The first step in crate training your puppy is erasing any preconceived notions you have that putting him in his crate is a bad thing. Because dogs are pack animals, the den-like feeling that a crate provides often makes them feel safe and comfortable.
Never make going in the crate a punishment. When done properly, crate training will help you with house training, separation concerns, problem behaviors and traveling.
Most crates are wire or molded plastic. Either will work for training, but the molded plastic type gives your puppy a more den-like feeling. Your dog should be able to stand up comfortably in his den, turn around and lie down.
The length should be about one-and-one-half times the length of your dog, not including his tail. Once your puppy is potty trained, you can increase the size if he’ll be enclosed in it for extended periods.
Location, Location, Location
Keep the crate in an area you and your family spend time in, but not in the midst of a lot of commotion. While you don’t want your puppy isolated in the basement, you also don’t want him inside the front door.
Your puppy should feel like he’s part of the family, but not be driven to distraction by all the activity around him. It helps to leave a toy or two in the crate for your puppy. However, do not include any blankets, bedding or other absorbent items until he is fully house trained.
A puppy should not be in the crate for more hours than the number of months old he is, plus one. For example, if your puppy is 2 months old, he should never be left in his den, even if you are around, for more than 3 hours at a time.
Adult, house-trained dogs who have recently been exercised can spend 8 to 9 hours in a row without any problems. No dog should spend more than 12 hours total in a crate in any 24-hour period. For instance, if your adult dog spends 8 hours in his crate sleeping, he should not be in the crate for more than 4 hours total during the rest of the day.
Steps to Successful Training
1. Be ready when you bring your puppy home
Begin conditioning your puppy to the crate right away. If you bring him home for the first time and the crate is already set up, leave a few treats, or NuVet wafers, inside and let him explore it on his own.
2. Don’t make a fuss
If you introduce it after your puppy has been home, act like it’s not a big deal. Don’t make a fuss over it and he’ll likely sniff it out on his own.
Again, place some treats inside to encourage exploration. Put his food bowl in the back of the crate and allow him to eat inside with the door open.
After a few days of the puppy exploring the crate on his own, bring it into your bedroom before retiring for the evening. Make sure he doesn’t eat or drink anything for about 2 hours prior to bedtime.
Just before bed, when the house is calm, exercise the puppy and make sure he’s gone to the bathroom. Then place him in the crate with a quiet chew toy and close the door. Being in the same room as you may discourage whining or pawing. If the whining does not stop, you’ll be close by to quiet him.
Don’t react immediately to his whining, unless you believe he needs to go outside. Often ignoring puppies is the best way to train them out of a problem behavior. Do not try to put the puppy in his crate to sleep before you are ready to go to bed.
4. Bathroom breaks
Anticipate taking him out to eliminate at some point during the night (3 hours for a 2-month old, 5 hours for a 4-month old, etc.). After a couple of evenings, you may know what time he’ll wake up to go to the bathroom. Set an alarm to wake yourself 15 to 30-minutes prior to that so you can get him out of the crate before he begins to cry or paw.
This discourages crying simply to be rewarded with getting out of the crate. After a few evenings in your bedroom, try leaving your puppy in the crate in its normal location overnight. Remember to wake yourself up to take him out during the night.
In addition to house training, other behaviors can be handled with crate training. Your puppy will begin to view the crate as a “safe haven”. When the activity level in the home is elevated or you are entertaining, your puppy can retire to his crate and still observe the activity without having to be in the midst of it.
Some dogs fear vacuum cleaner noise. A crate is a wonderful place for him to feel safe from the big, bad machine. It also gives you a place to put him if you can’t keep a close eye on him before he’s house trained or allowed to roam freely.
Some dogs react poorly when they are separated from their human family. Behaviors like barking, whining, digging or other destructive behaviors may occur while you are away from them. It’s a stressful condition that takes a toll not only on your neighbors or furniture, but your dog as well. By crating him for short periods of time while you are out of his sight in another room, you can desensitize him to your absence.
Barking, whining, and pawing are several of the behaviors you can train out of him with a crate. If he does any of these things while in the crate, he’ll learn that he only gets released when he stops. Similarly, if your puppy has begun to think he’s the boss of the house, the act of placing him in his crate and deciding when he can come out will help re-establish you as the leader.