How to Crate Train a Puppy
Teaching dogs to learn to like and love staying in their crate can lead to a dog that feels more secure and confident about itself. Most pet parents do not like the idea of crating dogs since it looks like they’re putting their beloved animals in a cage. Nothing could be further from the truth. Crating is one of the best ways to manage a number of physiologic and behavioral issues in dogs. For puppies, it is one of the best ways to encourage correct toilet habits; it’s an integral part of their housetraining. Teaching your puppy to learn to love its crate can also address future issues of anxiety. It will feel safer and more secure. So, how do you crate train a puppy?
Understand a Few Principles of Puppy Crate Training
Before you start with the crate training of your puppy, it is best to understand a few basic guidelines related to pet crating. This is crucial. If you are not comfortable with any of these principles, then maybe you need to work on those things that are making you uncomfortable first. What is important to realize is the value of a pet parent’s commitment and a firm belief in the benefits that crating can provide.
- Crating is NOT a Tool for Punishing Pets
A pet crate is not a cage that people can use to punish a pet for misbehaving. Punishing a pet for misbehaving also does not teach the pet what it needs to do should it be in a similar situation in the future. The only thing that the animal learns from punishment is fear and anxiety. These two are very powerful canine responses that can lead to the development of more serious behavioral issues.
If the only time you will put your puppy in the crate is when it has done something you don’t like, then it will fear the crate. The puppy will never know why you are putting it in the crate. What it does know is that you are upset. As such, when training the puppy, it may refuse to enter the crate.
- A Pet Crate is a Home, NOT a Prison Cell
You may not put the dog in the crate to punish it but if you leave it in the crate 24 hours every single day, then you are looking at the pet crate more as a prison cell and not as a home. Dogs need to socialize and exercise. The only way they can do this is if they can interact with other dogs and the members of their human family. If they stay in their crate too long, dogs can become anxious or depressed.
Puppies need early socialization, training, and playtime. How can they play if they get confined in their crates the whole day and all night long? There is also the question of their physiologic needs. Puppies younger than 6 months of age should stay in the crate for not longer than 3 to 4 hours at a time. They should get out of the crate to pee and defecate.
While a puppy will not “intentionally” pee or poop in its sleeping area, accidents do happen. And when you get back and see the puppy bedding soiled, you will scold it. This is unfair since the root cause of the problem is the pet parent’s negligence and not the puppy’s “misbehavior”.
- Patience is Virtue
Any kind of training takes time. That is why patience is a virtue that all aspiring dog trainers have to possess. You may not be a dog trainer, but this does not exempt you from showing patience whenever training a puppy or a dog.
Different breeds and different dogs within the same breed can have different levels of trainability. Not all Border Collies can be like Chaser who has the largest known vocabulary for any dog on the planet. This goes to show that a dog’s breed is not an automatic guarantee that it will learn as fast as the rest of the dogs of that breed. Hence, one has to be very patient.
- Going in the Crate IS Voluntary
The idea of training your puppy how to use and like its crate is for it to go inside whenever the puppy wants to. This means it is voluntary. You do not pick up and carry the puppy and shove it inside the crate. You leave the crate’s door open so that the puppy can go right in whenever it wants to.
You can also “ask” your puppy to go to its comfortable place if you have visitors. Because you have trained it well, it will go and stay in its crate without hesitation. It knows that this is the safest and most comfortable place that the puppy or dog can ever be in.
Choose the Right Pet Crate
For obvious reasons, the principles we mentioned above have significant implications. It is imperative that you turn the crate into a very comfortable “home” or “den” for your loving puppy. Picking the correct type of pet crate is, thus, crucial.
A well-ventilated pet crate is a must for any dog. You want the kennel to be as comfortable and “homey” as possible. As such, wire kennels are perfect since they promote ventilation from all sides. If you don’t like the “bland” design of such crates, then pick one that has plenty of “windows” on at least 4 sides.
The size of the kennel depends on the estimated adult size of your puppy. For example, if you have a Labrador Retriever puppy, you know that it can grow up to 25 inches. The idea is to allow enough room for the dog to stand up and sit in the kennel. It should also be able to move about and change its position with ease. So the length of the dog’s body is also a factor in the size of the kennel.
