The key to crate training a puppy is to project the idea that the crate or kennel is their castle, or in a dog’s world, their den. Although some people may think crate training is cruel, it’s actually natural to see a dog in the crate.
Crating a puppy is also an excellent way to housebreak them. After a certain age, most puppies will not poop where they sleep or eat.
Never use a crate or kennel as punishment. Never keep puppies locked up longer than necessary. Other than bedtime, never leave your puppy in their crate for more than an hour. Don’t make your puppy feel like he’s in jail. Little by little, you can lengthen their confinement, but be reasonable!
Many progressive-thinking breeders have already convinced their litters to recognize their crate as a good thing. They have done this by detaching the top part of the crate during the day, allowing the pups to learn to enter and exit a safe place. They replace the top at night; thus, the puppies are “crated” or denned. This way, a puppy learns even before they leave their litter, crates are a positive association.
Choose the right crate
You have several options when buying a crate for your puppy.
Option one: Get a hard-sided plastic crate that’s also approved for airline travel. You can choose between hard-sided crates that have one or two doors.
Other options include collapsible crates, wire crates, or soft crates that take up less space.
Be sure to choose one that will suit your dog as he grows. You can start with a bigger crate and block of part of it to create a smaller, cozy space that will make it easier for potty training.
Getting started with crate training
If your puppy is not familiar with being crated, expect plenty of drama and a lot of crying when you start teaching them to enter the crate. Instinctively, if they do not have a positive association with their crate, they sense they are being segregated from their pack.
Your goal is to help your puppy understand their crate is their special place. Dogs are den animals, but until they perceive their den as a safe sanctuary, they will feel isolated and vulnerable.
The biggest mistake most new dog owners make in crate training is, getting a one that is too big. Wanting to save a few bucks, they purchase one for the size they expect their pup will be as an adult. There are crates/kennels with partitions. You can expand the size by removing the barriers as the animal grows.
A crate for any puppy or dog should be only big enough for them to sit, stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. If a crate is too big, puppies and even adult dogs will sometimes soil in them. If the crate is too small, it is uncomfortable, and they may feel trapped.
Place a towel, pillow, or small blanket in the crate, so your puppy has a soft bed.
Getting your puppy into the crate
Place the crate in a quiet, darkened area where there is little or no activity going on after bedtime. Hearing you buzzing around only encourages your puppy to want to be with you.
Some want their puppy in their bedroom with them. And, young puppies may benefit from keeping the crate in your bedroom. Understand, however, that there are pluses and minuses to doing that.
On the plus side, your puppy may gain a sense of security, knowing you are nearby, and they will get used to your nightly routine. The biggest drawback: If the puppy is awake and noisy, having the dog in your room will make it harder for you to get a good night’s rest.
Ensure your puppy’s crate is a pleasant place and a positive experience. Leave the door open during the day, and toss a few treats or a favorite toy in it as a surprise.
Make being in the crate fun
Feed your puppy meals in the crate. After a few days, close the door while they are eating. If they cry or whine to be let out, ignore it, and leave the door closed. Only open the door when they are quiet.
Use a “keyword” or cue, such as “bedtime” to teach your puppy when it’s time to be tucked in for the night. It is incredible how quickly they will respond when they have a positive association with their crate.
Toss in a Grade A treat, something they love and get ONLY at crate time, or a favorite safe toy, they only get at crate time and guide your puppy into their crate.
We have found most love ice cubes because they are teething and are in considerable pain. A small metal bowl with a few ice cubes keeps them busy, soothes their mouths, and is just enough hydration to get them through the night without filling their bladders.
Keeping your puppy in the crate
If a puppy or dog has been exercised sufficiently during the day, most of the time, they are ready to go to sleep. Tire your puppy out a few hours before bedtime. If you do it just before you crate at night, they may still be “wired.” A relaxed, tired puppy is a sleepy puppy and is more likely to sleep through the night!
Once they are in their crate, cover it with a sheet or towel. Often a dark location and quiet place are enough to calm them down, so they will curl up and sleep. Some owners have found leaving a radio on nearby offers their pup the comfort of human voices and relaxing music.
Never open their crate when they are performing an Oscar-winning drama! It is like responding to a screaming baby in a crib. If you know they are safe, clean, dry, have a full belly, and empty bladder and bowels, each time you jump to rescue them, only reinforces their control over you. Hard as it may be, ignore them!
If they continue to cry, and you think they may need to go outside, wait until they have stopped. Give your puppy 3-5 minutes of being quiet, and then calmly open the crate. Don’t make a big production out of it, and get them all excited.
Be reasonable about the amount of time, both length and number of times per day, that you expect your puppy to be confined. If you cannot supervise them or just want them out of the way because you are busy, consider using a puppy pen. That way, they won’t resent their crate or kennel.
Bottom line for successfully crate training a puppy
Some puppies take longer than others to acclimate to crate training. Be fair, firm, consistent, and patient to successfully crate-train your dog.
You may have to try a few different tricks to find what works best for your pup. When you do find it, stick with it.
The added bonus is many have found crate training their puppy has also helped to housebreak them sooner! Whatever the reason may be for you, it’ll be worth the effort.
Karen A. Soukiasian is the owner of Good Dog! — Dog Training in St. Augustine, Florida. You can follow Karen on Facebook.