A crate is a tool used to aid in housetraining your puppy and to keep him safe when you are unavailable to supervise him in your home. It also provides a safe haven for your pup when he needs a break from household activity, which is why many people continue to use them long after their dogs are housetrained. Some people may be concerned that it's cruel to keep a dog or puppy in a cage. The truth is, however, that dogs are den animals. It makes them feel secure to have comfortable places like their crates to relax. There are a few important things to remember when crate training your puppy, including:
- Choose a crate that is just large enough for your puppy to lie down in and turn around. It's important that your puppy has enough space to be comfortable while he's confined, but not too much space. The point of using a crate to housetrain your puppy is that dogs are very clean animals who, when given a choice, will not eliminate in the areas in which they sleep and eat. Providing too large of a crate for your puppy may give him enough room to sleep comfortably, but still have a spot to go potty. Obviously, this would defeat the purpose of using the crate.
Position your puppy's crate in a spot where he can be close to the family. Just because your puppy enjoys the comfort of his crate does not mean that he doesn't want to be near you. Your puppy will be much happier if he can keep an eye on family activities while confined to his crate.
Put a soft comfortable bed on the bottom of the crate. You can purchase a bed designed to fit into your puppy's crate or you may choose to use an old blanket or soft towel. We want to make sure that your puppy views his crate as a comfortable, inviting spot in which to relax.
Put some special toys in your pup's crate. The toys you choose for your dog's crate should be things he'll really enjoy and that he only gets when he's in his crate. This will ensure that your puppy associates going into his crate with getting to play with some extra fun toys. It will also give him something to do while he's confined. Some good choices include Kong toys stuffed with treats, rawhides that have been soaked in flavored broth and dried, hollowed out sterilized bones stuffed with treats, and anything else your puppy thinks is great to chew on. Switch the toys around regularly so he always has something new and interesting to play with in there.
Don't force your puppy into the crate. Give him a chance to explore it first on his own. If a puppy is pushed into the crate and the door slammed behind him, his first impression of this place may be that it's punishment. A better idea is to encourage your pup to approach his crate, and then toss a few yummy treats inside. Allow him to spend some time wandering in and out at will.
Once your pup appears comfortable with his crate, start closing the door behind him. The first time should be for just a few seconds, and then he can be released and given a treat. Do this several times, gradually building up the amount of time your puppy spends in his crate.
Once your puppy is used to hanging out in the crate with the door closed, you can begin practicing leaving him in his crate while you leave the room. Again, start with a small duration of you stepping out of the room and right back in, and work your way up to leaving him for longer periods. Expect some crying and fussing when you leave the room. Don't let him out of the crate until he quiets down or else you'll be teaching him that if he cries, you'll let him out of the crate. Maybe not a big deal in the middle of the afternoon, but definitely not something you want him to test at four in the morning.
Now that your puppy is comfortable in his crate, he should be left there when he hasn't eliminated in awhile or when you aren't available to supervise him. Allowing your puppy the run of the house when you can't keep an eye on him will lead to accidents. Once he's relieved himself in an inappropriate spot, it will be harder to teach him not to go there again.
Take your puppy out of his crate to his potty area first thing in the morning, and at regular intervals throughout the day. Remember, your puppy will probably need to relieve himself every few hours and also after eating, drinking or playing. Once he's eliminated in the appropriate spot, he can have some playtime and freedom under your supervision. Be sure to give him lots of treats and praise as well. If you are unable to supervise your puppy in the house, put him in the crate. Allowing him the run of the house is setting him up for failure when it comes to housetraining.
Puppies should not be left confined to their crates for longer than they can hold their bowels or bladders. They can usually hold it for their age in months plus one hour. So a three month old puppy can hold it for a maximum of four hours. No dog should be left confined for longer than five or six hours. If you need to be away for longer than this, you may want to consider a dog walker or you can choose a puppy-proofed room to confine him in, which will give him enough room to sleep, play and eat and still have a potty area.
The key to crate training your puppy is to make it a very positive experience. Lots of praise and treats should be used to encourage him to use and love his crate. They're also a great way to reward him when he eliminates in the appropriate area. Following these steps, you'll find that your dog will love spending time in his crate even after he is housetrained.