And Why Crate Training Is The Best Way To House Break Your New Four-Legged Family Member.
Most humans agree: puppies are the cutest creatures anywhere on God’s green earth. Except, of course, for kittens. And baby penguins. And seal pups. Maybe also those bunnies your friend had when you were kids. And little raccoons, panda cubs, and tiny koalas.
It’s a good thing puppies are cute, though. If they weren’t so adorable, we might be ready to get rid of them after they piddled on our rug for the sixth day in a row! In fact, science backs that up. We are biologically programmed to feel all cuddly towards anything that even remotely reminds us of a human baby. That’s nature’s way of ensuring our species keeps going.
Cuteness aside, though, when your pup is peeing and pooping on your living room floor, you need to do something about it. Fortunately, it’s not too hard to learn how to crate train a puppy. Once your puppy is trained, both you and she will be a whole lot happier.
Wait! Isn’t Crate Training Evil?
A lot of people worry about this, but there really is no reason to. Our dogs may be part of our families, but they are not human.
We humans hate cages. We don’t like to be confined. In fact, we put people behind bars when they’ve done something wrong.
When our kids misbehave, we tell them they can’t come out of their rooms. When our teens violate the rules, we “ground” them and confine them to the house. When adults commit crimes, we lock them up. Isn’t crate training doing the same thing to our dogs?
It’s All About the Dogs
Don’t worry. Crate training doesn’t hurt, offend, harm, or punish your dog in any way. Dogs aren’t human, and their lives are quite different from ours. They love us and live with us, but they aren’t us, and they don’t think like we do.
Dogs are den animals. True, they don’t spend the whole winter in a den like a bear, and some wolves prefer to nest in the open. But dogs do like to have their own safe space, and this is especially true of puppies.
Whether wild or domesticated, dogs and their canine relatives seek out comfortable, secluded spots whenever they are hurt or ill. Mother dogs know exactly how to crate train a puppy, and if they can, they will keep their pups secluded and protected dens or holes as long as possible.
Lots of animals (not just dogs) love having a dark, safe space they can retreat to and feel warm and safe. In fact, if you do your crate training right, your dog will love her cage or box. Whenever she needs a break from the kids, a nap, or just some space, she will happily go to her space.
Ok, But It’s Also About You
I Have Needs Too, You Know!
Knowing how to crate train a puppy is not just important for the puppy: it’s important for you, too. Your dog needs to learn to respect your space. Rules and limits, when they are consistent, will make your dog feel secure. When she knows the limits, she knows what’s going on and what to expect and can totally relax.
Preparing For Medical Care
Crate training doesn’t just help your doggo: it’s also going to make your life easier. At some point, your pet is likely to need a medical procedure. The vet is going to tell you that your furry baby can’t be moved for a few days, and the only way to ensure that happens is to put your dog in a crate or cage.
Getting surgery or some other procedure done is hard enough on your beloved pet: it’ll be even worse if she has to be confined to a crate for the first time in her whole life! She won’t understand, and she’ll be more afraid than ever. It’s much better to teach her early that the crate is a safe place.
Preparing For Separation
Separation anxiety is very real for dogs, and it can be extremely traumatic. The thing is, they need to learn how to be apart from us for short periods. That’s just the reality of life. You have to work, right? (Sorry). You might even occasionally take a vacation.
Preparing For a Move
At some point, you’re going to need to move your pup. You might want to take her on a road trip. If you move house, you might have to send her along by plane or in a fully packed car. All that will be so much easier if she thinks of her crate as a safe personal space.
The Science Behind How To Crate Train A Puppy
Ok, here’s what’s going on: dogs naturally do everything they can to avoid eliminating in their personal space. The problem is, when you bring that adorable furry bundle home, she doesn’t yet know that the whole house is part of “home.”
To your pup, taking 10 steps from her little bed into the middle of your living room is a huge trip. In her mind, she’s just left “her space” and gone out into the world where it’s ok to pee and poo.
Your mission is to teach her that the whole inside is personal space.
The crate provides a space much larger than your pup’s bed but smaller than a whole room. She’ll get the idea that this is “her space” and will wait to eliminate until she’s out of it. All you have to do is get her quickly from the crate to the yard when she’s ready, and eventually, she will learn that outside is for doing her business.
How Not To Crate Train Your Puppy
Crate training is an awesome tool. When you do it right, you end up with a happy dog who has her own special space. When you do it wrong, you can hurt your pup. In fact, most of the arguments against crate training are based on problems that happen when people do it wrong.
