Crate Training

By P. Kalbaugh  

Using the Dog's Natural Denning Instinct


First, let's look at dog behavior in the wild. Wild adult dogs will naturally find a den or safe area to sleep. When the dam whelps the pups in the wild she sets up a den and keeps it clean until the pups are old enough to go outside on their own. She teaches them it is not okay to potty in the place where they sleep. Domestic dogs will also naturally den. You will often see a dog sleeping under a table or desk or next to a piece of furniture if no other area is provided for them to den. It is not cruel to develop this habit from the time you bring the puppy home. In fact, it is cruel not to give the pup or dog a safe area they can call their own.  

 

Setting The Rules From The Beginning


If your puppy whines when you first put him in his crate it is probably because he would rather be snuggled up close to you the way he was with his littermates. If you allow the puppy access to your lap, bed, couch or chair when you first get the puppy then it will be harder to eliminate these behaviors as the puppy grows up. Think of what the adult size of your dog will be and decide if you have room in your lap, bed, etc. for the the adult dog. You must decide before you bring the puppy home what the "rules" will be and then stick to them.  

 

Positive Associations

 

Crate training should all be done positively with no negative associations. When you first bring the puppy home from the breeder, have the crate ready and comfortable for the puppy. I put a towel or a washable pad in the crate, possibly a pillow so it is an inviting area for the puppy. (My dogs crates are as comfortable and inviting as my own bed!) I get a small yummy treat (small piece of raw hot dog works well) and allow the puppy to sniff it and then lure the puppy into the crate with the treat. When the puppy goes into the crate to get the treat and explore the new area I just leave the door open and let him come out as he wishes. I don't force the pup into the crate and I don't make him stay in there the first several times. I then repeat putting a treat in the crate, allowing the puppy to go in on his own for the treat. I do this several times and praise the puppy gently while it's in the crate and associate a word or phrase for going in the crate. My word association is "kennel up". I use the word association AS I'm putting the treat into the crate and the puppy is following it in. Do this about five times and then quit for awhile. Repeat this procedure several times the first day.  

 

Closing The Crate Door


When the puppy is going in after the treat comfortably and when the puppy has just finished playing and piddling and is tired, lure the puppy into the crate with the treat as you have before only this time close the door. I also put a 
new toy in the crate at this time. Something the puppy hasn't seen before and something that is interesting and will keep his attention for a few minutes. After I close the door, I sit on the floor in front of the crate and talk to the puppy if necessary. If the puppy cries or whines, I put my fingers through the grate in the door to reassure the puppy that I am still there. Usually, they will only whine for a short while and may even fall asleep if they are tired. I stay there until the whining subsides and the puppy calms down and then open the crate door. 5-10 minutes usually. If the puppy happens to fall asleep, great! I let him sleep in the crate until he wakes up and then it's right outside to go potty. I don't use a lot of praise and fanfare when I open the crate door and I ignore the puppy for a few minutes after he is out so that he doesn't get the impression that getting out is much more fun than being in the crate. I do not let the puppy out of the crate until he is quiet for at least 30 seconds and has calmed down if he has been whining. I might try and distract him with another toy to give him a chance to be quiet so I can let him out while he is quiet but I WILL NOT let him out, especially the first time, until he IS quiet. I don't yell or correct in any negative way. I just make up my mind that I will calmly wait the puppy out no matter what.  

 

The First Night At Home


If you have gotten your puppy during the day and had time to do the above steps, great! The puppy will already be familiar with going in the crate after a treat. If not, and you want to begin the puppy's life at his new home sleeping in a crate here's what to do. I play with the puppy till he's tired, make sure he has pottied outside and place the comfortable crate (with pad and towels etc.) on a chair or table right next to my bed where I can reach it while I'm still lying down. My night stand is set up for this purpose. I remove any collar that might be unsafe, place or lure the tired puppy into the crate (possibly with a safe toy) go to bed and turn out the lights as usual. If the puppy whines, I place my fingers in the grate of the crate and talk softly to the puppy until he falls asleep. I may lose a little sleep that night and possibly the next but I will NOT open the door for the puppy for at least four hours. (I repeat: the puppy has successfully pottied just before this!). I do not get angry with the puppy or yell at him but I do not give in and let him out either. If the crate is comfortable and warm enough, the lights are out and you are right there to talk softly to him and let him lick your fingers, then usually he will fall asleep within an hour, less if he is tired. At eight weeks of age you cannot expect the puppy to go more than four hours without pottying. So, as soon as the puppy whines after waking up, have your sweats, shoes and shirt ready to take the puppy outside. Dress yourself quickly before you open the crate, carry the puppy to the potty area immediately, praise softly and gently for a job well done, bring him back in and without getting into a play session with him, return the puppy to his crate, turn the lights out and go back to sleep. If the puppy fusses for awhile, talk softly and put your fingers in the grate of the crate. Two or three nights of this at the most and your puppy will be used to the routine. If you happen to sleep through the puppy whining and he is forced to potty in his crate because he can't hold it, don't blame or scold the puppy. It is your responsibility to get the puppy out BEFORE he has had a chance soil his den. Clean it up using a urine neutralizer (I use a light vinegar and water mix) put clean towels or pads in the crate and return to your routine. Set an alarm clock if you have to. The crate should not be too big for the pup, otherwise there will be enough room for the puppy to soil in it's crate and not think about it as soiling his sleeping area. Later on, after the puppy is used to it's routine and after he no longer needs to go out every four hours, you can put the crate on the floor of your bedroom or somewhere else in the house.  

 

Crating When You Leave The House


At some point you have to go to work or go out somewhere and can't take the puppy. He's made it through his first day and night at his new home. He is familiar with his crate and it does not have any unpleasant associations linked to it. Make sure the pup has been exercised and has pottied. It is helpful if he has played a bit and is tired. Take off his collar and remove any 
unsafe toys that may be in the crate, lure him into the crate with a treat and your association word or physically place the puppy into the crate gently. Close the door and leave the house without further ado. No talking to him etc. He may whine a little. You might have to explain to your neighbors that you are crate training your new puppy to keep him safe from chewing things like electrical cords and your new shoes while you are away and so he will develop good potty habits. Explain that he may whine for a little while after you leave. Hopefully they will understand. Don't stay away too long. An hour or two, is optimal. If you have to go to work and have no other choice, then arrange to come home at lunch to feed, exercise and potty the puppy during your break or have someone else come in and do this for you. A puppy cannot be expected to go longer than four hours without a potty break and it is very hard to retrain a puppy that is used to soiling his crate.  

 

A Place To Get Away From It All


After the puppy has grown a bit and is used to being put into his crate when you leave and at night when you sleep, you will see something interesting happen. When the puppy is tired and wants some time alone, possibly away from the children (who should not be allowed access to the puppy's crate for play purposes) he will go to his crate and curl up and go to sleep. I leave the doors of my crates open and my dogs frequently go there to take a nap on their own volition.