Having a crate for your puppy is one of the single most important things during her training. It will bring both you and puppy piece of mind and greatly speed many aspects of her training. Keeping the crate after your puppy becomes an adult will provide her with her own special place to go when she just needs some time to herself. Many adult dogs still sleep at nights in their crates. Izzy sleeps much better when she’s in her crate than out of it. If we don’t put her in her crate by her bedtime, often she puts herself in and goes to sleep.
I don’t like crates. It feels like I’m locking my puppy up.
Okay, so here’s where you need to put on your “Think Like a Dog” hat. It may feel like you’re putting your puppy in a cage, but remember that dogs like confined spaces. They feel secure when they have an enclosed place to retreat to. You’ve probably noticed that dogs like to crawl into tight spots such as under porches, stairs and even under furniture and tables. These places simulate the dens their wolf ancestors slept in, out in the wild. Trust me, once your pup becomes used to the crate, she will love having it as her own personal space when she wants to be alone, is scared or doesn’t feel well.
Choosing a Crate
Purchase a crate that will fit your pup when she is at her adult size and that has a divider. This will save you money, the hassle of purchasing new crates as your pup gets bigger and cuts down on her stress because her environment has been changed. Puppies grow very quickly, so she will not be spending much time in a smaller crate. Pick one that has an easy to clean liner tray and that will be durable enough to last your dog’s lifetime. At her largest, as an adult, she should have enough room in the crate to stand up, turn around and stretch out.
For detailed information on setting up your puppy’s crate, see Puppy Tips in the Getting a Puppy section.
Setting up the Crate
Using the divider, section off the front part of the crate. Make sure there is enough room for your puppy to turn around and stretch out. During the house training process, you want to ensure that your pup only has enough room in the crate to sleep. Dogs, by nature will not eliminate where they sleep, if they can help it. If we allow her access to the entire crate, she would have enough space to eliminate in one corner and sleep in another corner. As puppy grows, move the divider to make her space larger, so she always remains comfortable.
Make the Crate Cozy
Place the crate in an area of the house where puppy can have a comfortable corner, but where he can still be part of the main activity of the house. He will more likely be quiet in his crate if he can see you and the things that are going on with the rest of the family. To increase the coziness of the crate, drape towels or dark sheets across the back of the crate and then another one draped over the top and hanging down the sides. You can use clothespins to help secure the towel or sheet at the back. This blocks out light and will help to make your pup feel more secure in the crate.
During the day, lift up the side of the sheet that is exposed outwards, so that he has full view of what is going on when he’s in his crate. At night, when it’s time for bed, pull the sheet back down over the crate. This signals to your pup that it’s time for sleep and he should lie quietly in his crate.
Use Old Bedding
It’s best to use old sheets, towels and comforters at this point to line the floor of the crate and even to drape the crate. Until your puppy has his adult teeth and settles down with his chewing, do not spend money on fancy beds, liners or other crate linens. It’s possible that these items might just become large chew toys.
Introducing the Crate
When you first bring puppy home, introduce her immediately to her new crate. You want the crate to be a positive experience and to be associated with good things. Remember this is going to be your puppy’s special place, her very own “room” in your home.
Put one or two toys into the crate, so she’ll have some fun things in there for her. Lead your puppy to the crate, show her a yummy treat, letting her sniff it. Throw the treat into the crate and say, “In your crate” (or whatever you want the command to be for her to go into her crate) as you toss the treat in. Leave the door open at this point, you just want her to go in and investigate the crate. Praise her when she goes into the crate. Good girl! Repeat this until puppy is comfortable going into and out of the crate. She must remain calm and happy about going into the crate.
It’s important your pup enters and exits her crate on her own. Do not pick her up and place her in the crate yourself. Your pup will not be able to make the connection to your command and what she needs to do if you assist her.
Closing the Crate Door
Once your pup is comfortable going into the crate on her own, the next step is to close the crate door while she is in there. If she fusses or throws a temper tantrum, leave her in the crate until she settles down. It will be heartbreaking and listening to the racket may drive you crazy. But if you cave and let her out before she is quiet, you are teaching her that she can just whine or throw a tantrum to get what she wants. Once she has settled down, open the crate door and let her out. If you are lucky and she remains quiet when you close the door, leave her there for a moment then let her out. Keep repeating this until your pup is fully comfortable with being in her crate.
The Crate as a Training Tool
Puppies are extremely busy. After all, there’s a whole brand new, exciting world surrounding them! Everything must be sniffed, licked and of course chewed. Puppies discover the world around them in this manner. This means that you must keep track of a very energetic, very curious little fire ball of energy and fur. Sometimes you’re going to need a break. Puppies can be exhausting! Use the crate as your sanity saver for those times when you’ve had enough. A puppy in her crate can’t cause havoc and chew stuff in the house. Plus a little quiet time by herself each day is good for your puppy.
Get into a routine for bedtime with your puppy. Set your puppy’s bedtime and stick to it each night. Dogs are creatures of habit and like their routines. Routines provide comfort and security for your pup as it allows them to know what you expect them to do. You can use a simple command like “Bedtime”, then lead her outside to go to the bathroom. When she comes back in, direct her to her crate, “In your crate”. Throw a treat into her crate as you say this. Lock the door and pull the sheet down on the side of the crate. This will signify to your pup that it is time to go to sleep.
If she fusses, DO NOT let her out. She has to learn that it is bedtime and time to go to sleep. At a bare minimum, if she doesn’t want to sleep, she is expected to lie in her crate quietly. If she continues to fuss and you suspect she may need to go to the bathroom, let her out to do her business. As soon as she is done, it is straight back to bed. Do not pet her, cuddle with her, play with her, talk to her or interact in any way other than to give commands (i.e. “Outside” or “Go pee” or “In your crate”).
If you are unable to watch puppy every moment and don’t want her roaming around, create a puppy playpen for her. It is best if this is set up in the kitchen or on some other flooring that can be easily cleaned.
Creating a Puppy Playpen
Directions for this setup are if you are facing the front door of the crate:
Using an exercise pen, clamp one end of the pen to the back right hand corner of the crate. You can use carabiners, hooks or clamps to attach the pen – anything that will keep the end of the ex-pen secured to the back of the crate. Wrap the ex-pen around the crate and attach the opposite end to the front left hand side of the crate. Make sure you keep the crate door open. Put puppy’s water and food dishes within the set up and throw in a variety of toys. Puppy will now have space to play and when she gets tired, she can take a snooze in her crate.
Don’t leave puppy unsupervised in this set up. It is only meant to contain your puppy when you need some time to complete work or make dinner without have to watch puppy every minute. This works well if you are unable to use baby gates to keep puppy confined in one area. We have an open concept house, so baby gates were useless as the doorways between rooms were far larger than the baby gates would extend.
Never Use the Crate as Punishment
Remember you want the crate to be associated with good things. It is a positive space for your puppy, his own special place in the world. Never send him to his crate in anger or lock him in his crate as punishment. If puppy has gotten into something where you need him out of the way, you can send him to his crate, but do it in a calm tone.
Your Pup Will Love the Crate
With consistent use, your pup will come to love his crate. It will be his sanctuary when your household is very busy, when he’s not feeling well or just need a quiet place to nap. And you will soon appreciate the peace it will give you as puppy grows up!
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