- Get a crate that’s too small (the crate should be twice as big as the pup’s bed)
- Get a crate that’s too big (if it’s too big, the pup will eliminate in the far corner)
- Leave the puppy too long (don’t leave her in there more than an hour for every month of age)
- Use the crate as punishment (make the crate fun and safe)
- Keep them in the crate if they have the runs (don’t confine her where she’s forced to mess)
- Force her in if she’s panicked (if she’s had a bad experience with a crate, don’t force her)
- Tease her or talk to her (respect your dog’s “me time” in the crate)
Preparing For Crate Training
These are tips for how to crate train a puppy: not rules. You have to do crate training in the way that works for you, of course. But if you want the best shot at success, at least consider the tips we’ve outlined below:
Get Your Pup When You Have Some Time
Getting a puppy is not like getting a video game. You can’t just play with her when you feel like it. Your puppy needs certain things, you need to learn how to crate train a puppy, and you both need to learn how to live together.
If you get your puppy when you’ve got some time to devote to learning how to crate train a puppy and building the relationship, you’ll be so glad you did. If you have a family, try doing it when the kids are off from school so you can spell each other in puppy care.
Get Something Warm
Your puppy spent her first weeks of life constantly snuggled up with momma and her siblings. It’s no wonder she cries when she’s alone now!
You can help her make the transition by slowly easing her into being alone. You can also help her adjust by providing a hot water bottle or microwavable warm snuggly for the first few weeks. Just make sure it’s not too hot!
Find a Treat She Loves
The first rule in how to crate train a puppy is to help her love the box. Food is a dog’s true love language, ammirite? We love giving them, too, so the biggest challenge, really, is keeping our dogs from eating treats until they become completely spherical.
For crate training, save out the very best treats of all. Whether that’s a nibble she loves that you can give her when she walks in voluntarily or a chewy she adores that she only gets to work on in her crate, treats will help the process immensely.
Get Some Toys
Crate time shouldn’t be boring time! Crate time just means puppy is learning to play by herself instead of demanding constant entertainment and diversion from you. Of course, she can’t yet do this on her own, so you need to provide some diverting toys.
Choose a Crate
There are all kinds of crates to choose from. The best crate is the one that will work for you most conveniently. Here are some of the facts about each to help you make the decision:
Wire cage is the most common type of dog crate, and for good reason. They:
- Are cheap
- Can be folded up and stored
- Are easy to see into
- Clean up easily
This is a great option if you need to be able to put the crate away for part of the day to make more room. It’s also good if you need a smaller cage for training but expect your pup to grow a lot over the next few months. With a wire cage, you haven’t spent too much and won’t worry about buying a bigger one later.
These are great under certain circumstances, though they don’t collapse and are more expensive than wire crates. They:
- Let your pup see out while feeling secure
- Are easy to open and close
- Can be used later for transport
If your dog won’t get much larger or if you know you’ll need to take her on some trips in the near future, this might be the right choice.
You can’t take these on a plane, but they are great for car travel. They:
- Are lightweight
- Can fold up
- Go in the car or sit on a beach
- Are washable
A fabric crate is harder to get clean, though, and your puppy might chew it up. For these reasons, we don’t recommend a fabric crate when you’re first working out how to crate train a puppy.
Get Some Help
It’s going to take some effort to properly crate train your puppy. If you can’t take time off from work—and even if you can—you should get someone to help. Even if they just take puppy duty for a couple hours twice a week, it will help you a lot.
Plan a Strategy
You don’t want to go into this without a plan. Otherwise, you and your puppy will just end up miserable. Before you plan out what to do, you first need to know some basics about your puppy’s physical, emotional, and relationship needs.
Your tiny canine needs all the same things an adult dog needs; only much more often. Up until about six months, your puppy needs to be eating about four times a day. Always check with your vet to determine the right amount of food for your little one. (https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/caring-newborn-puppy#1)
Puppies need to eliminate at least every two hours, and often they will have to go as frequently as every 30 minutes. They always need to go right after they wake up. Speaking of waking up, pups also need plenty of sleep. They can easily nap for 20 hours out of the day!
Your puppy needs to feel safe and secure. She needs to know where her boundaries are so she can let loose within them. She also needs to know who is in charge. In a dog pack, there is always an alpha dog; but every animal in the pack knows their specific place in the hierarchy.
Unlike with people, dogs are quite happy about this. They don’t worry about their self-worth just because they’re not on top. They would much rather you be in charge, but if you fail to show leadership, they will step in.
Your puppy also needs companionship and relationship. She needs to develop bonds with you and the other people in the house. If you can manage it, getting two bonded puppies at the same time means each always has a canine companion. Dogs also need to make friends, just as we do, and have experience in socializing with other dogs and humans.
