Crate training a puppy a big topic for new dog owners. There are many benefits to crate training: It is a fantastic tool to keep your puppy contained and manage his sleeping schedules in the first month. It also provides him with a safe and comfortable resting spot that he might seek out his whole life!
Many questions come with crate training though: How long, how often, how to start and when to transition? When should be the first time to crate a puppy? What should be inside the crate, and what amount of time does the training process take?
Does My Dog Need To Be Crated?
Generally speaking, a puppy does not necessarily need to be crated. However, a puppy needs to be safe. And this can be challenging because puppies have a lot of talent for not being safe.
Nobody can supervise their puppy 24 hours a day. Without supervision though, puppies are likely to get themselves into a ton of trouble, such as ingesting dangerous objects (such as Q-tips) or snacking on toxic substances (such as indoor plants or chocolates).
Even dogs that are usually kept loose in the house should be able to relax in a crate – so that they do not become stressed when they, for example, go on a long car ride or need to stay at the vet.
If you are planning to compete in dog sports or attend dog training seminars, being able to stay in a crate will be crucial for your dog. Dogs are crated there – often in so-called crating rooms – so that they can relax and wind down in between training or competition runs.
Having a dog be calm in a crate will come in very handy after his spay or neuter surgery as well.
When Should I Start?
Dogs are creatures of habit, and the habits are best learned early on. This means that the time to start crate training is as soon as you bring your new dog home.
He can already spend his first night at your house in his new crate. That way, the crate will become just a regular part of normal life. Many puppies are crated at their breeders’ home for a short time every day. By continuing with this habit, when your dog moves in with you, you will have a smooth transition.
The type of crate you pick will depend on your personal preference. There are many different options on the market. The most common one is a wire crate. These crates are easy to store as you can fold them up within seconds and also easily take them anywhere. Plastic crates are popular, especially for small breeds. They can be more comforting to some dogs than the wire crates – their solid walls make them feel more secure and safe.
If you bought your puppy from a breeder who sent the puppy to you via plane, you might already have one of these on hand. Soft crates are perfect for dogs who are comfortable in crates and patiently wait in there. Soft crates are even easier to transport than wire crates and a fantastic solution to take along for a trip.
Let’s Get Started!
The crate should be your puppy’s place of relaxation. We want him to see the crate, and immediately relax. It will be hugely beneficial if your puppy can go to sleep as soon as you put him into his crate, without crying or fussing.
For him to understand that “crate = relaxation”, we need to make sure that we only crate him when he is tired in the first place. So, wear him out – by playing with him, taking him for a walk, training some tricks, etc.
Only when you get back and he is ready to crash, put him into the crate. The more tired your puppy is when he is first crated, the easier it will be for him to understand that the crate is a place of rest and relaxation.
An easy and quick way to show your dog how fun the crate can be is to feed the meals in the crate. You can either put his filled food bowl into the crate or even toss individual pieces inside. Once your dog is in the crate and eating, you can close the door for several minutes until he is done.
Don’t use the crate as a punishment. It is so tempting to put a misbehaving puppy in his crate. Using the crate as a time-out however, will destroy the positive and calm associations that we built up.
Puppies especially like to lay with their back against something. Line the sides of your puppy’s crate with soft blankets or little pillows and It will remind him of the way he used to lay against his litter mates and mom!
You can put his favourite toy in it so your puppy has something to snuggle up against. Many puppies will love to sleep with a worn shirt of their owners, as it will give them the feeling of comfort and company.
While sleeping, dogs regularly wake up, stretch, turn around and go back to sleep. Try to get a crate that is large enough for your puppy to be able to turn around comfortably like that.
Ideally, a dog should not be crated more than an hour for every month of age at a time. That means that a 2-month-old puppy should be taken out after 2 hours, while a 4-month-old dog can stay crated up to 4 hours during the day.
Dogs naturally are on a sleeping schedule that incorporates several small naps interspersed by periods of activity. Your own dog’s daily schedule will vary based on his breed, age and activity level.
If a puppy cries in his crate, take him out to potty first (unless you just took him potty). Once you checked if he perhaps needs to potty, go back to his crate with him, put him in and try to relax. I like to sit next to the crate with the puppy in it, you can also gently pet him. Try and make the situation as relaxing and calming as possible.
Your puppy’s first months are a formative period for the rest of his life. Respond to his crying to show him that you are his friend and will support him when he needs you.
After all that crate training, the day comes on which your dog will no longer need it and be ready to live a grown-up dog life without his crate!
Most dogs are ready to be left outside of a crate somewhere between six and 18 months. Your dog’s appropriate age for being left loose will depend on his breed, personality, activity level and your living situation. There is no formula to determine when he is ready. Listen to your intuition, owners spend much time with their dogs and know best when their dog can roam freely in the house.
About The Author…
Steffi Trott is the founder of SpiritDog Training in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Starting out just training her own Border Collies, she gradually expanded to local classes and seminars, now she travels as far as Europe and teaches students all over the world on how to train their dogs in a positive, bonding, game-based way.