But since your puppy is still small, you can put a divider in the adult-sized pet kennel. The space should not be too large that the puppy will learn to defecate in one area and use the other area for its sleeping quarters. This defeats the purpose of having the crate as the “home” of the dog. As such, putting a divider will help reduce the adult kennel to puppy dimensions.
Teach Your Puppy to Use and Love its Crate
Having a basic understanding of the principles of puppy and dog crating should prepare you for the main task of crate training your pet. Picking the right dog crate is the crucial first step. Now it’s time to put it to good use and crate train your puppy.
- Introduce the Puppy to Its “Home”
The location of the pet kennel is an important factor in introducing the puppy to its “home”. The crate should be in an area where the puppy can see you and the rest of the family. The best place for this is the family room.
Position the crate on the floor and open its door. Lay a soft towel or blanket on the sleeping surface of the crate. Leave it as is. Most puppies and dogs will be curious about this “object” in the family room. They will sniff at it and explore its surroundings. Some puppies may enter the crate right away. If yours does, then crate training the puppy will be a lot easier.
If the puppy has “lost” interest in the kennel, pick it up and bring it to the crate. With a happy voice, talk to your pup. Place your puppy near the crate’s door, but do not put it inside. Drop a few treats nearby. Then scatter a few more treats just inside the door. Also put some treats on the inside of the crate.
This should entice your puppy to enter the crate. Under no circumstances should you shove the puppy INTO the crate. Don’t force it.
Some puppies are more motivated by toys than treats. Use whatever is more “interesting” for your pup. What is important is for the puppy to enter the crate on its own; although you are enticing it to enter.
Don’t rush it. Some puppies will enter within a few minutes while others may take several days to get through the next step in the crate training process.
- Feed Your Puppy in the Kennel
By this time, your puppy should already begin associating the crate with a pleasant experience – the treats. However, you need to reinforce this by providing a stronger and more positive experience – its full meal.
If your puppy is consistent on entering the crate the moment you open the door, then it’s a good sign. You can place its food bowl straight inside the kennel. Leave the door open and watch your puppy go inside and eat.
However, if the pup is still reluctant, then it is important to do this step in a gradual manner. Place the food bowl near the door. This will entice the pup to eat. Every time you feed the puppy, move the food bowl a little further back in the pet kennel. The idea is for the puppy to become more confident and at ease eating inside the crate.
If you see your puppy eating in a more relaxed and comfortable manner, you can close the crate’s door. Make sure to stay outside the crate the entire time that the puppy is eating. The moment it finishes its meal, open the door. With each succeeding meal, leave the door of the kennel closed a little longer. For example, leave it closed for about 30 seconds the second time you feed your dog. The next meal, leave the door closed for about a minute. Your target is to leave the crate door closed for 10 minutes without causing distress or anxiety in the puppy.
You’ll know if you got the timing right if the pup will not whine or will not want to get out. If it does whine or cry, wait for it to stop whining before you open the kennel door. If you open it before the puppy stops whining, it will learn that crying or whining results in getting what it wants.
- Increase the Length of Time the Puppy is in the Crate
If your puppy is already comfortable finishing its meal and staying in the crate for 10 minutes, you can start extending its crating periods. More importantly, you can start practicing the puppy to go and stay in its crate when you want it to.
Call the puppy to the crate and give its treat the moment it reaches the crate. Open the door and point inside while saying “kennel” or “crate”. Once the puppy enters the crate, give it a treat, praise it, and close the kennel door.
Accompany the puppy by sitting next to the kennel, but without interacting with it. Sit there in silence for about 5 to 10 minutes. Stand up and go to another room for about 5 minutes before returning. Upon your return, sit down outside the kennel for about 5 minutes without uttering a word. Afterwards, open the door and let the puppy out.
Repeat this training process about 3 to 4 times every day for about 2 to 3 weeks. Each time you train the puppy, increase the length of time that it is in the crate and the length of time you’re out of its sight.
You know that you’re successful if the puppy doesn’t make a fuss after being left in the crate for at least 30 minutes.
This will become the basis of your continued efforts to train the puppy to stay in its crate for longer periods. If everything turns as expected, you can start letting the puppy sleep in the kennel at nighttime. Try this method, too, whenever you have to leave the house for longer periods.
Training a puppy to use and love its crate can be challenging for pet parents who don’t know what to do. However, if you keep in mind the principles we shared and the way to choose the right pet crate, training your puppy should be easy.