Crate Training Your Dog
Crate Training Your Dog
By Linda Vanator
Just like people, dogs are individuals each possessing personalities and unique characteristics. Genetics dictate many human instincts and so it is for our dogs. It isn’t a far stretch to think about the behavior of dogs in the wild. Adult dogs in the wild will instinctually find a den or safe place to sleep. When a ***** whelps pups in the wild she sets up a den and keeps it clean until her pups are old enough to venture out on their own. The mother will teach her pups that it is not acceptable to soil in the area where they sleep. Domestic dogs will naturally den. When they are still in the whelping box the puppies will move from their sleeping area to an area they select as the potty area. They will eliminate in this area, keeping their sleeping area clean.
So many times I have heard people say that crating, “Is like jail!”, or “It’s so cruel to put my little puppy in a cage!”, or even “It reminds me of animals in the zoo!” Of course as humans we highly regard our freedom and as compassionate beings we want to extend this freedom to our pets. Ask yourself this though, “Would I raise my child without a crib to sleep in or a play pen to keep him safe if I had to take my eyes off him for a few minutes?”
Correctly and humanely used, a dog crate can be very advantageous and provide you with valuable tools to use as stepping stones, setting a foundation of security for both you and your dog. It can help as a tool to build a bond of mutual trust that will last as long as your relationship does.
Crate = Security
In his crate your dog can enjoy the security of his den, have his own place to retreat to when tired or not feeling well. In his crate your dog can avoid the confusion and punishment resulting from problem behavior. In his crate your dog can more easily learn to control his bladder and bowel functions and learn to associate relieving himself with the outdoors. In his crate your dog can be spared the isolation of being relegated to the garage, basement or being left outside in the yard alone. You want your dog to exhibit appropriate behavior. Your dog wants to please you. The crate can help you develop the bond and relationship you both desire.
When crate training always keep in mind the importance of repetition. Your dog will not understand what you want unless you repeatedly show him the desired behavior that you expect many, many times. Also, always remember that your puppy does not know what is expected of him as far as relieving himself unless he is shown the proper place to eliminate and when. Again, repetition is the key. The crate will be your best house breaking tool. Crate training can be a fun and positive experience for your puppy. You will be the one who creates the positive experience.
During housebreaking the puppy should never be allowed outside alone or loose in the yard. That means in the rain, snow, middle of the night or drowsy crack of dawn he must be on a leash with you there with him. Give him plenty of time and let him know he is there to “potty!” and not play. He can be redirected with the leash. “GO POTTY” or any short command phrase you are comfortable with should be repeated gently but firmly. Don’t chatter or talk to him, doing so will only confuse him. Potty time is strictly business. When he does eliminate act like it is the greatest thing he ever did. Praise enthusiastically and let him see and feel your excitement. Your repetition and adherence to this routine sets your dog up for success. The more opportunity he has to succeed sets the tone for lots of jubilant praise which fosters confidence and trust and desire to please. It’s a cycle that moves in a very positive direction for everyone.
Choosing A Crate
There are many crates to choose from and it’s often a confusing decision. There are open wire crates and enclosed plastic crates. I personally prefer the enclosed plastic crates which are vented on the three hard sides and have an open wire door. I believe this type of crate creates a secure den-like environment. They are also easy to move around and serve as safe travel containers. Purchase soft washable bedding for the bottom of the crate. Size can be confusing too. For most people it isn’t practical to purchase a new crate for each stage of the growing pup’s life. The crate should be just large enough for the dog to lie down and turn around in. The hard plastic portable crates are relatively inexpensive and depending on the breed of the dog and how large he will be at his adult size it might be wise to purchase a puppy size crate and move up to the adult size when he outgrows the small crate. Make a partition until he is full grown. If you purchase a crate that will be the right size for the adult dog, a partition can be made out of sturdy cardboard, stuff the unused section of the crate with a cardboard box. A crate that is too large for a small puppy won’t serve the intended purpose. He’ll have enough room to relieve himself on one end and sleep in the clean area. This will defeat the purpose of the crate as a housebreaking tool. Purchasing used crates is also an option. If you do, make certain that before you let your dog use it you wash it thoroughly with a bleach solution.
