When I brought my first puppy home, I wish I had understood the advantages of crate training. At the time, the crate just looked like a giant cage to me and I’ve never really liked the concept of caging an animal, but after a few weeks of waking to a kitchen floor full of puddles and battling to stop him jumping onto my lap when I was driving him to find a new place to walk, a more experienced dog-owning friend shared some puppy crate training tips with me and I haven’t looked back since.
What are the Benefits of Crate Training?
There are a number of reasons why you may want to crate train your puppy:
- To prevent nighttime accidents. Most animals will not foul in the place they sleep–it’s a survival instinct which helps to protect them from predators when they are at their most vulnerable–so keeping your puppy confined to the crate at night will help to encourage her to control her bladder and will significantly speed up the process of house-training. However, be mindful that a puppy will only be able to control its bladder for 2-3 hours at a time and even a fully grown adult is unlikely to keep control for more than 5-7 hours so if you will still need to let the puppy out every couple of hours to go outside to toilet. Put her on a lead and make it clear this is not a time for play and settle her down in the crate again once she is done. As she grows older, she will need to go to the toilet less and less and soon will go through the night without accident or distress–my adult dogs will last 7 hours before they whine to be let out to toilet.
- To keep her out of mischief when she’s home alone. We’ve all seen the mischief 8-year old Macaulay Culkin gets into when he is left Home Alone in the movie, and your puppy will be no different if she is left unattended for any length of time. If you have to leave the house for a short while, the crate can help to settle your puppy down and keep her from ripping up the cushions, terrorizing the parrot or suffering from separation anxiety. But you should never leave your puppy alone for too long. Just like children, puppies will get bored and lonely if left on their own. Not only will they become sad and depressed, but they will repay you by being naughty on your return. If you have a puppy, you have a responsibility to make sure they can fit into your lifestyle–take them with you when you visit friends, go shopping, or maybe even when you go to work. If you can’t do any of these things, make arrangements for them to have company during the day with a neighbor or a pet sitting service.
- The crate offers a safe haven. We all need our own space and time out from the hustle and bustle of the day and puppies are no exception. Let the crate be your dog’s safe place, her own cave to retreat to when the children are getting too much for her and she just wants to escape to a quiet place. Keep the door open during the day so the dog can go freely in an out, put her blanket inside so that it is a comfortable place to lay down, but train your children not to follow her inside. If ever your puppy is frightened by a thunderstorm or loud noise, encourage her to take refuge in the crate. The feeling of security it gives her will settle her down and she may even find more comfort if you close the door, but stay close by.
- A quick way to house train. If you are consistent, you can often house train your puppy in a matter of a few weeks, but learn to predict when your puppy needs to urinate so that you can take her out into the garden before her bladder becomes full and painful. You never want her to associate the crate with feelings of discomfort.
- A safe way of traveling. Some dogs love traveling in the car, others hate it and none of them wear a seat belt. I’ve had dogs who’ve wanted to sit on my knee as I drive, others that sleep on the back seat, one that would open the window with his paw and try to jump out and another that sat in the front seat as if giving me directions. The only way I could travel anywhere safely with these dogs was by keeping them secure in a crate.
How do You Crate Train Your Puppy?
Just like training any new behavior, your training will be based on offer rewarding correct behavior.
- Choose a crate that is big enough for your puppy to turn around, stretch and lie down.
- Place the crate wherever your puppy will sleep–kitchen, living room, bedroom.
- Place a blanket or cushion inside and leave the door open.
- Your puppy will want to investigate. When he approaches, throw a favorite toy or a food treat inside. Let her go inside to retrieve the treat and let her come freely out again.
- Repeat this over a few days. Rewarding her each time she enters and always leaving her free to exit whenever she wants to. You want the crate to become a fun safe and rewarding place she can call her own.
- Begin feeding your puppy her regular meals in the crate.
- Give her an instruction to go in–I use “in your house”–then place the meal inside after she has entered.
- Gradually introduce closing the door while she eats, but open it just before she finishes her meal.
- Then begin to leave the door closed for a few minutes after she has finished the meal and reward her for sitting there calm and happy. If she whines ignore the behavior and help her to quieten before opening the door.
- Gradually lengthen the time she is confined in the crate. Give her praise and a treat when she enters and reward her for being calm and relaxed while inside. Stay nearby so your puppy knows you are around and feels safe and never let her feel that the crate is a punishment.
- Once your puppy is content with spending time in the crate, you can introduce her to staying in it at nighttime. Remember, you may need to let your puppy out for a toilet break in the middle of the night as she cannot control her bladder for more than 2-3 hours, but if you’ve made the crate a safe place she will happily return inside for the rest of the night.
Is Crate Training Cruel?
There has been a lot of debate on whether crate training is cruel suggesting the crate is a form of imprisonment used to confine a dog for long periods of time. Any crate should never be used to keep the dog locked up for more than the shortest periods of time and only when necessary to do so. However, if used properly, a crate can be helpful when transporting your puppy to the vet, keeping it safe in the car, and offering it a safe haven during a storm or when the neighbours kid comes to play. I would be naive not to acknowledge that some people chain up their dogs all day or lock them in a cage in the garden and others use crates to confine them all day while the owner is a work. I don’t consider these people true dog lovers as anything that confines a dog unnecessarily and prevents it from performing its natural behavior is undoubtedly cruel. So use a crate, but use it wisely and humanely!
Can Any Dog Learn to Love their Crate?
Both puppies and adult dogs can be trained to like their crate. The trick is to feed them inside, make it a fun place to be, help them to feel safe and never keep them locked inside for more time than is necessary. During the summer months, my dogs like to sleep outside. At first I put the crate outside and settled them inside propping open the door so they could come and go as they pleased. I could not get them to settle, every hoot of an owl or bark of a fox spooked them and they barked…until I shut the door. Once they felt safe, they both lay down, yawned and fell asleep until the morning. I’m not sure they ‘loved’ the crate but they certainly felt safe inside.
I hope you have enjoyed these puppy crate training tips and will consider whether it may be a useful addition to your own training efforts. It is important to never use the crate as a punishment and never lock your dog inside for more than a few hours, but used properly it can help your puppy to find its boundaries, have a safe haven and be safe when being transported.