Crate training for puppies

What type of crate or confinement area works best?

A metal, collapsible crate with a tray floor works well, as long as the crate is large enough for the dog to stand, turn, and stretch out. Some dogs feel more secure if a blanket is draped over the crate. A plastic traveling crate or a homemade crate can also be used. Playpens or barricades may also be successful as long as they are indestructible and escape proof.

Where should the cage be located?

Because dogs are social animals, an ideal location for the crate is a room where the family spends time such as a kitchen, den, or in a bedroom where the dog might sleep at night.

How can crating or confinement become a positive experience?

Most dogs quickly choose a small area, such as a corner of a room, in a dog bed, or on or under a couch, where they go to relax. If your puppy has just recently been adopted from the breeder, kennel or pet store, crate training should be relatively easy since your puppy is likely already accustomed to sleeping in a pen or crate. The key to making the crate the dog's favorite retreat and sleeping area is to associate the crate with as many positive and relaxing experiences and stimuli as possible (treats, chew toys, bedding) and to place the dog in their cage when playing with new toys during scheduled rest and sleep periods or even as a feeding area. You must therefore plan and be aware of the dog's schedule including their need for exploration, play, food, and elimination so that the dog is only placed in their cage when each of these needs is fulfilled. You must then return to the dog to release them from their cage before the next exercise, feeding or elimination period is due. A radio or television playing in the background may help to calm the dog when they are alone in their cage, especially during the daytime. These may also help to mask environmental noises that can stimulate the dog to vocalize. The crate should not be used for punishment.

How do I crate-train my new puppy?

Introduce the puppy to the crate as soon as they are brought home and as early in the day as possible. Place a variety of treats in the cage throughout the day so that the puppy is encouraged to enter voluntarily. Bedding, toys and water can also be offered to the puppy in the open cage. Food might also be placed in the pen or crate if you wish to also designate it as a feeding area.

Choose a location outdoors for the puppy to eliminate. Take the puppy to the location, wait until the puppy eliminates, and reward the puppy lavishly with praise or food. After some additional play and exercise, and when you feel it's time for your puppy to take a nap (or when you see your puppy begin to settle down for nap), place the puppy in their crate with water, a toy and a treat and close the door. If the puppy is tired and calm, they may take a "nap" shortly after being placed in their crate. If not, be certain to provide a few novel and stimulating toys or chews for play. In this way the crate serves one of two functions - as your puppy's bed (crib) or your puppy's play area (playpen). Leave the room but remain close enough to hear the puppy. Escape behaviour and vocalisation are to be expected when a dog is first placed into their crate. If the "complaints" are short or mild, ignore your puppy until the crying stops. Never release the puppy unless they are quiet. This teaches that quiet behaviour, and not crying, will be rewarded. Release the puppy after a few minutes of quiet or a short nap.

A brief disruption may be useful to deter crying if it does not subside on their own. A shaker can (a sealed can filled with coins or marbles) can be tossed at the crate when the pup barks. Other methods include water sprayers or alarms (audible or ultrasonic). The owner should remain out of sight. By plugging in an alarm, tape recorder, or hair dryer beside the crate and turning it on with a remote control switch each time the dog barks, the dog can be taught that barking has unpleasant consequences whether the owner is present or not. When the barking ceases, the disruption is stopped.

Repeat the cage and release procedure a few more times during the day at each nap time and each time your puppy is given a toy or chew with which to play. Each time increase the time that the dog must stay in the crate before letting them out. Always give the puppy exercise and a chance to eliminate before securing them in the crate.

At bedtime, the dog should be exercised, secured in their crate, and left for the night. Do not go to the dog if they cry. Remote punishment can be used to deter crying. The crate might remain in the same place as it has been during the day, or might be moved (or a second crate used) to the bedroom. If the pup sleeps in one end of their crate and eliminates in the other, a divider can be installed to keep the puppy in a smaller area providing the puppy is not required to spend more time in the crate than they are capable of holding their urine or stool. If the puppy must eliminate, it does not matter how small the area is; the puppy will have to eliminate. Never leave the puppy in their crate for longer than they can control themselves or they may be forced to eliminate in the crate.

If the pup must be left for long periods during which they might eliminate, they should be confined to a larger area such as a dog-proof room or pen, with paper left down for elimination. As the puppy gets older, their control increases and they can be left longer in their crate.

Although there is a great deal of individual variability, many puppies can control themselves through the night by 3 months of age. During the daytime, once the puppy has relieved themselves, a 2-month old puppy may have up to 3 hours control, a 3-month puppy up to 4 hours, and a 4 month old puppy up to 5 hours.

A crate is not an excuse to ignore the dog!