How to Crate Train a Puppy
Some new pet parents are hesitant when they’re first exposed to the idea of using a crate. People worry that their puppy will resent being confined or they will feel punished or trapped. It’s important to remember dogs instinctually like an enclosed, protected den. From the puppy’s perspective, crates can be great. They provide a sense of safety and security as well as a personal space to relax and retreat. Additionally, they are an excellent tool for house training your pup and protecting them from separation anxiety.
In the wild, say with foxes, wolves or coyotes, puppies are born in tight, dark dens and they spend the majority of the first 5-6 weeks in these dens before being exposed to the light of day. As they get older, more time is spent outdoors learning the ways of the world, but they always head back to the den for safety, sleep and respite. If approached in the right way, your puppy will view its crate in the same way.
In this article, we’ll answer common questions pet parents ask us about crate training their puppy such as how to pick the right size, how to get your puppy to stop crying at night, the best place to put a crate and how long a puppy can stay in it.
A crate should be big enough for your puppy to stand, turn around and settle comfortably without being cramped. They should also have a metal tray bottom with a washable fitted pad that is easy to clean and disinfect.
For smaller breeds, plastic kennels can work well. Obviously, as a puppy is initially much smaller a crate intended to last through all life stages would be too large. To avoid having to buy different size crates for a large breed puppy that will grow substantially, one can use a piece of plywood that is attached to the wire cage and forms a false back. As the puppy grows, this false back can slowly be moved backwards, continuing to provide the right amount of room to stand and turn around.
When being used for housetraining, it is important to allow just enough room to provide a comfortable sleeping area only. If the floor space is too large, it allows a puppy to use the extra space as a toilet.
Because wire crates are open, it can be very helpful to place a large blanket over the top to darken it down and make it appear more like a cave or den. Just like kids who play under the covers of their bed, there is a sense of security provided by being nestled into a darkened space. At the same time, placing the crate away from direct drafts, or air conditioning ducts, will make it more comfortable and closer to room temperature. It can also be comforting for your pup to have a radio playing very softly within earshot or even a metronome to simulate a heartbeat.
How to get a puppy to stop crying in its crate
Not many puppies are inclined to fall asleep as soon as they enter the crate, so providing them with a favourite chew toy to occupy their curiosity is usually helpful to minimize the whimpering.
In the initial stages, it can also be useful to offer treats or even feed your puppy inside the crate to get them feeling good. Sit nearby while your pup becomes accustomed to the crate, slowly extending the period of time inside. As your pup becomes more comfortable, you can start introducing “alone time” inside the crate.
Crying in the crate is to be expected, especially from young puppies. If it’s your pet normal “quiet time,” it’s okay to ignore crying for the first few minutes. If crying persists, you can take your pup out for a bathroom break. Avoid offering play time or cuddling during this break. Once your pup has had an opportunity to relieve themselves, they can be returned to the crate. Once you know all of your pet’s biological needs have been met, it’s okay to let them cry a bit while they settle into quiet time. Do intervene if they start exhibiting harmful behaviour such as excessive digging or bar-biting.
The best place to put a crate
There is no hard and fast rule, but most pet parents will find it easier not to have the crate in the bedroom. The rationale behind this is in the middle of the night the puppy will hear you and you will hear every whimper. If you go to the puppy every time it whimpers, it will quickly learn this is how to get your attention. “Tough love” is easier to practice if you can only hear the major cries.
The other consideration is the kitchen is the busiest room in the house and pet parents tend to spend most of their time there. This also allows your pup to take a break from the hectic day and chill out in its crate, while still knowing the family is not far off. In most cases, you can simply leave the door open allowing your pup to go in and out as they please.
How long should a puppy be left in a crate
When it comes to housetraining, it is best to be proactive when dealing with an immature bladder. A rough rule of thumb is to add one to your puppy’s age in months as a safe time period for them to be able to hold their bladder- i.e. a 3-month-old puppy should hopefully be able to go 4 hrs. Instead of waiting for your puppy to cry out that it needs to have a pee, you are better to wake him up in anticipation, take him outside and praise him with great fanfare and then back to bed immediately with a favourite toy. So, if you go to bed at 11 p.m. and your puppy is 3 months of age, set your alarm to get him up at 3 a.m. and then when you get up in the morning at 6-7 a.m., you immediately get him and take him outside.
The idea overall is to make a crate a safe and enjoyable space. It is very important to never scold or physically reprimand your puppy when in or around his crate. It truly has to be a positive experience to be quickly successful and never used as a punishment.
Crates can be an excellent addition to ensuring an easier transition for your puppy into its new family. Most puppies will innately take to it and the vast majority of pet parents are very thankful of a puppy who enjoys their crate, whether it be at home or travelling in a car.