Contributed by Amber Drake
Many of you likely cringe at the thought of crate training. And, it’s not because you are against crate training, but because you just aren’t sure how to get started. Or, maybe you just don’t get why crate training would help your new puppy.
At first glance, crate training (to most people) appears to extremely uncomfortable, and a bit like putting your new pup in puppy jail. Crates are so small, there’s not much space for our pups to move around. They can’t walk in there. So, why would it be comfortable for them? We sure wouldn’t be comfortable sleeping in a confined area.
Here’s the thing… there’s magic to the crate. That’s why it’s comfortable to our little pups. What’s the magic? Dogs, by instinct, search for cozy spaces to become their ‘den.’ Their dens are their safe spot; their place to escape the world. Their crate is an area that’s 100% their own.
Jumping the Crate Training Hurdles
Your puppy doesn’t look at the crate and automatically think, “yes, this is my spot.” Usually, they choose their own. Instead, we have picked her den for her.
At first glance, your puppy (or dog) might be a little afraid of the crate. Don’t panic. This reaction is completely normal. After your pup becomes accustomed to the crate, he will love his new, cozy sleeping space.
Of course, crate training isn’t a requirement for being a loving, responsible pet parent. But, it’s worth considering.
In addition to helping with potty training, crate training can help reduce separation anxiety. And, if your dog encounters a stressful situation, the crate allows her to escape to her own world which assists in preventing severe behavioral issues.
Make Crate Training Positive
Being certain to connect the crate to a positive ‘thing’ or experience is important. If your pup connects the crate with a treat, praise, and/or a toy, he will be more likely to want to go into the crate on his own.
Ensuring the connection is positive also increases the level of trust they have with you. They form a good emotional connection from this experience.
To make this experience positive, don’t immediately jump into locking your pup in her crate. Be sure he is properly (and slowly) introduced to the crate first. Keep the crate open and put your pup’s favorite treat as far back in the crate as it will go.
Keep the crate door open to begin. This part is important and must be emphasized.
After a few attempts, if your puppy appears to be comfortable walking in the crate on her own, you can now close the door. Only close the door for as long as it takes her to finish eating her treat (or chewing on her toy). Then, open the crate back up.
Gradually increase the amount of time your dog is in the crate. Leave the door closed for longer and longer periods… increasing only by a few minutes at a time.
What if my Dog is Still Uncomfortable?
What if the above step gets your pup somewhat comfortable… but she’s still not fully comfortable yet? Some dogs are perfectly content, and happy, with their crate using the above step. Others need more reassurance.
If your dog is one who isn’t comfortable yet, we move on to desensitizing your puppy. This process could take an additional few days, or another few weeks.
Continue the process above, but only keep the crate locked for 10 seconds at a time or so. Then, gradually increase only be 5-10 seconds each time and work your way up to minutes.
Do not leave your puppy in the crate alone until he’s fully comfortable. We don’t want him to be miserable in there. We want him to be comfortable and feel safe.
How Big Should the Crate Be?
This is one of the parts of the puzzle where dog lovers get frustrated. How big should the crate be? How do you know if it’s big enough? And, how do you know it’s not too small?
Your puppy (or dog) should be able to lie down, move around a bit to get comfortable, and turn around. The crate should not be big enough to have a ton of extra room.
Dogs don’t like to use the potty where they sleep (by instinct). If the crate is big enough to have ‘walking room’ or an extra little area that’s not taken up by anything, she is likely to use the potty in the crate. We don’t want that to happen. Part of the reason we crate train is to help with potty-training, right? So, that would defeat the purpose of the crate.
Just Some General Guidelines
There are some general guidelines I would like to share with you.
1. Never leave your puppy in the crate by himself if he’s uncomfortable.
2. Always leave something for your pup to do in the crate- treat, toy, puzzle, etc.
3. Never leave your puppy in her crate longer than 2-3 hours… especially a young pup. Young puppies can’t hold their bladder. And, if they do, could end up developing a urinary tract infection.
4. Always take your puppy (or dog) potty before she goes in her crate.
5. Always exercise with your dog before he goes into his crate.
The Bottom Line on Crate Training
The most important ‘thing’ to remember about crate training is… make sure the crate is a positive experience and be patient. Patience, you will find, is key to nearly everything you do with your dog. Remember, the way we want them to act and what their instincts tell them is completely different.