Planning to Meet Needs
To meet all your puppy’s needs, you should make a daily schedule. This should include time for training, playing, napping, eating, socializing, and toilet needs.
How To Crate Train A Puppy
These steps will help you get your puppy used to his or her crate in no time.
Step 1: Get Her Used to the Crate
When you bring your puppy home, don’t give her free rein of the house. She will be overwhelmed and confused. Instead, confine her to one section of the room and introduce her to her crate. This is going to be her special space.
Use treats to lure her in voluntarily. Make sure she associates the cage with fun, treats, and relaxation. Never yell at your dog while she’s in the crate or do anything to suggest it’s a bad place. At this point, don’t lock the crate.
Step 2: Ignore the Crate
This is a hard step but a necessary one. You have to communicate to your dog that this is all no big deal. Play with her, sit and read a book, and act as you usually do. Let her discover the crate on her own, following the treats.
Once in a while, toss a few more treats in there. If your puppy takes her toys out of the crate, put them back in. It may take a few days, but pretty soon she’ll associate that crate with all the good things she loves.
Step 3: Feed in the Crate
The first time you do this, just put the food bowl inside the crate far enough that your pup has to stick her head in to get it but nothing else. Don’t make her feel forced to go all the way in. Gradually stick the bowl further and further in during future feedings.
Dogs are different. Some dogs will get used to the crate really fast; others will need some time and patience. The important thing is that you stay patient and calm. You’ll know you’re in a good place when your dog runs to the crate as soon as food appears.
When your pup is reliably going to the crate on cue, start teaching her a phrase like “go to your crate” by saying it every time she goes in. Soon she’ll realize that’s her command to go into the kennel. When she does, be sure to reward her!
Step 4: Let the Training Begin!
Your next step is to teach your dog how to leave her crate on command. There are a couple reasons you really don’t want her dashing out the second the door opens:
- If she gets big, she might hurt someone when dashing out excitedly
- If she loves her crate, she might not want to leave, and you need to be able to get her out
- You may need to put things in the cage without automatically releasing the Kraken
To start out, you’ll need to just watch your dog. When she voluntarily comes out of the crate, immediately say “come out” and then praise her. (Don’t give her a treat, though: treats are for in the crate.) Pretty soon she’ll be going out only when you tell her.
Step 5: Earning Her Keep
Once your puppy is happy with the crate, start making her work for it. Instead of throwing a treat in before you give the command word, give the command first. When she goes in, praise her to the skies and give her a treat.
Step 6: Reinforcement
Figuring out how to crate train a puppy is all about knowing your dog. Some dogs will get a new command or idea the first or second time out. Others won’t catch on for a couple days. Be patient and be utterly consistent. Keep at it until your puppy knows just what to do.
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Step 7: Closing the Door
This is where things start to get hard. For the first time, you’ll be actually closing the door on your pup.
Just take it slowly. Always be gentle and speak gently. Once your puppy is going in and staying there consistently, close the door slowly and quietly. The first few times, don’t bother to latch it. Praise the dog and keep feeding her treats.
Once the dog is ok with the door being closed, you can move on to actually latching it shut. Start with having it closed just a few seconds. Slowly work your way up to a full minute of closed-door time with you standing or sitting nearby.
Step 8: Separation
If your pup had her way, you would never leave. And that would be totally cool: except you are at some point going to have to buy food. And possibly wine.
Definitely wine. Wine for Mommy is one of the little-known secret weapons for how to crate train a puppy successfully!
So you do need to be able to go away from your puppy. Once she’s happy to sit in her crate with the door latched for a minute or two, you can start practicing moving away. Start by taking a few steps away, facing your pup, and then coming right back.
Once again, the key here is consistency and repetition. You’ll need to practice this for a few days to get it right.
Mix it up. Go left one time and right another. Walk out of the room and then walk back in. Pause three seconds before going back to the crate. Pause two seconds, walk in another direction, and then pause again.
Your teaching your pet that this is normal and uneventful. Once that’s working out, you want to get your dog to the place where she’s happy to sit in her crate while you do something other than interact with her. Start moving around, talking on the phone, and looking busy. Just come back quickly to give praise and treats.
Step 9: Kick it up a Notch
Ok, now it’s time to get serious. It’s time to LEAVE THE ROOM.
At first, you will only leave the room for a few seconds at a time. Just as with the previous steps, however, your goal is to be able to leave for a couple minutes without any fuss. Once your pup is ok with that, you’re ready to give her extended cage time.
