Puppy 101.2

Crate Training

A huge stress of bringing a puppy home is the house breaking and crate training. We get questions all the time regarding these two subjects and it is important to touch on these subjects. This entry is all about the crate.

The biggest comments we hear:

“Our puppy cries for hours/all night when we put him in the crate.”

Puppies are seldom used to being alone or in a crate when the come home, unless you work with a great breeder who introduces crates and alone time while still with the litter. Your puppy is going to cry. This is all new and confusing, it is our job to make the crate a positive place to be, and that doesn’t happen from just putting your puppy in the crate at night to sleep. It takes time.

“I gave up on crate training because the puppy wouldn’t stop crying/ whining/ howling/ screaming and only is quiet if she’s in bed with us.”

Congratulations! You have just taught your puppy that if they cry, whine, howl or scream enough they will get their way. Your puppy has successfully taken the first step in training you. While there are many that have had success with this, there are many many more who have had accidents happen because of this: puppies trying to get out of bed in the middle of the night and hurting themselves, going potty in the house, going potty on the bed, chewing things they shouldn’t because they get bored while we sleep, accidental injury from being stepped on, pushed off the bed by accident, and so much more. Why risk the potential injury and potential forming of bad habits. Yes, its annoying and you can’t sleep but now if you want to pick up crate training again it is going to be that much harder for both you and the dog, why? Because you just taught your puppy that the noise means they get to come out of the crate, which means next time it will be worse/take longer for the puppy to quiet.

“I’ll never need a crate, so its not important for us.”

Great! So happy that your house is puppy proof, and you are able to work with your puppy to prevent bad habits that could otherwise be developed while unsupervised within a house, not many have that ability.

Hopefully your puppy doesn’t routinely need grooming? Great point! Mobile and cage free groomers are available, that is an excellent option. Do you plan on getting your dog spayed/neutered? Your vet will crate your dog before and after the procedure. How about dental cleanings at the vets? Your vet will crate your dog before and after the procedure. What are you going to do if your dog gets an injury and needs to go on crate rest, such as an ACL tear? Your dog will need to be crated and kept from moving (even from walking) around too much. There are many reasons that your dog may eventually need to be in a crate, these are just 4 common possibilities.

There may come a time when your dog needs to be crated; even if you never use one at home, creating a positive association with crates can make the time if/when your dog does need to be crated calmer, less stressful and a more relaxed experience.

18 month Dogo Argentino sleeping in his crate with the door open

Crate Training 101

The perfect fit:

There are so many different types of crates and sizes that it can often be overwhelming, so we are going to break down the basics of selecting a crate perfect for your puppy.

Whether you have a toy breed or a giant breed the basic key to selecting a proper crate is the same. You want a crate that is just big enough to stand up, turn around and lay down. You do not want excess room or “room to stretch out”, having extra room can encourage a puppy to use the bathroom in their crate. If you have puppy that will outgrow the size of crate that will best fit the puppy right now, they have crates with dividers. These dividers can be adjusted to let the puppy have more room as they grow. These are especially valuable with larger breed dogs, but may not be necessary for toy breeds.

Introducing the crate:

This is a huge road block for many puppy parents, and with so much misinformation about crate training and the use of crates many of us feel a bit confused and concerned by what this step really comes down to. What is the best way to introduce the crate and how?

While there is no ONE right way to raise a puppy, or dog for that matter, this is the method that we suggest using and have seen much success over the years.

A common mistake made by new owners is to just pop their puppy in the crate and leave the puppy there for the night, or while they go to work. The major blow back from these two methods is:

If you only crate your puppy when its bed time you often end up with a puppy to cries and whines, howls and screams, when its bed time and carries on into the night. It is very common for this to last far longer than one would hope, and if this is the only time they ever see the crate they have no real understanding of what this thing is.

If you only crate your puppy when you leave the house you often end up with a puppy who develops separation anxiety and has a strong dislike for the crate. Your puppy begins to associate the crate with you leaving, and thus is becomes a negative place to be.

Introducing the crate in a positive way, prior to needing it, is the best way to help your puppy adjust to being in a crate and to make it a comfortable and happy place to be.

We found multiple short sessions are significantly more productive than only one or two longer sessions.

An ideal way to do this is to set up times to crate your puppy throughout the day. Separating daily food into two (or three) means a day and feeding these meals in the crate is a great way to get at least two shorter crate sessions in. Start with putting the food bowl all the way in the back of the crate, with the door open if your puppy is not comfortable with the door being closed, and put the puppy into the crate. Give your puppy 15-30minutes to eat before letting the puppy out and picking up the food bowl. If your puppy did not finish their meal, that is fine just offer their normal meal at dinner as usual. Eventually your puppy will, if they don’t already, eat all their food in one sitting and in the allotted time.

Meals are one of the easiest ways to not only introduce the crate but to create a positive association with the crate. Crate now is starting to equal breakfast/dinner, and who doesn’t get excited about food.

picture taken from google

Its all about positive association

Meals in the crate is a great way to start, but to really help build that positive association with the crate and to make it a fun, safe, place for your puppy you also need a few training sessions. They can be short, nothing too extravagant.

Offering treats for going into the crate, giving crate specific toys, and so forth are also absolutely fantastic options. This can be as simple as luring the puppy into the crate with a high value treat, and once they go in giving the treat with some excited praise.

