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How to Crate Train your Puppy or Dog

Posted by Jennifer on October 21st, 2010

crate-dogCrate training your new puppy or dog can be a wonderful way to help them become housebroken, while keeping him and your household belongings safe! If the introduction to the crate and use of the crate is done properly, most puppies and even older dogs will enjoy spending time in their special “den”, as can be seen when they go to hang out in their crate even when the door is left open. And, most puppies and dogs will try very hard not to soil where they sleep, which is why a properly sized crate can be such a help when housetraining. A puppy mill or puppy store dog may have lost this instinct because of being forced to sleep and stand in the same area where they potty, so crate training will often not work as quickly for them. This blog article is more directed at younger dogs and puppies, but much The keys to successful crate-training of a happy puppy are proper crate selection, introduction, and use – and can be applied for any age of dog!

Please: Never use a crate to punish. Going in the crate and spending time in the crate should always be a happy, positive experience, for you and your puppy!

How to select a crate

Size:
A crate should be large enough so your puppy or dog can lie down and turn around in a tight circle. If it is big enough to lie down in, it should be big enough to sit in without their head hitting the top, too. It is also important not to choose a crate that is too large to provide a cozy “den” feeling.  If you have a puppy that will grow into a large dog, I suggest buying a full-size crate that will fit him as an adult, and use puppy chew-safe material (like cinder blocks) to block off a section just big enough for your puppy’s current size. Then the crate can be expanded as puppy grows. There are also wire crates sold with interior barriers that can be moved and then removed to make the space the right size.

Type:
There are many models of crates, including fancy wooden ones that look like furniture, steel wire folding styles, and the molded plastic airplane travel variety. For all pets consider: 1.) Gaps:  make sure to select a crate that your pet’s paw can’t possibly squeeze through and get stuck. 2.) Strength: Many puppies and large breeds are very strong chewers. Pick a material that matches your pet’s chewing strength Steel wire strength varies between brands and models. Wood or wicker is not advised for a puppy or dog that is not already crate trained.

Cost:
Crates can cost anywhere from $30 to $200 and up, depending on the size and durability.

Where do I put the crate?

Many people put the crate in their bedroom where they can reassure the puppy during the night. Some people prefer to put the crate where they won’t hear puppy crying. There is nothing wrong with either plan. However, its going to be easier for puppy to get used to being in the crate if he’s sleeping with his new family (next to the bed) like he was when he was sleeping with his mom and littermates. Easier for puppy, but might be harder for the humans in the house! Did I mention earplugs yet? Personally, I like to be where I can hear if the puppy’s complaining cries turn into actually “I managed to get my paw stuck in the wire” painful cries for help. For me, a night or two of lost sleep is worth their safety.

Get ready to introduce puppy to the crate for the first time

You and your puppy should think of the crate as his special place where he is safe and happy. Some owners prefer to call it ”your den” or “your house” or whatever helps you to think of it as a safe, calm place.

First, give your puppy a nice long exercise and play session, until he seems tired… or you are tired! Let them drink at the end of the play session.

Second, take up all food or water 30 minutes to one hour prior to crating your puppy, and make that time a quieter “winding-down” time with you.

Third, take the puppy outside to give him a chance to go to the bathroom. This is not more play time. I like to have puppy on a leash and walk in small circles, encouraging him with verbal praise for any sniffing, and use the training word you’ve chosen to get them to go potty. If you leave him outside alone, you will not know if the puppy has gone, and also you might miss a chance to praise the puppy for going to the bathroom outside.

Then you are ready to introduce the puppy to the crate!

Introduce puppy to the crate: first day trial runs

The first day, start out with a few “trial runs” of puppy going in the crate, before shutting the door. Ideally, you will never force a puppy into the crate. In a perfect world, you will have at least a full day to get puppy used to going into the crate. How you get puppy into the crate will depend on the age of the puppy.

Very young puppies (3 months and under) can usually just be gently picked up and placed inside, or lured directly into the crate with a treat thrown in. Give lots of verbal praise when the puppy is in the crate, like “What a good puppy in the crate! Good puppy!” Use a calm but happy voice. Even if the puppy leaves right away, you should have time for at least one “Good puppy!”

