Introducing the Crate and Establishing a Routine
Crates offer a confined, welcoming space within your home for a puppy to be supervised, and to nap, sleep, and retreat. Crates are not used for punishment, but for overnight sleeping, naps, and puppy breaks. If used properly, you will find that your puppy quickly becomes comfortable in a crate.
A crate will help prevent inappropriate behaviors, and therefore, will help build the puppy’s confidence. Allowing a puppy too much freedom to make a mistake and get in trouble lowers the puppy’s confidence and sets the puppy up for failure from the beginning. Crates help keep acceptable behaviors within limits.
A crate is useful for housebreaking. A puppy instinctively wants to keep his sleeping area clean. A crate that has just enough space for him to stand up, lie down, and turn around will encourage him to continue his neat habits. Many wire crates come with a divider for the inside; this allows you to purchase a single crate that will grow with the puppy. Alternatively, you can block off a portion of an adult-dog-sized crate with something sturdy to make the crate the appropriate size.
Crate training the puppy must be done gradually. You can make the crate appealing by taking the following steps:
- Place the crate in your bedroom for the puppy to sleep in overnight.
- During the day, use a second crate or move the primary crate into a frequently accessed room in the house such as the kitchen or family room.
- Leave the crate door open when the puppy is not being confined. You may find that the puppy goes into the crate on his own.
- Feed your puppy meals in the crate while he becomes familiar with it. Put the food bowl into the crate as you tell the puppy KENNEL IN. As the puppy becomes more comfortable with the crate, transition to saying KENNEL IN first, then put the food bowl in after the puppy has entered the crate.
- Crate game: Say KENNEL IN as you toss a treat into the crate. Once the puppy is eagerly jumping into the kennel for the treat, progress to saying KENNEL IN first, then tossing the treat when the puppy goes in. Gradually increase the distance from the crate, so that the dog will enthusiastically KENNEL IN even when he is several feet away from the crate.
- You can also toss a treat into the crate while the puppy is resting calmly to reward his relaxed behavior.
- Set aside a favorite toy that the puppy only gets when he goes into the crate, such as a hollow rubber toy stuffed with food.
- Put the puppy in the crate periodically throughout the day for brief periods. The crate should not become a signal of your departure. If the crate becomes a regular part of the routine, it won’t have a negative association.
- Work on a controlled exit: tell the puppy to STAY and begin to open the crate door. The puppy can be standing, sitting, or lying down (he will likely be standing). Start to open the crate door. If he tries to burst out, quickly (but carefully) close the door, wait a moment, then try again. When you are able to get the door a little more open, tell him OUT and allow him to exit. Gradually work on longer and longer STAYS as you open the crate door.
Establish a crate routine the day the puppy comes home. Perhaps use the crate for his first nap, first feeding, and, of course, the pup’s first night. Put the puppy in the crate when you must leave him alone. However, during the day, the puppy should not be left in the crate for more than 3–4 hours at a time. The pup needs to have an opportunity for relief and exercise at those intervals.
More than likely, the puppy will be at least a little unhappy in the crate at first. That is why it’s important for you to stay in the room so the puppy isn’t scared and doesn’t feel abandoned. If the pup is unhappy the first few minutes, ignore him. If the puppy whines or barks after one minute, use a few words of comfort. Acknowledge or remind the puppy that you are in the room with him. “I’m right here, puppy; settle down.” After the puppy has settled, even just for a few moments, go ahead and let him out of the crate. Practice this technique for a few minutes at a time, several times a day, and you will begin to teach him that being quiet results in being let out.