So you decided to expand your family - congratulations! If you’ve been preparing for a new pup, then you’ve probably done some research. Maybe you’ve found the right food and toys, and you’ve gone through your house and puppy-proofed. You’ve read about training, and you know how important it is to start right away to help your puppy adapt to their new home.
One thing that gives many new dog parents pause is crate training. The idea of having your dog stay in a crate if you aren’t home makes some people feel guilty and like they’re keeping their dog in a cage. There’s no need to feel bad about crate training!
Used correctly, crate training is a great tool that keeps your puppy safe and continues to have benefits as they age. Want to know more about how to crate train your puppy and the benefits it has for your dog? We’ve put together a step-by-step guide for dog owners who are new to crate training. Let's get started!
Why You Should Crate Train Your Puppy
If you think that crate training is just forcing your dog into a cage, that couldn’t be farther from the truth! Instinctually, dogs enjoy a cozy den. It helps them feel safe and secure. By crate training, you are teaching your dog that the crate is his safe space. He will learn that if he is feeling tired or overwhelmed, the crate is his place to go and relax.
Crate training is helpful for puppies who are potty training. Most dogs (we all know there’s always an exception) won’t urinate or defecate where they sleep. Crate training helps establish boundaries with your puppy and teaches bladder control. Just make sure you don’t expect your puppy to have the control of a grown dog; they can’t hold it through an 8-hour workday.
Being comfortable in a crate is great for dogs who need decreased activity. A dog that has undergone treatment for heartworm infestation or who has had surgery needs to stay calm and quiet. Feeling safe and comfy in their crate helps sick dogs relax and recover, without the added stress of being in an unfamiliar place.
Crate training can help prevent your dog from developing separation anxiety. Crating helps establish a routine, which dogs crave. It sets expectations and boundaries for them, which helps prevent the destructive behavior that can develop in dogs without structure. By giving your dog a crate, you have given them their own little territory, so they don’t need to feel anxious about “defending” your entire home.
How To Crate Train Your Puppy
We’ve referred to puppies several times, but you should know that crate training can be used for dogs of any age. It may take an older dog a little longer to adapt, but with perseverance, even an old dog can learn to love his crate.
Make sure you choose a crate that is big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around with ease. There are a variety of crate styles available, the most popular being the collapsible wire variety.
Introduce your dog to the crate. Let him sniff around and get to know it. When he wanders in, give him a treat. You are establishing the crate as a safe place. You want to make sure your dog associates the crate with pleasant things.
Feed your dog near the crate. If he’s comfortable going inside, feed your dog in the crate. Leave the door open while he eats. You are still working on establishing pleasant associations. You can even leave a toy or two in the crate to make it more appealing. Make them special crate toys that your dog can only have in the crate.
Continue to give your dog meals in the crate. As he starts to look more comfortable, start closing the door for a few minutes at a time. Start increasing the time between closing the door and your dog finishing his food. Make sure you stay close by so you can observe your dog’s behavior while in the crate.
As long as your dog is showing no signs of anxiety, start leaving him in the crate for short periods while you go about your day in the house. Slowly work your way up to 30 minutes. Teach your dog a command like “naptime” as you direct him to the crate. Make sure you reward your dog for going in. If your dog seems comfortable with you moving around the house when he’s in the crate, you can have him sleep in the crate at night, or start leaving him in the crate while you leave the house. If you have a home camera system, you can observe how your dog is acting while crated to determine if he’s really ready to be left alone.
Once your dog is crate trained, don’t leave him shut-in in his crate for long periods if you’re home. Using crate training as a punishment will cause your dog anxiety around being crated. It will not feel like a safe place and your dog will think he’s being punished every time he is crated.
If you have a puppy, or if your dog will be alone for long periods of time during the day, you might want to give them a break from the crate. Puppies under 6 months old can only tolerate being crated for 3-4 hours at a time without a potty break. Adult dogs can use a midday crate break too. To keep crate training a stress-free experience, consider hiring a professional dog walker. Pet sitting professionals like our team at Your Pet AuPair can let your puppy out to relieve himself and get some wiggles out. You can learn more about our services here.
Ideally, your dog will feel comfortable enough in his crate that he will choose to get up and lay in it whenever he needs a break or feels tired. If your dog does this, crate training has been successful. Like all training, it will take some time, but stay consistent and positive with your dog!