Michael is an avid pet-lover and content writer on topical themes related to dog care, training and behavioral development.
How to Crate Train Your Puppy
It is important to train your puppy early because dogs find life much easier the sooner they begin to associate expected outcomes with specific actions. This is also what makes them more obedient and cooperative during the training process.
Training your puppy when it is young is a process that establishes you as the "leader" of the pack. In this article, we will cover some of the key points you need to bear in mind when it comes to crate training your puppy.
This is important because crate training is a way for your puppy to feel safe and secure. They love to have their own personal haven where they can escape to.
When left by itself in an unfamiliar place, a puppy can develop separation anxiety, which can in turn lead to negative behavior patterns. The puppy may resort to self-comfort by digging, chewing on items, or relieving itself as forms of coping.
When inside the crate, the puppy tends to feel safe and sheltered from outside influences and danger. If you are absent, it will be content to quietly wait there for your return.
The problem is that if your puppy is not crate trained, it will become hysterical and whine when you leave it in unaccustomed environments, for example at the veterinarian's office.
Discomfort will set in due to feelings of loneliness and abandonment. On the other hand, if it is properly crate-trained, your puppy will rest assured even in an unfamiliar environment because it is convinced that you will return no matter what.
Animals do not have the same concept of time that we do. Provided it has been properly conditioned, what the puppy knows is that specific actions produce specific outcomes. Whenever these actions are performed, the results are predictable.
This assurance enables the puppy to be unaffected by the fact that the present environment is strange or unfamiliar. Without the conditioning that comes through crate training, the puppy may oscillate from fear to terror when confined in other spaces or brought into new environments.
This article covers the five steps to basic crate training. Each is discussed in detail in the sections below.
5 Basic Crate-Training Steps
- Obtain the Right Crate
- Master the Basics
- Leverage Conditioning
- Encourage Proper Usage
- Take Supportive Measures
1. Obtain the Right Crate
This may sound obvious, but to begin with, having the wrong type of crate may prove to be expensive later on and it could also curb or set back the puppy training process.
Not all crates can serve their purpose. So before you start training, ensure you have a strong crate—preferably a wire crate with a lock. This crate should be spacious enough for the puppy to stand, lie down and turn around in. It should not, however, be so spacious that it allows the puppy to roam freely. If the crate is too big, it will be counterproductive to house-breaking.
Having too much space in the crate will encourage the puppy to use it as both a resting place and a toilet. When the crate is the correct size, it will be easier for the puppy to understand and identify that this is its personal nest. As long as you do not convert it into a cell, the puppy will learn to control itself and relieve itself elsewhere.
Whether you choose to purchase a ready-made crate from a pet store or design the crate yourself, it is preferable to have a wire crate that has partitions. In this way, you will be able to use one section when the puppy is small, and then expand the partition as the puppy grows.
This will also make your work easier since as the owner, you will be able to determine and allocate the space that the puppy needs at a given time. The crate should preferably also have a tray that can be extracted from underneath and washed.
Ensure that the crate is positioned in an area of the house where there are no busy activities or movements. The ideal spot should be a place where the puppy will be able to rest and relax undisturbed.
2. Master the Basics
You could kick off the puppy training process by applying the following steps:
- Insert a comfortable pad in the crate and place a bone inside
- Encourage and reward the puppy whenever it goes in
- Allow the puppy to move in and out freely for one hour
- Put in the crate a tasty treat to attract the puppy
- Shut the door when the puppy is occupied with the treat
It is good to constantly communicate with the puppy. This will accustom it to your voice and help it differentiate between the meaning of different expressions.
For example, once the puppy has gone into the crate, you could congratulate it with expressions like, "Good puppy! Well done, boy!". Then, after about 20 seconds, you could let the puppy out of the crate with a pat.
Over time, increase the intervals involved in the above crate routine.
During the first day, you could repeat this process several times. Ensure, however, that during this exercise the puppy does not become upset. End each exercise on a pleasant and encouraging note.
Eventually, the puppy will become accustomed to viewing the crate as his own personal nest. It will learn to enter there without coercion on its own, expecting to receive your attention and some treats.
Begin to leave the room while the puppy has been there for longer than 2 minutes. When you come back, approach the crate and open the door.
If this process continues as stated, there is a good chance that the puppy will be crate-trained within three days and will start getting used to being left on its own.
At the beginning, don't leave the puppy for longer than one hour. Start with short incremental periods before gradually getting the puppy accustomed to longer durations.
"The breeding and initial rearing stages form the foundation for the training of the dog and as well as its responsiveness to the conditioning process."
3. Leverage Conditioning
Ensure that the crate does not become something you use in order to punish the puppy when it does something wrong. Turning the crate into a prison amounts to misuse.
Some parents instruct their children to go to their room or to sit facing the far corner when they do something wrong. We cannot apply the same treatment to the puppy or use the crate as a place of banishment.
Avoid leaving the puppy in the crate for a period of more than two hours in one stretch. It should be only for a nap, to relax or for taking some snacks.
Further, always bear in mind the propensity of dogs toward conditioning. The language they really understand is not the human way of communication, but rather the language of action and consequences.
For instance, if you remove the puppy from the crate after it has started crying or whining, then it understands that it has to whine to be let out of the crate.
