Polo’s first picture taken at her new home with her crate behind her.
In the wild, dogs often slept in shallow hollows they dug in the ground where they felt safe from predators. These “dens” were just big enough for them to turn around and to lie down comfortably.
Even though they are now living in our homes, dogs have still retained some of their ancient instincts. One of these is the desire to have a den – a small cozy place where they can feel safe and secure such as a cardboard box or under a small table. A “crate” is just a modern version of a den. In other words it’s a dog house within your house.
Why use a crate?
Giving a dog a safe, cozy place to stay, like a crate, can make training your puppy a lot easier. House breaking goes much faster when you use a crate and destructive chewing a lot easier to control. Travelling is safer for you and your dog when he is in a crate. Many hotels, motels and rental apartments will allow pets that have been crate trained.
What kind should I get? How big should it be?
The most popular crates are made of plastic or welded steel wire. Plastic crates are molded two-piece units with ventilation areas along the sides and a welded steel wire door in front. Wire crates are very popular and depending on your dog’s needs, may be a better purchase than plastic. They should be of good, sturdy quality and collapsible for easy storage.
Size: a crate need only be big enough for the dog to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. It should be long enough for a dog to stretch out on its side when sleeping. Growing puppies can be a problem when buying a crate because you do not want to buy a new one for each stage of his life.
Where do I put it?
It is important that the puppy associates the crate with calmness and safety. Place the crate in the area that you have chosen for your puppy’s resting place. Make sure it is not an isolated area but one where the puppy can feel part of the pack, even if he is in his crate. A corner of the family room, where the puppy can share in family togetherness from a distance, but won’t be constantly distracted by too much activity or foot traffic would be ideal. You can always move it from room to room at a later stage.
How do I get my puppy used to a crate?
Teaching a puppy to use a crate requires patience and repetition. It is not difficult because he soon, instinctively feels comfortable in his den with a soft bed and toys. We collected Polo’s mother’s scent on a towel that was placed in her crate when we arrived home.
Let your puppy play supervised in the garden and when the pup begins to become tired invite him into the open crate while you sit close by. Never close the puppy in if he is excited or anxious.
Make the crate the number one place for his rewards and treats. Find a favourite toy or treat and make the crate the place where he is guaranteed to get it. Special toys and treats help make his “room” a pleasant place to stay. Give the puppy a small treat every time he has to go into his crate. Better still; toss the treat into the crate so he can jump in after it. (If you want him to learn to go in the crate on command, say “Kennel” when you toss the treat. He won’t understand right away but before long he’ll put three important things together in his mind – “Kennel” + Crate = Treat!)
Small children and puppies will love to run free all the time without restrictions if they have their way. Unfortunately, because they don’t know how to handle that freedom and keep themselves out of trouble, they have to learn to accept periods of confinement. The key word is “accept”- it does not mean they’ll like it straight away. Most dogs bark and complain during the first few days. Once they begin to accept this new restriction on their freedom, they quiet down and learn to enjoy it.
Growing puppies alternate periods of activity and rest throughout the day. There’s no reason they can’t do their resting in a crate, like a baby taking a nap in a playpen or crib. By keeping the puppy on a regular schedule of feedings and exercise, you can control his natural rest periods. If you put the puppy in his crate when he’s already tired and ready to settle down, he’ll get used to his new “bedroom” faster.
You’ve given him a reward for going into the crate, now you need to give him an incentive to stay in there quietly. Make his “room” comfortable. Get him a soft but hard to destroy blanket or bed. Get him a selection of toys but don’t give them all to him at once, just one or two at a time. Rotate the toys. Puppies get bored easily and switching the toys around makes them seem new and exciting. Teething puppies love chew toys and all dogs love a sterilized beef bone with peanut butter stuffed in the middle. They can spend hours trying to clean it all out.
Dogs learn quickly when their behaviour is associated with a reward. Behaviour that doesn’t result in a reward often disappears when there’s nothing in it for them. It’s normal for many puppies to bark, whine, howl or throw tantrums when first being crate-trained. If you let your puppy out of the crate while he’s upset, you’ll be rewarding him for bad behaviour. The next time he’s supposed to go in his crate, he’ll cry and bark again because that’s what got him out the last time.
For many puppies, just ignoring their complaints is enough to make them stop. If it doesn’t get them anywhere, they soon give it up and find something better to do like sleep or play with a toy. Stubborn puppies might need a harsh-sounding “No!” and a rap on the top of the crate to help them get over their tantrums. Whatever you do, don’t take him out of the crate until he’s quieted down.
How does a crate make housetraining easier?
Along with their instinct to sleep in a den, puppies are born with an instinctive desire to keep their dens clean. Most puppies will seek out an area to relieve themselves to an area far away from where they eat, play and sleep.
Short term confinement to a crate is intended to inhibit your puppy from eliminating when confined, so that he will want to eliminate when released from the crate and taken to an appropriate area. Crate training also helps to teach your puppy to have bladder and bowel control. Instead of going whenever he feels like it, he learns to hold it and go at convenient scheduled times.
Be sure to understand the difference between temporarily confining your puppy to a crate and long term confinement when you are not home. The major purpose of confinement when you are not home is to restrict mistakes to a small protected area. The purpose of crate training is quite the opposite.
Short term confinement to a crate is intended to inhibit your puppy from eliminating when confined, so that he will want to eliminate when released from confinement and taken to an appropriate area. Crate training also helps teach your puppy to have bladder and bowel control. Instead of going whenever he feels like it, he learns to hold it and go at convenient scheduled times.
Crate training should not be abused; otherwise the problem will get drastically worse. The crate is not intended as a place to lock up the puppy and forget him for extended periods of time. If your puppy soils his crate because you left him there too long, the house training process will be set back several weeks, if not months.
Your puppy should only be confined to a crate when you are at home. Except at night, give your puppy an opportunity to relieve himself every hour. Each time you let him out, put him on leash and immediately take him outside. Once outside, give him about three to five minutes to produce.
If he does not eliminate within the allotted time period, simply return him to his crate. If he does perform, then immediately reward him with praise, food treats, affection, play, an extended walk and permission to run around and play in your house for a couple of hours. For young pups, after 30-45 minutes, take him to his toilet area again. Never give your puppy free run of your home unless you know without a doubt that his bowels and bladder are empty.
During the day crate games can be played with your puppy or young dog.
Stuff a Kong, chew-toy and let your dog have a good sniff at it. Then put the stuffed chew-toy inside the dog’s crate and lock the door with your dog on the outside. Your dog will try to get inside the crate. After a short while let him in and he will happily rush in to get the food out of the Kong. Repeat this a few times and your dog will love working on chew-toys, alone, inside his crate. In no time the crate will be his favourite resting place.
Toss treats inside to encourage the pup to run fast inside to get whatever you have tossed in.
Sit at the back of the crate with the door open and feed treats through the bars to reward calm behaviour. This will teach the dog not to charge out every time the door is opened.
Beware! Soft Crates are Easy to Break out of!
Whenever you leave your puppy for the first time, make it as pleasurable as possible.
Stuff a large Kong with peanut butter or liverwurst, freeze it and only give it to the puppy when you leave him in his crate for a substantial period of time.
Make sure to leave some kind of music, TV, or other noise on while you’re gone so the pup doesn’t panic.
Very few of us live in an environment of “quiet” most of the time.
We have the TV or our music, or chatter amongst ourselves going on for our dogs to hear.
Remember crate training is like any other kind of dog training, you must teach them through good experiences!