4-6 month old puppies and older: first try luring them by throwing in a treat or toy. If the puppy will not go all the way into the crate, you may need to create a “trail” of treats leading into the back of the crate. If regular treats are not enough of a lure, you might need to try “special” treats such as bits of hotdog or chicken. If that fails, you may need to wait, withhold treats and food for the next few hours, and then try again. Then at feeding time, put the bowl in the middle of the crate, close the puppy with you in the room with the crate, and sit and wait. Even one paw in the crate is a step forward! Verbally praise this step. At the next feeding time, again try the trail of treats, and place the food bowl in the back of the crate, and sit and wait. At this point you are letting the puppy go into the crate, eat, and leave, so do not close the door. Then, in a few hours, try tossing the treats in again.

Closing the door

Once the puppy goes willingly into the crate for a treat tossed in (or to get to his food bowl in the back) a few times in a row, you are then ready to try closing the door for a few short sessions. Fill a hollow rubber toy with wet and dry dog food. Let the puppy smell the food in the toy, and then place the food-stuffed toy in the back of the crate. (Do not use a rawhide or any other toy they cannot have safely when unsupervised.)  If the puppy doesn’t go in to get the toy, toss the treats in the crate or place a few treats in the food bowl (that they have been going in the crate to get) and softly close the door once they are inside. Give lots of praise, then calmly walk away. I find it best to walk out of the room and close the door leaving it open a crack so I can look in without them seeing me hopefully, and see how they are doing.

If you have a whole day, you can feed them all their rations of food in the toy inside the crate. So, 3 times a day on the first day puppy is going into the crate for 10-15 minutes at a time (depends on how good a toy-destuffer they are) and being let out just a few minutes after they finish the food in the toy… if they are quiet… see the next section!

Don’t give in to whining or barking

This can be the hardest part of crate training – for the humans involved! But you never ever want to let puppy out of the crate when he is  whining, crying or barking. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT IN THE BEGINNING. If you give in to the puppy’s noise and open the crate, he will learn “TO GET THEM TO OPEN THE CRATE, I MAKE NOISE” and will keep trying that technique if it worked once! If you had puppy out for potty, puppy was fed, and you chose a safe crate where he could not get injured, there is no reason he needs to come out when he is crying. If you are ready to take the puppy out during one of your day one introduction crate session, wait until he is quiet!! If you walk towards the crate and he starts barking or loudly whining, you are going to have to walk away, and wait for him to be quiet (which will usually last only for a few seconds), and then run quickly to open the door during that quiet moment. Earplugs can help humans get through this, as it’s hard when you love your puppy to hear them crying! But remember, you are doing this to have a safe place to leave your puppy when you cannot watch him.

When to use the crate

The brings us to when your puppy will using his crate. After the first introduction day, your puppy should take all of his naps in the crate and sleep there at night. Puppies should never be crated for more than 8 hours at night, or during the day for more than the same number of hours as they are months old (so a 2 month old puppy should only be crated during the day for 2 hours at a time without a potty/play break.) The remainder of the time, the puppy should be in the company of his new owners (on a hard surface floor until housebroken), being cuddled, played with, socialized, loved and cared for in his new home.

How long to crate?

After training that first night, put the puppy back in the crate at bedtime with an empty kong. Since the puppy has to physically have his muscles “learn” to be able to hold going to the bathroom, that first night “sleeping” duration might only be 4-5 hours for a very young puppy, and can gradually be increased to 8 hours. Puppy bladders and bowels are just not mature enough to hold it much longer than that. However, some puppies simply cannot go longer than 2-3 hours, even at night, without urinating. If the puppy has been crated for at least 2 hours, and is circling and whimpering he may have to eliminate, so take him outside. Keep these sessions short and quiet. Do not socialize with the puppy and once he has eliminated, give him lots of praise and then take him right back inside and crate him again. Remember, just like with babies, mornings come very early with young puppies. Around 4 months of age the puppy’s bladder should start to mature and puppy will start sleeping longer nights. Just remember: Once you have put puppy in the crate don’t go back to him for at least 2 hours. 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 2 to 4 nights – he will begin to look on the crate as his special place. One day you will look for puppy and find him, curled up in the crate where he went by himself to catch a few zzs!

Once you have gotten your puppy crate-trained, your house will be safe from puppy curiosity chewing, and your puppy will be safe from the myriad dangers that lie in wait for lonely, bored and curious puppies. Think of it as a crib or playpen for your baby dog. Keep your home and your puppy safe – use a crate!
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