Therefore, regardless of what happens, ensure that the puppy is in a favorable state when you reach in to open the door of the crate.
In this way, the puppy will learn that it has to be well-behaved and does not need to create a fuss in order to be allowed out.
Also, avoid making a fuss yourself when opening the crate and leading out the puppy to go and relieve itself.
Remember to congratulate the puppy when it uses the crate in the right way and also follows the proper potty training procedure.
More details on how you can reward the puppy in order to reinforce the right conditioning are discussed below.
4. Encourage Proper Usage
Though this does not often occur, dogs can sometimes relieve themselves in the same spot where they repose. Do not punish the puppy when this happens.
One of the goals of the conditioning process is to help the puppy understand the changes in your mood and recognize when it has done something wrong. Ensure that you remove the puppy away from the crate as soon as you realize that it has used it as a toilet.
If you have a puppy that often relieves itself inside the crate, it is likely because of the way the breeder confines their animals. This is an indication that they are most likely confined in an area where they are allowed to sleep and conduct their activities next to their own mess for extended periods of time.
Some breeders build kennels with slats or openings on the floor, through which the waste is supposed to pass through. Others simply have enclosures that allow the waste to be drained away from the kennel so that the puppies do not get accustomed to having their own waste near them.
This is one reason why it is much easier to housebreak and crate train puppies which have been obtained from breeders with experience. In such cases, the process can take as little as a few days.
The initial breeding and rearing stage forms the foundation for the training of the dog and as well as its responsiveness to the conditioning process. The more experience the breeder has and the more effective their breeding style, the less the difficulty and time spent in training the puppy.
Still, even puppies with the habit of relieving themselves in undesirable places can be trained in the correct procedure.
One way to deal with this problem is to construct an extra enclosure, for example in your backyard. Ensure that the enclosure has what the puppy needs, including water, food and shade. Allow the puppy to spend much time in the enclosure. In this way, you will be conditioning the puppy to always relieve itself in the yard, rather than in the crate.
"Bear in mind the propensity of dogs toward conditioning. They understand the language of action and consequences."
5. Take Supportive Measures
The reason why crate training is so effective is that it applies the principle of action and outcome. This is the conditioning that achieves results because it is behavioral instruction that a dog can instinctively relate to.
Once the meaning of the crate has been understood and a clear distinction has been made between the crate and other environments, this distinction needs to be reinforced. The dog will cease perceiving the crate as a prison or a toilet but as its own den which needs to be cherished and taken good care of.
This is also why a proper routine is so important during this training. A routine enables the puppy to grow in its understanding of the expectations that you have.
Remember that from a young age, a dog learns the difference between what is expected in terms of good behavior and what it should shun or avoid, based on your actions and reactions. In effect, you lay the foundation and provide the guidelines on what is good, acceptable and proper behavior and what should be avoided.
Avoid expressing anger or frustration when your puppy slips up and does something wrong. Communicate your appreciation for the puppy whenever it follows protocol and does something in the proper manner. This can be with praise, treats or toys.
Alternatively, you could also express affection or reward by playing with the puppy or taking it out for extended walks. If you give the puppy such treatment for example, whenever it relieves itself in the compound instead of the crate, it will instinctively learn to associate and recognize these as direct outcomes of acceptable behaviour.
Do not allow the puppy to remain in the crate for too long because it will begin to adopt the wrong view and make an incorrect conclusion about what the crate is for. This can set back the training process by several weeks.
Again, if your puppy is less than two months old, limit the time spent in the crate to the one-hour maximum. The puppy will not be able to hold its bladder for a long time and will eventually relieve itself in the crate.
Accustom the dog to using the toilet area that you have made for it. During the day, ensure that you allow the puppy to go out of the crate frequently in order to relieve itself. If you take the dog out for some minutes and find that it does not relieve itself, return it immediately back to the crate.
When you are in the process of crate-training the puppy, monitor the process by keeping a record or a journal of the times when the puppy relieves itself in a day. If your feeding program follows a fixed schedule, the puppy should also be consistent in the times it eliminates. The knowledge of when the puppy is expected to relieve itself during the day will be helpful for house training.
Do not allow the dog to move around in the house without supervision until the time you know that you can trust it to control its bladder and bowel.
As stated before, avoid punishing the dog when it makes a mistake or causes an accident during the process of crate training. Refrain from any behavioural changes on your part that may confuse or upset the 'action-outcome' conditioning and create a new set of expectations in the consciousness of the puppy. This will only complicate or impede the training process.
Dogs are not perfect creatures, so even after the puppy has been refined in this training, it is possible that it will still make a mistake. Whenever a slip-up occurs, don't give in to discouragement or abandon the routine. Simply take the puppy back to the training basics. Exercise patience and perseverance.
Don't be in a rush to get through the training but instead gradually allow the lessons to solidify in the puppy's consciousness as much as possible during these early stages of its development.
It is always best to get the entire process properly understood while the puppy is still young. This is because the longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes to reverse negative tendencies and habits after they have already crystallized.
I hope you have found the details covered here useful. For more information on how to take care of your four-legged companion, please check out my article, "How to Socialize and Train Your Puppy for Beginners."
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Michael Duncan (author) from Germany on December 11, 2019:
Much appreciated. Thanks for dropping by!
Guest on December 10, 2019: