Crate training is a necessary part of the housetraining process for dogs. When puppies are first being introduced to their new home, the rules will not be totally clear to them. Leaving them out to their own devices isn’t the best option. They may chew up furniture, go potty where they aren’t supposed to, and be generally rambunctious with unsuspecting guests.
These are all habits that crate training aims to eliminate. You must housetrain early because certain habits are hard for puppies to break as they get older.
This is a process that takes time and requires a lot of patience. Ultimately, it’s very rewarding and a crucial step toward making your puppy a disciplined and happy member of your home.
Before we go further, it is important to note that crating your puppy is never to be used as punishment. If their crate is seen as a place to go when they are bad, then they will be far less likely to go there when you need them to. Because dogs have a denning instinct, crates are a perfect place for dogs to have as their own while they get used to living in their new environment.
Step 1: Choose a Crate
The main factor to consider when choosing a crate for your puppy is size, both of your dog and the crate. Your puppy’s crate needs to be large enough for them to be comfortable now and with future growth. This is important because it will be a place that they spend extended periods. To ensure maximum comfort, include bedding and a toy.
Step 2: Choose a Location For the Crate
Potentially easy to overlook, where you set up their crate can have a great impact on your puppy’s attitude towards it. The crate shouldn’t be near a heater that would cause your pup to overheat, but it should be in a place that gets plenty of natural light, so they can happily bask in the sunlight.
It should be your top priority to make your puppy as comfortable as possible in their crate so that they can make positive associations early on and set you up for success as you continue crate training.
Step 3: Familiarize Your Pup With the Crate
At first, your puppy might not gravitate towards the crate because they don’t feel safe there, so it’s important to slowly entice them to go in, but never force them. Placing a treat in the crate to get them to enter is a good tactic, and should be rewarded with light praise. Let your puppy willingly enter the crate several times, giving them treats for doing so; once they are comfortable doing that, gently close the door when they are inside and leave them there for a minute or two. Repeat this process a few more times until they appear calm with the closed door.
Step 4: Feed Your Pup in the Crate
After they are more familiar with the crate, the next step is to get them comfortable with eating inside it. Doing so leads to prolonged time in the crate, gradually getting them more comfortable with the space.
Instead of putting a treat inside the crate, place their bowl of food. If they are at all hesitant to go inside, move the food near the gate and slowly move it back until they are fully in the cage. Keeping them engaged in an activity like eating a meal will allow them to spend a longer time in their crate while occupied. If they begin to whine or howl after finishing their food, remain firm with them to not encourage or ignore the behavior and allow it to continue.
This might be a difficult step for your dog, so do not get discouraged if they don’t immediately take to being in their crate a bit longer than before. Be patient with your pup, and try to give gentle positive reinforcement when you can.
Step 5: Increase the Duration
Now that you have your puppy eating full bowls of food in their crate with no issues, it’s time to take further steps to increase the duration that your puppy is in the crate. Your goal with this part of the training is to leave your puppy in the crate for longer and longer increments without them growing anxious.
You want to keep repeating the process; give them a treat for entering the crate, and leave them alone in the crate longer and longer until they are completely alone for 30 minutes. Now that your puppy has reached this level of comfort, you start leaving them alone when you run out on short trips.
Step 6: Crate Your Puppy While You’re Away
With a longer period inside the crate established without any signs of anxiety, you can feel free to leave them for a more extended period while you are not home. The dog mustn’t begin to equate the crate with being alone, so for this to not become the case, have your dog enter the crate at varied times before you leave. Do it five minutes before you leave one time, then ten minutes the next, and so on up to twenty minutes at the most.
You can leave for up to two hours at a time without upsetting your puppy and they should be rewarded with praise when you return. Remember, the length of time should be based on your pup’s bladder capacity, to make sure they don’t have an accident while in the crate.
Step 7: Crate Your Puppy Overnight
You’ve made it this far, and now it’s time to take one last step toward fully housetraining your puppy. If they can feel comfortable sleeping through the night in their crate, then they are going to adjust well to living in your home.
While crating overnight, it is a good rule of thumb to bring the crate into your bedroom so that they can alert you to when they need to go potty. You can then start to move the crate to a different location as your puppy gets more comfortable spending the night in their crate. Continue to reward them with treats and praise for entering the crate so that the positive associations are still formed even at a different time and in a new setting.
Crate training isn’t always easy, but this should not discourage passionate dog owners who want to make sure their dog is well-adjusted and happy in their home. Not every dog will go through crate training at the same pace, so there is no need to get discouraged if your puppy doesn’t immediately take to their crate. It will be incredibly rewarding in the end to have a fully housetrained dog that is happy and comfortable living in your home.
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Jenna Smith, Participant