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The Smart Way To Crate Training A Puppy

Puppy Training

The Smart Way To Crate Training A Puppy

puppy in crate

Crate training a puppy a big topic for new dog owners. There are many benefits to crate training: Crates are a fantastic tool to keep your puppy contained and manage his sleeping schedules in the first month. They also provide him with a safe and comfortable resting spot that he might seek out his whole life!

Many questions come with crate training though:

How long, how often, how to start and when to transition?

It can be tough to figure out what to do if your puppy cries in his crate, and how to move from crating to trusting your puppy to roam the house.

Don’t worry – crate training is not as complicated as it might seem at first. I have guided many clients through the following process that will lead you to crate training success. Your dog will love his crate!

Before we start though – let’s look into the Why and If of crate training.

 

Does My Dog Need To Be Crated?

Generally speaking, a puppy does not necessarily need to be crated.

However, a puppy needs to be safe. And this can be challenging because puppies have a lot of talent for not being safe.

Nobody can supervise their puppy 24 hours a day. Without supervision though, puppies are likely to get themselves into a ton of trouble, such as :

  • Having potting accidents
  • Chewing on furniture 
  • Ingesting dangerous objects (such as Q-tips)
  • Snacking on toxic substances (such as indoor plants or chocolates)
  • Pestering other animals of the family such as cats or adult dogs

Puppies have a surprising ability to do all kinds of things that are threatening to their own wellbeing.

If you cannot supervise your puppy, he needs to be restricted to a safe place.

This safe place does not need to be a crate – it can also be an exercise pen or a very puppy-proof room.

However, using a crate is often the easiest solution as you can also move the crate around with you easily.

Even dogs that are usually kept loose in the house should be able to relax in a crate – so that they do not become stressed when they for example go on a long car ride or need to stay at the vet’s.

If you are planning to compete in dog sports or attend dog training seminars, being able to stay in a crate will be crucial for your dog. Dogs are crated there – often in so-called crating rooms – so that they can relax and wind down in between training or competition runs.

 

Which Crate Should You Pick?

The type of crate you pick will depend on your personal preference. There are many different options on the market.

The most common one is a wire crate. These crates are easy to store as you can fold them up within seconds and also easily take them anywhere. They often come with a divider so that you can make them smaller for a young puppy and then take out the divider when the pup has grown and needs all the space.

beagle puppy in a wire crate

 

 

Plastic crates are popular especially for small breeds.

These crates have plastic walls instead of wire. They can be more comforting to some dogs than the wire crates – their solid walls makes the feel more secure and safe. These crates can also be easier to keep clean than wire crates – you can easily rinse them out with a garden hose.

If you bought your puppy from a breeder who send the puppy to you via airplane, you might already have one of these on hand.

plastic crate dog

 

Soft crates are perfect for dogs who are comfortable in crates and patiently wait in there.

They are not sturdy at all and should not be used for dogs that you think might try to break out. Soft crates are even easier to transport than wire crates and a fantastic solution to take along for a trip.

 

So now … let’s get started!

 

Make the crate a place of relaxation

teach your puppy that the crate is for sleeping

The crate should be your puppy’s place of relaxation. His massage chair. His comfy couch after a long work day. We want him to see the crate, and immediately relax. It will be hugely beneficial if your puppy can go to sleep as soon as you put him into his crate, without crying or fussing.

It is important that we do not put a wide awake puppy in his crate. In order for him to understand that crate = relaxation, we need to make sure that we only crate him when he is tired in the first place.

So wear him out – by playing with him, taking him for a walk, training some tricks, teaching him how to fetch, taking him to a doggy playdate or for socialization.

(Need some ideas? We have many classes that will entertain and educate your puppy!)

Only when you get back and he is ready to crash, put him into the crate.

The more tired your puppy is when he is first crated, the easier it will be for him to understand that the crate is a place of rest and relaxation. Wound up and crazy puppies have a very hard time settling in the crate, and are likely to develop an apprehension against being crated. We want the exact opposite – we want our dog to seek out his crate to sleep and be calm.

Therefore, make sure that your puppy is ready for his nap before you crate him. If he is very rambunctious, you can also help him tune it down a notch by playing some housework games with him. Sniffing is a very calming activity for dogs. Scatter some food in your yard, or hide it inside under boxes or cups on the floor.

