puppy into the crate, and DON’T shut the door on him. Instead, invite your puppy to enter the crate by placing some tasty treats inside. Allow him to gently explore while being rewarded. Leave the door open once he goes inside and stay well back so he doesn’t become suspicious or worried about being in the crate. Be patient, wait for him to go in of his own accord.
If your pup really doesn’t want to close to the crate, you can try to place a trail of treats leading up to it, once he is comfortable being close to it, and then throw the treats inside.
Let him eat all the treats you’ve thrown in once your pup has started going inside. While he’s in there, give him some more treats, reinforcing to him that it’s a nice place to be. Repeat this exercise until your pup is happy to be in the crate waiting for more treats to be thrown in.
At this point you should end the training session. Take a half hour break before resuming. It’s very important to go slowly when crate training a puppy.
When you start the next training session, begin where you left off, by throwing some treats inside and let him find his own way in. Do this a couple of times. Now wait for your pup to go inside on his own without treats in first. Be patient and wait him out. You can try just looking at the crate to encourage your puppy to focus in that direction, but don’t say anything yet.
Once your puppy goes inside on his own, throw lots of treats in after him and praise him generously. Repeat at least five or six times before ending this session. Again, wait for about thirty minutes before starting next session.
The next step is to teach your pup to associate a word with the crate. If you have already used a word for crate train your puppy that he is not responding to, change it now and continue using the new word.
It can be any word you want. I use, “Crate,” but it could just as easily be, “Kennel,” “Den up,” “In your crate,” or any word or phrase you want to use. No matter as long as you use it consistently.
Well, here we go again the session where you left off last time, just simply looking at the crate and waiting for your pup to go in of his own accord. Always reward him generously. Do this a few more times.
Now begin to use the command word as your puppy enters the crate. Not before, and not after. It must be as he is in the process of entering the crate. Again, reward generously once he is inside, and repeat five or six times.
At this point you will be saying your word every time your puppy goes into his crate. Your pup will have started to associate the command word with the action of entering the crate. End the session and give your puppy thirty minutes break before moving on.
As always with crate training a puppy, start where you left off. Allow your pup to enter the crate and say your word as he goes in. Do this several times.
At the moment, you’re going to say your word BEFORE he goes inside. If, and when, he goes in, reward generously. Give him lots of treats inside the crate and tell your pup how clever he is. Repeat this four or five times before ending the session.
Closing the Door When Crate Training Your Puppy
Up to now, you shouldn’t have even tried to close the door with your puppy inside. This is important as you want to get him to absolutely love going inside the crate, without being scared or worried about the door. Once he’s comfortable going in and out of the cage, and is responding to your command word, you can start getting him used to the door being closed.
Start the session as you left off, but this time close the crate door for a few seconds while he is still busy with the treats you threw in. Then open the crate door and let him out before he has finished eating. Repeat this three or four times.
Now start gradually increasing the time the door remains shut, with your pup inside of course. We are talking seconds and not minutes so it’s really slow process. Keep treating him while the door is shut, so he will be happy to stay put.
Don’t walk away and leave him alone in the cage at this point. Try putting in one of his favorite toys or a stuffed kong to keep him occupied. It will also help to the process of crate training your puppy more quickly if you feed him his meals inside the crate.
I can’t stress this point enough, go slow with this part of the exercise. If your dog whines while the door is shut, you’ve gone too fast. But if he does whine or bark, don’t react too quickly. Leave him shut in the crate until he stops making a noise. Think about it, if you open the crate door while he is whining or barking, you will be teaching him that’s what he needs to do to get you to open the door. Definitely not what you want.
Repeat this stage of crate training until your pup is quietly and happily, waiting in his crate for about one minute.
In this next stage we’re going to start getting your puppy used to being alone without experiencing ‘separation anxiety’. Dogs do not reason as you and I do. We are used to people coming and going, it’s nothing to us. But if you leave your dog alone, without the proper conditioning, his natural worry is that you are never coming back. He will experience ‘separation anxiety’. This can lead to incontinence, barking, and chewing, all clear signs of stress.
So, now your puppy can cope calmly with being shut in his cage for a full minute, leave the room. Only for a second, then go back in and let him out of the cage.
Remember, it’s important to take this slowly. Don’t rush this, or indeed, any part of your puppy’s training. The next time, increase the period to two seconds, then three, then four, you get the idea. Keep repeating until you can confidently leave him in the crate without whining and barking. As you increase the time though, make sure you are leaving your puppy with a nice toy or chew to keep him happy. Once you can leave the room for ten minutes, you can move on to the next stage, which is leaving the house.
The first time you leave the house, only be a few minutes, in fact, either wait outside or just walk round the house and go back in. Again, gradually increase the time until you can leave him, if you need to, for hours, depending, of course, on his age. A young pup is unable to hold his bladder for too long.
No matter what your dog’s age, you should never leave him all day in a crate. If you do have to regularly leave him in a crate for long periods, then get a bigger one so he has room to move around.