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Crate Training 101: Tips for Crate Training Your Puppy or Dog.

Crate training provides owners with peace of mind during those times when the owner cannot monitor the activities of their puppy or new dog. While many articles online on the topic of crate training focus on crate training as a tool for house breaking or potty training, this article is focused on how to make the crate a natural cozy home for your new dog or puppy. 

Dogs are essentially den animals by nature.  In the wild, expectant mothers dig dens in order to whelp and raise their new puppies.  These dens are rather spacious, and protect the puppies from the elements such as summer heat, winter snow and rain, as the den maintains a relatively constant temperature since is usually about one foot underground.  Here the puppies will stay until they begin to walk and venture out short distances from the den, returning to the den to sleep and nurse.  With proper introduction to his crate, your dog will naturally seek out his crate for nap time, or in times of stress, for a safe haven cuddle up in.

Selecting His or Her Crate:  There are 3 basic types of crates on the market: soft sided crates, wire mesh crates and plastic crates.  The soft sided crate is not appropriate for crate training, as the dogs will quickly learn how to escape from it.  The soft crate is only appropriate for dogs who are already crate trained and comfortable in their private den area.  However, they are great for travel and indoor containment of the well mannered dog, as they offer configurable degrees of privacy through their mesh windows and fabric flaps.

The plastic or sheet metal sided crate offers den-like privacy and is the only type of crate rated for air travel.  The down side of plastic crates is that they are not easy to disassemble and reassemble.  This is not a problem for small dog crates, but becomes an issue when moving large dog crates within the home or on a trip from car to hotel room.   Additionally, they cannot be reconfigured for growing puppies.

The collapsible wire mesh crate with a movable divider is the preferred training crate for growing dogs and for travel with large dogs.  You will want to begin with a crate that will accommodate your puppy when fully grown, but to be able limit his sleeping area with a divider to an area that allows him to easily turn around and stretch out. The puppy’s sleeping area should not be so large that it provides him with enough space for him stake out two areas, one for sleeping and one for eliminating. A puppy that gets into the habit of soiling his crate will be very difficult to house break.  Privacy can be added to the wire crate by purchasing a fabric crate cover or simply draping the crate with a sheet or towel.

Kennel-Up!  On day one, it’s a good idea to start by teaching your dog to enter his crate on command.  You can begin by saying, “kennel-up”, “go to your crate” or any phrase of your choosing, and then tossing a treat into the crate.  Your dog will quickly find going into the crate is a rewarding experience.  Initially let him come and go as he pleases.  Repeat the training session several times during the first day with 4-5 “kennel-ups” per session.  If you plan on using clicker training, you will want to click the clicker when the dog enters the crate to retrieve his reward.  Once he begins to enter the crate on command, switch to treating him after he has entered the crate on his own.  As his understanding of the command solidifies, you can begin to reward him intermittently.

Feed Meals in the Crate.  Give the command to kennel-up, and once the dog has entered the crate, give him his food, and shut the crate door.  For young puppies, you will want to take them out for a potty break within 30-45 minutes after the puppy has finished his meal.  If you have multiple dogs, crate feeding is a good way to prevent rapid eaters from muscling-out the slower eaters from their food bowls.

Bedtime: If possible, we recommend bringing the crate to your bedroom for bedtime to keep an eye on him and provide some extra comfort in his new surroundings. As the dog becomes more comfortable in his crate, you may choose to crate him in the evenings in another area of the house.  Be prepared, you may have a night or two of your dog or puppy “crying” himself to sleep.  Be careful not to let the dog out of his crate while he is fussing.  Unless he is about to have an accident, only let him out when he is behaving himself.  You can recognize a puppy or dog that is in need of a potty break, if you see him turning in circles and looking at the bottom of the crate.  In that instance carry him out for a potty (literally if this is a young puppy), praise him for the potty, give him a short walk as a reward and then return him to the crate for the evening.  Remember to give him a small reward for kenneling-up at bedtime as well.  In the morning, be careful to get your dog to his potty area immediately after leaving his kennel.  With young puppies, carry them outside to avoid accidents on the way to the door.

A Few Words of Caution: While sleeping in the evenings, the dog’s digestive system slows down considerably, allowing him to remain crated for an 8 hour stretch.  During the daytime, dogs should only be crated a maximum of 4 to 5 hours at a time.  And during their crate time they should have access to water; a stainless steel pail hooked to the side of the crate or crate door works best. 

Young puppies will require more frequent potty breaks than adults.  Puppy ages and their maximum crating times:

  • 8-10 weeks 30-60 minutes
  • 11-14 weeks 1-3 hours
  • 15-16 weeks 3-4 hours
  • 17+ weeks 4-5 hours

 If you are working and unable to come home to give your dog a potty break, you will need to setup a pen indoors in an area with an easy to clean floor and some puppy potty training pads, so that he has an appropriate area to eliminate in.  Prior to penning your dog for the workday, be sure to give your dog at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise depending on its age and size.

 

During free time, leave the door to the crate open, and you will soon find that your puppy or dog looks forward to relaxing in his own private area.  If you are planning on a task that you expect your dog to find unpleasant, such as a bath, close the door to the crate before he gets wind of your intentions, so that he cannot hide in it.  You want to avoid turning his safe haven into a battle ground with you trying to drag him out of his den. Once your dog is comfortable with his new living quarters, and has passed through the teething phase, you can introduce bedding in the form of crate beds, pet pillows or even a simple towel.

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