Your puppy will sniff intently to find the food, and while he does it, his focus will be turned to the ground, he will work concentrated and focused and calm himself down as he does so.

You can also give him a Kong filled with peanut butter or yoghurt that he can lick either before he goes into his crate, or while he is in it. Licking is another very relaxing activity for dogs that can bring down their energy level quickly and effectively!

Over time you can reverse this relation, and actually make him tired by putting him into the crate. It is like magic! Your dog will have made the connection between the crate and sleeping so many times that now the crate itself has become a symbol for going to sleep.

Check out Can Your Dog Sleep On Cue? Conditioned Relaxation for more ideas on how to teach your dog to relax.

Don’t use the crate as a punishment

It is so tempting to put a misbehaving puppy in his crate. We have all been in a situation where that little obnoxious dog has shredded the 12th roll of toilet paper and we wanted to just lock him up. Using the crate as a time-out however will destroy the positive and calm associations that we built up in step 1.

If we put a wild, rambunctious puppy into his crate, he is likely to not be happy. We don’t want then puppy to associate the crate with being riled up and mad. We need him to know that the crate is a place of relaxation and sleep. A very wild puppy is not able to calm himself down sufficiently yet. We need to help him to relax.

If your puppy is full of trouble, try tethering him to you instead: put a leash on him and tie it on to your belt loops while you work on the computer, read a book or watch TV.

That way you can physically prevent your puppy from more destruction while also teaching him that getting too wound up is followed by some necessary down-time.

If it is not possible to tether the puppy, you can put him into a small, safe room: perhaps a bathroom or mud room. There he again cannot cause more trouble, and he will not view the time-out as linked to his crate.

 

Make the crate a den

Dogs love safe, comfortable places. Puppies especially like to lay with their back against something. Line the sides of your puppy’s crate with soft blankets or little pillows and It will remind your puppy of the way he used to lay against his litter mates and mom!

Then drape another blanket over the crate to make it feel secure and comfortable and block out many bright light.

You can put some big stuffed toys in it (as long as he does not attempt to eat them) so your puppy has something to snuggle up against. Many puppies will love to sleep with a worn shirt of their owners, as it will give them the feeling of comfort and company.

The more your dog appreciates his crate, the easier it will be for him to relax and sleep in it.

While sleeping, dogs regularly wake up, stretch, turn around and go back to sleep. Try to get a crate that is large enough for your puppy to be able to turn around comfortably like that. While large crates can be expensive, you can check Craigslist for great deals on used crates. If in doubt, go with the larger size.

Keep others from bothering your puppy

Keep others from bothering your puppy

Do you have more than one dog, other pets such as cats or children in your home?

Make sure that they know to leave the puppy alone when he has his crate quiet time. It is important that other dogs don’t run by and try to make your puppy play through the bars or otherwise disrupt his sleeping. Your puppy will be very tempted to stop resting and try to join the play.

It needs to be clear to all members of the household that the puppy in his crate is to be left alone.
Put the crate in a quiet part of the house to make this easier.

Often times dogs start to really appreciate the crate as a place that they know they can go to if they need some alone time. You can leave the door open if your dog is not in it, and it may well be that over time he will seek out his crate to nap or just wind down if he is over-stimulated.

Crate short and often

crate training puppy

How long should a puppy be crated? Ideally, not more than an hour for every month of age at a time. That means that 2 month old puppy should be taken out after 2 hours, while a 4 month old puppy can stay crated up to 4 hours.

Dogs naturally are on a sleeping schedule that incorporates several small naps interspersed by periods of activity.

Use the crate for your puppy’s small naps during the day. A possible schedule could look like this:

  • 6am Get up, potty, eat breakfast
  • 7am Play, go for a little walk, do some training
  • 8am-10am Nap in the crate
  • 10am-12pm Go potty, play, hang around the house
  • 12pm-2pm Nap in the crate
  • 2pm-3pm Go potty, play, do some training
  • 3pm-4pm Nap in the crate
  • 4pm-7pm Go potty, play, go for a walk and get some socialization with people and other dogs, do some training
  • 7pm Go to bed for the day

Your own puppy’s daily schedule will vary based on his breed, age and activity level. Try to establish a napping schedule early on though – your puppy will be less grumpy, he will be happier and well-rested and his potty training will be easier, too! (Regulated sleeping and eating equal regulated digestion.)

