Your Must-Have Guide To Crate Training Your New Puppy
Crate training can work wonders for your pup, but you need to do it the right way from the start
When you get a new puppy, one of your top priorities is most likely potty training. This is completely understandable since you don’t want to spend all of your time picking up dog doo-doo. You may think that simply limiting the area that your puppy has access to while you are away will help with house-training, but confining your pooch to a small area only serves to limit the space in which she’ll make a mess. If you want to actually work with your pup on where to appropriately use the bathroom, then crate training is an effective method. Crate training, when done appropriately, helps your pup start to understand where she should and should not go potty, and it can also help your puppy learn how to control her bladder.
How Crate Training Your Puppy Works
The idea behind crate training is the concept of dogs being den animals. Although there is some debate on this topic; mainly that the use of crates is more about domestication and making dog ownership easier on the owner. The critical point is that a dog doesn’t actually live most of its life in a den, but a dog does use a den. A young pup spends its first several weeks of life in a den, its mom only leaving for food and water, and if a dog is sick it will often retreat to its den. Therefore, crate training can work in the sense that it mimics your pup’s den, but it must be understood that your puppy should not be expected to remain in his crate for an over-extended period of time.
A crate serves as your pup’s safe and secure sanctuary, and it should be a place in which he feels comfortable. A dog doesn’t like to eliminate or defecate where it sleeps, so if your pup’s crate is the right size, he will avoid using it as his bathroom. Of course, this only works if all of the elements of crate training are done correctly, one of the biggest is making sure your puppy has ample opportunities to go to the bathroom in an acceptable area (normally, outside). Eventually, your dog will come to associate his crate with his own, special spot, and as he gets older you can start leaving the crate door unlocked (or even remove it), so your dog knows he has full control over when he goes in and out of his “den.”
Combine Crate Training with a Puppy Schedule
If you haven’t already done so, developing a schedule for your puppy is a must. A schedule helps keep both you and your dog on track, plus it helps your pup develop a sense of control about his situation. When your dog follows a schedule for eating, going potty, playtime, training, and so forth, he starts to understand when those things are meant to happen. Your pup should have regular potty breaks, roughly 20 minutes after a meal, and adequate bonding time with you that can include playing, training, sufficient exercise, and walks.
In between all of these activities, place your pup in his crate and reward him for calm behavior. After a short amount of time, release him from his crate for the next round of scheduled activities; this also helps your puppy understand that his crate is a place to rest and that he’ll be out again in no time.
Steps for Crate Training Puppy
Crate training doesn’t have to be complicated, it just needs to be done in a correct and consistent manner. Patience is key and so is avoiding the temptation to take shortcuts. Here’s a breakdown of the best steps for crate training your puppy.
Start with the Right Crate
Since there are several different crates on the market, consider your pup’s personality when you make your decision. For example, some crates are more enclosed, while others are more open, so think about what your puppy would prefer. Does he like to feel like he is in a cave or does he like to be able to see what’s going on around him?
If your dog likes to watch his surroundings while awake but prefers things to be more enclosed and dark while he sleeps, then you can also consider a crate cover. These covers are usually made from a breathable fabric that fits snugly over the crate to close off the sides. Since your pup has a decent sense of night vision, it might be beneficial to use a cover to block visual distractions when it’s bedtime.
Create a Comfortable Space
In addition to your pup’s crate being the right size, it also needs to be comfortable for your dog. When it comes to canines, comfort is in the eye of the beholder, in a manner of speaking. Basically, what one dog finds comfy, another may absolutely hate. Through trial and error, discover what your pooch’s favorite way to snuggle is; it could be a ratty old towel, one of your old T-shirts that carries your scent, a fuzzy blanket, a classic dog bed, or nothing at all. If your puppy has a soft toy that he likes to suck on as a way to self-soothe, then add it to his crate environment to make his new den as cozy and inviting as possible.
Stay Close at First
When you first start crate training, let your puppy see that when he is in his crate it doesn’t mean that he is alone. Position your pup’s crate in the same room as you, and stay close when he is inside of his crate.
Make It Positive
Keep your pup’s crate open when he is not inside of it and play some games with him that utilizes the crate. For example, you can roll a ball into his crate or toss a toy into it, let him fetch it and bring it back, and have him go in and out of his crate on his own. This enables your dog to associate his crate with positive things, instead of with confinement.
Reward, Reward, Reward
Treats are always an essential tool for any kind of training! Positive reinforcement is crucial and one of the most effective ways to train your pup. Simply start by rewarding your puppy as soon as he walks into his crate by giving him a treat and lots of praise. Any time your dog displays desirable behavior in association with his crate, reward the action immediately. Another option is to provide your pup with a stimulating, engaging toy that he has access to only when he is in his crate, such as the Rolly Cannoli. You can place yummy treats or peanut butter inside of the toy to keep your pup occupied and entertained.
Step It Up Slowly
Start with your puppy in his crate for small increments of time, with you in the room. When he is calm, reward his behavior and then gradually increase the length of time that he spends in his crate. Once your pup is consistently remaining calm, step it up a notch by leaving the room. A camera can help with this step; you can see how your pup is behaving when you are not there, and as soon as he is calm you can return and reward him.
You should start with very short sessions, perhaps just stepping out of the room for a few seconds in the beginning, and then working up to longer periods of time (but never longer than your puppy schedule allows) - remember, your dog still needs the appropriate number of opportunities to use the potty and exercise.
Know the Don'ts
Crate training can be very effective for potty training your puppy as well as teaching him how to be alone. However, there are certain things that should never be done with a crate, and if they are, it can set your efforts back big time. Therefore, a big factor in your success will not only be knowing how to properly crate train your puppy but also knowing what not to do.
Crate Training Don'ts
When you are crate training your dog, avoid doing the following things that can have a big negative impact on your pup and the whole process:
- Don’t use your pup’s crate as a way to confine your pup when you are away. Instead, provide a limited confinement area, such as a bathroom that is blocked off with a puppy safety gate.
- Don’t keep your puppy in his crate for extended periods of time. Even at night, your pup will need adequate potty breaks when he is still young since he is still developing the muscle control that is necessary to hold his bladder and bowels. As your pup gets older, he can stay in his crate for longer periods of time, but once he is fully house-trained, he should not have to remain “locked up” in his crate. Instead, you can limit his access to the house while you are away by blocking off areas of the house that are off-limits, either by closing doors or using gates.
- Don’t use your pup’s crate for punishment. Remember, it’s essential to your success that your puppy associate his crate with positive things.
- Don’t let your puppy out of his crate if he’s whimpering or whining. Your pup will start to put two and two together and purposely whine to be released, so instead, wait for him to be calm before opening the crate.
- Don’t leave your dog’s collar or harness on while he is in the crate. Also, if you dress your pooch, remove any clothes before he is crated. Dog tags, shirts, bandanas, and other items can become choking hazards if they get caught on your pup’s crate.
- Don’t leave food and water in your pup’s crate. This can lead to a mess, not to mention giving your pup all-day-access to his meals isn’t ideal, since free-feeding can lead to overeating and obesity. However, you can still serve your pup his meals in his crate at designated meal times. Use a non-tip, slow-feed bowl to help prevent spillage, and keep the crate door open while your pup eats; this can also help your pup associate his crate with good things.
How Long Does Crate Training Take?
There’s no set time limit to how long crate training your dog will take because all dogs are different. Your pup may take to the training immediately, or he may need some time to warm up to the idea. Plus, a lot depends on your dog’s previous experiences, his breed, his age, and several other factors. No matter what, one thing is for sure, patience is an absolute must if you want crate training to be successful. Expect to spend at least six months working with your pooch, and try not to get frustrated when your dog seems to be moving backward at times.
Accidents are inevitable when you’re training, and setbacks are going to occur, so try your best to not let them weaken your resolve. Your puppy is going to have ups and downs, the important thing is to not let the downs stop your efforts; consistency is key. Remember to always use positive reinforcement and don’t punish your pup when accidents occur. Be patient. Sometimes, accidents and setbacks start to happen because you may have given your dog free reign over the house too soon. Don’t rush it, take your time, stay the course, and the rewards will be great.
What If Your Puppy Develops Separation Anxiety?
Crate training is a tool for house training, and it is not meant to fix separation anxiety. Proper crate training with your puppy from the start can help to prevent separation anxiety from forming, which is why it is so important to begin training early. However, if you find your pup is suffering from actual separation anxiety, merely putting him in a crate doesn’t do him any good to fix the problem. Although crating your dog may help limit his destructive behavior, it can actually exacerbate the potential for self-inflicted injuries. If your canine pal has already developed separation anxiety, special training and desensitizing methods, as well as implementing and sticking to a schedule, can help him work through it. However, if your efforts don’t seem to be getting results, contact your vet right away; you may also want to seek the guidance of a professional animal behaviorist.
When done with a consistent, patient, and knowledgeable effort, crate training is very effective when it comes to housetraining your puppy. If you’re looking for more helpful tidbits and advice on how to work with your new puppy, make sure to check out the rest of our blog! At Neater Pets we strive to make sure you have access to the info and the tools that you need to raise happy and healthy pets.
- Fernando Becattini