- How can I stop my dog from chewing things?
- How can I toilet train my dog?
- How can I stop my dog from digging holes in the garden?
- How can i get my puppy to be calm and relaxed?
Have you ever typed one of these questions into a search browser and found nothing but nonsense and unhelpful suggestions? Then perhaps it’s time to consider Crate Training.
Crate Training is a powerful technique which can be used by dog owners to reduce negative behaviours and improve the happiness of your companion. If you’re not sure whether crate training is right for you, check out this article, where we weigh in on vast benefits of Crate Training.
Before we begin, it is important to remember that dogs descended from wolves, so their natural instinct to seek out a “den” space is one reason why crate training can be a powerful way to minimise negative, undesirable behaviours and encourage positive, desirable behaviours. If done correctly, with patience and dedication, the crate can become a safe haven and a very positive space for your puppy, as it mimics a “den” which their natural instincts are attuned to. With positive association training and positive reinforcement training, your puppy should ease into finding the crate a familiar, comfortable, and safe place for them to relax in and once they learn the crate is their safe haven, they will then choose to go in there on their own and select it as their primary place to chill out in when they want to zone out from the world or have some privacy in their own safe space, protected and away from any perceived ‘threats’ or disturbances.
So, How Can I Crate Train my Puppy?
Crate Training is about equal parts patience, dedication, and (of course) treats!
1. The first step is to select a suitable crate for your dog. There are generally considered to be three main types of crate.
- Plastic crate (Used for flights and often called “flight kennels”)
- Fabric crate on a Rigid, collapsible frame
- Collapsible, wire metal crate
Crate material is generally up to personal preference. What material works best in your home and what does your puppy prefer. Keep in mind that if you are taking your puppy on a flight they will need a plastic crate.
Once you have selected your material, it’s time to find a crate that is large enough for your dog and within your price range. In terms of crate size, the Goldilocks principle applies. Not too big, not too small. Your puppy (and eventually, your adult dog) should be able to stand, turn around, and lay down in the crate comfortably. If your dog is still growing, make sure to accommodate for their adult size to avoid incurring extra costs.
It’s equally important to purchase a crate that isn’t too big. In this case, the dog may use the toilet on one side and sleep on the other. This will form bad toilet habits. Note: A larger crate can be made to fit a younger dog by using cardboard boxes draped in blankets.
Select a location within your house and lay down some soft blankets or towels so that the crate is a welcoming, soft environment for your puppy. If the weather is hot in your location, use a trampoline style bed so that it allows for airflow and is cooler for them than plush bedding. Alternatively, you can include a safe, non-toxic cooling mat inside the crate that your puppy can choose to lay on, if needed.
Introduce Your Puppy To The Crate
Now begins the fun part. Training your puppy! At first, you should encourage your puppy to approach the crate on their own. Place treats around the crate and use a soft, soothing voice to encourage them to explore.
If your puppy is comfortable around the crate, the next step is to place food at the mouth of the crate. Allow them to explore the crates opening at their own pace and when they are ready, gently encourage them to stick their head in and take the treat. Once your puppy is accustomed to taking food from the mouth of the crate, move the food further back and allow the puppy to enter it, take the food, and interact with the crate itself. Continue this process for a while to further associate the crate with positive feelings.
Feeding Your Dog In The Crate
Once your puppy is comfortable with the crate, start feeding them their regular meals around the crate. As they become more relaxed around the crate, start feeding your puppy inside the crate. This will allow them to associate the crate with meals; the ultimate reward for your puppy! This will cement the crate as a safe place and your puppy will start considering it as their ‘den’.
Once your puppy is comfortable eating in the crate, it is time to start closing the door. The first time you close the door of the crate, stick around and open it as soon as the puppy is finished eating. This way, they will become comfortable with the idea of the door being closed but won’t have an opportunity to form negative habits like clawing and whining. Gradually increase the time in the crate until your puppy stays in the crate for ten minutes after eating. If your puppy begins to whine, let them out, but don’t make a habit out of it, otherwise your puppy will learn to manipulate you in that way. Keep them in for a little less time next time and don’t let them out until they have stopped whining so they associate being let out with the positive, desired behaviour or being quiet, calm and relaxed, and not with the undesired whining.
Introducing Longer Crating Periods To Your Puppy
Now is the time to prepare your puppy for periods where you won’t be around. Call your puppy over to the crate and issue a command which tells them it’s time to enter the crate. Once they are in the crate and the door is shut, give your puppy a treat to reward them and imprint positive reinforcement to your puppy for their desired action.
Sit with your puppy for a few minutes and then go into a different room. Return again and sit quietly near them. After a short time, let your puppy out of the crate. This process shows your puppy two important lessons. If they get left in the crate, they won’t be stuck there forever, and that if you leave them in the crate, you will always come back.
Repeat this process often, until your puppy can stay in the crate for around 30 minutes with you out of sight. At this point you can begin to crate your puppy when you leave the house for short periods. Don’t reward your puppy for excessively excited behaviour; keep arrivals low-key and no big deal, so that you don’t create separation anxiety in your puppy because your puppy will see your coming-and-going as a normal routine with nothing for them to worry about.
Introducing The Crate To Your Puppy’s Night Time Routine
Getting through the night in the crate can become easy for your puppy, if you are consistent with the previous crate training instructions. To ease your puppy into sleeping through the night in their crate, it is a good idea to begin with the crate in your bedroom or in a hallway nearby. Once your puppy is comfortable sleeping through the night, you can gradually begin transitioning your puppy and their crate into your preferred location.
As we mentioned above, crate training takes patience and dedication. For some dogs it may take days whereas others may take weeks to be fully comfortable in the crate. Never bash on the crate or yell, it will only increase your puppy’s fear or anxiety and create a negative association with the crate. Remember to work at your puppy’s pace, treat them and give them breaks. You should not crate your puppy for too long either, as they need toilet breaks and playtime too. Crate Training is a good opportunity to cement positive behaviours and bond with your companion, the crate is not a tool to just “lock them up” in, so it is important that it is done correctly.