Introducing The Crate
If you are using the hard sided plastic crate take the crate apart. Let your pup go in and out of the bottom half. Put some soft bedding down in the bottom half of the crate. Encourage the pup to walk in and out, lie down and play. This stage can take hours to days. Go slow and let your pup set the pace. You can skip this step if you have a very young puppy who will accept crating right away.
Entice your puppy into the crate by placing his favorite toys at the very back part of the crate. Kongs, Nylabones, safe balls, or anything that is non-edible and large enough to prevent the pup from swallowing it, or bits of it, are good choices. I like to fill a small Kong with peanut butter and freeze it. This special kennel treat can distract and keep them interested for quite a long time. It’s also very soothing on tender teething puppy gums and will help to keep them quiet while crated.
Place the crate next to you when you are home. This will encourage the puppy to go inside it without feeling isolated or lonely when you have to leave. In the beginning always praise and pet your puppy when he enters the crate. You want him to know that his crate is a safe, positive place.
Throughout the day, occasionally place small pieces of dry puppy food or small bits of puppy treats in the crate. When the pup wanders in to investigate he’ll discover the treats. This will reinforce the positive experience of the crate. If you have an older pup or dog that is hesitant and resisting the crate you can try feeding him in it. Start with the food right outside the crate entrance. Each feeding slowly move the food into the crate, first right inside the doorway, moving toward the back of the crate until he’s eating inside the crate. Always praise his efforts!
During the early stages of introduction only enticing directives should be used. During the night the pup may be placed in his crate with the door closed. Place the crate right next to your bed. Should he whine or fuss, reach your hand down to calm him. Use soothing vocal tones. If several hours have passed and you awake to a crying, fussing pup – get up and take him outside to potty. Praise him then place him back into the crate with no fuss or drama. Remember, you are creating and teaching a lasting routine.
When beginning the crate training process always crate your pup for short periods of time while you are home with him. The crate training process is always most successful when you are present in the same room with the dog in the crate. Getting him used to your leaving the room which he is crated in is a great first step for getting him used to you leaving the house. When you leave the room he is crated in but remain in the home you are setting a great foundation for security. This also prevents the puppy associating being crated with you leaving the house.
Puppies And The Crate
Remember, puppies under four months of age have very little bladder or bowel control. Be patient and allow for frequent trips outside to potty. Young puppies should not be crated for long periods of time at all, the exception being during the night. Always be alert to your pup’s needs to eliminate. Set an alarm if you have to. Success creates stability and security.
Guidelines For Crating Durations
A 9 to 10 week old puppy can safely be crated for 30 to 60 minutes.
At 11 to 14 weeks he can be crated for approximately 1 to 3 hours.
At 15 to 16 weeks the time can be increased to approximately 3 to 4 hours.
At 17 weeks and older your pup can be crated for approximately 4 to 6 hours – not to exceed 6 hours.
The exception is overnight. Your pup should eventually be able to be crated through the night. At any other time, no pup or dog should be crated for more than 6 hours.
Use Don’t Abuse The Crate
Never use the crate as a form of punishment for your dog or puppy. Doing so will only cause the dog to fear, resist and resent the crate. If properly introduced to the crate your puppy should be happy to go into his crate at any time. It is alright to use the crate as a brief time out for your puppy if he has gotten himself worked up during rough play or is being particularly rowdy and unruly. Brief is the key word. Never banish and abandon your puppy to his crate and isolate him. This will only cause fear and may lead to anxiety. Always make sure your dog or puppy has plenty of exercise in the form of supervised play and walks on the leash (once the puppy is fully immunized).
Long Term Success!
The prospect of crate training may seem like a daunting task. It’s not! Time spent training your dog should be fun. Be creative and enjoy the process. Get to know your dog’s individual personality and work with it. Crate training will serve you both throughout the duration of your relationship. Like everything else in a dog’s life, learning to accept the crate and incorporating it into his daily routine is a layer in the foundation you are laying for a healthy, confident, loyal, obedient, wonderful lifelong companion. I have said this before, your dog will thank you!