If your puppy is hesitant about following the treat into the crate, reward for any forward progress. Leaning into the crate, taking a step or two on, and keep building until the puppy goes all the way in.

Lunch/Nap Time

This is a great opportunity to not only reinforce crate training but also to get a break from the chaos that is a new puppy, or to give your older dogs a break from the rambunctious puppy and the opportunity to get some much needed one on one time while they adjust to the new addition.

Lunch/Nap time is similar to meal times, but has a slight twist. You can do your basic meal time and cut it at 15-30 minutes just like the puppy’s meal time but it is an opportunity to add positive association to longer crate times. I like to break with up a little bit with my personal dogs and offer a “nap time” instead of a meal; this is a personal preference but either works.

For “nap time” I usually play with the puppy before hand, make it a really fun and tiring session, take the puppy out to go potty and then come in and put in the crate with something special to chew. Usually a pig ear or a frozen Kong. A Kong can be stuffed with a wide assortment of goodies and frozen to last longer; I only give these in the crate so it is a crate specific treat that my dogs really love. I then allow my puppy to have about an hour to enjoy their chew, nap and overall relax.

image from google

Very basic crate schedule

Below is a very simplified schedule for your puppy to show the basic of how to work crate training into your schedule. Keep in mind that “Normal x with puppy” should have crate training sessions lasting 3-5 minutes randomly throughout. This will give you a minimum of 5 positive crate sessions a day with minimal effort.

  • Puppy wakes up
  • Outside to potty
  • In crate for meal 15-30min
  • Normal morning with puppy (here should be training, walks, play, more potty breaks, your at work, so on and so forth, I wont be breaking this down at this time)
  • Lunch or Nap time 15min-60min//after going outside
  • Normal afternoon with puppy (here should be training, walks, play, more potty breaks, your at work, so on and so forth, I wont be breaking this down at this time)
  • In crate for meal 15-30min
  • Normal evening with puppy (here should be training, walks, play, more potty breaks, your at work, so on and so forth, I wont be breaking this down at this time)
  • Outside before bedtime
  • Crate for bed

The big list of “NO”

Below are some common mistakes made when crate training that can make crate training significantly more difficult and how to address the situations as they come.

Do not put a blanket or bed in the crate.

I know, we all want our puppies to be comfortable especially when they sleep or are confined to a crate for a while. Unfortunately, this also can encourage puppies to use the bedding as a way to escape their own messes. Puppies will often take advantage of the absorbency, so rather than hold their bladder they will pee in their crate on the absorbent material. This, unfortunately, makes both crate training and house training more difficult.

Once your puppy has matured and is house trained, adding a bed and/or blanket is not a bad thing; please do keep in mind, however, that adding bedding material does leave the potential of the puppy/dog learning to tear up things we do not want them to (bedding material) and can also lead to the potential of impaction, which can be deadly and need surgery to remove the items, from the dog ingesting some of the bedding material. Key here is “know thy dog”, and make a judgement based on the individual dog in front of you.

Do not let puppy out when excited/making noise

We all love when our puppies are excited to see us and want to rush to us, of course we also want to rush to them and express our affection; after all, we missed them too. Unfortunately, over excited greetings are a stepping stone to inappropriate behavior and helps build bad habits. Among these bad habits are pawing and scratching at the crate, trying to get out of the crate, separation anxiety, barking, whining, screaming and howling while in the crate.
The best way to combat these behaviors is to not allow them in the first place. Wait until your puppy is calm and quiet before letting out of the crate.

The exception if you know that your puppy really needs to go to the bathroom and the noise is them telling you that they need to go. In this situations let the puppy out immediately (on leash is ideal) and take out to go to the bathroom, once they are done praise and then return to the crate. Let the puppy relax in the crate for a few minutes and then let back out once calm. This will help reinforce two things: letting you know when they need to go to the bathroom, even when in the crate and will give you the opportunity to also reinforce that your puppy should be calm in order to get out of the crate.

Do not use crate as punishment

Crates are not a punishment. They should be a safe place for your dog to retreat to, as well as where they go to be kept safe. In certain situations you may find yourself in need of using the crate after a correction or negative behavior, this is fine but the correction of the negative behavior and being put in the crate should be -while connected to the same chain of events- made to be separate “commands” to the dog.

Ie: company comes over and the dog jumps all over them. You do not want to grab the dog and put him in the crate well telling him that he is a bad dog. (Correction=crate time) You may want to correct and have your dog sit, reinforcing that the correct behavior is not to jump on the guests but instead is to sit, and then guide the dog into the crate as a separate command following the correction and redirection-sit.

Have realistic expectations

Puppies can only “hold it” for so long, even if they are in the crate they should not be expected to hold it longer than they are physically able to and comfortable doing; ie just because a puppy may be able to hold it for 5 hours, doesn’t mean that they should have to hold it for 5 hours every time.

House training takes time

Your 6 month old puppy may still have accidents in the house when left unsupervised, so may your 12 month old puppy. Different dogs learn at a different rates, and sometimes the habits aren’t as ingrained in their brains until they are an adult.

Dogs learn by association

This means that your 8 month old puppy who hasn’t had any accidents in your house for 2 months, even when unsupervised, may still have accidents when they go to someone else’s house. It is important to go back to “confine or supervise” when visiting new places, even as your dog matures. The more situations they are in with the same rules the more they will be able to fully understand that the same rules apply regardless of where they are.

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