Puppies are cute and fun, but they can also be very destructive, use rugs and beds as toilets, and have little sense of self-preservation. If you used to think “well, locking your puppy up in a cage is cruel”, usually a hour after your pup comes home and you realize the pup has already soiled the carpet twice, eaten your favorite pair of shoes, and tried to commit suicide by swallowing an entire bottle of dad’s medication you start to come around to the idea of crate training.
Benefits of crate training
There are so many benefits of crate training. Here are a few of the most important ones I can think of:
- Keeps the puppy safe when you can’t supervise closely
- Keeps the puppy from practicing bad habits when you can’t supervise closely
- Keeps your house and belongings safe from the puppy when you can’t supervise closely
- Dramatically speeds up house-breaking time
- Gives the puppy a safe place to relax
- Prepares the puppy for safe rides in a crate in the car
- Prepares the puppy for trips to the groomer and veterinarian
- Prepares the puppy for training classes
- Prepares the puppy for future times when a dog must be confined safely
- Prepares the puppy for possible future injuries that require crate confinement
Sometimes you need somewhere to park your dog
While it is true that puppies can be successfully raised without the use of a crate, an adult dog who hasn’t been crate trained can be a bit of a problem. For example, a friend of mine never crate trained her dog, who is now a 90-pound adult, and when the plumber refused to enter the house unless the dog was safely confined, she was rather confused as to what to do.
Dogs don’t understand the vet’s instructions to rest
Another situation dog owners not infrequently encounter is the dog injures itself in some way and the vet says “crate confinement for a week”. If you didn’t crate train, how are going to keep your adult dog from racing around the house and messing up its $3000 knee surgery?
What if you decide it would be really fun to try agility or dock-diving?
Crate-training is a prerequisite for dog sports. You can’t even attend a beginner dog sports class if your dog can’t calmly wait in a crate. You may not intend to try out some dog sports when you first get your puppy, but you might decide to try one at some point. If your pup is crate trained, you are ready for class.
Crate training 101
I suggest getting one of the metal wire crates that fold flat. And remember, size is important when house-breaking. You need a crate that is large enough for the puppy to stand up in, turn around in, and lie down in, but no larger. Some companies sell crates with dividers so you can buy a crate large enough for your puppy’s adult size (the APDT has helpfully prepared a chart of expected adult size crates by breed) and section it off to make it suitable for your puppy’s current size.
Where to put the crate
Do not put the crate in the center of activity in the house. Put it somewhere quiet and relaxing, but not totally isolated; the puppy wants to feel like part of the household, not like it’s been locked up in solitary. A good place is somewhere you like to spend time relaxing yourself.
The crate is for relaxing
Remember, the crate is never to be used as a punishment. The puppy should think the crate is a relaxing, safe place to be. Feed the puppy in the crate. Give the puppy its chew toys in the crate. Give the puppy treats and praise for being in the crate. When you expect something scary or chaotic to happen at home, crate the puppy with a frozen Kong before the event occurs.
Big NO-NOs when crate training
Don’t fall into the trap of rewarding the puppy for being bad
Particularly during the first two nights in a new home, practically all puppies will vocalize (whine, howl, whimper) when they are first placed in the crate for a nap or at bedtime. It is vitally important to stock up on earplugs during this period of time and ignore the pup. Never let a puppy out of a crate unless it is being quiet and calm.
Don’t stuff the puppy into the crate because YOU are mad at it
Something world famous dog trainer Ian Dunbar likes to say: when your puppy is bad, get a rolled-up newspaper and smack YOURSELF in the head. If the puppy soils the carpet it’s because you didn’t take the puppy out often enough; if the puppy eats your shoes, it’s because you didn’t watch the puppy closely enough; and so on. You get the picture. When puppy is bad, it’s your fault.
Don’t leave your puppy in the crate all day
If you try to leave your puppy in a crate for a prolonged period of time you will come back to a potty-soiled crate and a filthy, very upset puppy. Young puppies need to potty often. I suggest setting an alarm clock so you take the puppy outside at the appropriate interval around the clock. The Humane Society says your puppy’s age in months is the number of hours the puppy can go between potty breaks. Puppies who are forced to potty in crates can lose their “cleanliness” instinct and can then become practically impossible to housebreak. If you have to go to work, consider hiring a dog walker to take the pup out during the day. If you can’t manage that, try putting the crate with an open door inside an x-pen with a potty pad as far away from the crate as possible.
Tips on crate training
Running into the crate is fun
Start out by just rewarding the puppy for running into the crate. Pick a word like “kennel up”, say it, and toss a treat in the crate. Repeat a few times then try saying “kennel up” without tossing the treat and give the pup a treat for going in the crate. Repeat often until the puppy will go into its crate reliably on command.
Waiting to exit the crate is fun
Here is a video showing how to train your dog to enjoy staying in the crate until released: Crate Games. This “waiting” behavior teaches the puppy self-control and can readily be carried over to teaching the puppy to not charge out of open doors just because they are open.
Leave the crate door open
When the puppy isn’t in the crate, leave the door open. Most crate trained puppies will start going into the crate of their own accord whenever they want a peaceful nap.
I strongly recommend all puppy owners embark on crate training. It has so many advantages and provides the puppy with a set of ever-useful skills. Plus, crate training is not hard if you just take it one step at a time and always pretend it’s a fun game. Most puppies will be sleeping, eating, and relaxing in their crates within a few days. And once you have that crate training in place, potty and house training become a breeze, traveling in the car becomes easier, and the dog is prepared for any of a variety of situations in the future that require crating.