To get her ready to stay in her cage for a while, start by exercising her.
An energetic dog is just dying for you to play with her and doesn’t want to sit in her crate. A tired dog is ready to relax and might even be excited about having a place to chill for a bit.
The first few times, put your tired and happy pup into the cage with her favorite toy or even a meal. Stay nearby but leave her alone most of the time. You can come by occasionally to say hi, but try to build up to 30 minutes of cage quiet time.
Ideally, your puppy will go to sleep pretty quickly. Once she’s good with being in there for a half hour, start ignoring her and going out of the room. Keep working on this until she’s happy to be in there alone for an hour.
You’ll get there more quickly if you have special bones or chews that your puppy only gets when she’s in the crate. Not only does this tell her the crate is good, but she’ll actually look forward to getting in there. Once she’s in, she’ll be distracted by her chew.
Step 10: Get Out of There
You’ve done it! You’re ready to head out of the house completely. The first few times you leave, you should come back pretty quickly. Don’t fuss your dog when you come back in. You don’t want her to get anxiety about you leaving or returning, and when you fuss you signal that something is up.
You want your puppy to totally accept that you are leaving the house and coming back in—just part of normal life. Once she sees these as insignificant events, you’ll be able to leave whenever you need to. So come back in, ignore her for a few minutes, and only then go to let her out.
FAQ About How To Crate Train A Puppy
Here are a few questions you may have as you embark on this process.
1. But My Puppy is Crying!
If your puppy starts crying as soon as you leave her in the crate, there are two possibilities. Either you’ve gone too quickly, and she’s not really ready, or she’s testing to see if whining will get a response.
What would happen if…?
If you respond when your puppy cries, you’ve succeeded in training her. Yup. You’ve trained her good. You’ve trained her to believe that all she has to do to get what she wants is make some noise.
Unless you want the rest of your life with her to be miserable, don’t respond to these noises. Wait til she quiets down to get her out. Go back a few steps and keep working at it until she’ll stay in her crate quietly.
2. How Do I Make This Work With Housebreaking?
For puppy owners, one of the biggest reasons to do crate training is to help the dog learn to go outside. Once your puppy is happy to be in the crate, come and get her when you’re ready for her to go out. If she’s very small, this will be every 30 minutes after she drinks and at least every two hours at other times.
As she gets older, she can hold it for longer. At first, you might need to take her out twice in the night and every 30 minutes to two hours during the day. Once you’re outside with her, put her down in the grass and praise her as soon as she goes.
3. How Long Can I Leave Her?
At this stage, never leave your puppy for more than four hours at a time. Ideally, that should only be at night. Enlist the help of friends and family to make sure there’s someone to take her out, play with her, and feed her according to schedule.
4. When Can I Start Sleeping Through the Night?
You’re going to get tired of taking your pup out in the middle of the night. Fortunately, dogs are much like people in that their metabolisms slow at night. Most of us don’t need to get up and use the bathroom in the middle of the night, and after about age 12 weeks your pooch won’t either.
5. What if My Dog is Terrified of the Crate?
Some dogs just get scared. That’s fine. There are a couple of things you can try; but whatever you do, don’t force your dog in!
Try getting a different crate. The problem could be the look or smell of the one you have. You can also try taking off the roof and leaving the sides, so it feels more open and less constricting. Keep at it slowly and patiently, and you’ll get there.
6. When Are We Done?
Crate training is over when you can completely trust your puppy to do her business only inside, and when she will go in the crate and stay there on command. Once she can do this, you will have a healthy, well-adjusted dog who knows what to do.
7. I Can’t Stop Squeeing!
We feel you. When you come back in the room or back in the house and see your beloved furry friend again, you want to tell her with your words and sounds how glad you are to see her. You want to squee and talk baby talk to her. Resist this urge.
Dogs don’t communicate with sound very often. They communicate primarily by smelling, which lets them know what’s going on with your hormones. They also do a lot of body signal communicating, which is why your pup is always looking at your face. When you refrain from squealing, you communicate that everything is calm, normal, and happy.
In the Final Analysis
If you want to know how to crate train a puppy effectively, you’re going to need lots of patience, determination, and love. Yes, having a puppy is a full-time job. It’s not for the faint of heart, but crate training will let your puppy learn the rules and how to navigate the world with you at her side.
Raising a happy and well-adjusted puppy can be one of the most rewarding missions you will ever embark upon. When you succeed, you’ll be rewarded with a life-long companion you can always trust to love you, support you, and be faithful to you. That’s well worth a few sleepless nights.