Don’t leave your puppy in his crate for too long – when he is awake and ready for action he should come out and play. If you are gone during the day, consider a dog walker or neighbor dropping in to let your puppy out of his crate for some romping.

Your dog will only love his crate if you don’t overdo it – moderation is the key to a dog who enjoys his crate time!

Responding to crying

If you have followed the above advice, your puppy shouldn’t cry in his crate too often.

How to respond if he does though?

First, we need to remember that he just went through a big transition: From never being without his litter mates in his whole life, we now ask him to be able to sleep and settle alone. This can be hard for little puppies, and we should have patience with getting them settled and happy away from their original canine family.

If a puppy cries in his crate, I recommend to go and take him out to potty first (unless you just took him potty). Potty training is such an important part of training a puppy, and we don’t want to mess it up because we ignored a puppy’s signals who needed to go!

Once you checked if he perhaps needs to potty, go back to his crate with him, put him in and try to relax. I like to sit next to the crate with the puppy in it, you can also gently pet him. Try and make the situation as relaxing and calming as possible. The calmer and more patient you stay, the easier it will be for your puppy to go back to sleep – just like a human baby!

Again, make sure you are not leaving him in his crate for too long – a puppy who has just woken up from a long nap is ready to play and will of course cry if he is not able to. Don’t use the crate as a way to conveniently store the puppy – it should be a place to sleep, and when your puppy is done sleeping take him out.

Think of it like a human baby’s crib – of course a baby would cry if we left him in the crib and he is craving attention and interaction.

Your puppy’s first months are a formative period for the rest of his life. We want to teach our puppy that he can always rely on us. We will be the one that will always be there for him! Respond to his crying to show him that you are his friend and will support him when he needs you.

A dog who has experienced his owner coming when he is sad and lonely is much more likely to be a good listener and well-behaved, as he will value you and your guys’ relationship.

Prepare the transition to roaming free

transitioning to life without a crate

Eventually, it will be easiest if your dog can stay loose in the house during your absence. He will be able to stretch out his legs, look out of the window, play with his toys and not be as bored as he would be in his crate.

Prepare for the transition as early as possible by letting your puppy roam the house under your supervision. At night, you can tether him to you and let him fall asleep as you relax on the couch. If you are eating dinner, teach him to stay on a mat and not beg. It is tempting to use a crate as a management. Often though there are easy other solutions so that the crate can be reserved for your absence or for sleeping at night.

Say good-bye when your puppy is ready

After all that crate training, the day comes on which your puppy will no longer need it and be ready top live a grown-up dog life without his crate!

Most dogs are ready to be left outside of a crate somewhere between 6 and 18 months.
Dogs that are very mouthy tend to take longer than breeds that are not prone to chewing or generally getting into trouble too much. Many Labradors will need a long time until they can be trusted to not try which furniture can be eaten, whereas especially toy breeds such as Dachshunds or Toy Poodles often need less supervision.

Your dog’s appropriate age for being left loose will depend on his breed, personality, activity level and your living situation. There is no formula to determine when he is ready. Listen to your intuition, owners spend much time with their dogs and know best when their dog can roam freely in the house.

When starting out, don’t make the period of no supervision too long, and have a neighbor or friend check in with your dog in the middle of the day. We don’t want him to get into trouble. Make sure you leave him alone only when he is tired, just like outlined in step 1.

You can play a good game of fetch with your dog beforehand (if your dog cannot fetch: Check out our Learn To Fetch Online Class) or do some obedience exercises to engage his brain (for instruction: Online Obedience Class).

Then quietly leave without making a big deal about saying good-bye – your dog doesn’t understand it, and it will only wind him up if you give him many hugs and kisses. Leave him in the same calm way you left him in his crate, and he is most likely to just go to sleep until you return.

Crate training a puppy is no rocket science – follow the basic ideas of:

  • Making the crate of place for sleeping
  • Making the crate as comfortable as possible
  • Keeping the crate environment quiet
  • Never using the crate as punishment
  • Transitioning out of the crate in a smart way
  • and you will have crate training success!

Have fun with your puppy, enjoy the puppy times and take many pictures, they grow up too fast.
For more fun puppy reading, check out Stop Puppy Biting, 6 Puppy Training Basics and Puppy Training Tips!

Happy training!

 

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